Special Education and Inclusive Education: Human Rights Watch, Section 27, Inclusive Education SA & Department interaction

Basic Education

08 March 2016
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education heard presentations from Human Rights Watch, Section 27, Inclusive Education South Africa and the Department of Basic Eduction, on special and inclusive education.

Human Rights Watch reported that nearly 600 000 children with disability were out of school in South Africa. Schools failed to keep to their obligation of allowing children with disabilities access to ordinary schools.  Many children going into Grade 1 were turned away because of having a disability. They had also found that many special schools also turned away children with disabilities because of their own inability to cater for specific needs. Many schools typed disabilities and could therefore cater only for select children with specific incapacities. Children with learning disabilities were highly discriminated against, particularly children with autism. These children were least accommodated in public schools. Many children that were interviewed were put on waiting lists for up to four years in order to be accepted into special needs schools which catered for their specific needs/disability. It recommended that the government publish norms and standards on inclusive education to ensure that public special needs schools could become non-fee paying.

Section 27 stated that all people with disabilities could not be painted with the same brush and required different resources. People using wheelchairs needed ramps; blind people needed Braille, mobility and orientation and specified teaching mechanisms; and people with hearing needs did not require Braille because they could see. There needed to be teachers within the Department that were specialised in teaching children with special needs.  There also needed to be a detailed plan from the Department, devised by experts, as to what they were planning to do for children with disabilities from now until about ten to 15 years’ time. There needed to be availability of resources, planning and calculations for specific disabilities.

Inclusive Education SA said that children experienced a wide range of barriers to learning in our country, which stemmed from the effects of poverty, the socio-economic conditions in which they lived, disability, learning difficulties and a system that did not fully support their learning in school. The entity highlighted that the education sector focused a lot on matric results and on getting a grade 12, which ultimately ignored the needs of roughly 70% of the learners who did not reach grade 12 due to learning disabilities, not physical handicaps. These learners were pushed out of the system and were left with no real opportunity or means to participate in the economic sector. When looking at the schooling system with a wider lens, one starts to see the issue needs a systemic response to scholar needs. It was the education system’s responsibility to ensure that each child could participate and could gain access to education. There were nearly 600 000 children in South Africa with a disability who were currently out of school and were being left behind in education, and this required a system-wide response. When talking about children who were pushed out of the schooling system, one was talking about six million children being left behind and not receiving an education. There needed to be an avenue where special needs schools could share their expertise with schools around them.

The Department of Basic Education summarised the progress made with White Paper 6. The provision of quality education was not a destination, but a journey which was encapsulated in the National Development Plan. The Department was committed to meeting the provisions of our Constitution. It had acknowledged that they had not reached the level they should be at, but had made progress. The Minister had created opportunities in the form of round table discussions, in which some of the organisations present today had participated. The Minister had established an advisory committee focusing on learners with special education needs, and where the Department needed to bring all learners with special needs up to speed. The Department highlighted some interventions: there was a focus on strengthening special schools and making special schools resource centres because of their high level of expertise. These schools would be tasked with providing outreach programmes for schools within their respective districts. In the 2014/2015 budget allocation for special schools, R5.7 billion had been set aside. The question was how the available funding was being utilized. When it came to the training of teachers, the DBE provided various means of training for inclusion, including training teachers in Braille and sign language.  The Department had increased the skills levels of teachers in order to enable them to engage with children with disabilities. On the subject of quality education, the DBE had found that for the special schools that participate in the Annual National Assessments (ANA), the performance in ANA for all the grades was higher than the ANA performance of public ordinary schools. The same applied for the National Senior Certificate.

The Committee commended the Department of Basic Education for the work done in this field so far. However, Members expressed concern about the challenges that still existed and highlighted that implementation in the provinces was not taking place as expected. The Committee felt that the number of children that were still not covered in terms of this kind of education was worrying. The Committee further took note of inputs that no special schools were included in the list of non-fee paying schools.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson apologised for the late start and spoke about the importance of inclusive education in South Africa and the needs that existed. She said the meeting was supposed to have taken place last year, but there had been a postponement. She emphasised the need for all pupils to have access to education in order to prepare for the future. The meeting was about sharing information and finding out where all stakeholders were in relation to inclusive education. At the end of this meeting, there needed to be a way forward and a plan to ensure that all children with a disability in South Africa were benefiting from the education sector.

