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Positive screentime

09 September 2019, Impact of Our Work

Electronic sign language books are helping improve the literacy of children with hearing impairments in PNG

Six-year-old Clemence and his friend Benjamini, 9, were glued to their mobile screens when introduced to Papua New Guinea’s first electronic sign language books. Eyes beamed, and jaws dropped as they followed the story of the ‘Flying Fox and the Parrot’ through a Papua New Guinean sign language interpreter on video.

Both boys have hearing impairments and have been enjoying the sign language talking books at the Callan Inclusive Education Resource Centre in Port Moresby since their introduction in May.

Clemence’s mother, Martina , beamed with pride as she shared her son’s love of reading.

“Clemence loves to read and he has been spending time every day sharing the e-books with his twin sister. The books are suitable for all Papua New Guinea children, not just those with a disability,” she said.

Clemence reads a story to his teacher, Naomi Kondai of the Callan Inclusive Education Resources Centre in Port Moresby.

With the support of Australia, 42 grade one and two books from the National Department of Education’s Standards Based Curriculum were converted into e-books with audio in English, Tok Pisin, Tok Ples languages and now PNG Sign Language.

Improving literacy and numeracy for early learners

Talking Books are part of a suite of inclusive education resources being rolled out through the Rapidly Improving Standards in Elementary (RISE) program to help improve the literacy and numeracy of early grade learners in East Sepik, Eastern Highlands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. 

Supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea, RISE is delivered by Save the Children in partnership with Callan Services for Persons with Disabilities National Unit and Summer Institute of Linguistics Papua New Guinea.

Learning through stories 

Sign language experts from Callan interpreted the stories on video which can be played next to the words as young readers swipe though the e-books.  This means children with hearing-impairments can not only access a range of stories, but also learn sign language through the combination of words, pictures and signing.

The talking books in PNG Sign Language will greatly increase the reading and vocabulary skills of the centre’s 37 hearing-impaired children, and other children with disabilities across the country, said Belinda Sausi, Program Coordinator at the Inclusive Education Resource Centre.

While more Papua New Guinean children are in school today than ever before, many primary school aged students do not make it to the classroom due to a range of factors, including distance, security, lack of parental support and disability.

Benjamin and his mother, Rhonda, read a story from the Talking Books in Sign Language series at
Callan Inclusive Education Resource Centre in Port Moresby

Only one in three children complete their basic education, meaning most do not stay in school long enough to learn basic reading and numeracy skills.

Through the PNG–Australia Partnership, the RISE program is aiming to improve elementary literacy and numeracy skills for children aged four to eight-years-old. Reading resources are being made more accessible in communities and schools, with targeted training to 1,800 elementary teachers in 650 schools, and 650 community literacy volunteers.

Supporting children with disabilities 

PNG and Australia are also working with inclusive resource centres, parents and communities to identify, support and connect children with disabilities with mainstream schools, while also working with parents and teachers on strategies to manage individual learning needs.

Clemence and mother, Martha, read the ‘Flying Fox and the Parrot’ story, one of PNG’s first Talking Books
in Sign Language supported the PNG-Australia Partnership.

“Through Australia’s broader Education and Leadership Program we are also supporting Callan Services through the Education Opportunities for all PNG Children project to ensure children in PNG are provided an education that meets their needs,” said Australian Government representative, Eloise Saif.

“This is the first time a collection of Standard Based Curriculum for early grade readers has been converted into electronic books using the PNG sign language and will be available to all children in PNG to access,” said Ms Saif.

The Sign Language Talking Books are available free through the free Bloom Reader application and the website

Photo: Catherine Mackson, PNG Partnership Fund (supporting the Rapidly Improving Standards in Elementary (RISE) program)

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