/ 6 February 2015

Struggle continues for disabled children

Although some disabled children have finally been placed in an appropriate school
Although some disabled children have finally been placed in an appropriate school

Nine of the 17 disabled children from KwaZulu-Natal who have struggled for years to obtain appropriate schooling have finally been placed in a special needs school – to the relief of rights organisation Section27, which has been fighting their cause for more than a year.

But the struggle is not over. The organisation discovered last month that the school where the pupils were placed has doubled the number of pupils but does not have enough teachers.

Faranaaz Veriava, an advocate at Section27, told the Mail & Guardian about Section27’s nearly yearlong attempts to solve the problem.

“Section27 nevertheless welcomes the steps taken by the department to place our clients’ children at Sisizakele Special Needs School and considers this placement a victory.”

A December meeting between provincial education officials and Section27 resulted in the province committing to placing the 17 children, who are from the Manguzi area in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in schools by January 31.

Some of the children were not in school, and others were in ordinary schools that were not able to provide the right education for their needs.

“So far we are aware that 11 [pupils] have been contacted by the department and that nine have been placed [at the school],” Veriava said.

Many not in school
The M&G first reported on the problem last year (“No place for disabled children in KZN’s rural schools”, October 17 2014). Margaret Masinga, secretary of the Disabled People’s Organisation in Manguzi, had contacted Section27 earlier last year to alert it to the many disabled children in the area who were either not in schools or in the wrong ones.

The M&G then visited several affected families. Masinga said the area had only three special needs schools, including Sisizakele. These fell far short of accommodating all the children in need because they had dire teacher and support staff shortages, among other problems.

Sisizakele’s principal, Sophia Jood, told the M&G during this visit that the department had provided only eight teachers, one assistant teacher and five support staff for its 2014 enrolment of 161 pupils – but the school needed 17 teachers.

Veriava said Section27 discovered that the department had allocated only 12 teachers to the school this year.

“With an increased enrolment – from 161 pupils in 2014 to another 150 in 2015 – many more teachers and other specialised support stuff are needed,” she said. “The concern is that there are not enough teachers and therapists to provide an adequate education to the pupils.”

Masinga told the M&G this week that there are “many more children who are not at school who we don’t even know about because they just sit at home or they go to ordinary schools”.

Section27 would continue trying to establish the schooling status of the other eight children.

Veriava said she hoped “that there is a proper plan for provisioning for all special needs pupils in the province so that all such learners may have access to an education”.

Departmental spokesperson Isaac Luthuli said the department was trying to “locate the pupils [on Section27’s list] who are unreachable on the numbers provided”.

He said the department would not be creating any more posts at Sisizakele but that a “further review will take place by 16 February for schools with an increase in enrolment”.