“Compatriots. School attendance in the country is now close to 100 percent for the compulsory band, 7-15 years of age. But we remain concerned by the report of the General Household Survey in 2010that just over 120,000 children in that band are out of school,” thus spoke President Jacob Zuma at the occasion of delivering the State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2012.

Just consider it! 120,000 children who are not in school - and the snails-pace in improving enrolments, or support, for special needs schools. Accordingto The Right to Education for Childrenwith Disabilities Campaign, it is estimated that there are 165,000 children with disabilities who are out of school.

Using the World Health Organization benchmarks, it is projected that there are between 293,000 and 346,000 children with disabilities in South Africa (between 2.2% and 2.6% of the population of approximately 13,312,000 learners in the system). Obviously, these cannot be absorbed by the only 1300 public and private schools for children with severe disabilities.

Louzanne Coetzee, who was head girl at the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired in Worcester last year, attained an average of about an 85% pass rate on all of her matric subjects. The 19 year-old is now a proud marketing fundi at the University of Free State.

In North West, Letlhogonolo Mafela, a physically challenged 20 year-old, wrote matric with his toes and passed with remarkable results.Letlhogonolo, who was born without arms and uses his feet to eat and write, is this year studying BiologicalSciences at the North West University.

Sadly, Louzanne and Letlhogonoloare a rarity: Children with disabilities who manage to get education usuallydrop out in Grade 9 - which is the highest level offered at most specialschools.

The Department of Basic Educationhas a policy of "mainstreaming" special-needs children into ordinary schools in an attempt to prevent the discrimination of these children. This policy, however progressive, is not backed by adequate resources. As a result,although they are supposed to be placed at the centre of the education system, such children don't always get the special education they need to go on to live meaningful lives.

Some of the better-off schools,e ither state-aided or private, offer remedial education in one form or another. They employ remedial teachers and run small remedial classes alongside regular classes. However, the shortage of such schools, relative to the need, means that thousands of children with various forms of challenges sit at home and do nothing; their future looking bleak.

They have no prospects of overcoming, or at least mitigating, the effect of their challenges. If education is a certificate to escape poverty, it could also be a weapon to limit the impact that comes with being physically or otherwise challenged.

Having considered the above realities, an apt question beckons:

Are Disabled Learners a Country’s Pride, or simplyShamed by the System? - EdwinSipho Rihlamvu

The Right to Education for Children with Disabilities campaign

The Right to Education for Children with Disabilities campaign was launched in 2010 to promote inclusive education and, where necessary, increase the quality of special education for children with severe and profound disabilities who cannot be accommodated in the mainstream public school system.

The campaigncomprises of subgroups on: policy and legislative development; early childhooddevelopment and teacher training (to name a few) and engages with both the National Department of Basic Education and the Department of Social Developmenton policy and legislative related developments.

The campaignhas made great progress and hopes to see education for children withdisabilities soon being given priority within the plans of the nationaldepartments.

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