Landmark Ombudsman opinion sheds light on lack of education in NZSL

Christchurch, New Zealand – February 28, 2024: In response to a comprehensive 14-page opinion from the Office of the Ombudsman, highlighting historical shortcomings from the Ministry of Education, Deaf Aotearoa and Deaf Children NZ are demanding immediate action.

The opinion, released today, reveals systemic failures in the Ministry of Education’s policies and processes, particularly in failing to provide adequate education to Deaf children through New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), which they rely on to learn at a level on par with hearing children.

Lachlan Keating, Chief Executive of Deaf Aotearoa, emphasised the critical importance of this opinion, stating: “The status quo is unacceptable, and tangible steps are required to urgently improve access to education in NZSL for Deaf children and ensure they have access to a bilingual curriculum, NZSL medium settings, and NZSL fluent teachers.”

“NZSL is the only other official language in New Zealand, alongside te reo,” he says. “We’ll be asking the Ministry of Education to establish a system for Deaf children to parallel the model used for Māori medium education, to enable inclusive bilingual education for Deaf children.

“This call to action resonates with the ongoing struggles faced by Deaf children in their daily schooling,” he says. “Generations of Deaf people and their families have suffered and not had their rights realised – this is a human rights issue at its core.”

Willa Hand, spokesperson from Deaf Children NZ, echoed this sentiment, adding: “Our vision is clear – we want an education system that empowers Deaf children to thrive. We need to start afresh with a core team of experts who will rewrite Deaf education through a cultural lens, with guidance from international best practices.”

The Deaf community have been advocating for education in NZSL since at least 1994. Despite numerous policy initiatives, consultations, and research efforts, there has been little to no progress in achieving the desired outcomes. The absence of a clear plan of action, with defined targets and timeframes, has left the Deaf community disillusioned and lacking confidence in the progress towards enhanced access to education in NZSL for Deaf children.

For more information on services to support the Deaf community, please visit Deaf Aotearoa.

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