Inclusive education not achieved after 21: New Frame

The educational needs of children with disabilities are neglected, despite an existing framework to address them. This lack of attention to children with additional needs worries many parents who are desperate for more inclusive schools.

“My biggest frustration with the Department of Basic Education is inclusive education, not just admission,” says Kgomotso Mmalegae Moalusi, 40, mother of autistic twins Lesedi. and Lethabo Moalusi, 10 years old.

Moalusi, who is also a board member of her children’s school, says inclusion means that children’s needs, talents and impairments are at the core of the curriculum. She wants the curriculum for schools for children with disabilities to empower students to learn science – or simply something other than woodworking or sewing.

“I have a kid who can take a phone apart and put it back together, even though he can’t talk,” she says. Education programs must be creative and adaptive to enable these children to learn, grow and be innovative.

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Moalusi asked the principal of her children’s school to improve communication by replacing the old intercom system with a walkie-talkie, which would make the learning environment more autistic-friendly.

Children in these schools also deserve to participate in sports. “Schools have fields and swimming pools – our children can’t swim because someone else doesn’t want to take on the extra duty of teaching them how to,” says Moalusi.

Without legally binding regulations, the learning needs of children with disabilities are not yet recognised. Published in 2001, the Education White Paper 6: Special Needs Education – Building an inclusive education and training system has been gathering dust for 21 years. “This white paper stems from the need to make changes to education and training provision so that it is responsive and sensitive to the diversity of learning needs,” he says. But there doesn’t seem to be any obvious plan to make it law.

Mobilize for inclusion

Professionals and a group of parents raising children with autism created Autism Matters, a nonprofit advocacy organization for people with autism, in January. April was Autism Awareness Month, so under the Autism Matters banner, on April 1, parents held marches in Gqeberha, Knysna and Pretoria to highlight the lack of services for children with autism.

Moalusi was among the parents who marched to the Department of Basic Education offices in Pretoria to present a memorandum. The march, according to Moalusi, was about how long children wait to be admitted and what happens in schools for those who are admitted. The memorandum stresses the need for an inclusive education policy. Many children are expelled or denied access to school because of their diagnosis or characteristics of autism.

Robyn Beere, deputy director of the Equal Education Law Centre, said that strengthening the interconnection between early childhood development centres, the department of basic education and higher education will help facilitate a seamless transition in the education sector for people with disabilities. With this in mind, Autism Matters has also proposed that the Department of Basic Education provide quality training in universities as part of its curriculum.

April 22, 2022: Autistic learner Lesedi Moalusi plays on a scooter.

The white paper applies to all stages of education, from early childhood development centers to higher education, Beere says. “However, in practice, these sectors and the respective ministries responsible for them have not worked well together to ensure a seamless transition of support services for a child throughout their school journey.”

“The number of learners with disabilities in particular who pass the matrix is ​​a percentage well below the national pass rate and lower than the number who pass with college entry,” Beere said. “This highlights the poor quality of education provided to learners with disabilities.”

little support

Beere, who is also president of the Alliance for the Right to Education of Children with Disabilities, paints a grim picture of the number of children with additional needs who need access to learning but are not in school. There are no precise or reliable figures on this. According to Beere, estimates from the Department of Basic Education have ranged from 40,000 to 600,000 over the past seven years. There is also no clear plan to identify these learners for placement in schools, she says.

“The fact that there is no precise way to determine the number of our learners means that the [department] cannot plan and budget for the inclusion of these learners in schools.

In a review of the framework for inclusive education, the Equal Education Law Center watch the government’s inability to accommodate children with disabilities. “Twenty years later, the implementation deadlines described in White Paper 6 have come to an end, with many of the objectives set remaining unachieved. So, despite the lofty goals set out in White Paper 6, an inclusive education system continues to elude us.

The report recommends “that a moratorium be imposed on the construction of new special schools until all existing special schools are brought up to standard and function as resource centres”.

April 22, 2022: Kgomotso Mmalegae Moalusi with his autistic son Lethabo Moalusi.

“A white paper does not have the force of law since it only reflects the government’s official policy position on a specific issue of public interest,” the report states. “In order to comply with the State’s constitutional and international obligations, the political ideals as reflected in White Paper 6 must be translated into law.”

An example of how legislation could help provide education for children with additional needs is to make schools accessible and closer to home. Moalusi laments the fact that schools for children with disabilities are located far from learners’ homes, unlike regular schools. Every child in South Africa has the right to go to school within a 5 km radius of their home. Moalusi travels nearly 40 km one way to get her children to school.

The neglect of schools for children with disabilities runs deep. Beere says that in rural areas, these schools are in a much worse situation. According to her, they are “extremely resource poor and many lack specialist staff or equipment and provide learners with poor quality care and education”. This neglect is happening despite White Paper 6 mandating the development of such schools, but nothing has happened so far, she says. Instead, “allegations of abuse and neglect continue to surface.”

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Beere says mainstream schools need to be resourced to support the inclusion of diverse learners, including children with disabilities. For this to happen, the department needs to allocate funds to mainstream schools and support structures such as school-based and district-based support teams. In addition, teachers must receive adequate inclusive pedagogical training, she says.

“The legislation has established clear legal rights that are enforceable and must be costed to ensure implementation,” says Beere. “Without clear and detailed rights and obligations, implementation is not a priority, as we have seen in White Paper 6 over the past 21 years.”

The Ministry of Education did not respond to questions.

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About Debra D. Johnson

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