/ 21 April 2005

Included as second class citizens

On the face of it, Morongwa Primary School in Mogwase, North West province, could be a model of inclusion. Every morning the school is flooded by learners who not only represent a variety of social backgrounds but also a range of learning abilities and special education needs.

But in reality it is a case of Morongwa Primary and Temogo Special School operating separately on the same premises. They use different classrooms, have their own uniforms, and employ their own principals and educators.

The Special Needs Education White Paper (2001) made much of the principle of inclusion, which includes the recognition of a range of learning abilities and a commitment to ‘supporting all learners, educators and the system as a whole so that the full range of learning needs can be met”. But the glaring lack of amenities and facilities for learners at Temogo is patent evidence that their special needs are being disregarded by the North West Education Department (NWED).

Two of the classrooms set aside for Temogo are used as a kitchen and a staff room, leaving only six for lessons. ‘Sometimes we conduct two lessons in the same classroom,” says Temogo’s principal Joyce Sellwe. The 162 learners, with disabilities ranging from mild to severe, are mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds and some are from families headed by people with disabilities. ‘They can’t afford to pay the R200 we charge per year for school fees. Only a few people pay,” she says.

The shared toilets are an example of how ill-suited the school is for special needs learners. Situated on the Morongwa Primary side of the school, ‘the toilets are too far for our learners and some – especially those that are wheelchair-bound – have difficulty using them,” says Sellwa.

A lack of ramps and protective rails also compromises these learners. One of the learners is Lehlogonolo who has no hands and whose head is bruised from falls at the school, he says. His schoolmate Kgomotso does not dare climb the stairs on her feet; she prefers to negotiate her way up and down on her buttocks.

The policy of inclusion is also about integrating, as far as possible, special needs learners who need ‘low-intensive support” into ‘ordinary” classrooms. Yet, says Sellwa, even those learners whose learning disabilities she describes as ‘mild” are kept separate from the ‘mainstream” side of Morongwa Primary.

It is not only the learners who are divided: ‘There are tensions between us [staff],” says Sellwe. ‘We cannot use their toilets because they lock them after school, even though they go home earlier than us every day.”

The 10 educators on the Temogo side of the school have a lot of other challenges facing them. They have sewing machines, upholstery machines and other skills-training machines but can’t use them because of the lack of space. ‘We considered putting them in the corridors, but our children could easily fall because there is not even a rail to protect them. And educators would have to carry the machines in and out after using them, and that is time consuming,” says Sellwa. Instead, the machines are crowded into the same rooms used as a staffroom and principal’s office.

The result: ‘Educators teach what they can, not what they should. For instance, instead of teaching learners to use a sewing machine, they teach them the theory and then they sew, using their hands for the practical side,” says Sellwa.

As if all this is not enough, the educators also have to donate R20 from their salaries every month towards the servicing of a minibus that was donated to the school to transport learners with severe disabilities. The NWED helps by covering petrol costs. ‘Things are better now that we have a kombi. Before, learners used public transport. They had to be carried to the bus stop [a distance of about 800 meters]. They stayed out of school a lot because they didn’t have money,” Sellwe recalls.

But difficulties remain, as the one wheelchair to move learners around the school is not enough to transport all the severely disabled learners to their minibus; others still have to be carried to the vehicle.

Sellwa and her staff are tired of the uncertainties. ‘What happens if Morongwa suddenly has an increase in numbers of learners? We need our own school,” she says. ‘We are only squatters here. They can remove us at any time.”

The Mogwase Council has already allocated Temogo a site for construction of their school but the NWED does not see a need for a new school. Provincial chief education specialist: Inclusive education Jan Van Zyl says: ‘The current facilities occupied by Temogo Special School that are attached to Morongwa Primary school are by any standard far better than the very dilapidated buildings of the Dutch Reformed Church Mission School previously occupied by Temogo Special School.

‘Many schools do not have sufficient sick bay facilities, toilets facilities, running water, electricity, and so on. The NWED is, however, attending to these basic needs and services on a prioritised and continuous basis,” he adds.

While the NWED is ‘working on the basis of inclusion” – as Van Zyl puts it – teachers and learners at Temogo are being included at school as second class citizens.