 

Briefing by Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Mr Dewa Mavhinga, Senior Researcher, HRW, said that at the time of the report, nearly 600 000 children with disabilities were out of school in South Africa, which spoke to the urgency in addressing the lack of inclusive education. The HRW had conducted research in five provinces in South Africa -- Limpopo, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. He acknowledged the South African Constitution and the protection of children with disabilities’ rights. He further acknowledged the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Inclusive Education Unit, which had overseen the implementation of policies.

 

In 2007, South Africa had signed the United Nation’s Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, and had agreed to be bound in terms of the core obligations in terms of guaranteeing inclusive, quality education and that schools reflected the diversity in their communities.

The key findings of the report were highlighted, where it was found that there was major discrimination in school enrolments across the country. Schools failed to keep to their obligation of allowing children with disabilities access to ordinary schools.  Many children going into Grade 1 were turned away because of having a disability. They had also found that many special schools also turned away children with disabilities because of their own inability to cater for specific needs. Many schools typed disabilities and could therefore cater for only select children with specific incapacities. Children with learning disabilities were highly discriminated against, in particular children with autism. These children were least accommodated in public schools. Many children who were interviewed had been put on waiting lists for up to four years in order to be accepted into special needs schools that catered for their specific needs/disability.

Mr Mavhinga highlighted that a large number of children with disabilities had never gone to school because they were deemed to be too old when they were finally allowed to enter the schooling system. The DBE had not yet released a government gazette that focused on the enrolment of children with disabilities. 

Another issue was the costs associated with having a child with a disability. Many families could not pay these expenses, and therefore a high percentage of children were not attending school because their parents could not afford the fees. In some cases, children were moved from non-fee paying schools to fee paying special needs schools. It was noted that no special needs schools were on the annual no-fees school list. Transport was another issue, as it had been found it could be the second highest financial factor for families with children with disabilities. It could cost up to R800 a month just to transport a child with a wheelchair to school and back. A majority of learners did not have access to government subsidised transportation.

It was recommended that the government published norms and standards on inclusive education to ensure that public special needs schools could become non-fee paying.

Teaching and training was also highlighted, as there was a lack of quality education. It had been found that children could not read or write despite being at school for many years. On this point, the DBE needed to ensure that teachers were trained and were able to effectively teach children with disabilities and learning challenges.

The HRW requested that the Portfolio Committee ask the Department to send in accurate annual reports on children with disabilities who did not have access to school this year. They wanted an adoption of clear mechanisms on school enrolment and the protection of children with disabilities, so that no child was turned away because of learning difficulties. Also, there needed to be a means to monitor the school drop-out rate of children with disabilities.

Briefing by Section 27

Justice Zak Yacoob, Section 27 Board Member, started by recognising the Constitution as a powerful international document; which highlighted non-discrimination against children with disabilities. Schools for blind people had been started at different times throughout South Africa’s history -- schools for white people were started in the 1880s, for Coloureds in the 1930s, for Indians in 1955, with schools for black blind people starting decades later. One could not paint all disabilities with the same brush, as different people required different resources. People using wheelchairs needed ramps; blind people needed Braille, mobility and orientation and specified teaching mechanisms; and people with hearing needs did not require Braille because they could see.

There needed to be teachers who were specialised in teaching children with special needs within the Department.  There also needed to be a detailed plan from the Department, devised by experts, as to what they were planning to do for children with disabilities from now until about ten to 15 years into the future. There needs to be availability of resources, planning and calculation for specific disabilities.

Mr Silomo Khumalo, Researcher, Section 27, reported on the findings from the report and recommendations. There had been a lack of Braille text books at the 22 schools they visited, and no books had been provided by the DBE as a result of a failed tender in 2012 between the DBE and a material producer. This was in light of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ ruling on a case taken by Section 27 and Basic Education for All (BEFA), where it was found that text books were a component of a right to basic education. Every child must have access to a text book for every subject.

There was a lack of Perkins Braille machines, which was a writing tool for blind people similar to a typewriter. The issue across schools was that these machines were not available or they broke and there was no one available to fix them. This lack of Braille machines and text books resulted in blind children not having access to teaching material. The learners could not independently do their homework or take notes in class. Teacher training was also a major issue, as children reported that their teachers could not read or write in Braille, which created a situation where a learner had to read for the teacher in order for the teacher to be able to mark work.

Mr Khumalo highlighted the issue of orientation and mobility (O&M) instruments for blind people, where these were available, and the need for children to be trained on how to be able to use canes; this was done by an O&M specialist and should be readily available for children with sight issues. Children were ultimately excluded, because they could not get around the school. This had implications for their confidence levels.

