Fee hike sees end to night classes

Sigh language night classes have been canned in Manawatu after a fee hike made them unaffordable.

Classes at the adult and community education centres in Manawatu – Feilding Community Learning Centre and Queen Elizabeth College Community Education – have not been able to get minimum enrolment numbers for term one. Fees went up almost 150 per cent from last year.

Sign language is one of New Zealand's three official languages.

Feilding Community Learning Centre manager Jo Brew said it had to cancel. "It's sad not only for me but for the community, and it's bigger than us [the centre] ... it's the effect it will have on New Zealand Sign Language in Manawatu," Mrs Brew said.

Queen Elizabeth College Community Education executive officer Pearl Parker said it was disappointing.

"We only had two people enrolled in one of the classes ... it's an important thing to teach but it is just the costs involved," Mrs Parker said.

Feilding's courses cost $50 last year and $145 this year. Palmerston North's course costs $150 per term this year.

Fees went up due to the Government's Budget cuts in May 2009, which hit nightclasses across the country, and although former Minister of Tertiary Education Anne Tolley said NZSL would continue to get funding, nightclasses in the region say they haven't received any.

Labour Disability Issues spokeswoman Lynne Pillay said this was a big loss to the deaf community and the New Zealand community. "The shortsightedness of the cuts by the Government and price hikes have made sign language classes out of reach for the average Kiwi and it is exactly what we predicted would happen when Anne Tolley made the cuts," she said.

Jackie Davidson has been a New Zealand Sign Language tutor for 16 years. I feel so sad and very disappointed ... I can't believe that all the New Zealand Sign Language night classes in Manawatu have been cancelled this term.

"I know it is because people just can't afford to pay triple price for fees anymore," Mrs Davidson said.

Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Rachel Noble said the loss of nightclasses in the region was a tragedy.

"It reflects the commitment that's needed in the provision of sign language classes in New Zealand."

She said the problem is across ministerial responsibilities yet it should be treated the same way as Maori language is treated.

An open consultation on the development of sign language in New Zealand is being undertaken by Deaf Aotearoa. Mrs Noble said the information would be used to advise the Government when the New Zealand Sign Language Act is reviewed later this year.

Both community centres will offer New Zealand Sign Language nightclasses next term.

Most New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) classes are delivered through community education and are used by parents and families of deaf children, teachers, nurses, police and workmates. They are taught by trained NZSL tutors based on a curriculum especially developed for community classes.

The Manawatu Standard