Children with special needs: Department of Education briefing

Women in The Presidency

19 October 2009
Chairperson: Mr G Mokgoro (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee briefly debated whether to allow the Department's presentation after Members were informed that the Director General of the Department of Education was unavailable. Members decided that the presentation could be made, but strongly censured the Department not only for the absence of the Director General, but also for the delay in providing members with documents in good time to facilitate their adequate preparation for the meeting.

The Department of Education then briefed the Committee on the progress made in expanding access to education for children with disabilities. The Department's policy was guided by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which provided a framework for the institution of access to education through an inclusive education system at all levels. The Department submitted that access to education for children with disabilities had been improved at various levels of the education system, which included screening, identification, assessment and support; environmental access, availability of assistive devices, availability of appropriate Learner and Teacher Support Materials (LTSM), teacher training, availability of specialist professional staff, guidelines for inclusive learning programmes, curriculum for South African Sign Language (SASL) and advocacy, and strengthening Specials Schools. Each of these was outlined briefly.

Members queried whether the picture painted by the Department was on par with the reality on the ground, particularly regarding the strengthening of Special Schools, as examples were given of several of these that were in appalling condition at various locations throughout South Africa. A member also questioned the validity of the curriculum for a South African sign language, especially its contextual relevance to South African cultures, and its lack of a legal status as one of the official languages protected by the Constitution. Members also asked about the nature of the training received by teachers and support staff who provided professional and specialist services to children with disabilities in the education system.

Meeting report

 

Department of Education briefing on it programmes for Children with special needs
The Committee briefly debated whether Members were prepared to entertain the Department's presentation after being informed that the Director General, Mr Duncan Hindle, was not in attendance. Some expressed the view that the Department ought to have been sent back, since Members could not engage meaningfully in discussions without the accounting officer being present. However, they were mindful of the cost to the taxpayer if the meeting was postponed. The Committee resolved that it would allow the Department to proceed with the presentation but strongly chastised the Department’s officials for not taking the work of the Committee seriously, especially since documentation had also not been provided on time to give members time to prepare for the meeting.

Ms Vivian Carelse, Deputy Director General, Department of Education, apologised profusely and affirmed the Department's commitment to its work. She indicated that the Department had been given insufficient notice of the meeting by the Committee's Secretary and she had been nominated, at very short notice, to fill in for the Director General, who was not able to be present.


Dr M Simelani, Director, Department of Basic Education, gave a presentation to the Committee on the progress to date with expanding access to education for children with disabilities. He explained that the Department had an obligation towards implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and ensuring access to education through an inclusive education system at all levels.

Dr Simelani spelt out the rights of the persons with disabilities as contained in the CRPD in terms of the obligations of member countries and access to education and skills.  He expanded on the different levels of the education system that needed to be made inclusive, namely; screening, identification, assessment and support; environmental access, availability of assistive devices, availability of appropriate Learner and Teacher Support Materials (LTSM), teacher training, availability of specialist professional staff, guidelines for inclusive learning programmes, curriculum for South African Sign Language (SASL) and advocacy, and strengthening Specials Schools. Full details on these were contained in the attached document.

Discussion
The Chairperson commented that the input from the Department had been comprehensive and invited members to comment, seek clarity or ask questions.


Mr L Nzimande (ANC, KwaZulu Natal) remarked that, from his experiences when attending a special school for the disabled, he was not sure that what was described in the presentation was at par with the situation on the ground. This sounded to him more like a work study paper. There were many issues of concern that the Department had not addressed, such as who owned the privately run Special Schools, and the appalling condition of the State-run Special Schools. He was not sure if any advancement of these schools was indeed taking place and he cited several examples of schools in poor condition in different provinces.

Dr Simelani responded that the perceived disjuncture between the presentation and reality on the ground, and the slow progress of the strengthening of Special Schools was due to a phased-in process that was employed owing to limited resources.

Dr Simelani also responded that there were many disparities, which emanated from the inherited past of apartheid, and which still remained.

Mr Nzimande remarked that there was no consensus on South African Sign Language (SASL) and questioned  whether it was contextually relevant to South Africa's various cultures and traditions. He wanted to know whether sign language had the legal status of an official language like the other 11 official languages, which enjoyed constitutional protection.

Dr Simelani responded that there were challenges with SASL. The South African Sign Language Board was responsible for developing standards and was therefore better positioned to comment on its status. This matter also raised the question of the status of sign language as a language of teaching and learning and as a subject. The Department was in discussion with Wits University and DEAFSA amongst other stakeholders, and a process had been started to develop the SASL in that regard.

Ms Z Ranto (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked what a moderate school looked like.

Dr Simelani responded that the concept of a moderate school had come about as a result of the desire to do proper placement of learners in a school where they could benefit to the maximum, and that supported needs that did not need sophisticated and high level interventions. For instance, psychological counselling services had been provided at some schools.

Ms A Qikani (ANC, Eastern Cape) referred to the statement on page 7 of the document, where it was mentioned that only three provinces had responded to the invitation to tender. She wanted to know if the other provinces, especially the Eastern Cape, had been invited.


Dr Simelani responded that all provinces were participating in the tender and so far only three provinces had submitted their bids.

Ms Qikani asked who had the responsibility of determining the statistics of how many children with disabilities were in the mainstream education system.

Dr Simelani responded that the information on the audit of disabilities in mainstream schools, was conveyed through the Annual Schools Survey.

Ms D Ranto (ANC, Eastern Cape) commented that this audit had been stated as in the process of being phased-in since 2004, with no discernible progress to date.

Dr Simelani responded that this had been a development process. There were problems of the definition of disability not being accessible to the public. The Department had tried to simplify the technical side of data collection to enable efficiency, and was continuously reviewing its data collection and data management methodology.

Mr C De Beer (ANC, Northern Cape) commented that Special Schools had to be decentralised, as rural people were not benefiting. He asked how much money was being allocated to this in the Department's budget.

Dr Simelani responded that the Department would have to look at the budget for Special Schools to see what improvements could be made. Dr Simelane also responded that the provinces had the information on their allocations and would be able to provide it to the Committee.

Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) asked if there was a specific place where specialist teachers were trained. He asked if the staff, other than teaching staff, also received special training for providing services to the disabled. He also wanted to know how long it took to train the teachers, and whether the learners travelled to school each day, or if they were in boarding facilities.

Dr Simelani responded that the training of teachers had taken place in 2007/08 and information would be provided in writing to the Committee on the nature of that training.

Mr D Gamede (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) commented that he too was very concerned that what he was hearing was totally different to the reality in South Africa according to his own experiences, which he related to the Committee.

Mr D Bloem (COPE, Free State) agreed with what members had said about the slow progress of the audit of disabilities in schools, and was concerned that it would continue to be stuck at the phasing-in stage.

Dr Simelane responded that the slow progress of phasing-in of the audit on disabilities was mainly due to the White Paper’s six strategies, which had to be well prepared and strengthened before they were rolled out. He also mentioned that there was a need for all role players, including the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development and the Department of Transport, to be involved in order to accelerate progress.

Mr W Makgalancheche, Chief Director, Department of Education, commented that he felt that there had been a significant impact.

Ms V Carelse concluded that this had been an exacting session for the Department, and that the sentiments expressed at the meeting were all embedded in the Strategic Plan. The Department was as keen as the Members to see the Department deliver fully on these initiatives. Whilst she could not declare immediately that the Department had made progress, it was certainly dedicated and resolved to achieve success in its strategic objectives.

Other business: Committee Programme
The Committee considered the Committee's programme and adopted it without any changes.


The meeting was adjourned.

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