Education for all a Dream or Reality?

Inclusive education is about to change the education system - from the national, provincial and district offices of the Department of Education, to schools and their communities, to teachers and learners.

The journey

It started in October 1996, when the Ministry of Education decided to determine how the needs of learners with special needs had been looked after by the previous regime. Two teams were put into place: the National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training, and the National Committee on Education Support Services. Their task? To make recommendations on special needs and support services in education and training in the country. At the end of 1997 they handed over a draft of their findings to the Minister of Education. The final report on their findings would only see the light of day later in the following year.

The report found that the previous government classified all learners with disabilities under a single heading: special education – learners with Special Education Needs (SEN). They also discovered that only a very small minority of such learners had been provided for in either mainstream schools or schools for learners with special education needs. The report further revealed that most learners with special education needs were not in school and had never been to school. Furthermore, some learners were in mainstream schools which could not meet their special needs and, as a result, there was a large number of drop outs and forced outs. The state of special needs schools? Neglected.

Education White Paper 6

The result of the findings led the Department of Education, in July 2001, to set up the Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System. This policy specifies guidelines for a new system of education that provides for all learners.

In this 2001 policy, the Department of Education committed itself to: “Promote education for all and foster the development of inclusive and supportive centres of learning that would enable all learners to participate actively in the education process so that they could develop and extend their potential and participate as equal members of society.

One of the guiding principles for the system is: “Making sure that all learners have equal access to a single, inclusive education system.” The goal of the policy is: “to build an inclusive education and training system that provides good quality education for all learners over the next 20 years.”

What is an inclusive education and training system?

The policy defines it as one that:

• “Recognises and respects the differences among all learners, and builds on their similarities,”

• “Supports all learners, teachers and the system as a whole so that all learning needs can be met. This  means developing ways of teaching that help teachers to meet the different learning needs of all learners,”

• “Focuses on overcoming and getting rid of the barriers in the system that prevent learners from succeeding.”

Why is inclusive education so important?

Besides the obvious answer that our current system discriminates; one needs to consider the implications of this discrimination.

The 2001 census counted 585,589 children and youths with disabilities. According to Statistics South Africa 2005 16,1% of these had physical impairments. It is estimated that between about 260,000 to 280,000 children with disabilities were not schooled in 2001. The 2007 census states that 1,916,218 people (3,9% of the population) declared that they had a disability, 40,2% were physical impairments. Two years ago there were 12,3 million learners in 26,593 public schools. Only 400 (1,5%) of these were special needs schools but, according to the census  3,9% of the population have disabilities. This means that we are undercatering for children with special education needs by 75%

If 1,5% of schools cater for 1,5% of 12,3 million children it means that only 184,500 children with special needs instead of 585,589 children with special needs are receiving education in the special needs system. The number of children not being schooled has almost doubled to 401,089 since 2001!

Since 1994 the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the South African Constitution have recognised the rights of children with disabilities to basic health and education provision. Since 2004, adults with disabilities have also been eligible for free health care. In the fiscal year 2006/07, services to people with disabilities amounted to R207m (6.69% of overall expenditure on welfare services). In 2007 1,437,842 people (11.9% of all recipients of social grants) received a Disability Grant. For 96% of these people the Disability Grant was their only source of income.

Education equals employment According to the Survey on Social Security Recipient Profiles, “Disability Grant recipients have a low level of education”:

- 29.3% have no formal schooling whatsoever

- 30% have formal schooling below grade seven

- 37% have completed seven to 11 years of formal education

- 4% have completed Matric (Grade 12) and/or tertiary education*

The 2001 census figures are just as shocking:

- 29.8% no schooling,

- 34.6% some primary education,

- 29.5% some secondary education,

- 2.9% some tertiary education

The census quite rightly states that: “people with disabilities have fewer access opportunities to education than their non-disabled peers” and “having a disability or being a parent of a disabled child increases the chance of living in extreme poverty, since the majority of people with disabilities in South Africa are excluded from the mainstream of society, compared to their non-disabled peers”.

The census employment figures highlight the inbalance, caused in part by the lack of inclusive education, “35% of non-disabled people were employed in 2001, with 19% of disabled people were employed at that time”. According to the survey on social security recipients’ profiles “people with disabilities belong, for the most part, to the lowest income categories and would have no income without any social assistance grants”.** The correlation between good education and employment in which earning a living and living a decent life forces the conclusion that inclusive education, for all, is imperative.

Barriers to inclusive education

The barriers in mainstream schools that prevent inclusive education are very real. Only some 2% of schools have appropriate toilet facilities for disabled learners, paved access and ramps; 6% of schools have NO toilets on site; 8,470 schools have pit latrines and 5,216 have ventilated improved pit latrines. Few schools are equipped with computers and even fewer use them in classroom teaching.**

Our mainstream schools can hardly be blamed though. They are not offered assistance by government and there are no incentives in place for them to place SEN learners. Although a school cannot refuse a learner, they have not been supplied with any rules or bestpractise procedures to facilitate the process. There are also few funding mechanisms in place to assist schools to meet the needs of SEN learners and no training for the educators. This is especially true in poor or rural areas.

Another reality to consider is the transport system. The lack of public transport is a huge barrier for SEN learners wishing to attend any school. According to the survey on social security recipients’ profile, “distance to school or college was considered a barrier by 6.4% of those children not attending school and receiving the Child Dependency Grant”.*

SEN learners are almost always directed to a special school once they are identified as having special needs and the numbers are on the increase. In 2004 some 77,752 learners were directed away from mainstream schools into special schools, by 2007 the figure had risen to 93,000.**

Special schools are battling

Despite the increase in learners at special schools the South African government’s inclusive schooling programme has resulted in budget cuts. The budget allocated for special schools decreased from 60.1% of the budget devoted to inclusive education in 2008-09 to only 25.1% of the budget forecast for the fiscal year 2010-11. As a result of insufficient government subsidies special schools are struggling to provide education of a good standard for its learners. This is despite the White Paper Policy on inclusive education stating: “These special needs schools will continue to support learners with the most intensive level of support and plans are in place to improve the teacher to learner ratios and the professionals’ ability to cope with severely disabled learners by increasing the quality of facilities and materials.”

On top of this valuable teacher and administrative time and skills are now being wasted as teachers and staff divert their energies into fundraising efforts in order to keep their special needs schools afloat.

Where is inclusive education?

Whilst the guidelines for inclusive learning were published in 2005 to assist mainstream educators in the development of responsive teaching methods to deal with learners with problems, the number of SEN learners in public mainstream schools remains minimal at best. We are now at the end of 2010 - nine and a half years since the introduction of the policy - very nearly the half way mark of the twenty year programme. Just how far have we come in that time, and is it far enough? 

De Koker, de Waal, Vorster, 2006

** Statistics South Africa (2005), Disability Prevalence 2001, Statistics South Africa



Rolling Inspiration examines the many barriers to inclusive education, speaks to experts in the field to find out how far we have come and how far we still need to travel, and investigates some of the mainstream public schools that have already implemented inclusive education.

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