Valgerður Stefánsdóttir (IS)

Valgerður Stefánsdóttir (IS)

Director of the Communication Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Iceland.

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1. What, in your opinion, are the strengths or weaknesses of the current system in the Iceland?

The legal environment for Icelandic sign language is strong in Iceland. On June 7, 2011, the Icelandic Parliament passed a Law on the Status of Icelandic and Icelandic Sign Language (see Articles 3, 5, 7, and 13 of the Language Act contain some detailed provisions in support of the users of Icelandic Sign Language (ITM).

ITM is declared the “first language” of persons with hearing impairment, and it is a responsibility of the government and of municipalities to preserve it, strengthen it and to support its use. In accordance with Article 3, all persons who have a need for sign language must be given the opportunity to learn Icelandic sign language and to use it from the beginning of their language acquisition, or as soon as deafness, hearing impairment or deaf-blindness has been diagnosed. Their immediate family members shall have the same right.

The weaknesses, on the other hand, appear in the language ideologies, the attitudes towards the language and the people who speak it, that do not comply with the text of the Act. The right of people to learn ITM according to the law is not respected in so far as the learning of the language is not easy, due to for example availability. The professional settings for SL teachers are insecure, wages are low and teaching opportunities in society are lacking. Teachers complain that they are not able to increase their skills in a special field and they need to undertake a variety of tasks (counselling, family-courses,  children´s courses, material production, college and university teaching etc.).

2. Can you give us examples of ‘best practice’ in your country?

Excellent co-operation between the University of Iceland and the Communication Centre.

The Communication Centre and the University of Iceland´s Institute of Linguistics have a formal co-operation on research in ITM and all the SL teachers who teach at the university come from the Communication Centre. 

An undergraduate programme in Sign Language Linguistics and Interpreting is offered at the University of Iceland (UI). The teacher training programme at the University is flexible regarding the composition of studies and allows ITM to be one of the elective subjects to specialise in for teaching. 

The development of all learning materials for ITM teaching is centralised in the Communication Centre, funded by the government, and produced in co-operation by a group of deaf and hearing professionals. All our materials use a growing database of signs in that everyone can access online. 

3. Can you tell us about the accreditation of sign language teachers in your county?

The study at the University meets all the requirements of a regular B.Ed. / BA programme. Deaf teachers with a B. Ed degree and no education in ITM can specialise in ITM by taking additional courses in ITM grammar, the status of ITM and history and culture of the ITM community at the UI.

The Icelandic Communication Centre provides those sign language teachers who teach at the Centre or at the University, with additional training, Teachers are required to have BA or B.Ed degree, a specialisation in ITM grammar and history and culture of the ITM community, for appointment as a teacher.

There is no central registration system of qualified ITM teachers and no quality control of sign language teaching except at the Centre. The school system does not offer ITM teaching as L1 or sets any special requirements for teaching deaf or hard-of-hearing children ITM  as L1.

There are no requirements in the public school other than general teacher training. There is no special education for teachers who want to teach ITM as a first language or bilingual teaching (IS/ITM). 

There is no special education for teachers who want to teach ITM as a first language or bilingual teaching (IS/ITM). 

4. Can you tell us something about curriculum development in your country? Are curricula based on the CEFR?

The curricula developed by our Centre for L2 are now being adapted to the CEFR.  

5. What, in your opinion, is the way forward for Sign Language teaching & the training of SL teachers in your country, and/or in Europe?

We would like to set up a model for ITM teacher education at the University of Iceland. Tailor the studies from the courses offered by the University and add other courses, especially suited for ITM teachers like didactics of teaching in SL or teaching SL and bilingual teaching. We would like to have close cooperation with European sign language teachers, if possible to make a European study program and have national or European standards for sign language teachers.

Date of the interview: April 2017