'Disabled at risk of dropping out'

Further research into the drop out rates of disabled children in South Africa is needed as these children and the youth are highly vulnerable to leaving school, said Sarah Meny-Gibert, a researcher at Social Survey Africa.

Speaking at the recent launch of a number of booklets that comprise the Access to Education report, Meny-Gibert said during their survey in 2007 they found that 37% of disabled youth aged between 16 and 18 had dropped out of school, compared with 14% of youth without disability.

The Access to Education report was based on data from 4 400 households across the country in 2007 and was conducted by Social Surveys and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals) at Wits University.

The study also identified reasons preventing children from attending and completing their schooling. The situation was desperate for many disabled children, Meny-Gibert said.

“We picked up some trends during our survey that showed that urgent research was needed and this is because of the particular vulnerability of the disabled children being out of school,” Meny-Gibert told Mail & Guardian Education.

But this was based on minimal data, she explained. The report states that more research is needed on the drop out rates of youth with different kinds of disabilities, including, for example, sight impairment and severe mental disability.

“For youths whose disabilities do not preclude them from engaging with some form of education, the lack of special needs schools and the costs associated with attending some of those schools may be real barriers to access,” the report notes.

The Mail & Guardian earlier reported that the Access to Education report revealed that a quarter of learners attending the poorest one-fifth of schools (the so-called quintile one schools) and 46% of those attending quintile two schools were still paying fees.

Guest speaker, Martin Prew, Director of the Centre for Education Policy Development (CEPD), said the Access to Education report is an extremely important and credible survey that provided reliable reference material for policy makers and other stakeholders.

Prew said the CEPD and Wits University were involved in a study that investigated all research done on education between 1995 and 2006, and found that due to sampling techniques applied, only 5% of the studies were reliable.

Prew told M&G that the report for the National Research Foundation reviewed every academic education piece of writing produced in and about South Africa. In all this he says were over 10 000 pieces and did not include Masters or PhD theses—but included journal articles, chapters, books, and surveys.

“That means 95% of the studies done on education were unreliable. This report falls under the 5% and let me stress that the approach that has been used here is reliable,” he said.

Prew was also mostly impressed with the fact that statistics contained in the report had made news headlines. “It is not often that education statistics make headlines but this report did. This shows that what most of us regard as common knowledge is actually not,” said Prew.

He said the survey was also important because it not only showed problems associated with access but what actually took place in schools, such as how safe learners were while in schools.

“This report gives us an opportunity to profile our learners and develop appropriate interventions before they fall through the cracks,” he concluded.

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