Education department abandons special needs learners

James Masango MPL

Provincial Chief Whip of the Official Opposition

The Department of Education has all but abandoned special needs learners, after a massive R20 million earmarked for implementation programmes was “reprioritised” to other programmes. This while over 12 000 learners are left without access to specialised teaching, and are forced to stay at home.

According to the department’s annual report, there are only 18 special needs school in Mpumalanga, employing 340 teachers and 18 general workers to deal with 3 507 learners with mild to severe learning disabilities. The report further states that there are 12 135 out-of -school youth and vulnerable children who need specialised schooling, but the department’s target for 2015 is to ensure access for only 8 000.

While the department claims to suffer financial constraints in the recruitment and retention of specialised teachers and health professionals, as well as in the building of new and upgrading of existing schools, it sees fit to “reprioritise” R20 million away from the special needs programme.

The subsequent shortage of funds meant the department could only achieve one of its programme objectives as laid out in its annual performance plan, while it failed to:

* Provide 18 special schools with assistive devices and specialized LTSM;

* Provide three special schools with machinery and equipment for vocational skills training;

* Upgrade 11 special schools; and

* Enrol 30 special schools educators for sign language courses.

There is absolutely no justification for the reprioritisation of the funds, leaving the DA with very little doubt that this administration’s priorities do not include special needs learners. In fact, during the past three years, the department’s annual reports show an alarming increase in learners (594 in 2009/10 to 12 135 in 2011/12) who require special needs schooling, but whom the department has failed to help.

Furthermore, the fact that no special school in the 2012 academic year received any specialised LTSM, shows just how unwilling or unable this administration is to provide these learners with a decent education, as the lack of special needs matriculants from Mpumalanga over the past few years attests.

Despite being given equality under law by the Constitution, people living with disabilities do not enjoy the same equal opportunities as their able bodied counterparts in the workplace and in everyday life. However, access to quality education provides better future prospects, and the Department of Education has a moral responsibility to fulfil those needs.

Positive actions create positive outcomes, and government must show its commitment to creating a better life for people living with disabilities.

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