Inclusive Education and Special Education: DBE Progress Report; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

30 May 2017
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education discussed the progress the Department has made in the sector of Inclusive Education and Special Education. Some of the issues raised at the meeting include:

• The uncertainty about the number of children with special needs who are not in schools and have been placed on waiting lists.
• When does the Department intend to own braille production systems?
• What strategies does DBE have in place to ensure that the conditional grants are not used for other items outside of inclusive education?
• When was the last audit on special schools done?
• The waiting list increases year by year and special schools have age limits. What happens with the learners that have become too old to enroll at a school after bring on the waiting list for a long time?
• The uncertainty of what needs to prioritised going forward between more inclusive schools or more special schools taking into account the training of teachers.
• Are there any schools that are no fee schools for learners with special needs?
• The increase in the number of special schools with boarding facilities.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed the DBE delegation and the stakeholders, saying that the Committee is interested in the progress made by DBE since the 2001 inception of inclusive education. Every learner deserves quality education regardless of whatever physical condition a child has and it is the duty of DBE to ensure that all children of South Africa receive quality education. She asked for DBE to explain during the course of the meeting what the terms ‘inclusive education’, ‘full service schools’, ‘special schools’ and ‘special needs’ mean.

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Enver Surty, gave an apology on behalf of the Minister who could not attend the meeting and asked if he too could be excused after 15 minutes because he had to attend a Cabinet meeting. The area of discussion is a very important one and DBE has done some good strides in creating special schools and the expansion of the number of the schools. The Department is able to provide data that precisely tells what the nature, form and extent of a learner’s disability is which helps the Department in planning and implementing interventions. The Department is working on increasing the utilisation of ICT to enhance the ability of learners to receive quality education. DBE has done well in its braille provision and the Department is working on owning the means of production when it comes to braille.

One of the challenges that the Department is facing in the unit is curriculum differentiation in the schools. He suggested that the Department should be giving dedicated time in teacher resource centres to enhance the ability of educators for curriculum differentiation and dealing with challenges faced by teachers in the Early Childhood Development phase. The Cabinet has requested DBE report on the readiness of learners in ECD and Grade R and look at the overall ability of the learner so that it can be easy to look at what kind of interventions to make at an early stage.

DBE Director General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, acknowledged the presence of Inclusive Education South Africa at the meeting and thanked the organisation for their contribution. DBE has made a lot of progress since the inception of the Unit but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. He said the presentation might have some glitches when it comes to the accuracy of the data. The document presented by Inclusive Education South Africa is mostly based on the country report submitted to UNESCO in 2014 and a bit has happened since then and DBE intends to meet with the organisation to update them on the progress made.

Inclusive education is driven from the perspective of Sustainable Development Goal 4 which talks about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education that promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all. The number of special schools has almost doubled since 2002 where 295 special schools existed and 464 special schools in 2015 with 419 being public and 45 being independent schools. The number of full service schools has moved from 30 in 2002 to 75 in 2015. In rural districts the numbers for enrolment of learners in special needs education seems to be lower than in urban districts and even today you find that there are children who cannot go to school because of their disability and are kept at home for a lot of reasons.

DBE is finalising the policy for learners with severe to profound intellectual disabilities in accessing support and quality education. The policy has been awarded a grant of R477 million over the 2017 year. DBE is also organising access to education for children with autism which is a challenging and complex condition. DBE’s approach so far has been that each special school needs to open a unit for learners with autism and DBE is coming with a strategy together with NGOs to speed up the process.

Dr Moses Simelane, DBE Director for Inclusive Education, said the data of children living with disabilities who are out of school is close to being accurate since DBE has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Department of Social Development, StatsSA, Department of Home Affairs, SASSA and Department of Health. The budget allocation for public special schools was given over the next three years.

South Africa has a total of 715 full-service schools. The progressive designation of full-service schools is in part a strategy for mainstreaming disabilities. The designated schools are oriented according to respective guidelines in order to respond to their mandate. Most previously disadvantaged schools do not have units or special classes attached to ordinary schools. In provinces like Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo and Western Cape, the units are established for the purpose of bringing learners with impairments into mainstream schools. This is a process of integration which is a step closer to inclusion of learners. There are no units or special classes attached to ordinary schools in the Northern Cape.

