Zamuxolo Nduna: Pupils with disabilities not given the education they deserve

South Africa as one of the leading economies in Africa and being one of the developing countries in the world, we are still faced with numerous social, economic and environmental challenges.

As much as the government of South Africa is “trying” to address the country’s education crisis, there are some issues within the education sector which need supervision from it.

Within the education sector there bar- riers for children with disabilities.

South Africa as a democratic state should know better than to isolate disabled pupils.

Education is one of the most important rights of all South Africans.

But for some, it is quite the opposite.

I have seen cases of disabled pupils being isolated based on their disabilities.

Inclusive education in South Africa has been met by numerous challenges – for the government, families and teachers.

The government of the day has initially failed to guarantee inclusive education to most disabled pupils.

In 2015, the Human Rights Commission released a report which indicated that there were more than 500 000 disabled pupils in South Africa who had no access to education.

In 2001, South Africa was one of the 189 countries which signed the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at focusing on:

  • Provision and expansion of childhood education;
  • Provision of free and compulsory education for all;
  • The provision of life skills programmes to adults;
  • The improvement of adult literacy rate by at least 50% by the year 2015;
  • The elimination of gender inequality in education;
  • Improvements in all aspects of education, for countries to provide quality education.

South Africa has met, or is striving towards meeting, the goals. South Africa’s education system is marked by school dropouts, violence in schools, an in- creased number of teenage pregnancies and so forth.

Of course, some of our education crises or challenges are attributed to the apartheid policies instituted by the government of the National Party.

After the fall of the apartheid regime, compulsory education was implemented for all South Africans.

In 2001 the Department of Education introduced a white paper.

It outlined the government’s new policies for a single and undivided education system for all pupils, including those with disabilities, in the hope that inclusive education would provide a cornerstone of an integrated society.

Over and above the aims of the paper, most pupils with disabilities are still going to separate “special” schools.

According to the World Health Organisation (2012), disability arises from the interaction between an impairment, in a person’s body function or structure, and the society in which that person lives.

For South Africa to successfully implement inclusive education, teachers should undergo adequate training.

Inclusive education has been widely embraced as an ideal model of education – in South Africa and internationally.

The government of South Africa needs to develop a system where pupils with disabilities are provided with support, along- side their peers.

As much as inclusive education is an idea embraced as a model of education in South Africa and abroad, however, it has been noted by scholars such as Juan Bornman that the ideal of practicing inclusive education in South Africa is not what has been transpiring in classrooms.

According to Bornman, “a general lack of support and resources, as well as the prevailing negative attitudes toward disability, all contribute to the general bewilderment in South African schools towards

inclusion”. Inclusive education in South Africa is a tool of facilitating equal opportunities for all pupils.

Professor Mirna Nel, from North West University, noted that “inclusive education in South Africa is still in its infancy, with various challenges yet to be overcome to ensure it can be properly implemented in schools”.

For more than 15 years, the South African government has introduced policies and governmental pro- grammes as a roadmap towards primary and secondary education.

The potential of inclusive education growth in South Africa is hampered by negative attitudes developed by teachers towards education practice.

The development or the implementation  of inclusive education shouldn’t only depend on practical training provided to teachers, but be more theoretically related (teacher education curricula).

By focusing on inclusive education in South Africa, practical knowledge should never be disregarded.

Since the signing of the development goals in 2001, South Africa has failed to implement some of the key aspects of a national policy, which was adopted in 2001 – providing an inclusive education for all children with disabilities.

But the government of the day has not even put into operation fundamental aspects of the policy.

Children with disabilities face substantial obstacles to education – and substantially lower participation in school (according to a World Bank report on learning crisis globally).

Zamuxolo Nduna is a master’s degree candidate incomparative education at the Teachers College, Zhejiang Normal University, China.

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