Programme Director: Honourable Deputy Minister, Mr. Enver Surty
Emeritus Professor of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland: Professor Roy McConkey
Minister Counsellor and Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of South Africa: Dr Arno Schaefer
Human Rights Commissioner: Advocate B. Malatji
Speaker of the Disability Parliament: Ms Nomasonto Mazibuko
Representatives from the United Nations Agencies
Representatives from the Higher Education Institutions
Director-General: Mr Mathanzima Mweli
Officials from the Sister Government Departments, including the Presidency
Officials from the Provincial Education Departments
Representatives of the Disabled Peoples’ Organisations
Representatives from the Parent Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to officially open this Roundtable on Disability as part of the Disability Rights Awareness Month 2015 celebrations.
At the Basic Education Ministry, we would like to reaffirm our commitment to providing access to quality education and support to all children with disabilities.
The ensuing discussions under the theme “No Child Left Behind” signify Government’s commitment to ensuring that the constitutional right to basic education is realised for all children, including those with disabilities.
Comprehensive Progress Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6
In June 2015, the Basic Education Department (DBE) presented a Comprehensive Progress Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6 which was launched in 2001 to the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Basic Education. This Report highlighted the significant progress made in achieving access to quality education and support for children with disabilities.
However, the Report further revealed the persistent challenge of out-of-school children with disabilities who are unable to exercise their right to basic education thus lacking access to any form of support services offered within a school environment. There are also children with disabilities in schools who have not been properly assessed to determine and plan for their support needs.
The DBE has put in place a whole range of measures and systems to improve the quality of delivery of curriculum and provision of support services in public special and ordinary schools. We aim to achieve this through a strengthened District-Based Support Service. The areas of concern, such as the lack of availability of sufficient professional staff such as nurses, therapists, psychologists and social workers are being systematically addressed through the development of Human Resource Provisioning Norms and District Norms. This is coupled with deliberations with the Departments of Health and Social Development to make optimal use of such existing scarce resources and the alignment of services.
Furthermore, the lack of specialised competencies amongst educators teaching at special and full-service schools is being addressed through multi-year roll-out plans for teacher training in areas such as Braille, South African Sign Language, Autism, Augmentative and Alternative Communication and effective utilisation of Assistive Technology, among other initiatives.
August 2015 Human Rights Watch
Programme Director, we have noted with concern the August 2015 Human Rights Watch Report entitled, ‘Complicit in Exclusion: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities’. The report found amongst others that “an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities have been, shut out of South Africa’s education system”. In this regard, we have studied the report with a fine tooth comb. As a result, we have already developed a comprehensive response to all issues raised in the August 2015 Report.
In our response, we have introduced radical steps to strengthen the comprehensive implementation of the Policy on Inclusive Education. The new steps have been approved by the Council of Education Ministers, and thus are part of an integrated sectorial planning for the period 2016 to 2019.
Due to a myriad of reasons, the implementation is incremental and systematic. This staggered implementation must be understood against a background of huge inequalities inherited from the previous dispensation. For us to succeed we require a multi-sectoral collaboration with all sectors of society as the State alone cannot achieve the mammoth task that lies ahead, hence today’s roundtable.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Programme Director, we must admit that the State has an obligation to ensure equitable access and participation in education for persons with disabilities in an inclusive education and training system at all levels.
In this regard, the Government of South Africa ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. Article 24 thereof places a number of obligations on the State with regards to measures to be taken to ensure equitable access.
Draft Policy Framework and Learning Programme
Since 2011, the DBE has collaborated with an inter-sectoral group of officials from the Department of Social Development, Health, Public Works, Transport and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the development of a Draft Policy Framework and Learning Programme for children with severe to profound intellectual disability who are currently in Care Centres of the Departments of Health or Social Development. The proposals made in the Policy Framework will ensure that there are short, medium and long-term measures in place that will ensure that all the children have access to education support outreach services. These would include access to the Learning Programme, therapeutic, social, safe physical environments, training of caregivers and accessible transport.
