The first week of January is drawing to an end, and with it, the customary drama that accompanies the release of matric results. For some it’s a time of unhinged celebrations (some students scoring more than seven distinctions) while, for those who didn’t make it, it’s a time of reflection and planning life post-post-matric. But for all us, the release of matric results reminds us just how much of a big deal education is and the lengths we, ourselves, went through to get that treasured certificate.
But while we were caught up in the analysis of matric results and exam cheating scandals, little to nothing was said about the 111 598 special education students (students with learning difficulties, physical or psychological disabilities) registered in South Africa and the state of their education. A recently published infographic by the People’s Assembly reveals that special needs education is still being hampered by a lack of assistive technology and a shortage of teachers equipped to carry out the curriculum.
What do the stats say?
There are currently 9739 registered special needs teachers and, on average, each teacher is responsible for eleven students. While this sounds like a manageable number, the truth of the matter is the range of disabilities is vast and each student requires individual attention. Also, the severity of the disabilities differs with an estimated 33% of learners suffering severe intellectual disability while 37% and 16% of students suffer from moderate and specific disabilities respectively. Catering to each of their needs is a hard task and the fact that not all teachers have specialized qualifications makes it even harder.
Because of the lack of teachers with specialized qualifications, funding doesn’t necessarily mean the learners will be taught the curriculum correctly. There also exists a lack of assistive technology (devices used to help disabled people carry out tasks that they would be unable to conduct or have great difficulty conducting under normal circumstances). This is no small matter. According to the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program (SCATP), assistive technology is a benefit to both the teacher and the student: it fast tracks the learning process and gives the student a sense of independence (which allows the teacher more time for group activities).
So what happens now?
In early October, last year, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga delivered a speech at the South African Democratic Teacher’s Union (SADTU) eighth national congress highlighting her department’s plan of action for special needs students. “The Department of Basic Education has partnered with Vodacom to establish and resource 40 DBE ICT centres. Advanced software and technologies have been installed for use by special needs learners,” she told the crowd. She further mentioned that her department is partnering with the Department of Science and Technology “on the provision of technology and other forms of innovations to improve support provided to learners with disabilities”. What, exactly, these “innovations” are is yet to be said.
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