IT is election time again and we are being bombarded by pamphlets of various political parties with pleasant-sounding statements like “job creation” and “social grants for those people in need”, etc. As in the past, there is one glaring omission in these lists: caring and catering for thousands of pupils who are unable to benefit from and cope in mainstream education.
About 15% of all pupils are not intellectually able to proceed to Grade 12 and it is therefore not surprising to hear that more than 50% of pupils “disappear from the system” before reaching Grade 12 level. This is seemingly an endless repetitive cycle and I am sure we are all bored to hear this disturbing news year after year.
The preoccupation with matric results and the deafening noise about the latest matric successes obscure the ugly fact that we have already lost more than half of our pupils along the way! A very small minority of those who disappear are accommodated at various special high schools which perform excellent work to empower these pupils by teaching them skills which they can use in the adult world.
The few schools that do exist in the Eastern Cape can only accommodate a few hundred “new” pupils each year. The rest, which is the overwhelming majority, are turned away.
Special schools are not allowed to take in pupils above a certain age limit, so after being turned away, many are “too old” to re-apply for the following year – missing the boat so to speak.
However, the vast majority of pupils who disappear prematurely from our schools are pupils who are intellectually not able to reach the level where they can apply for special high schools, despite extraordinary efforts by their teachers. Many of them are suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, neurological dysfunction, genetic limitations, etc.
They usually move up through the grades without really mastering the skills of that level. They eventually abandon the school in despair as a result of being frustrated and without hope to achieve success.
It is also true that the few special high schools that do exist cater almost exclusively for pupils in cities or large towns. I visit many schools in the Karoo and I am always deeply disturbed to see the growing number of pupils with no future at all, because the “system” does not provide for them.
Many special schools are needed in the Eastern Cape, but in the Karoo regions, the need is one of desperation.
Politicians are usually eager to promise financial aid to the poor, but they don’t seem to understand that the root of poverty and suffering very often lies in the absence of a school where those pupils can learn skills which will enable them to generate an income, to regain their human dignity and to fight the grinding wheel of never-ending poverty.
So, I have a dream, of a big, brand new special school in a large Karoo town, with hostel facilities for pupils from surrounding, or even far-flung areas – a place where pupils are provided with a key to a meaningful existence.
If you want my vote in the upcoming elections, forget about vague, sweet-sounding ideals.
Rather focus on creating something concrete which will enhance the quality of life for thousands of pupils who are less fortunate in life.
It is also about time that those in power stop thinking of excuses why they are unable to assist those pupils.
If they cannot deliver, they should rather allow someone else with more vision, determination and energy to occupy their privileged positions.
So, stop blaming the system – you are the system.
Dolf Müller, psychologist, Port Elizabeth