Pretoria: South Africa is one of the leading countries in Africa to have made progress in providing access to education for disabled children.
This is according to Emeritus Professor Roy McConkey of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, who specialises in disability studies, amongst others.
McConkey spoke to SAnews on the side-lines of the Ministerial Roundtable on Disability held by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in Pretoria recently. The event formed part of the Disability Rights Awareness Month which is commemorated throughout November.
McConkey said South Africa had a well-developed education system which was in the past accessible to only a selected minority.
“The leadership that is coming from South African government through the Constitution and policy statements, and through the initiatives recently taken by the Department of Basic Education through teacher training and all others, provide a good example for other countries to follow,” said McConkey.
Speaking particularly to the provision of quality education to children living with disabilities, McConkey claimed that, traditionally, children born with disabilities were excluded from society on the basis that they were considered abnormal. “They were not receiving education at all.”
Then, he said, society moved from that era to providing special schools for learners with disabilities, which he said was a good intention.
“Around the world, schools just did not cater for these children, and it was worse for those who could not cope intellectually,” he said.
He said even though special schools became fashionable, they were still not affordable to most families. This meant education was still not accessible to most children with disabilities.
The Director for Inclusive Education at the DBE, Dr Moses Simelane, reiterated McConkey’s views about society’s attitude towards people living with disabilities. He said this is one of the challenges the department is facing. He said the problem migrates from communities to the schools.
“The majority of our teachers still need to know more about disabilities. The issue of inclusion as a strategy aims to transform our societies to be receptive and accepting of everyone without any form of discrimination. The second problem is the issue of resourcing to ensure that these developments are inclusive to all,” he said.
Simelane said there is currently not enough learning and teaching material for learners with disabilities but the department works overtime to provide learners with appropriate material.
However, he said in cases of visually impaired and deaf learners for example, there is a challenge in the country as these are highly specialised areas.
Meanwhile, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says the department is hard at work to improve support services and the way the curriculum is delivered in public and special schools.
She says the department recognises that it must strengthen district-based support services.
“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,” says Minister Motshekga.
SOURCE: SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL NEWS