Mr Khumalo recommended that there be a task team established for the funding and production of Braille text books, with strict deadlines on production and delivery. Each child must have access to a Braille machine, with someone in the school to help with the maintenance of these machines. There was a case of a school in the Eastern Cape, where there were over 150 learners with only three Braille machines available.  There needed to be continuous training for teachers, and special needs training must be compulsory for all new teachers. With regard to O&M training, each school must have an O&M instructor at the school and the department must work closely with organisations that were focused on this.

Briefing by Inclusive Education South Africa

Ms Robyn Beere, Director of Inclusive Education SA, started on contextual issues, dealing particularly with diversity within the learner population. Children experienced a wide range of barriers to learning in our county, which stemmed from the effects of poverty, the socio-economic conditions in which they lived, disability, learning difficulties and a system that did not fully support their learning in school. As had been mentioned, disability itself was diverse. When looking at schools, 50% to 60% of learners experienced some barrier to learning, although in some schools it could be as high as 70% to 80% of the learner population. This was an issue that was not just based on disability. One needed to start looking at learning ability holistically.

Ms Beere said that the education sector focuses a lot on matric results and on getting a grade 12, which ultimately ignored the needs of roughly 70% of learners who did not reach grade 12 due to learning disabilities, not physical. These learners were pushed out of the system and were left with no real opportunity or means to participate in the economic sector. When looking at the schooling system with a wider lens, one starts to see that the issue needs a systemic response to scholar needs. It was the education system’s responsibility to ensure that each child could participate and could gain access to education. There were nearly 600 000 children in South Africa with disabilities who were currently out of school and were being left behind in education, and this required a system-wide response. When talking about children who were pushed out of the schooling system, one was talking about six million children being left behind and not receiving an education. There needed to be an avenue where special needs schools could share their expertise with schools around them.

Ms Beere highlighted the fact that the Northern Cape has the highest percentage of children born with fetal alcohol disorder. This required prioritisation by the DBE to ensure inclusive education. Teacher education needed to be prioritsed as there was a high percentage of teachers who were not trained in dealing with children with disabilities. There needed to be prioritisation in terms of funding, and she urged the Department to include inclusive education in the norms and standards.  Monitoring and evaluation of measures to address inclusive education also needed to be prioritised. There was also a need to celebrate successes, as there were great examples of inclusive practice in ordinary schools across the country. Some of these schools had been identified as full service schools and some had remained ordinary, public schools with a great willingness to include children with disabilities in the communities.

One could not forget that this was a human rights issue. A child had a right to basic education and should not have to wait on a list in order to be placed in school. She believed action needed to be taken now.

Briefing by Department of Basic Education

Mr Hubert Mweli, Deputy Director General, DBE, said the Department would try to summarise the progress made on the White Paper 6. The provision of quality education was not a destination, but a journey which was encapsulated in the National Development Plan. The Department was committed to meeting the provisions of the Constitution. The DBE had acknowledged that they have not reached the level where they should be, but they had made progress. The Minister had created opportunities in the form of round table discussions, in which some of the organisations present today had participated. The Minister had established an advisory committee focusing on learners with special education needs, where the Department needed to bring all learners with special needs up to speed. He mentioned that some of the numbers quoted were highly contested. They used Stats SA as a national data base.  He knew that there were children who were at school-going age who did not attend school. 

Dr Moses Simelane, Director: Inclusive Education, DBE, presented on the progress report. He started by indicating the goal of inclusive education, which was to implement the policy through integrated planning at all levels, which was enabled by working across multiple disciplines. That included civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other departments. There were figures from Stats SA that indicated that in the 7-15 age group, 93.4% of children with disabilities were accessing schools. The highest statistic when it comes to classifying disabilities was found in the category of children with intellectual disability.

Dr Simelane said there was a focus on strengthening special schools and making special schools resource centres because of their high level of expertise. These schools would be tasked with providing outreach programmes for schools within their respective districts. There was a budget allocation for special schools -- in the 2014/2015 financial year, R5.7 billion had been set aside. The question was how the available funding was being utilised. When it came to the training of teachers, the DBE provided various means of training for inclusion, such as training teachers in Braille and sign language.  The Department had increased the skills levels of teachers in order to enable them to engage with children with disabilities. On the subject of quality education, the DBE had found that for the special schools that participated in the Annual National Assessments (ANA), the performance in ANA for all the grades was higher than the ANA performance of public ordinary schools. The same applied for the National Senior Certificate.

Dr Simelane mentioned the developments made to bring quality education further. In the SCISA qualification and learning programmes; 26 subjects had already been written which would be rolled out as a four year programme leading to a qualification at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 1,  which was equivalent to grade 9. The Department was also implementing the South African sign language which started in 2015, as deaf learners had never had access to their home language. This initiative hoped to improve learner experience. The implementation this year was the intermediate phase -- Grades 9 and10. Work books and tool kits had been provided for children with visual impairment, where each child from Grade R to 9 had access to learning material.

