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At Prinshof School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for example, individual education plans are discussed with a range of experts in the school, parents, and others, particularly to discuss the child’s medium of instruction and path.273 The NGO Home of Hope School carries out a rigorous annual assessment for all students. Once it is over, an individual education plan is developed, looking at individual and classroom therapy. The school organizes a feedback session with foster parents, social workers who work at home and at school, the child’s teacher and the educational psychologist. The school then does five-year projections to shape the type of curriculum.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Individualized attention should be considered a central feature of inclusive education.”274 Individual education support plans (IESPs) aim to enable “each student to live, study and act autonomously, with adequate support, taking into account individual capacities.”275 At the NGO Home of Hope School, the focus on individual education plans for children with fetal alcohol syndrome who have dropped out of schools has meant that up to five children studying at the school have gone back into mainstream schools, and children with high support needs have gained basic knowledge and skills.276 Lyn Thyisee, the school’s educational psychologist, attributes this success to the school’s ability to take a long-term 272 CRPD, art. 24(2) (e).
273 Human Rights Watch interview with Karin Swarz, principal, Prinshof School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Pretoria, November 2014.
274 United Nations Human Rights Council, “Thematic Study on the right of persons with disabilities to education,” Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/25/29, December 18, 2013,, para. 46, p. 12.
276 Human Rights Watch interview with Lyn Thyjsee, educational psychologist, Home of Hope School, Cape Town, October 2014.
“COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 62 view on a learner’s education path, look at how to address a child’s learning barriers within a classroom setting, and make the necessary accommodations to ensure the child learns.277 In order to be successful, the development of individual education plans must involve teachers, other professionals, parents and the student.278 However, most parents interviewed were not aware of an individual education plan or their children following any specific curriculum adapted to their needs. A mother who was actively engaged in her son’s school matters told Human Rights Watch that her son did not have an individual education plan at this special school. Although she often wrote to her son’s teachers, she did not hear back and did not feel she had an opportunity to work with the teachers.279 Sabelo, a 16-year-old boy with mild intellectual disabilities who attends a full-service school, told us: “They laugh at me in school … they call me names. I don’t like the school because I can’t make it.”280 His sister-in-law told us: “The teachers don’t treat him well because he doesn’t cope very well, [the teachers] think he’s being deliberately slow, but [they’re not] giving him individual attention.”281 In some cases, children were referred to hospitals for assessments,282 moved to a lower grade or referred to a special school as a result of being “slow learners.” In at least two cases, parents took it upon themselves to find an alternative school.283 Other children were simply left in schools and proceeded on to other grades without any dedicated learning support or clear progress.
278 United Nations Human Rights Council, “Thematic Study on the right of persons with disabilities to education,” Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/25/29, December 18, 2013, para. 47, p. 12.
279 Human Rights Watch interview with Lala, the mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism, Polokwane, Limpopo, October 2014.
280 Human Rights Watch interview with Sabelo, a 16-year-old boy with an intellectual disability, village near Zama-Zama, KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
281 Human Rights Watch interview with the sister-in-law of Sabelo, a 16-year-old boy with an intellectual disability, village near Zama-Zama, KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
282 Human Rights Watch interview with the father of an 8-year-old girl with a learning disability, Zama-Zama, KwaZulu-Natal, December 2014.
283 Human Rights Watch interview with the grandmother of a 10-year-old boy, Zama-Zama, KwaZulu-Natal, December 2014;
Human Rights Watch interview with the father of an 8-year-old boy with Down Syndrome, village near Tzaneen, Limpopo, October 2014.
63 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Inappropriate Grade Transition Human Rights Watch met children who were moved up or down different grades by teachers and school officials, often without any proof offered to parents that they had learned sufficient skills and content to proceed or evidence that they needed to repeat a grade.284 Human Rights Watch also met children who had repeated the same grade for more than two or three years, without any attention given to their particular needs.285 The Department of Basic Education’s guidelines on Inclusive Education allow students to spend a maximum of one extra year per phase or grade, unless granted an additional year by the head of education of the province.286 However, the guidelines clarify that “the decision[s] whether they should be retained longer in a certain phase have to be clearly outlined and must be based on a support programme which will be addressing their needs. Clear developmental and incremental curriculum outcomes must be outlined so as to ensure that they will not simply be left without the relevant support, doing more of the same work.”287 According to Henry Hendricks, general secretary of the National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa, “The practice of passing children is acknowledged. There are primary schools that would never fail a child.”288 Elize Oosthuizen, a retired teacher living in Fraserburg, Northern Cape province, told Human Rights Watch about her own experience of working with children who were
predominantly affected by fetal alcohol syndrome:
We have the appalling situation in the education system of our country, that a significant percentage of learners are ‘travelers’… they travel from grade to grade, unable to read or write, let alone master any subject content.
284 Human Rights Watch interview with Sabelo, a 16-year-old boy with an intellectual disability, and his sister-in law, village near Zama-Zama, KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
285 Human Rights Watch interview with the parents of a 9-year-old boy with a speech disability, Kwa-Ngwanase (Manguzi), KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
286 Department of Basic Education, “Guidelines for Inclusive Learning Programmes,” pp. 41-42.
288 Human Rights Watch interview with Henry Hendricks, general secretary, National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa, Pretoria, January 2015.
