An evaluation of SigAm bilingual education project for deaf children in China 2004-2009

Kruse, Stein-Erik and Yang, Junhui orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5239-1643 (2009) An evaluation of SigAm bilingual education project for deaf children in China 2004-2009. Project Report. Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Oslo, Norway.

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The vast majority of deaf schools in China use the oral approach – while internationally there is an increasing recognition of a bilingual approach based on local sign language as the first language and local spoken and written language as the second and supporting language. Science indicates that children exposed to sign language at an early stage will learn in the same way as their hearing peers and reach the same cognitive, social psychological development.

The first bilingual experimental class was established by Amity Foundation back in 1996 in Nanjing. The SigAm project started 2004 after a period of feasibility studies. It is a three partite cooperative project between the Signo and the local partners. The project covered 5 deaf schools in the Jiangsu province in East China. From 2007 the project expanded to four more schools in the western provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan.


The purpose of the evaluation is twofold: Findings and recommendations will be used by schools and participating provincial authorities to improve and further develop approaches and methods in bilingual education. The evaluation will also be used by Signo and Amity to discuss the need for follow up and preparation of a new programme proposal.


The evaluation has used three methods for collecting data and information – document review, interviews and observations. There are several threats to the reliability and validity of findings in such an evaluation. The findings and conclusions should be treated with caution. In other words, we will not be able to present a complete picture of SigAm, but hopefully an important part.

Key findings:

The project is clearly based on a rights approach to education for deaf children. The objectives of introducing bilingual and bicultural approach to the deaf are based on international conventions. Education is also related to democratization and human rights perspectives. The UN Millennium Development Goals “ensures that children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling” provide a basis and rationale for bilingual education.

The Department of Basic and Special Education in the Ministry of Education is not yet ready to express a preference for sign languages and recognize Chinese Sign Language as an independent language, but supports a “dynamic” approach including use of flexible methods depending on the needs of the child. The SigAm project is in line with and supports such ongoing reform efforts in China.

The project provides children with deaf role models and improves their teachers and parents communication skills. The children are able to access communication and social activities in school and at home and feel happy and confident.

There are good reasons and support to conclude that the SigAm project has contributed to introduce and establish the concept and practice of bilingual education for the deaf – not only in a few project schools in Jiangsu Province, but in China.

The SigAm project is known among people working in special education for the deaf all over China and the broad representation in the final conference May 2009 is a proof of its widespread reputation.


• Prepare a brief and strategic paper describing alternative options for a second phase of the project based on this evaluation and previous discussions.

• Future support should seek to address prevailing constraints in systems and include interventions like for instance:

o technical assistance to policy reform,

o curriculum development,

o teacher training and other types of capacity building,

o specialized training courses

• Future options should be discussed with a broad range of stakeholders in China including CC members, relevant universities and colleges, Norwegian Embassy, as well as Norad/MFA in Norway. Other sources of funding should also be explored.

• The possibilities for future university cooperation should be explored based on independent links between Chinese and Norwegian Universities with its own funding. Norwegian scholars should be involved, but focusing on higher level issues, like policy reform, teacher training, capacity building etc.

Comments from the organisation:

We appreciate the cooperation with Stein-Erik Kruse and Jun Hui Yang.

A core value to the Signo Foundation is that the project target group is represented in the management of the project. In this project deaf people have contributed with lectures and guidance and through this they have become key role models and of great value for the project success.

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