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The government has accepted that progress has been slower than expected when it comes to implementing its policy on inclusive education—particularly for the poorest students with disabilities and children with multiple disabilities and high support needs—in large part because it has not been a key national priority, and provincial departments have not distinguished between “special needs education” and “inclusive education.” The government should take immediate steps to turn its inclusive education policy
commitments into legally binding obligations. These include ensuring:
• It honors a policy of inclusive education by making sure that children with disabilities have an equal opportunity and option to go to mainstream schools that are accessible, free of violence, and receive a quality education that addresses and accommodates their needs.
• All students with disabilities can complete basic education, at a minimum.
• All students with disabilities have equal opportunities to continue learning or enter vocational education and training.
• Adequate consultation with children and their families to determine a school placement that will maximize their academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.
The government’s approach and shift towards a truly inclusive education system should also be both short and longer term.
Improving the quality of education in mainstream schools is a short-term imperative and a means to ensure all students benefit from education. In the short-term, the government should also improve the quality of education in special schools to ensure the current “COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 4 generation of children who want and need their services can benefit from education on an equal basis with students in mainstream schools.
The government should also immediately commence a transparent and frank process to review “Education White Paper 6” to ensure its education system is better able to respond to the needs of hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities.
In the medium to longer term, the government should ensure that students with disabilities can transition from special to mainstream and full-service schools. This should entail shifting investments now so that schools can accommodate children with disabilities, and teachers and support staff are adequately trained, empowered, and supported to teach children with disabilities in mainstream schools.
Creating new special schools for current and new generations of students with disabilities will not solve South Africa’s current challenges and may even exacerbate many violations of the right to education of children with disabilities outlined in this report. The government should now move beyond statements of commitment to real, inclusive implementation.
To the Government and National Assembly of South Africa Guarantee Right to Inclusive Quality Education for Children and Adults with Disabilities
• Affirm commitments to guarantee the right to inclusive education for all children with disabilities;
• Require all public schools, as defined in the Schools Act, to ensure reasonable accommodation for all children with severe learning difficulties and multiple disabilities;
• Establish and define short-term goals and timeframes to ensure students with disabilities can transition from “special needs education” or special schools to inclusive mainstream schools;
• Amend the Schools Act to bring it fully in line with the country’s international obligations with the effect of explicitly making primary education in all public schools free and compulsory for all children, ensuring meaningful access to quality education for children with disabilities and enforcing the right to access Adult Basic Education and skills programs for people with disabilities who have not completed basic education;
• Collect and regularly publish lists of children with disabilities on waiting lists, those waiting to be referred to special schools, as well as out-of-school children with disabilities, in order to provide an accurate account of the status of enrollments;
• Ensure schools have taken all necessary steps to provide individual learning support and remedial education to leaners with disabilities who are lagging behind.
Comply with Existing National Laws and Political Commitments
• Deliver a government gazette, an official government communiqué, with compulsory school-going ages for children with disabilities, adapting it to accommodate students who enter school late, as well as reasonable accommodations;
• Publish Norms and Standards for funding of inclusive education to ensure public special schools can qualify as “no fee schools” and do not charge fees, and prohibit all “COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” public ordinary schools from imposing financial conditions on children with disabilities that children without disabilities would not incur;
• Finalize and publish the “National Learners Transport Policy,” guaranteeing inclusion and subsidized transportation for students with disabilities.
Adopt Stronger Policies and Laws on Inclusive Education
• Begin a transparent process to review “Education White Paper 6”—the government’s inclusive education policy—with a view to adopting a new policy on inclusive education to replace the existing policy;
• Translate “Education White Paper 6” into a comprehensive law binding national and provincial governments, ensuring it is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Increase Accountability in the Education System
• Invest necessary resources in improving data systems to ensure schools of all types account for numbers of children with disabilities in school, grade levels, progression and drop-outs;
• Urgently set up a centralized register of waiting lists and children waiting to be placed and improve data collection of out-of-school children in institutions or centers managed by the Department of Social Development. Ensure such lists are available to parents and civil society organizations upon request.
Allocate Resources and Safeguards to Guarantee Inclusive Education
• Deliver a national conditional grant to implement inclusive education goals and pay for non-personnel funding, including accessible infrastructure, assistive devices, and material resources to reasonably accommodate all children, among others;
• Develop an adequately resourced implementation plan to ensure all public ordinary schools accommodate children with high levels of support needs in line with the commitments made in “Education White Paper 6”;
• Mobilize inclusive education funding into mainstream and full-service schools to meet the milestones laid out in “Education White Paper 6,” and invest existing resources to more effectively promote inclusion and enhance quality in mainstream schools.