The Policy Framework outlines the introduction of accredited qualifications for caregivers and other auxiliary staff, who need to address the complex needs of children with multiple disabilities.
This would require a greater commitment from all relevant Government Departments to ensure that Universal Design is implemented more aggressively in all infrastructure programmes and transport systems. I am, therefore, very excited that all relevant departments are here today to contribute to strategies on how this can be achieved in the shortest possible time-period, to ensure that the most vulnerable learners are prioritised.
Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support
In addition, the State must ensure that children with disabilities have access to a public ordinary school in the neighbourhood in which they live and must ensure that they receive the necessary reasonable accommodation to address their individual needs. It is for this reason that we have passed the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) to ensure that no child will be refused admission to a school and that children who are exempted from school attendance are captured on a list, so as to ascertain that they also have access to other Government services.
The implementation of the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support introduced a new dispensation with regard to how learners are identified early and receive the necessary support in schools where they are. This Policy also overhauls admission procedures to special schools and outlines collaboration between the Departments of Basic Education, Health and Social Development.
A Memorandum of Understanding exists between these three Departments to ensure that there is an Integrated School Health System in place through which children are screened for developmental delays and other health problems and referred for the necessary health interventions. Through the SIAS protocols, they will then also be placed on an individual support plan so that schools would take concerted efforts to ensure that their health condition or disability do not impact on their effective learning.
The DBE has established a protocol with the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency to ensure that all children aged 5 to 18 years who have Identification Numbers and who receive grants are in school. To date, this is the most effective method of identifying out-of-school children and youth of compulsory school going age.
The DBE uses the Learner Unique Record and Information Tracking System (LURITS) system to track all enrolment of learners per category of disability. In 2016/17, better real time information will be available on the numbers of learners with disabilities who are enrolled in schools (both ordinary and special). However, it must be understood, that the request for exemption from compulsory school attendance must come from the parents of the child and may not be imposed by the system.
The Department of Basic Education is committed to ensuring that all learners with disabilities are able to access a special or full-service school which offers the programme of support that they require preferable in their neighbourhood. For this reason, we would like to see all schools becoming more responsive to learner needs by influencing the change of attitudes of their school community that may still be predisposed to prejudice against people with disabilities.
National Curriculum Statement for South African Sign Language
Programme Director, we reached a historic milestone in July 2014, when we introduced for the first in the history of this country, the National Curriculum Statement for South African Sign Language. However, we cannot rest on our laurels, as effective and successful implementation has to be ensured through the provision of resources and assistive devices by all 39 schools that are involved, as well as through rigorous monitoring and support.
Special School Hostels
Programme Director, we have noted with deep concern the reports from the National Association of Persons with Physical Disability, and the Parents of Children with Special Education Needs, reporting cases of child abuse in special schools, especially in school hostels.
In this regard, we have established an inter-sectoral committee to develop an intervention plan for special school hostels. The committee will be headed by the Directorate Safety in Education and will be part of the overall Departmental Strategy for Safety in Schools. The committee will consist of representation from the Departments of Basic Education, Social Development as well as Justice and Constitutional Development. Although the primary focus will be on special school hostels, issues such as bullying of children with disabilities in mainstream schools will also be addressed.
Strengthening of Special Schools to Become Resource Centres
Over the years, the DBE has been working towards ensuring that there is a more equitable and cost-effective special education dispensation. As we speak there are 453 special schools, while an additional 18 are under construction. Only two of the 82 education districts do not have special schools.
However, there is a very unequal spread of special schools across provinces, between urban and rural areas, leaving the majority of children in rural areas without access to specialised services and to special or ordinary schools. Therefore, Provincial Education Departments have been urged to adopt a radically new approach of developing more outreach services rendered by special school resource centres or district offices, increased capacity building of full-service schools and inclusive scholar transport systems. The improved use of assistive technology will also be enhanced by the introduction of Assistive Devices Resource and Support Centres through which appropriate assistive technology will become more readily available.
