Following closely on the Fees Must Fall campaign, issues have been raised about access to mainstream education for children with disabilities. In recent events, a mother of a nine-year-old child with a disability went to the media to ask for assistance in pressuring the district department of education in her area to place her child in a school.
Reports by Human Rights Watch claim that there are approximately 500 000 disabled children across South Africa that have no direct access to education.
While it is the Department of Education’s responsibility to ensure that all children have access to basic education, it is currently unable to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities. This is a direct violation of the children’s right to education and denies them an opportunity to enhance their skills, improve their social behaviour and emotional intelligence, and access other benefits imperative for their development.
Although the government has schools that specialise in educating and enriching the lives of children with disabilities, there are simply not enough of them. The schools are often full and under-resourced, making it impossible to admit more children. Parents are sent from pillar to post for months while their child sits at home missing out on valuable education. This leads to parents desperately seeking admission in mainstream schools not specialised in inclusive education. In mainstream schools, disabilities are often misunderstood. In addition, teachers are not adequately trained to teach children with disabilities. As a result, mainstream schools usually feel overwhelmed when dealing with disabled children. One outcome of this situation is that parents often complain about their children being ill-treated in schools.
This human rights violation cannot be allowed to continue. All children, whatever their disabilities or circumstances, must be given access to quality education. The Department of Education must without further delay take measures in ensuring everyone enjoys the benefits of education.