SA: Policy to cater for learners with disabilities

basic educationBy– SAnews.gov.za – More Matshediso

Pretoria – In pursuit of making quality education accessible to all children with disabilities, the Department of Basic Education has started implementing its new policy that it says will allow all children to access equal education.

The Department of Basic Education has partnerships with other departments and several organisations to provide education to learners living with disabilities. This is done through the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS). The policy has been in implementation phase since 2015.

The SIAS policy is one of the programmes that the department has in place to address challenges in past policies that had elements of discrimination and exclusion.

“The ultimate goal is to ensure that children are given access to basic education regardless of circumstances they find themselves in,” says Inclusive Education Director at the Department of Basic Education, Dr Moses Simelane.

The policy, which was approved by Minister Angie Motshekga on 19 December 2014, aims at ensuring that all children who experience barriers to learning, including those who are disabled, would be able to access inclusive quality primary and secondary education.

Currently, the implementation of the policy is monitored and evaluated by being built into the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA), which is the department’s mechanism of monitoring the implementation of its various programmes, including Inclusive Education.

Minister Motshekga says her department, with the support of the European Union, has over many years since 2004 achieved some critical milestones which will be taken forward in a sustained focus on Inclusive Education in 2017 to 2021.

The Minister says there are still too many learners in many schools whose needs are not met to enable them to reach their full potential.

These are children from rural communities, children and youth who live on the streets, children from the poorest of the poor who have little access to the resources that urban children have.

“Why should a learner with albinism or a learner in a wheelchair or with a cognitive disability be referred to a special school because they do not feel welcome at their local neighbourhood school? How can we call ourselves a free and democratic society if these discriminatory attitudes still persist?” asked the Minister.

To enable implementation of SIAS policy, and provide support and monitoring to provinces, the department initiated a Developed Draft Norms for Funding and Human Resource Distribution programme.

The department also feels that the majority of teachers still need to know more about teaching learners with disabilities. Measures have been put in place to ensure that significant progress has been made in ensuring that teachers receive training in specialised areas such as braille, South African Sign Language (SASL) and autism.

“Scores of teachers have graduated in SASL from universities across provinces. What still needs to be done is to build more capacity in the area of autism as well as to implement a Turnaround Strategy that has been designed for special schools, effective from 2016 onwards,” Simelane said.

The Curriculum for SASL is being implemented in schools, and Minister Motshekga believes this will introduce a new era in the provision of quality education for deaf children.

Workbooks that have been adapted for braille, large print and augmentative and alternative communication, are already assisting hundreds of learners in special and ordinary schools to participate in lessons together with their peers.

Simelane believes that the introduction and implementation of the SIAS policy will go a long way in responding to challenges that face parents. But he added that to ensure success, there will be a need for partnerships between various government departments and civil society organisations with expertise in targeted areas.

Since 2015, about 13 032 teachers, 1 367 officials and 3 610 schools have been trained on the policy. When fully implemented, Minister Motshekga says teachers and parents will receive the necessary support to ensure that learners can be included in their local neighbourhood schools.

Since last year, about 800 schools were being reconfigured into full service schools and resources were being dedicated to those schools. Close to 800 full service schools had already been designated in 2015. Of these, 137 (15%) had been physically upgraded for accessibility.

More than R5.7 billion was allocated to special schools in 2014/15, while R400 million was earmarked for strengthening full service schools. Draft funding norms have been developed to address the disparity of funding full service schools across all provinces.