Inclusive education: status, accompanying challenges and strategic response: briefing by Basic Education Department

Basic Education

08 November 2010
Chairperson: Ms M Kubayi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department presented on the status of inclusive education, its accompanying challenges and the strategic response. Barriers to learning, which included systemic barriers (such as overcrowded classrooms), societal barriers (such as crime, HIV/AIDS), pedagogical barriers (such as under qualified teachers), and intrinsic barriers (such as behavioural problems) were noted, and it was emphasised that barriers did not simply refer to those with disabilities. The education system had generally failed to respond to diverse needs, resulting in drop outs and failures. Various developments were highlighted. In terms of the curriculum, they included practical guidelines drawn up to accommodate a diversity of learners, and a curriculum management team that had been established to implement the South African Sign Language curriculum as a subject by 2012. Developments on learning and teaching support material included the department supplying 30 selected special and mainstream schools with assistive devices, and two Braille Houses had been approached to develop master copies of textbooks for schools with visually impaired learners. Developments within Human Resources and District development included teachers receiving training for specialised skills on visual and hearing impairment, and provincial, district and school officials from 30 selected districts being trained on screening for barriers to learning and packaging of support. Lastly, infrastructural developments included ten ordinary schools being physically upgraded to be environmentally accessible to serve as models of full service schools, and the provinces taking over the progressive physical upgrading of ordinary schools to full service schools - 33 schools had been selected.

The objectives of the inclusive education program included improved access to quality education for learners experiencing barriers, and improving the quality of teaching and learning through the provision of support.

The Committee expressed their concern over the slow rollout of infrastructure for inclusive schools. They asked about the distinction between inclusive education and special needs learners, noting the two should not be conflated. Terminology was discussed, and the Committee asked for clarity on the appropriate terms to be used. Capacity building was discussed, and the training of teachers able to teach at special schools was noted as important. It was emphasised that a ‘one size fits all’ approach was not always appropriate with regard to full service schools. Members noted that sometimes mainstreaming could not work, and specialisation was necessary. The availability of transport to all learners was noted as an important area to develop.

The Department conceded that infrastructure development and capacity building was not moving forward as fast as was desirable. They noted was an area of focus, as was the screening process to identify learners with barriers.

Meeting report

The Chairperson began by noting that the Committee was continuing with provincial visits to monitor exams. She also highlighted the alleged gang rape at a school in Gauteng, emphasising that it was a serious incident that was condemned. There was a need to reflect on issues of taverns and bottle stores open near schools. Access to these institutions was too easy. Mr Mpontshane (IFP) noted that the IFP condemned such an act. Mr W James (DA) said that the DA had issued a statement to the same effect.

The Chairperson then handed over to the Department of Basic Education’s Dr Moses Simelane, Director of Inclusive Education, and Mr Edward Mosuwe, Acting Deputy Director General (DDG): Curriculum.

Inclusive Education Programme
Dr Simelane said that inclusive education involved meeting the need of all learners through various strategies and methodologies. He noted the barriers to learning, which included systemic barriers (such as overcrowded classrooms), societal barriers (such as crime, HIV/AIDS), pedagogical barriers (such as under qualified teachers), and intrinsic barriers (such as behavioural problems).  Thus, barriers did not simply refer to those with disabilities. Most learners who experience barriers had fallen outside the system. The education system had generally failed to respond to diverse needs, resulting in drop outs and failures. There were 392 public special schools in South Africa, consisting of 8 227 teachers and 111 619 learners, out of which 75 932 learners had single disabilities, and 35 687 had multiple disabilities. In 2009, there were 124 535 learners with disabilities in ordinary schools, out of which 21 976 were in separate classes, and the remainder were integrated into mainstream classes.

Curriculum Developments included:
▪ Practical guidelines to accommodate a diversity of learners drawn up in 2009 and were being refined
▪ a curriculum management team that had been established to implement the South African Sign Language curriculum as a subject by 2012,
▪ Workshops for teachers in the areas of visual and hearing impairments had been organised.
▪ A reference group had been established to make inclusion policy inputs into the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements.
▪ Draft concessions guidelines for assessing disabled learners were being developed.
▪ The department was putting a process in place for the development of a curriculum for schools of skills.

