I have been teaching for over 10 years, throughout my teaching career I became cognizant of how the education system marginalizes children living with disabilities. My passion for special needs stemmed from my experience working in mainstream schools and teaching learners with disabilities. For instance, in one of the high schools I taught at I had a learner who was hard of hearing. She was a coder ( both her parents were deaf), but she had a hearing aid. The only knowledge that teachers had about her was that she is using a hearing aid and she should be placed in front of the classroom. I acquired more information about her because I was part of the School-Based Support team which offered pastoral care and academic scaffolding.
When I went to the workshops and seminars with teachers from other schools, especially the township schools and rural areas I realized that many teachers are faced with great challenges when it comes to learners with learning barriers, particularly SpLD (Specific Learning Disorders). In 2001, the Department of Education enacted White Paper 6 – Inclusive Education. The objective of the White Paper 6 was to redress the post-apartheid state of special needs and support services in education and training. The call was for the system be changed to an inclusive one where all learners can access education and training no matter what their individual needs are. This change would permit all children, including children with disabilities, to ‘develop and extend their potential and participate as equal members of society’ (http://www.included.org.za). In 2008, the Department of education introduced the Screening Identification Assessment and Support Policy (SIAS) the purpose of the policy is to provide a standardized procedure for the identification, assessment and to provide programmes for all learners who require additional support to enhance their participation and inclusion in school (SIAS, DoE. RSA).
I was taken aback most of the time when I went to these workshops that some of the teachers had limited or no knowledge of the two policies I mentioned before. The Department of Education does contact a number of workshops and training sessions, but only certain teachers are sent by the schools and as a result, the information is not disseminated effectively. One of my colleagues once related a story of a boy she had in a class when she taught in a small town in the Free State. She taught Grade 2, and she had a boy that was mute. She had no idea how to address the boy’s issue and did not know what processes to follow to refer him to a special school.
I was very fortunate to attend the last TEDI workshop from the 25th to 29th March 2019 in Cape Town. TEDI – Teacher Empowerment For Disability Inclusion is born from a partnership between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Christoffel-Blinden Mission (CMB). The programme is co-funded by the European Union and CBM. The objective of TEDI is to empower teachers to provide quality education for learners with severe to profound sensory or intellectual impairments: severe to profound intellectual disability, D/deaf and hard of hearing and visual impairment. According to Mrs. Thandi Henkeman, the development of the programme stemmed from research that is focused on inclusivity, diversity and addressing learner’s impairments-specific needs.
I firmly believe that the Department of Education (DoE) needs to partner with UCT and other universities to empower teachers in the townships and rural areas to realize inclusive education. Teachers in the township and rural schools are facing many challenges, they lack resources and are incapable of addressing the needs of children with SpLD. The DoE needs to set a budget and send teachers to the training that will empower them to be fully functional in an inclusive setting. The programmes should be at least a year long and teachers should be given a certificate from the university. I can attest that it will motivate many teachers and it will also help them to accumulate points for the Continuous Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) as required by the South African Council for Educators (SACE).
In addition, teachers who are currently training including those who are doing their Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) should undergo mandatory training in Special Needs Education and Inclusive Education. There should also be ongoing upskilling of teachers and as a prerequisite as part of the CPTD a special category for Special Needs Education and Inclusive Education should be gathered on an annual basis as there are always new developments within the field.
Over and above I believe that if teachers are empowered, given all the necessary knowledge, skills and tools it will do justice to the children who are living with disabilities to acquire not only adequate but quality education and as mentioned in the White Paper 6 children will develop to their maximum and extend their potential and participate as equal members of the society.
Sizi Matthews Botsime
Educationist and Education Activist