Dr Simelane further touched on the issue of funding. The DBE had recognized the country’s divided past which had had a ripple effect on the provision of inclusive education across the board. This had influenced the policies that the DBE had initiated, policies that were pro-poor and which targeted the issue of redress. A model for funding had already been developed and the  DBE was currently at the costing level of the final model, which would clearly stipulate how a special school would be funded. The DBE had received an invitation from National Treasury to submit a bid in May to look at how the funding model could be supported through government funding.

Dr Simelane responded to the Human Rights Watch report, where fees had been mentioned. There was a policy that stipulated that parents could apply to school governing bodies for fee exemption. There needed to be an implementation mechanism across the board where all schools complied with this. The funding model that was discussed would also address the fee issue. Responding to violence and neglect in schools, the DBE had a programme on safety and security in schools. Special schools also participated in the same programme.

Discussion

Ms C Majeke (UDM) thanked the DBE for the progress made. She asked the Department to engage with local governments and ask ward councilors to identify the people in their communities that were disabled and gain information on age, gender and whether those that were at school-going age were attending school. She asked that this information be shared with the DBE as a measure to facilitate correct information. She asked for the DBE to keep a special eye on children with disabilities that had finished school and were looking for employment and for the Department to assist so that these pupils may be automatically placed. She raised the issue of alcohol usage in South Africa and how there needed to be intervention for women who were pregnant and drink.

Mr H Khosa (ANC) raised an issue regarding percentages referred to in the DBE presentation. He asked about the training of teachers -- what was the DBE’s target and timeline? Also, those teachers who were identified as unqualified by Section 27 -- those who could not read or write Braille -- what measures were in place to assist these teachers and were they being responsive to these measures? The children who were moved from the non-fee schools to fee paying schools, what were the reasons for this? If the DBE investigated this, what had been the findings? Finally, regarding the lack of Braille text books, there was conflicting information.  Section 27 had said there were no text books due to a failed tender, but Dr Simelane had said there were books. Could one get clarity? 

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked about the figures that were contested, as mentioned by the Deputy General, and wanted to know why they were contested. Also, with the funding issues, Dr Simelane had mentioned that there was funding, but was there a way to monitor where and how the money was being used? Were there ways to monitor? Was there a means of sharing information with civil society, because they would not be here if information was readily available? He further mentioned that everyone had a role to play.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) said that irrespective of what the Minister had tabled or said, nothing had been done to actually deliver on special needs. The policy needed to be implemented on every level and in every province. There were educators who were being deployed who had no background knowledge. Text books and curriculum, the Department did not engage with schools to find out that they needed -- books were just delivered and nothing more was done. There needed to be support staff in the classroom to assist the teacher in a special needs school. Children needed to see psychologists at department offices because schools were not equipped with their own psychologists. The transport issue was shocking. Facilities were not geared to assist learners. There was a school that had been promised a bus and to this day nothing had been done. Parents did apply for exemption from school fees, but the result was that their children became victimized.

Ms J Basson (ANC) mentioned the apartheid legacy and how it was still influencing the allocation and access to resources today. It was shocking that the Northern Cape had such a high number of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and that there was no specialised school there for those children to attend.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) spoke about parents who were opening centres for their children, and said that more parents should take such initiative as the government could not do everything. She commended the Department for putting in place the policies and programmes to lay the foundation for inclusive education. She asked about the breakdown per province of full service schools and how they were dispersed nationally. Who determined what a full service school was? She suggested that the DBE prioritise special needs education as much as it had prioritised school infrastructure through the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI). She asked why the special education funds were not ring-fenced.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) acknowledged that there was no lack of willingness from the Department. The problem was the lack of finances. There needed to be people with specific skills in the education sector to do the financial planning. She mentioned that as a person who did not have a disability, she could not plan for people with disabilities, and there needed to be engagement with children on the ground so they could plan properly.  The selection of service providers must be selected carefully; people should get tenders only if they could deliver and there was proof of delivery.

The Chairperson said it was a major issue to have a child with a disability within the community. Some parents would have to hide their children, as it was seen as a curse. It therefore an insult to say that nothing had been done to address the lack of inclusiveness in the country, as we were here discussing the issues in a public space. The DBE knew that there was more to be done, but civil society needed to acknowledge that as well. She asked about the numbers that had been raised of the 600 000 learners that were out of school -- when was this figure captured, and was there not an updated one?

