Innovative Practice 2020 on Inclusive Education and ICT

Training teachers of mainstream schools in sign language

Felm is an NGO of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland working in 30 countries to support human dignity and justice. Since 2003, Felm has run the Social and Educational Programme for the Deaf jointly with EECMY-DASSC in Ethiopia, which provides training for teachers in mainstream schools in the use of sign language. This allows lessons to be provided bilingually in spoken and sign language, thus enabling deaf students to avoid specialist boarding schools. The number of teachers trained in sign language has risen from 100 per year to over 150 in 2018.

“Teachers go far beyond their duties to provide sign language and awareness training for parents and the community. This motivates us to continue.”

About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:Social and Educational Programme for the Deaf
Organisation:Felm in partnership with EECMY-DASSC
of Implementation
Start Year2003


  • Since 2003, more than 35,000 deaf or hard of hearing children have accessed education.
  • In-service training has been provided for 2,000 teachers.


There are more than 500,000 deaf people in Ethiopia, with fewer than 10 per cent having access to formal education, and there are few support systems or teachers trained in sign language.


The project, that Felm has developed in partnership with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus – Development and Social Services Commission (EECYM-DASSC) focuses on training teachers in rural areas to include sign language in their lessons, along with providing educational materials and assistive devices to students with disabilities. Begun in the Hosaina region of Ethiopia, it has since reached teachers in many regions across the country.

The project was developed through a workshop of deaf and hard of hearing teachers of deaf and hard of hearing children along with representatives from the national association of the deaf. In addition, other professionals with disabilities support the trainings and preparation of educational materials.

Over the project’s 16 years, more than 35,000 deaf and hard of hearing children have gained access to education. During this same time, around 2,000 teachers, 1,000 parents, and 300 education officials have received training or support in providing sign language and other inclusive classroom methods. In addition, the project has influenced the Special Needs/Inclusive Education Strategy of Ethiopia, including the provision for deaf and hard of hearing students to learn sign language in preschool, ready for entering primary school.

 Adults and children communicate in sign language to the teacher, who is outside the picture, during a in-service training for teachers in Debresina.

Around 2,000 teachers, 1,000 parents, and 300 education officials have received training or support in providing sign language and other inclusive classroom methods.


The project’s annual budget is €70,000, of which €42,000 covers the teacher-training component. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland covers 92.5 per cent of the budget and 7.5 per cent is covered by donations from Finnish foundations and Christian congregations. Additionally, the Ethiopian Government provides in-kind funding, such as training venues and accessories.

Felm aims to expand its activities into rural Ethiopia, where around 80 per cent of people with disabilities reside. It is expected that the model is replicable, particularly in countries with a similar educational context across sub-Saharan Africa.



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