The finalisation of the policy to provide quality education and support for children with profound intellectual disability starts this year. This is the year for putting all systems in place to ensure implementation is effective in 2018. The key deliverables include the establishment of 31 multi-disciplinary outreach teams across the nine provinces. The outreach teams will have a psychologist, a speech therapist and social worker who will be employed using the conditional grant. DBE had a two day consultation session in March where they looked at strategies to accelerate access to quality education for children with autism and there are projects to establish units in mainstream schools for children on any end of the autism spectrum instead of just catering for those at the lower end of the spectrum.

During 2016/17, the total number of learners who were on a waiting list for special school was 11 461 and the number reflects where provinces were at the beginning of the year but the number has since decreased because provinces have been at work. The Learner Transport Policy of 2014 accepts the principle of universal design and accessibility and DBE recognises that learners with disabilities should be prioritised. The provision of transport across the provinces is still skewed and you find that provinces like Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape still do not have enough learner transport for special schools. There are further interventions to strengthen the implementation of Inclusive Education such as the Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) Policy implementation.

The Department is proud to announce that they are preparing for the first South African Sign Language exam in 2018 and there already engagements with Umalusi to prepare for Grade 12 exemplars. Teachers have already been trained for the implementation of the curriculum for next year. The writing teams have completed 21 differentiated subjects for learners with severe intellectual disability for Grades R to 5. A national training will be conducted in June 2017 after which the provincial training will take place between July and September. The subjects will be introduced in 155 schools for learners with severe intellectual disability on a pilot basis in 2018. The expected outcome of the programme is the standardisation of the quality of curriculum delivery for learners with severe intellectual disability. A task team has been established by DBE and the Department of Higher Education and Training to work on issues of articulation.

The Minister has established an advisory committee made up of stakeholders in visual impairment communities who are advising DBE on the acceleration of the production of braille material given the limited capacity in the country; 223 textbooks have been adapted to braille and provinces source the textbooks directly from producers.

The following are key priorities in the inclusive education sector plan for 2017-2018:
• Accelerated institutionalisation of SIAS Policy and Curriculum Differentiation - to be facilitated by filling of posts in inclusive education at all levels.
• Mobilising out-of-school children with disabilities - assess children in care centres, place learners on waiting lists, monitor admissions.
• Strengthening implementation of South African Sign Language (SASL) Curriculum Assessment Policy Statemens (CAPS) at grade 12 in 2018.
• Preparing the system for implementation of the technical occupational programmes: audit of schools, equipping of workshops, training of teachers - October 2017, school of skills.
• Home Education Policy finalisation and implementation.
• Progressive designation of Full Service School and Special Schools as Resource Centres (SSRCs) - funding, infrastructure, transport - 2021 targeted for SSRCs.
• Promulgation of funding and human resource provisioning.
• The incremental establishment and capacity building of support structures at district, circuit and school levels will be scaled up and monitored to ensure full-scale implementation by 2021. School managers will be capacitated to implement inclusive education from a whole school development perspective.

The Chairperson commended the Department on the progress that has been made and said it is important to ensure that there is universal access to quality education and that no learner is found at home because they have a disability.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) said she is pleased to see that DBE has reached a target of about 241 000 learners as she is concerned about the high number of children with disabilities that are out of school.

She pointed out that there is no verification of the criteria and standards of the full service schools because some of these schools function as normal schools.

She does not believe that only 11 000 learners are on the waiting list. The South African Schools Act says that no learner must be put on the waiting list but must be placed on a central database if schools cannot accommodate them which must be held by the head of a professional department.

She can factually say that the statement that no learner in Mpumalanga is on a waiting list is not true because she has visited Mpumalanga and found that some learners have not been admitted to schools because of the requirements of certain schools such as report from a psychologist.

When was the last audit on special schools done?

Many special schools procure their own transport to and from homes to school. She asked which schools were given these buses and in what condition were the buses. The accessibility of the transport models is another factor that needs to be taken into account when providing transport to special schools. If boarding facilities are not increased then the Department will not be able to accommodate the learners. The working staff at the school boarding facilities need to have some kind of medical training and first aid training so that they can administer medication in the middle of the night when no nurse is present.