Ms Deere responded on the contested number, saying that was it in fact 597 953 learners, a figure which came from page 18 of the DBE’s report in table 15, where they quoted calculations made by the DBE in 2012. The Department had said it was unfeasible to address the needs, as this would require close to 300 special needs schools. She addressed Ms Basson’s comment about Upington and needing a school there, and said that if the Department could not build exclusive schools, more full service schools needed to be initiated, meaning that teachers would need to be equipped so they could teach children with learning needs within their classrooms. She agreed that there needd to be stronger collaboration between civil society and the government, as often they were excluded from information and funding opportunities.

Ms Sarah Driver-Jowitt from the Uhambo Foundation welcomed the opportunity to engage with the Committee and the DBE. She commended the DBE on its May 2015 report and the Committee for inviting the organisations to come and present today. Regarding the statistics, the 2013 figures from the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities quoted 535 000, the 2011 DBE figure was 519 000 and the 2010 figure was 467 000 children that were out of school. She asked why these figures were being questioned when the Department published them. Regarding parent-initiated centres, she said they were fantastic, but should not be the solution; these were parents, not educators. 

Mr Tim Hudson, Researcher, Section 27, said he wanted to reiterate that the reason why they were here was because they believed in democracy and the idea of improving education for each child, and that when they criticised the DBE it was because they believed that this was the appropriate place to do it. He would like Dr Simelane to talk about text books, and not the delivery of work books to children in the country. To his knowledge, the DBE had not produced a single Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) text book in Braille, even though CAPS has been rolled out since 2012. He would like to suggest and not request that quarterly reports from the Department were made available to the public and the Portfolio Committee.

Mr Mweli said that the Department engaged with people from all across civil society and that when they initiated round tables, they invited organisations that were active in the sector with which they were engaging. He could not dictate to an organisation on how it must carry out its business, just as organisations could not dictate to the DBE. Organisations could make a suggestion, but could not tell the DBE how even some of their line items should be utilised. If it came as advice, he would take it, but if it came as a demand, then that was something different. He said that the DBE did not take instructions from organizations, and even the Portfolio Committee did not give them instructions.

Mr Mweli was happy that some concerns had been addressed. The statistics had been contested because they had their own limitations. The statistics were limited to a household survey, which had a narrow scope. With regards to the numbers, the DBE was concerned that whether it was 600 000, 500 000 or less than that, the key was that there were children who were excluded from learning, and this needed to be addressed by the DBE. They would therefore bring out a national document on norms and standards for inclusive education. The Department had been working on the document for the past two years and was at the stage of finalising it. Regarding children that have been moved from non-fee to fee paying schools, the Department does transfer funds to those schools in order to assist with the school fees of those transferred children.

Mr Mweli responded on the lack of Braille text books, the procurement of which was done through a national catalogue. The Department had discovered that many publishers were not keen on producing text books in Braille, as they were seen as too expensive. With regard to funds, it was the responsibility of the provinces to allocate funds from their Equitable Share. The DBE could not dictate to provinces, they could only recommend.

The Chairperson was concerned about the issue of publishers who were not keen to publish text books in Braille. She raised this issue because of the reactions of the organisations present. She could sense that from the information that was given, it was not something that these organisations agreed with.

Dr Simelane replied that the successes and failures in achieving inclusive education in the country were dependent on all who were present today. Everyone had different expertise and different resources. It was a question of how one pulled these resources together. In response to Mr Khosa regarding the statistics, he said these were numbers of learners in the age group 7 to 15 years -- the compulsory school-going age. The figure looked at the population in this age group and then from those numbers looked at the percentage of learners that had access to school. The percentage would include children on waiting lists. Regarding teacher training, the target was that every teacher working within a special needs school was given the necessary skills in order to teach. The transport issue was also provincial, and most departments bought transport for special schools. In 2009/10, the KZN DBE had bought 50 buses and then converted them to meet special needs standards. Last year, the Department had received information from Limpopo of the provincial department having bought mini buses for special schools.

Dr Simelane said fetal alcohol spectrum was an issue, as much as autism was, and they were putting in place mechanisms to address this. There had been a recommendation that special schools create a unit for autism so that learners could have access, and the same needed to be done to address the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome. The unfortunate fact was that the Northern Cape was the world capital when it came to the number of children living with fetal alcohol spectrum.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee and all in attendance and noted receiving of all the recommendations, but reiterated that the Portfolio Committee was also an organisation that had to adhere to its own mandate, plans, strategy and programmes

The meeting was adjourned. 

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