Learning And Teaching Support Material Developments included:
▪ The department supplying 30 selected special and mainstream schools with assistive devices.
▪ Two Braille Houses had been approached to develop master copies of textbooks for schools with visually impaired learners.
▪ A package had been put together which included devices and technologies for procurement and supply to visually impaired learners.
▪ Plans for the Grade 1-6 workbooks’ adaptation were in place
▪ Plans to engage the Departments of Health and Social Development to clarify roles and responsibilities regarding the supply of assistive devices were in place.
▪ Consultations were planned with the same departments on the usage of health professionals for screening and interventions.

Developments within Human Resources and District development included:
▪ Teachers registering for
Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) programmes on inclusive education
▪ Teachers being trained for specialised skills on visual and hearing impairment
▪ Provincial, district and school officials from 30 selected districts were trained on screening for barriers to learning and packaging of support
▪ District bases support teams (DBSTs) and school-based support teams were established in 30 selected districts, and special and ordinary schools respectively
▪ Special Schools guidelines and Guidelines for Full Service Schools had been developed for district development
▪ Teachers would be trained on practical guidelines for teaching diversity of learners

Infrastructural developments included:
▪ Specifications for making ordinary schools environmentally accessible to the disabled had been developed and were used by Infrastructure Planners
▪ The specifications were incorporated into the national Infrastructure Norms for application in al new classrooms and buildings.
▪ Ten ordinary schools had been physically upgraded to be environmentally accessible to serve as models of full service schools.
▪ Provinces had taken over the progressive physical upgrading of ordinary schools to full service schools, and 33 schools had been selected.
▪ Provinces would progressively identify schools for further conversion to full service schools, with a medium term goal of having an inclusive school in each district.
▪ Development of infrastructure norms for special schools would resume shortly
▪ Infrastructure projects were slow in provinces due to capacity.

The objectives of the
Inclusive Education Programme included improved access to quality education for learners experiencing barriers, and improving the quality of teaching and learning through the provision of support. The Department’s strategic response was the implementation of the Action Plan 2014, and the use of a multi-disciplinary approach which involved all stakeholders. The Inclusive Education Programme involved the incremental conversion of ordinary schools to full-service schools, the establishment of additional special schools where needed as well as tracking the placement of learners between full-service schools and special schools.

Discussion
Mr N Khanyago (UDM) asked how some of these barriers had been identified, specifically regarding the intrinsic barriers.

Dr Simelane elaborated on the identification of intrinsic barriers. They had developed a screening and identification support instrument in 2008, which had been piloted in 30 selected districts. They were receiving feedback on it for its further implementation. It needed to be integrated and collaborated upon with other departments (Social Development, Health). It was important to be in the position to ask for assistance, such as psychologists, from sister departments.

Mr Mosuwe added that when identifying barriers – although they did not have the dedicated capacity, the department had developed guidelines to be used by teachers to identify symptoms, so that students could be referred. The second approach was the establishment of district support teams, which would alleviate the challenges that teachers had. However, not all 81 districts had the same capacity.

Mr D Smiles (DA) asked for clarity on the definition of inclusive education. He was sometimes confused by the Department in their use of this term and also the term ‘mainstreaming’ – they were sometimes conflated with each other. He failed to get a clear cut understanding of the challenges with regard to inclusive education, especially referring to funding. On the strategic response, he said the Department needed to apologise for inclusive education not performing / doing well. Very little had happened. He asked for a critical strategic response.

Dr Simelane responded on mainstreaming those with disabilities – it was done where practically possible. It was a strategy for addressing the long waiting lists for special schools. A number of children were not accessing an education. Funding for inclusion was a serious problem. Donor funding (R56 million) had been used from 2004 to 2009. The Department had submitted a bid to Treasury to continue and expand inclusive education, which was granted between 2008 and 2009.  R300 million had subsequently been allocated for 2011 - 2012. On the provincial level, some areas had not received the funding. On the strategic response; integrated planning and intervention was key. The action plan they were working on focused on collaboration to eliminate duplication and conflict.