This report is based on research conducted in October and November 2014 in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northern Cape, and Western Cape provinces. Human Rights Watch selected these provinces to document disparities in access to education for students with disabilities in historically disadvantaged provinces, remote or rural provinces, as well as provinces with greater resources and greater provision of services for people with disabilities. We documented cases in townships and both urban and remote, rural settings.
Researchers conducted 135 interviews in person and by phone. Evidence used in this report is based on interviews with 70 parents on the experiences of 55 children with disabilities and 15 young adults with disabilities.
Disabilities included physical, sensory (blind, low-vision, deaf, or hard of hearing), intellectual disabilities, including cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and fetal alcohol syndrome disorders. Eight children had multiple disabilities.
Nine children had epilepsy. Ten children and young adults were specifically referred to as “slow learners,” a term used to label persons with intellectual or learning disabilities.
Whenever possible, Human Rights Watch spoke directly with children and young adults, except where they had disabilities that impeded their ability to participate comfortably or they had not learned sign language. Seven separate interviews were conducted with children ranging from 9 to 17 years old. Sixteen young adults ranging from 18 to 30 years old were also interviewed, separately or with their parents.
Interviews took place in English, or were translated into English by members of organizations of persons with disabilities or other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
In each case, Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interview, how it would be used and distributed, and sought the participant’s permission to include their experiences and recommendations in this report.
“COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 8 Participants were told they could discontinue the interview at any time or decline to answer any question. Some parents received a small reimbursement for travel expenses if they traveled long and costly distances to meet researchers.
Human Rights Watch took great care to interview children, young adults, and their families in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Interviewees are identified by their real names, or first names in the case of children, except when they requested otherwise. Foreign national parents, concerned about the impact on their immigration status, requested anonymity.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed 18 representatives of NGOs, including members of organizations of persons with disabilities, and education, human rights, and advocacy organizations and self-advocates; 10 experts and practitioners, including teachers, social workers, educational psychologists, doctors, occupational therapists, assistants, and caregivers who have direct experience with children with disabilities; 12 service providers ranging from NGOs providing an essential service to a social enterprise selling affordable wheelchairs to the government; as well as leading academics and journalists involved in education or disability rights. Some parents have a dual role as parents of children or young adults with disabilities and as former or current teachers, or education experts in NGOs, service providers, or schools.
Human Rights Watch visited four government special schools, two nongovernmental special schools, six formal and informal day care centers (or crèches) and one skills center for adults with intellectual disabilities. Interviews took place inside and outside schools with 14 school staff members and social workers from nongovernmental schools, government special and mainstream schools, care and stimulation centers, skills centers/protective workshops, and informal stimulation centers and crèches. We requested but were not granted permission to visit five additional special, or special boarding, schools. We also interviewed representatives of the National Professional Teachers Organization of South Africa. South Africa’s Democratic Teachers Union did not respond to numerous requests for an interview or comment.
Human Rights Watch interviewed six government officials at the National Department of Basic Education, and communicated by email and telephone with various provincial education officials. The Disability Rights Unit was in the process of moving from the now defunct Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities to the Department of 9 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Social Development during the research. A senior representative of this Unit declined a meeting with Human Rights Watch due to the transfer of this unit’s functions and the absence of internal protocols. We interviewed two commissioners at South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and consulted a number of international disability experts during research and writing.
We also reviewed case studies, National Assembly archives and briefings, government documents, statements and progress reports, government submissions to United Nations (UN) bodies, UN reports, NGO reports, academic articles, newspaper articles, and South African case law on the right to education, among others. Four NGOs shared data, case studies, and evaluations based on their programs and outreach activities with children with disabilities.
The exchange rate at the time of the research was approximately US$1 = R11 South African Rand; this rate has been used for conversions in the text, which have generally been rounded to the nearest dollar.
After the formal end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa’s government faced an urgent need to focus on the right to education of millions of children who had faced racism, exclusion, and discrimination accessing education, as well as children who had been subjected to an inferior quality education.1 Children with disabilities were recognized as deserving particularly urgent attention.2 In the more than two decades since, the government has adopted steps to democratize education by guaranteeing an equal right to basic education in law, policy, and practice.