Members of the Campaign to Promote the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities told Human Rights Watch that children who function lower are pushed out, and those who stay in classrooms are trained to get to that level.290 According to Oosthuizen, children with fetal alcohol syndrome are seldom doing something “at their level.”291 For example, children with fetal alcohol syndrome may appear to cope in the system through grades 1 to 3, “but some may use ‘clown strategies’ [inappropriate or disruptive behavior] to hide that they can’t cope,” according to Aisling Foley of the NGO Home of Hope School.292 Reakgona Adult Centre for people with intellectual disabilities receives adults with intellectual disabilities who are above 18 years old, many of whom did not complete a
basic education program. Thabo Phiri, the center’s manager, told Human Rights Watch:
If the child fails and fails, the [schools] condone this. Out of sympathy, they let [him] stay and keep on going. They should tackle it head-on rather than waiting. It doesn’t cost much compared to the damage and cost it takes to address this at a later stage.293 289Human Rights Watch email exchange with Elize Oosthuizen, Kambro Association, Northern Cape, October 31, 2014.
290 Human Rights Watch focus Group Discussion with members of the Campaign to Promote the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities, Cape Town, October 2014.
291 Human Rights Watch email exchange with Elize Oosthuizen, Kambro Association, Northern Cape, February 24, 2015.
292 Human Rights Watch interview with Aisling Foley, education manager, Home of Hope School, Cape Town, October 2014.
293 Human Rights Watch Interview with Thabo Phiri, manager, Reakgona Adult Centre for people with intellectual disabilities, Seshego, Limpopo, October 2014.
Getting young people to read and write for school, for leisure, and even in the world of work, is a critical aspect of the development of the social fabric of our country. It must occupy all our minds.
—Minister Angie Motshekga, 2015 Basic Education Budget Vote Speech294 Most of the adolescents and young adults with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch left school without the knowledge and tools needed to live an independent, engaged life within their communities.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child underlines that “the key goal of education is the development of the individual child’s personality, talents and abilities, in recognition of the fact that every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities, and learning needs.” Governments need to ensure that “no child leaves school without being equipped to face the challenges that he or she can expect to be confronted with in life.”295 Eight young adults interviewed by Human Rights Watch had completed compulsory basic education, and in the case of two young adults, secondary and higher education. Five young adults had no clear progression after attending special schools. One young adult who had not completed compulsory education was enrolled in an adult skills center. Two of the young adults interviewed graduated from mainstream schools and went on to university. One told Human Rights Watch: “There’s something deeply flawed when you are deemed to have a privilege because you have finished school.”296 National statistics show that the majority of people with disabilities do not attend higher or tertiary education. Students who live in urban areas and who have mild to moderate physical disabilities, have low vision or are blind, have higher chances of graduating from secondary 294 Department of Basic Education, “Basic Education Budget Vote Speech for the 2015/16 Financial Year Delivered by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs AM Motshekga MP, at the National Council of Provinces, Cape Town on June 9, 2015,” p. 8.
295 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General Comment No 1 article 29(1): The Aims of Education,” (2001) CRC/GC/2001/1, April 17, 2001, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Compilation/Pages/a)GeneralCommentNo1TheAimsofEducation(articl e29)(2001).aspx (accessed August 5, 2015) p. 4, para. 9.
296 Human Rights Watch interview with Edward Ndopu, youth coordinator, Amnesty International, Johannesburg, November 2014.
“COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 66 education and proceeding on to university, compared with students with other disabilities outside major urban areas. 297 Students who are deaf or hard of hearing, defined as having “severe difficulty in hearing,” have lower rates of attainment of higher education.298 In contrast, Human Rights Watch found that children with multiple disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and autism had minimal to no chances of proceeding beyond basic education.
Adolescents and young adults with these disabilities, who had not finished compulsory education because of barriers and discrimination identified earlier in this report, faced limited opportunities to resume basic education or gain practical skills.
Lack of Progression and Transition after Compulsory Education Ancella Ramjas, Down Syndrome South Africa’s director, told Human Rights Watch that only one child with Down Syndrome passed his secondary school exams or “matric” in Pretoria in 2014. In his case, the progression to higher levels of education is made more challenging because there is no course that provides for someone with his learning needs, except at one university in the Western Cape. 299 Reakgona Adult Centre for people with intellectual disabilities who are 18 years old and above was “established to create an exit [into] integration,” a place for them to learn essential skills and then go back to the community. Families have also identified it as a place where their relatives can be safe.
The center has a high demand for placements: every year it turns down between 100 to 200 students, either because of age limitations or because it is at capacity.300 Thabo Phiri, the manager, told Human Rights Watch that the situation reflected that fact there are limited choices for adults with disabilities who are not independent.301 According to Phiri, the lack of
options leads to a very high cost of dependence for young adults with intellectual disabilities:
297 Statistics South Africa, “Census 2011: Profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa,” Report 03-01-59, 2011, p. xii, pp.
80 -90, http://beta2.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report-03-01-59/Report-03-01-592011.pdf (accessed April 14, 2015).
298 Ibid., p. 89.
299 Human Rights Watch interview with Ancella Ramjas, director, Down Syndrome South Africa, Pretoria, October 2014.
300 Human Rights Watch interview with Thabo Phiri, manager, Reakgona Adult Centre for people with intellectual disabilities, Seshego, Limpopo, October 2014.