Your spe­cial needs baby

Your Baby & Toddler - - Your Toddler - BY MAR­GOT BERTELSMAN­N

In South Africa, up to 70 per­cent of chil­dren of school-go­ing age with dis­abil­i­ties, or about 400 000 learn­ers by re­cent es­ti­mates, are out of school. Of those who do at­tend, most are still in sep­a­rate, ‘spe­cial’ schools for learn­ers with dis­abil­i­ties. This de­spite the push for the ed­u­ca­tional in­clu­sion of learn­ers with dis­abil­i­ties by the South African Ed­u­ca­tion White Pa­per 6.” So reads the ab­stract of The Chal­lenges Of Real­is­ing In­clu­sive Ed­u­ca­tion In South Africa by Dana Dono­hue and Juan Born­man from the Cen­tre for Aug­men­ta­tive and Al­ter­na­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria (2014).

South African stu­dents have a his­tory of ag­i­tat­ing for change in South Africa – from the youth protests of 1976 to the re­cent hair de­bate at high schools and the univer­sity fees protests hash­tagged #Feesmustfa­ll.

“We have an un­for­tu­nate tra­di­tion of seg­re­ga­tion in our so­ci­ety, so peo­ple started think­ing that sep­a­rate, or spe­cial, ed­u­ca­tion for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties was bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion,” Pro­fes­sor Juan Born­man tells us. “And in some cases, like where a blind child needs to learn Braille, it can be true. But for the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren, it is more im­por­tant to be taught in the same group” as nor­mally de­vel­op­ing chil­dren, she adds. “We need to start a con­ver­sa­tion about the im­por­tance of in­clu­sion.”

Prof Born­man stresses that life, and school­ing, is about more than only per­form­ing aca­dem­i­cally. “If you ask par­ents across cul­tures and coun­tries, in de­vel­oped as well as de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, what their goals are for their chil­dren, the same things con­sis­tently head the list: I want them to be happy; I want them to have friends; I want them to one day find a job.” Chil­dren make ex­actly those so­cial con­nec­tions and learn about friend­ships at school. They learn how to live in a com­mu­nity, how to care for oth­ers, how to be­come peo­ple who can tick off all three items on the list above. But the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties in South Africa are “iso­lated, ex­cluded and si­lenced,” says Prof Born­man. “Our gov­ern­ment re­search shows that half a mil­lion chil­dren of school-go­ing age with dis­abil­i­ties are cur­rently out of school. Half a mil­lion chil­dren out of school! How can we ever live with that?”

“Chil­dren are cu­ri­ous about ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing dis­abil­ity. How will they learn if they are not ex­posed to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties? You’ll find that most of their par­ents did not at­tend in­clu­sive schools so they have neg­a­tive pre­con­cep­tions about learn­ing with dis­abled stu­dents in a class, such as that the teacher’s re­sources will be un­fairly spent on one child. That is a fear of the un­known, and it is dis­pelled by ex­po­sure. If we want to ad­dress myths around dis­abil­ity then this is where we have to start,” she says.

“When you iso­late, you start look­ing at peo­ple as ob­jects, not hu­man be­ings,” says Prof Born­man. “Un­known is unloved.” If we sim­ply keep re­mov­ing non-stan­dard-is­sue chil­dren from so­ci­ety, we help nei­ther those chil­dren nor our own, cur­rently able-bod­ied and nor­mally de­vel­op­ing ones. “Teach­ers have to be taught how to ac­com­mo­date chil­dren with mul­ti­ple skills lev­els in one class­room,” ar­gues Prof Born­man, “al­though many do so al­ready. For in­stance, in the farm schools of yes­ter­year, one teacher taught chil­dren in dif­fer­ent grades in one room. In some parts of the world, there isn’t the ‘lux­ury’ of a spe­cial school, there is just plain school,” she adds.

The UN Con­ven­tion on The Rights of The Child as well as the UN Con­ven­tion on The Rights of Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties, to which South Africa is a sig­na­tory, state that ed­u­ca­tion is not only a hu­man right, but also a non-pro­gres­sive hu­man right. This means that a state may not make it avail­able only once fund­ing be­comes avail­able, it must be pro­vided im­me­di­ately.

In re­al­ity, dis­abled chil­dren some­times face be­ing turned away by state schools. This is il­le­gal, and has been tested in court. “Case law is start­ing to be cre­ated,” says Prof Born­man. In 2010, a group known as the West­ern Cape Fo­rum for In­tel­lec­tual Dis­abil­ity took the gov­ern­ment to court – and won – over the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to pro­vide ba­sic school­ing – nei­ther specif­i­cally spe­cial nor in­te­grated – for se­verely dis­abled chil­dren. YB

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