Excellence in Special Needs Education
ELSEN Unit, Formosa Primary School
As a special needs trainer at Formosa Primary, Leigh Dunn is certainly an inspiration. The energy he exudes, his accomplishments so far and the vision he has in this capacity make him a beacon of hope to his learners.
They all have a wide spectrum of learning challenges, ranging from autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and visual impairment, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, foetal alcohol syndrome and severe mental handicaps, and come from different socio-economic backgrounds. To cater for all these special needs, Dunn designed a curriculum that is specific to each need and includes elements such as pre-reading activities, school readiness activities and learning how to handle a pen. Just one example of his innovation around the curriculum is using art to teach mathematics. Clearly, this is a momentous task for one person to deal with.
“I work closely with NGOs for expertise, support and sponsorship,” he says.
His passion to work with special needs learners has seen him invited to give presentations in Belgium and the Netherlands earlier this year. The invitation came about through a referral by the international NGO Born in Africa, which is based in Brussels.
His motto? “Even the smallest star can shine in the darkness,” he says. “We should never underestimate even the least significant of our learners.” Dunn is inspired by Nelson Mandela’s childhood background of growing up in a rural area and going on to achieve greatness despite the odds. “If one man from humble beginnings can change a country, then my vision can change the world.”
He says he is happy that Parliament has employed physically challenged people, including the blind. “This gives me encouragement that in my classroom there could be world leaders in the making.”
The Gateway Special School
Ann Ruscheinski feels strongly about White Paper 6, in which the late Kader Asmal stated that children with learning challenges should be incorporated into society and not be shut away in sheds. This is her inspiration to design a curriculum for children with special needs. “A child in the right curriculum is a happy child,” says Ruscheinski, who has played a pivotal role in designing the curriculum for learners at her school. Her approach is informed by the view that every learner’s special needs are different, which means that a curriculum must suit the needs of individual learners. Prior to designing this curriculum, Ruscheinski went out of her way to conduct a needs analysis survey.
“We don’t expose them to things they can’t manage,” she says. This veteran teacher of 41 years says she has developed all the systems ysed at the school. She is currently working with 42 underperforming schools in her district to identify barriers to learning.
“My biggest dream is to make the lives of these learners as easy as possible,” says Ruscheinski. “Parents need as much help as the children because they are psychologically affected.” To add to the wealth of knowledge she already has, she is studying towards a PhD in special education with a focus on computers.
Louise van Niekerk
Bert Bricks Inclusive
Louise van Niekerk says she was inspired to become a teacher who can make a difference in other people’s lives by her own background.
“Growing up, I had a hard life,” she says. This is why she strongly supports White Paper 6—every child is capable of being taught something, irrespective of their learning barriers.
But for her, trying to deal with the destitute state of the school and its environment does not begin and end at her school. The community itself has high illiteracy and unemployment, compelling Van Niekerk to go the extra mile.
“I organise donated clothes and food for the children,” she says. “At times I also have to use my own money to take care of their needs because we are poorly resourced.”
She does this with the help of the police, social workers and North West University, which assists with donations. The school also has a vegetable garden that Van Niekerk started and the learners, together with the community at large, benefit a great deal from it.
Transport is a major issue in the area, which makes it difficult for her to take her learners on educational tours. “My biggest dream is to give them an outing, something they seriously lack,” she says.
Van Niekerk gets frustrated when people show a bad attitude towards children with special needs, treating them as inferior human beings. Her vision for 2012 is “to get external support to be able to enhance the lives of my learners”.