TAFE cuts will devastate Victoria’s deaf community

June 14, 2012

In late May, Kangan TAFE Institute announced that due to budget cuts the Diploma of Auslan was no longer viable and would close in December 2012.

The Diploma of Auslan (Australian Sign Language ) is a two-year, full time course and the only one available in Victoria. On completion of this course, most students will undertake the Auslan Interpreter course at RMIT or Macquarie University to become sign language interpreters to the deaf community.

Those students who are trained teachers of the deaf will complete the Diploma of Auslan and become qualified to apply to work in educational facilities for the deaf. Auslan is also offered as a Language other than English (LOTE) subject in schools in the wider community and some students will progress to become teachers of Auslan in these school language programs.

There are also parents with simple Auslan skills who wish to communicate with their children in a more effective manner.

For several years, Kangan TAFE has argued for ongoing funding for the high cost of providing the extensive support required by students studying Auslan. Auslan is a complex visual, physically delivered language, which requires multiple simultaneous movements and cues.

Precision of position, and direction and manner of expression of hand movements, of the face and of the body are all vital to correct delivery of the communication. Auslan has its own grammar and structure, and does not, as many think, simply mirror spoken English word for word.

As a visual language it uses a different area of the brain than spoken delivered languages received in an auditory manner. Learning Auslan thus requires lower student ratios and availability to expensive audio-visual equipment to achieve high quality effective outcomes.

Presently there is a critical shortage of Auslan interpreters to service the deaf community and this will become direr with the closure of the Kangan Diploma of Auslan. For the past 20 years Kangan TAFE has been a major provider of Auslan with a staff of skilled and dedicated lecturers and a proud reputation.

While it is apparent that there is scope for efficiencies, cuts have been mishandled and appear in many cases to be indiscriminate. Colin Long, the state secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union, foresees the likely outcome is that many courses will move into the private sector.

However, this is only likely with those courses offering the possibility of producing the most profit. The Diploma of Auslan is not one such course. For the past three years, costs have been cut at Kangan, but it can be pared back no further. Put simply, the course cannot be produced more cheaply while maintaining the appropriate level of skill that is vital for people to be able to work within the deaf community at a consistent professional standard.

Part time conversational courses are available to members of the broader community but do not provide an adequate skill base for teaching or interpreting.

It should also be noted that this government has also cut the whole of provider support funding for TAFE institutes, which is used to pay support staff including interpreters at most TAFE institutes. This potentially means that deaf students will no longer have access to an interpreter in their classes.

Greens MLC Colleen Hartland, who raised the closure of the Kangan Auslan Diploma in state parliament on May 22, described it as '”a human rights issue wrapped up in an education issue”.

The loss of access to unobstructed information, communication and services by re-introducing a severe cultural barrier is a devastating set back in the rights of deaf people in Victoria.

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