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Wednesday, 09 March 2016 05:50

Improving education quality for learners with disabilities

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The Department of Basic Education says it has made progress in creating a conducive environment to ensure learners with disabilities receive quality education.

The department’s Director General, Mathanzima Mweli, updated the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in Parliament on Tuesday. He said the implementation of the inclusive education policy has required integrated planning at all levels, which was made possible by working jointly across multiple disciplines. 

Human Rights Watch, Section27 and Inclusive Education South Africa also addressed the portfolio committee and made proposals on what should be done to cater for people with disabilities.

The organisations commended the department for implementing the Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) policy, which came into effect in 2015.

Dr Moses Simelane, the Director for Inclusive Education at the department, said government had allocated funding towards inclusion in schools. The money was used to buy assistive devices, provide learner transport, develop infrastructure, train professional support staff and purchase learner/teacher support material.

Simelane said about 800 schools were being reconfigured into full service schools and resources were being dedicated to those schools. By February 2015, 791 full service schools had been designated. Of these, 137 (15%) had been physically upgraded for accessibility.

More than R5.7 billion was allocated to special schools in 2014/15, while R400 million was earmarked for strengthening full service schools. Draft funding norms have been developed to address the disparity of funding full service schools across all provinces.

Seven hundred and forty district officials and 546 teachers were orientated in guidelines for full service schools in 2014/15. More than 1 880 district officials and 16 127 teachers from full service schools were trained in curriculum differentiation. More than R11.2 million worth of assistive devices were provided to full service schools.

Dr Simelane said the quality of education for children with disabilities in ordinary, special and full service schools, is monitored through the National Strategy on Learner Attainment (NSLA).

The department is working on progressive training and capacity building of teachers and officials in the specialised areas of braille, South African Sign Language (SASL), autism, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among others.

There is collaboration between the Departments of Social Development, Higher Education and Training and Labour to provide protected and sheltered employment for learners with disabilities to address the transition from school to work.

Members of the portfolio committee, however, expressed concern that implementation in the provinces was not taking place as expected. 

Portfolio committee chairperson Nomalungelo Gina said she was pleased that there were many organisations working in the disability sector assisting the department to do its work.

She said a lot had been done to address the plight of people with disabilities even though there were many challenges.

"We cannot say nothing has been done but we need to say what is it that we need to do together to tackle these challenges. We need to go to schools to make sure things happen," she said.

Mweli said the department was implementing a programme on safety and security in schools, which draws from the expertise of other role players, such as the South African Police Service.