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National progress in right to basic education for children with severe disabilities

In a previous issue we reported on a case brought by the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disabilities which resulted in the Western Cape High Court ordering that steps to be taken by the Western Cape Department of Basic Education to ensure that “every child in the Western Cape who is severely and profoundly intellectually disabled has affordable access to basic education of an adequate quality”.

Despite the fact that the judgment applied only to the Western Cape Department of Basic Education, the case was used as a springboard by the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability for national advocacy, a move which has yielded national progress.

At the end of July 2012 the National Department of Basic Education released a “Report on actions taken by the Department of Basic Education to develop a framework for the provision of services to children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities.” The report recognises that there is a policy, programmatic and funding lacunae for providing access to education for children with severe intellectual disabilities. The Inter-Departmental Forum which was established in 2011 has acknowledged that it is essential that a policy framework and budget be developed to ensure realisation of the right to basic education for all children of school-going age who fall into the classification of very high needs.

The report recognises the State’s obligations to provide education for these children as prescribed by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the Children’s Act No 38 of 2005, as amended, and Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System (2001). White Paper 6 envisages the expansion of access to education for learners with severe disabilities through, inter alia, the upgrading of special schools to provide high quality services for these learners.

The report recognises the rights of these children and the variety of circumstances in the home and in the education system that excludes most of them from participating in education. The Department further recognises that whilst learning for CSPID may occur along different pathways to other children, it nonetheless does occur. The report provides a synopsis of the various proposed models of service delivery which have been considered by the Department to address the educational needs of the affected learners in the most cost-effective way. These include:

  • Exploring the ways in which existing special schools could, within the framework of their role as resource centres, provide outreach services to special care centres.
  • A multi-disciplinary team could be established at the district or circuit level consisting of special needs teachers, psychologists, therapists and social workers who will provide mobile support to the care centres.
  • Establishing units at existing special schools at which learners with high level needs can be accommodated.
  • The active promotion of the inclusion of children who are out of school in special schools.
  • The expansion of other services to existing care centres.

All of the proposed models of delivery depend on a number of preparatory steps that the Department will take, including:

  • Developing and implementing a survey and implementation strategy;
  • Capacity building of staff at Special Care Centres;
  • Clustering of centres;
  • Negotiation of job descriptions and time tabling at special schools;
  • The introduction of a short course within the framework of the Integrated Teacher Development Programme for teachers at special schools on how to address the needs of children with severe intellectual disabilities;
  • Upgrading physical infrastructure at the most neglected care centres;
  • Encouraging special schools to run parent outreach programmes.

The national programme will prioritise deep rural areas where there are as yet no care centres. The Department has committed to costing all of the proposed interventions so as a short, medium and long-term implementation can be developed.


Click here to view the report on education for children with intellectual disabilities.