Special Needs Learners Suffer Most

James Masango MPL

Mpumalanga Provincial Chief Whip of the Official Opposition.

The Mpumalanga provincial administration lacks the means and the political will to provide for learners with special needs, despite promises and undertakings to the provincial Legislature.

While both the premier, Mr David Mabuza and the MEC for education, Ms Reginah Mhaule have admitted that the province’s facilities are not entirely up to standard and require much improvement, both gave the reassurance that more than 25 000 special needs learners would be accommodated in 140 full service schools. The premier said that government would upgrade many of these facilities, and MEC Mhaule claimed that many would be addressed in the 2012/13 financial year.

Unfortunately the truth is far removed from what was promised. According to the Department of Education’s annual performance plan, special needs learners need to be accommodated in special programmes in mainstream schools, adding more pressure on schools, and also requiring more resources.

Furthermore, this policy is only now being subjected to field testing “with a view of providing further guidelines to the Provinicial Department of Education to ensure that the accommodation of learners with disabilities into ordinary public schools in future proceeds as smoothly as possible”.

While this police is being “field tested”, special needs learners are destined to fail. In many instances learners are only accommodated in special needs or remedial classes up to and including Grade 3, and then incorporated into normal classes – and have to sink or swim – while in other schools learners are accommodated up to Grade 7, but the classes are often too large. Premier Mabuza admitted to this shortcoming during his questions for oral reply session on April 24 when he said: “Facilities are not up to scratch, and teaching not satisfactory to the child.”

The DA is highly concerned over government’s commitment to quality education, when over 25 000 learners are not given the opportunity to “grow to reach their full potential”, as promised by the premier in 2011.

Mpumalanga’s administration needs to take a leaf out the book of the Western Cape, where sufficient full service schools with proper boarding facilities are located in every district, where schools re sufficiently equipped to deal with learners requiring special and remedial attention, and where learners truly enjoy equal opportunity education.

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