Ms J Basson (ANC) said she noticed that the Unit is being carried by only two people. The Department has neglected the Unit which is under resourced. The Unit itself is under resourced and has inherited a lot of backlog dating back to the apartheid era. The legacy of apartheid is prevalent in the distribution of resources in special schools in rural areas. Children with disabilities are not hidden – it is just that there are no schools that cater for children in the areas they live in and so children are forced to stay at home. Learners were neglected in rural areas during the apartheid regime and now it seems that the government is developing what has been inherited because special schools in rural areas continue to be under resourced.

What is the ratio of schools per therapist?

When is the Department going to train educators in schools that have been identified as full service schools? She said she visited Iliwa School in Nyanga, a school that has been designated as a full service school and found that it was under resourced, and was subject to break-ins almost every weekend. How will DBE ensure that the schools do not turn into nursery homes because the teachers are not qualified to teach learners the required curriculum?

The waiting list increases year by year and special schools have age limits. What happens with the learners that have become too old to enroll at a school after having been on the waiting list for a long time?

Mr H Khosa (ANC) said he does not agree with the premise that progress has been made because service delivery differs from province to province. He saw in the report that some schools with boarding facilities have learner transport and those that do not have boarding facilities do not. It makes more sense to provide transport to schools without boarding facilities and this is where he said he does not agree with the premise that progress has been made.

The majority of learners who are left at home is due to lack of space and not because of a disability because these days people living with disabilities get money from the Department of Social Development.

Ms L Majeke (ANC) said that the budget for interventions in special schools should be more because such areas struggle.  How will the Department ensure that learners are skills oriented?

Ms G Davis (DA) said inclusive education is an issue that is close to his heart and he sympathises with parents whose children cannot be placed. Over the last 20 years access to education has improved and what needs to be worked on now is the quality of education delivered to learners.

Learners who are on the waiting list are running out of time and will soon reach adulthood. He asked why the resources allocated to children with special needs do not match the need and what can the Department do to meet the need of all learners on the waiting list. It is an important matter because the Constitution is clear on the right of children to basic education and cannot use the excuse that there is a lack of resources. The Department is open to serious litigation on this issue.

What does a parent need to do to ensure that their child gets the education that they are constitutionally deserving of? How does the child get diagnosed in a remote area where a parent is unemployed and has no access to transport? How has the conditional grant been spent?

What strategies does the Government have in place to ensure that all full service schools with children living with disabilities have facilities (such as wheelchair ramps) for learners to keep their dignity intact?

Director General Mweli replied that the full service schools have the basic facilities in place to ensure the dignity of learners is intact. He conceded that some schools were designated full service schools without a proper plan in place and without facilities but the new schools being built will have all the necessary facilities. Going forward, the Department will ensure that no schools will be designated as full-service schools without a feasible plan for that particular school.

The conditional grant for children with profound and severe disabilities is a new grant and there is no historical data on it. The grant was only allocated and appropriated to all the nine provinces this year. The multidisciplinary team will be available across the country to assess learners and diagnose them so that they can be allocated to appropriate schools, and this will be made available through the grant.

The figures of unplaced learners are self-reported and come from across all provinces. The figures were gathered in 2015 and are estimations from StatsSA. The question of accuracy can be debated but what is more important is that even though it may be one child, that data indicates that there is a phenomenon that the Department needs to urgently address.

Learners with special education needs have been identified as the main beneficiaries of the skills and vocational programmes and DBE is saying the programme is now a national curriculum and will be monitored. The majority of such schools are found in the Western Cape and this is because of the history of the Province and how some of the towns are governed.

In teaching courses, teachers are trained on learners with special needs but when it comes to specialised skills, teachers do need to be trained on such skills. The DG said that when he was a student he also did a course that dealt with learners with special needs.

The number of learners who are on the waiting list is not 500 000, that number is too high according to the DG. He added that the numbers are disputable.

DBE said they will follow up on the schools with boarding facilities that also have learner transport. Money was allocated to schools with learners with special education needs and the school had to specify what kind of vehicle is required, the adaptability required as per the needs of the school. All transport systems provided were brand new.

There are seven people who are leading the Inclusive Education Sector but the DG invited the two because he was confident that they are professionals and would provide all the necessary explanations to the Committee.

Director General Mweli agreed with the Committee that boarding facilities need to be increased.

On the question of differentiating between special needs, special schools and disabilities, Dr Simelane replied that almost everyone has special needs. People wearing glasses have special needs and a child who is an orphan has special needs and there are particular needs that the school needs to cater to.

A complete census of special schools was done in 2015 and that is where a lot of backlogs have been identified and the Department has been working on addressing the problems identified.

