So in April 2018 I went to The Gambia to talk with deaf GSL teachers, GADHOH and the interpreters to try to understand why there was so little legacy from previous projects, and what, if anything, they and we could do differently.
Five things emerged.
- Film GSL stories and conversations (not just individual signs). And then be able to share the resources with GSL teachers & learners.
- Organise & run separate GSL classes for beginners and GSL improvers.
- Organise & run English literacy classes for deaf GSL teachers.
- Have meetings of GSL teachers to plan activities and share resources & learning.
Organising, delivering and sustaining these activities would both increase and demonstrate deaf GSL teachers’ ability to self-organise with minimum external support, and provide the opportunity for their knowledge & skills development. (We just pay for the teachers’ transport to the classes, but nothing else).
We also identified the need to develop GSL teachers’ understanding of sign language and teaching practice, and most importantly, create useful, useable and robust resources, in both GSL and English, to support GSL teachers in using and building on what they have learned. Which is the aim of our visit now.
The filming of stories and conversations, of women and men, from different region in The Gambia, has been sustained, and now contains some useful resources.
Our next goals with this are for Dodou:
- To improve filming quality. We’ve brought out a better quality camera and bought a camera light to help with that.
- To develop and use a folder structure and way of file naming that will make the films easier to find and share, and will make more sense to the teachers and students.
- To consistently log the films on a spreadsheet.
- And ensure they are used by GSL teachers and students. To support this we’ve brought out a laptop for the GSL teachers and students to use in class, as well as for private study (at GADHOH) and high capacity USB sticks for the teachers & students.
The GSL classes for beginners have been organised well, with two GSL teachers working together in each class (to support their development). Students asked for it to increase from fortnightly to weekly, which happened. There are eight regular students.
Our next goals for this are:
- For the teachers to move away from teaching individual signs from English words, and increasingly teach GSL as a visual language.
- To teach elements of GSL grammar.
- To use a wider range of teaching methods.
- To use a wider range of resources to support teaching and learning.
These will be underpinned by the work that we are doing with them now, which is in three parts: teaching some sign language grammar, the GSL teachers in turn teaching what they have learned to hearing students - allowing us to address gaps in understanding, and then developing permanent resources. This leads to a further goal.
- For the GSL teachers, and resources, to use the resources (GSL stories and conversations, videos of teaching, printed resources with recorded GSL explanations), to develop their understanding of GSL and improve teaching methods over the next year.
GSL classes for improvers have been going well, but the number of regular attendees has dropped to four. They had amalgamated the beginners and improvers classes, but we are suggesting they continue to develop the two groups separately.
We are not sure yet what happens next with this group. Current ideas include continuing with a small separate class and/or running it as a group with deaf GSL teachers and improver students working from videos of GSL, exploring and discussing GSL together.
The English literacy classes have been running regularly, even though the two deaf teachers leading the class have to travel a long distance to teach at 3pm three Saturday in four. Whilst the teachers are both deaf, they use SSE, which is a challenge for some of the GSL users in the class.
Our next goals are to:
- Increase the use of GSL in the class, encouraging the teachers to demonstrate how meaning is achieved in GSL, SSE and written English.
- Provide the teachers with more resources on teaching and learning English.
- Try to bring a more functional approach to the lessons, e.g. by looking at the English used in teaching materials, the draft GSL curriculum, etc.
The teachers’ group has met twice since April, focussing on coordination of teaching.
Our next goals are to encourage (only encourage, as these are their meetings):
- Bi-monthly meetings.
- Them to focus on knowledge and resource sharing, joint skills development and joint problem solving.
Whilst the work of deaf GSL teachers has in many ways gone well, showing signs that they want to and can sustain work without (much) external support, other parts of the project have not gone so well, leaving us with some difficult choices. Below are the two main issues.
Project management in The Gambia.
The community interpreter and project lead in The Gambia, whose salary we were paying, had been working very well between April and September 18.
However in October he stopped replying to emails, and at the beginning of November, after two weeks of being absent from work, he emailed to ask retrospectively for a secondment to the Gambian government’s Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) for a year, until October 2019. He’s now working for them as their interpreter and sign language expert.
This meant that we were unable to prepare for this visit, unable to organise in advance, and have had to manage meetings and training without an interpreter. It’s been a challenge! (It has also meant that there is no community interpreting available to deaf people).
Whilst he is a good interpreter, and the work he is doing with CRC has value, as a project we cannot rely on someone who is prepared to simply stop working without warning, leaving students, the deaf people, and us in the lurch.
The other three interpreters are all fully employed interpreting elsewhere, so we have to look for other options.
What happens next:
- We are no longer paying for this person to run the project.
- We are likely not to pay him for community interpreting, though there are some issues with this to be explored.
- We need to find an alternate way of managing the project in The Gambia. This is likely to be by two deaf people (one from GADHOH and one not) with the support if a hearing student.
Gambian Interpreter's CPD:
If and when we train student interpreters, we will provide them with around six weeks training. This is nowhere near enough, and so it is essential, and a requirement of the project, that there is a requirement for their Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and that the existing four interpreters are able to support this. This means that the existing interpreters have to do CPD themselves, both to model the appropriate professional expectation, and to become skilled enough in doing such work that they can support developing interpreters in doing it.
Whilst one interpreter has worked hard on their CPD, the other three, despite support and requirements have done virtually none between their training in 2015 and now.
What happens next:
- We will not provide the interpreter training until we are confident that we can manage the interpreter training in The Gambia, and the interpreters have undertaken at least nine months of regular CPD.
- In 2019 we will continue to support the deaf led work, including filming and sharing of GSL resources, teaching GSL beginners and improvers, and developing GSL teachers English literacy.
- In 2019 I will re-evaluate the project to see what is appropriate to happen next.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please post in the comments.