Mr Mosuwe added that the delivery agreement that the Minister had signed included collaboration with other departments, especially the Department of Health. This involved the screening of learners to identify the needs of students. This program would begin in 2011 in specific provinces, in order to begin screening from Grade 1. The Minister of Health had given his support to this process. Collaboration was key.

Mr James asked what the understanding regarding cultural barriers, especially language barriers, was. How was that addressed?

On cultural barriers, especially languages, Mr Mosuwe said that the Department had held a language colloquium in the Department the previous day. They conceded that little had been done to advance their response to the issue. Appreciating the values in the Constitution regarding language was important. It was a complex matter, and accommodating different cultures within schools was crucial.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) noted the diversity of learners, and how picking certain schools to become inclusive was not sweeping enough. All schools should become full service. Was it possible to get a report from the Department that was more detailed – such as explaining how upgrades were carried out, and how many had been upgraded. All children needed special attention. Terminology also needed to change. Timeframes were important. Was training happening for teachers to deal with learners with disabilities? Every school needed capacity.

Mr Mosuwe replied that, on the training of educators, a teacher development plan was being developed as a product of the teacher summit. It gave categories of teachers needed, and it should be able to respond to this issue. Attracting teachers to special schools was still a challenge. Sourcing teachers to teach in an African language in the foundation phase was also a challenge. The Department would continue to advocate for teachers to go into these specialised areas. On the literacy and numeracy workbooks, there was a need for them to be developed for all learners. They had begun adapting the workbooks accordingly (to be used by those who have physical challenges).

Dr Simelane said that at the moment provinces brought in service providers to train a selected number of teachers in special needs. There was a long way to go.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) noted the difficulties he had had in getting training in sign language. Dedicated units within the Department were no longer operating in Limpopo. He noted infrastructure concerns relating to special needs schools. Some areas and building were not appropriate. He said that some provinces (such as the Northern Cape) did not have enough special schools. He highlighted interdepartmental cooperation as crucial, otherwise it caused problems for both students and parents.

Mr Mosuwe said that sign language had been neglected in the past. There has been a court case about this in the high court in KZN. The Minister of Basic Education had put together a team to develop sign language as a subject, which should be implemented in 2012.

On infrastructure delay, Mr Mosuwe noted that it had been a challenge in the education system. The accelerated infrastructure development project was on the table, to eradicate buildings not suitable for learning, and to develop others. There were challenges at the provincial level with the Department of Public Works. There needed to be engagement to unblock the blockages that had been experienced.

Ms N Gina (ANC) asked for details about special schools and to what they specifically referred. Were the teachers specialised that taught at these institutions?  On special needs students in mainstream schools, how many of them completed their studies up to matric? Had the Department studied this matter? That was an area of concern. Lastly, she too worried about the progress in infrastructure. There was very little progress in many of the provinces. Who was the other implementing agent that was having trouble - was it the Department of Public Works? What work was being done to speed up these processes?

Dr Simelane explained that ten models of inclusive schools had been developed, and then provinces had to use those as models in order to take the process further. There had been delays with regard to implementing agents; the Department had a MOU with the Department of Public Works. Some provinces had identified other implementing agents (such as Kwazulu Natal which was working on 12 schools, and North West was working on 77 it had selected and are going to resource to be inclusive schools). Interdepartmental collaboration was critically important, as the issue of inclusion was a complex matter. Many stakeholders needed to be involved (such as non-government organisations). He noted that the guidelines for special schools touched on infrastructure, and infrastructure norms were being developed for special schools. On special school teachers – they had started developing norms for human resource provisioning. They were identifying how many teachers needed to be provided for
at the various schools.

Mr Mosuwe replied that infrastructure delay had been a challenge in the system, and added that the Minister had put forward the Accelerated Infrastructure Development Programme in order to eradicate unsuitable buildings and respond to infrastructure needs. A high level meeting was required to discuss this.