The SIAS Policy was created in response to the challenge where parents had to first produce reports from health professionals in order for their children to be admitted to special schools. The policy provides a service to every child and parent at no cost to the parent.

The Department of Basic Education does not have the competency to deal with every disability or special need of learners but if other departments work with DBE then a lot can be achieved. Some disabilities require Department of Health interventions and schools need to be encouraged to work with clinics when it comes to children with disabilities and learners with autism.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said she would have loved to see more information on infrastructure such as how many schools the Department plans to build, the numbers for transport. The report does not give a clear indication of the way forward. It provides a report on where the unit is and not future plans.

She asked why the Department is reporting on previous years instead of the current financial year.

There is a strong need to strengthen interdepartmental collaboration because you find that some schools do not have social workers, such as a few reported in the Eastern Cape, whereas there are unemployed social workers in the country. She does not understand why some of the issues raised by DBE are made to seem difficult when they are in fact tasks that can easily be achieved especially given that this is the government sector.

Mr D Nguni (ANC) said that he would like to know the exact time frames set out for the state interventions on the waiting list issue.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) asked when the Department intends to own braille production systems.

What strategies does DBE have in place to ensure that the conditional grants are not used for other items outside of inclusive education?

Prof T Msimang (IFP) said that he is not sure of what needs to prioritised going forward: more inclusive schools or more special schools, taking into account the training of teachers.

Director General Mweli replied that both are of equal priority.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) asked if there is any data on how the SIAS Policy has been implemented to assist parents that do not have access to health professionals, and asked what is the outcome versus the input?

Many learners who are incontinent do not have access to schools and this is a fact. If they do have access, the parent or the guardian must provide an assistant. There used to be therapists previously and do the therapists still exist?

Another issue that is detrimental to special needs learners is that they are not exempted from school fees and they pay full fees even in the full-service schools. Are there any schools that are no fee schools for learners with special needs?

The Chairperson said that she believes that all schools must be inclusive and if the SIAS policy is fully understood by role players, Committee members, learners and parents then a lot can change for the good in the inclusive education sector.

She noted that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is societal issue and is prevalent in the Northern Cape and Western Cape and this is a matter that DBE cannot deal with alone even though the syndrome affects the learner.

South African Sign Language (SASL) is very important and needs to be standardised as a curriculum.

Director General Mweli replied that SASL is a colloquial language and in the CAPS curriculum was implemented which is uniform and came through the leadership of the current Minister of Basic Education. The sustainability of the language can be maintained through training family members of children who are deaf.

The DG said it may appear as if all that needs to be done is quite easy. However, infrastructure for instance does not only lie with DBE. The problem is that there is poor collaboration between government departments.

The DG said that the time has come for special schools to be declared no fee schools and the Department needs to make it a priority.

Ms Boshoff asked about the hostel fees that parents need to pay. That is where the collaboration with the Department of Social Development comes in because there is no way that parents can afford school fees and boarding fees.

The DG explained that they thought to provide information on what has been done so far and a report on infrastructure and ICT will follow once the Department has to report on these sectors. The issues of planning will be strengthened so that they also provide future endeavours in the briefing to the Committee.

The Department uses the General Household Survey to verify their data because StatsSA is more competent in data collection.

Dr Simelane explained that the drop in the number of designated full service schools was a result of an audit by Auditor General South Africa that looked at the criteria to appoint full service schools and some schools were found to lack the appropriate infrastructure and so were no longer designated as full service schools.

The Department has been engaging with Government Printing Works to introduce the brailling of material and that will increase the capacity of production. DBE has also engaged with publishers to make their master copies available to e-Pub, which is a software programme that facilitates the brailling of textbooks and all publishers have agreed to provide master copies of textbooks to e-Pub.

On the question of incontinent learners, it is a health and infrastructure issue because learners need to have clinics and having the provision of nappies and this speaks to the collaboration of departments. Wheelchairs and napkins are not resources that DBE can easily procure as this is the responsibility of the Department of Health.

The Chairperson thanked the Department and said that she can feel that the Committee has more questions and suggested that members put the questions in writing. She said the Committee has seen how important the issue is and the discussions need to continue and the input received from NGOs is appreciated. The Committee will have follow up meetings and it looks forward to having a workshop on the SIAS Policy which will help the Committee when conducting oversight visits.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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