Chairpersons of SGBs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to open the 2010 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the South African National Association for Specialised Education (SANASE).
As an association of School Governing Bodies for special education, SANASE plays a very important role in education.
This AGM takes place at a very crucial time in the life of the nation. Our country is celebrating Women’s Month, under the theme: “Working together for equal opportunities and progress for all women.”
Without quality education and good governance, we cannot provide equal opportunities to all our people, including children in our institutions of learning, in both special and ordinary schools.
For this reason, it deeply concerns us that as we are gathered here, our country is gripped by a looming strike threatening to impact very negatively on schooling, only 73 days before exams.
I was touched by a member of the Association who raised a genuine concern, before Tuesday’s industrial action, that SANASE is worried more about the safety and care of learners, particularly those learners living with sight and hearing disabilities. He said children will be seriously impacted on if their accommodation was to be affected.
We agree with SANASE’s resolve that ‘our first priority is the future and wellbeing of the learners’. Thus, we strongly support its appeal to parents and communities to help in protecting and promoting the best interest of the child.
Since the dawn of democracy, our government has adopted progressive policies and has taken far-reaching steps to protect the fundamental rights of children, including children living with disabilities. We have made great strides with the support of civil society formations like SANASE.
As you well know, in July 2001, the Department of Education gazetted White Paper 6, Special Needs Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System.
This White Paper has provided strategies for developing an inclusive system and for increasing access to quality education for children experiencing barriers to learning.
Our approach to inclusive education is geared to promote democratic values enshrined in the Constitution (of 1996). In everything we do, we have sought to promote every child’s right to education and to uphold the constitutional right to equality.
Statistics for 2009 (EMIS data) on learners with disabilities show that there were 124 535 learners with disabilities in ordinary schools and 111 619 learners with disabilities in special schools.
We have sought to comply with international instruments for the protection and promotion of rights of people with disabilities. For instance, in 2007, the democratic government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This august AGM will be pleased to know that pilot studies on the implementation of White Paper 6 have been successfully conducted, the latest being a field test of 2004 to 2009. For this pilot, R56 558 456 was secured from the Finnish and Swedish governments. Two Treasury bids, in the 2008 and 2009 MTEF cycles, were successfully submitted for the Expansion of Inclusive Education.
In this regard, R1.5bn was awarded as an equitable share for provinces for the 2008 MTEF while R300m was awarded for the outer year of the 2009 MTEF.
Ten designated full-service schools in seven provinces were physically upgraded during the field test, making them environmentally accessible to learners with physical disabilities. According to reports from our provinces, of the 8 629 total enrolment in these 10 schools, 569 are learners with disabilities.
More than 200 schools are now inclusive and are espousing principles of inclusivity in their policies, culture and practices.
The conversion of a number of ordinary schools into full-service schools had a tremendous impact on how provincial physical infrastructure planners and the Department of Public Works look at the need to ensure public buildings are accessible to all.
Hundreds of children have received appropriate assistive devices enabling them to access education and become better integrated into society. In many cases, children who had been carried by their parents and could not attend school, now have fitted wheelchairs that make them mobile and also provide postural support.
This past Tuesday, the Kwa-Zulu Natal MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, and ABSA, delivered wheelchairs to Zinto Community Care Centre in Ladysmith.
A positive result of government interventions, working with organs of civil society and Corporate South Africa, is that access for children experiencing barriers to learning has been notably increased.
Our Department has also established a Curriculum Management Team for the development of the South African Sign Language curriculum as a subject. The curriculum is being developed for implementation in 2012.
Far-reaching progress has been made in screening and assessment practices which should radically change the way in which learners are assessed from an early age with a view to early intervention and provision of appropriate support.
As you are aware, we are also in the process of reviewing curriculum implementation. Serious challenges have been experienced with regard to the implementation of Outcomes Based Education since its introduction in 1997.
In 2009, a Commission to investigate hurdles hindering its implementation was established. The current review is therefore informed by its recommendations. Steps already taken include reduction of the workload of teachers.
I trust that the 2010 SANASE AGM will build on advances made since the last Conference, held in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, in 2009. We view as crucial resolutions taken by your 2009 AGM on the establishment of three committees that will deal with curriculum adaptation for learners with disabilities.
It is therefore expected that the 2010 AGM will build on your successes that make a difference in schools, in line with the chosen theme of “Success Makes a Difference in Schools.”
We welcome SANASE’s resolve to work with various government departments, including ours, in dealing with matters concerning learners experiencing barriers to learning. Your work is very important to me and the government as a whole.
Indeed we are making progress. But much still needs to be done in this area of our work. In spite of the public outcry in the light of the 2010 Annual Employment Equity Report, scant attention has been paid to the slow affirmation of people living with disabilities.
One of very few people who prioritized disability is Theresa Oakley-Smith, MD of Absolute CRD, a change management consultancy. She said:
“Persons with disabilities too are woefully treated in terms of representivity in the workplace. In spite of the fact that 30% of persons with disabilities have secondary education and 3 percent are graduates, they scarcely reach 1 percent of the working population” (The Star, 10 August 2010, p. 10).
Given the herculean task in our hands, we value the guidance and support you have consistently provided to all institutions that assist learners experiencing barriers to learning since the formation of SANASE twelve years ago, in 1998.
With the amount of work you have done and the wealth of experience you have amassed, you are better placed to assist us in determining what needs to be done successfully to achieve the goals of equity and inclusive education.
Education is a very fascinating terrain where everybody knows all the answers. I mean, everywhere I go, there is always somebody who will stop me, and tell me, ‘MaMotshekga, the problem with education is this and that!’
My confidence in SANASE springs from its noble goals and deeds. It is for this reason that I wish you success in this historic AGM and leave you with two questions for these two days:
- How best can we support you to bring inclusive education even more higher on the agenda of transformation, more so given government’s focus on education as the apex priority?
- Given the central role schools must play in promoting mental health of learners, how best can we assist schools to intervene more coherently and effectively to promote mental health of learners, especially in a society still grappling with challenges of poverty and social exclusion?
These questions and answers thereto are fundamental to the creation of a healthy, sensitive, accommodative and conducive environment for our children. Working together we can do more to achieve equality, quality and inclusive education.
I thank you.