The Chairperson mentioned support for learners, specifically those with disabilities. Was any transport facilities available to them, as it was to some other learners? On the training of educators, how could teacher’s capacity be increased? Was the department being proactive in training teachers for special needs students?

Dr Simelane said that, in terms of transport support, the budget allocated to each special school had to address transport for learners. Some special schools did have transport. KZN had bought 50 buses that were adapted for use in 2008 and 2009. Seventeen mini buses had been procured in the North West.

Mr James commented that a ‘one size fits all’ understanding could not apply to special schools. Sometimes mainstreaming could not work, and specialisation was necessary.

Mr Mpontshane noted that the South African Schools Act did state the right to access to education for those from different cultures. Looking at the current status of learners with disabilities, what was the nature of the disabilities of the 22 225 students they had mentioned? Some developments noted in the presentation were vague. Separate information should be provided where it was too general.

Mr Dikobo said that an advantage of mainstreaming involved the early integration of those who would otherwise be separated and then needed to be reintegrated later in life. Bursaries should be given for special needs students to study in ‘ordinary schools’. On the matter of transport support, children who would have benefited from transport at a special school were often not afforded this at a mainstream / full service school. How could this be addressed? On the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) agreement for therapists and psychologists, should not these therapists and psychologists be in house so that this follows the appropriate chain of command? Teachers did not know to where to refer the children. Units should be at provincial and district level. The Department of Health had other priorities.

Ms Mushwana requested the Department to clarify the concepts of inclusive education and special schools – they should not be conflated, and referred to different issues. Inclusive education referred to ordinary classrooms and involved a diversity of students. All schools needed to be inclusive. Special schools involved other issues. Perhaps the Committee should visit a full service school?

Mr Kganyago noted all the departments that needed to be drawn upon to access various services such as clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists, educational psychologists, who were placed in different departments (Health, Social Development). Psychological services were critical. These professionals needed to be accessed. He noted the terminology, and asked for clarity. There were lots of disagreements (teacher vs educator; disabled vs challenged, etc). Had the Department sent people outside the country to see what was happening in other places?

The Chairperson emphasised that these matters were serious. There was a need for extensive reflection on these challenges. She agreed that terminology was a complicated issue (challenged, disabled, differently abled, etc). There was still a need to deal with issues of support and infrastructure on both the policy and provincial levels.

Mr Mosuwe noted that the comments and passions raised highlighted the need for urgent attention to be paid to these issues. The department was focusing on how policy documents were translated on the ground. He agreed with Ms Mushwana’s assessment of the differentiation between classifications that were needed. Inclusion referred to differing potentials, while those with disabilities also had differing educational needs. It was important to train teachers to focus the curriculum for the learners. He agreed that it was not a ‘one size fits all’ matter. The Department had studied models in other countries. They also had local solutions (such as KZN). On the matter of human resources, there were challenges with the implementation of the OSD. There was definitely a need for specialised services, especially regarding the various barriers that had been mentioned.

Dr Simelane said that, as a Department, they were looking for the development of school curricula for skills. On the matter of culture, a revisit of policies regarding cultural practices should be looked at in order to ensure inclusivity and ensure they were not discriminatory. On statistics for disabled learners, they would have to contact the appropriate unit in order to provide that data. Teachers were often taught to teach to the average learner, and this needed to be worked on. There was a policy for learner transport support, but it needed wider application to every learner.

White Paper 6 stipulated three classes of schools – ordinary (low levels of support), full service (moderate levels of support), and special schools (reserved for learners requiring high levels of support). There was currently a dual system, and the goal was to move towards something more unified, including the full service category more fully. The Department had taken long to respond to challenges. They were dealing with very complicated issues – barriers to learning necessitated a lot of intervention. On terminologies, he agreed that they complicated matters. On infrastructure challenges, they had spoken to infrastructure planners for the conversion into full service schools. It was important to use those with the relevant expertise. It was crucial not to work in silos.

The Chairperson thanked the department for the presentation, saying it was good, but space needed to be found for further engagement.

The meeting was adjourned.  

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