Turn-Around Strategy for Special Schools
Programme Director, as alluded earlier, we have not achieved requisite progress in making special schools function at the optimal level. Hence, this year, sees the introduction of a Turn-Around Strategy for Special Schools that goes hand-in-hand with a Special School Monitoring Tool. All Provincial Education Departments have conducted extensive training since 2013 on the Guidelines on Quality Education and Support in Special Schools and Special School Resource Centres (2013).
Training has also been conducted in Curriculum Differentiation (17540 teachers), Braille (413 teachers), South African Sign Language (456 teachers and officials) and SIAS (6998). All sections of Provincial Education Departments and District Offices will be held responsible for tracking the impact of the training in the improvements to the standard of admissions, management, governance, inclusivity, curriculum delivery, assessment and resource utilisation at special schools. Provinces are expected to submit quarterly reports to the DBE through the National Strategy for Learner Attainment (NSLA) on the number of special schools that have been visited by circuit managers, curriculum advisors and other officials.
Strengthening of Full-Service Schools
Programme Director, our ultimate objective is to witness a seamless integration of all learners within our schooling system; hence we are steaming ahead with the training of full-service schools on dealing with learners with special needs. The Guidelines for Full-Service Schools (2010) has been ongoing, and by now, all 791 existing Full-Service Schools have received some form of orientation. Some of the schools are truly excelling as flagships of effective inclusion and the Department would like to establish an online forum through which these practical achievements can be shared amongst schools to enhance delivery. There is, however, concern about a handful of full-service schools that have not taken any steps towards changing their cultures, policies and practices to become welcoming centres of learning, care and support.
The Department is also developing a strategy to monitor the effective implementation of the Policy on Accommodations (Concessions) throughout the system. All learners should be assessed and registered for accommodations in the National Senior Certificate Examinations and all other exams and school-based assessment. This must be monitored by subject advisors and district assessment committees.
GETC: Skills and Vocational Education
The Department is also at advanced stage in the development of the GETC: Skills and Vocational Education as an exit level qualification at NQF Level 1. This intervention is designed to meet the needs of learners in need of vocational set of skills and needs of learners with severe intellectual disability. The 26 new skills subjects that are nearing completion are now being reviewed by reference teams before they are published for public comment and finalisation in 2016. In the same year (2016), a comprehensive skills and capacity audit will be conducted in all schools that will be offering the new programme, to determine what training and physical upgrading are required before the programme can be introduced in 2017/18 financial year.
It is in light of all the above developments that the DBE recognises all organisations representing the rights of persons with disabilities and parents as key partners, in its endeavours to improve service to children with disabilities.
Addressing the Educational Rights of Children Who Are At Risk of Compounded Marginalisation
In a bid to address the educational rights of children who are at risk of compounded marginalisation, we have developed a new White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This new policy instrument will be presented to the Cabinet this month. The new White Paper broadens the scope in its understanding of marginalisation to include:
· Persons with psychosocial, intellectual and/or neurological disabilities, especially those who live within rural and/or impoverished communities and families,
· Persons that are homeless or displaced or refugees, as they are less likely to access information on their rights, as well as supported decision-making services; and
· Children with severe to profound intellectual disability who are out-of-school.
In conclusion, let us now all join hands to focus on what needs to be done to ensure that every child with a disability of compulsory school-going age is enrolled in a registered education programme and/or school, and has full access to the learning process through access to reasonable accommodation and support. We all know that in every settlement in South Africa, rural, peri-urban and urban, there are children with disabilities who remain excluded from education. Let us focus on this, and not just on how many they are … one child excluded is one child too many! I am looking forward to the outcomes of today’s deliberations with keen interest, hoping that they will signal a new dispensation for the most marginalised group of children in our country.
As key decision-makers, you have the responsibility to lead the way on how we can restore the dignity and safety of all our children with disabilities, wherever they are.
I thank you!