How deaf children improved their reading skills


Located in the outskirts of Pretoria and founded in 1954, Transoranje School for the Deaf has 200 deaf and hard of hearing children from pre-primary to high school. A government-subsidised school, it is also a place where the children are cared for, loved and recognised. The school’s over arching philosophy is to empower their students by developing them into well-adjusted, responsible, independent, productive and self-sustaining individuals who are well prepared for the working world.

Due to the lack of language exposure during their critical developmental stages, the students’ level of competency at Transoranje is on average 2-3 years behind their peers.

The iDeaf Project on the iPad originated out of a necessity to better equip the deaf students of South Africa with the critical reading and language skills needed to accelerate their learning to more acceptable levels.

The iDeaf app overview

  • The storybook apps were designed locally to meet the needs of deaf students who use South African Sign Language.
  • There are 6 storybooks which include folk tales such as 3 Little Pigs, Goldilocks and The Gingerbread Man, as well as uniquely created stories which are based on the local curriculum such as The Clever Plan and The Big Carrot.
  • All the storybooks are based on the objectives of the South African curriculum and contain beautifully illustrated stories designed in a standardised format.
  • The storybooks can be read in English or Afrikaans and contain various visual elements: simplified text and syntax, picture animations, highlighted words, fingerspelling and SASL (South African Sign Language) interpretations and video.
  • The highlighted words in the app are words that deaf children commonly struggle with. When selecting these words they are explained in 4 formats: text, an animation or an image, SASL and finger spelling (deaf ABC). By combining the learning elements into 1 place the student is able to move through the book and develop a range of skills in an easy to understand format.
  • The books also contains an audio element for only partially deaf children so that they can also hear the book read aloud, while reading the text and learning the sign.
  • The storybooks were created using the Demibooks Composer app, only available on iPad.

Improved reading skills and in-depth understanding

In a short period of time, the iDeaf project is already showing remarkable impacts on the reading skills of students. By combining such an extensive set of learning elements into one app that is easy to navigate and understand, Grade 3 students are now able to read a whole story on their own, whereas previously they required a lot of guidance and assistance.

In the past, with the overload of visuals, the children would become fatigued, unresponsive and lose concentration. With the iPad in their hands, teachers have seen an increased level of engagement and active participation from students in their learning. This results in improved in-depth understanding. Additionally, iPad allows each child to work on their own and at their own pace with less dependance on their teacher. This is key for individualised learning.

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