Maverick Citizen: Education
Civil Society organisations challenge DBE Inclusive Education Update
On 30 October 2019, Parliament posted an Inclusive Education update report presented to them by the Department of Basic Education. Maverick Citizen asked Equal Education Law Centre, Blind SA and SECTION27 to comment on the update, as they work in some of the areas of focus named in the report.
The Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Inclusive Education report was presented by the Director-General of Basic Education, Hubert Mweli and the Chief Director Dr Moses Simelane. The contents of the report seemed to suggest that the Inclusive Education agenda was well underway; however, it seemed to be unclear on a few key issues, particularly scholar transport and the needs of blind learners.
Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), representing Equal Education, whose case on learner transportation was recently in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, won a court bid to make the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education give a date for the release of the draft KwaZulu-Natal Scholar Transport Policy for public comment. This followed transportation advocacy efforts dating back to 2014.
On the Inclusive Education update, EELC’s Demichelle Petherbridge said, “While it is encouraging that the Department of Education recognises key challenges in its provisioning of learner transport to learners with disabilities and lists remedial measures it intends taking to address these, these measures contain minimal detail, and fail to include time frames within which these steps will be taken.
“The DBE acknowledges that the inconsistent location of function has hampered effective co-ordination and oversight between departments, but only states an evaluation will be done “to come up with recommendations on appropriate location of the function”. The DBE’s presentation seems merely to restate the problem without hope of an effective solution.
“In addition, the DBE’s remedial measures provide very little clarity on relevant role players and departmental officials who would be responsible for tasks such as developing driver and learner codes of conduct, or implementing the Focused National Learner Transport Road Safety Programme. Such omissions hamper transparency and accountability, and provide very little assurance that these processes will be initiated and followed through.
“Considering the vulnerability of learners with disabilities, and the absolute necessity for appropriately adapted, reliable and efficient transportation in order to access education, it is critical that the DBE provide more information, and clear time frames, on its plans to address key challenges affecting the provision of learner transport to these learners.”
Similarly, SECTION27 has been working on getting blind learners braille textbooks since 2012, and in September 2018 won an out-of-court settlement agreement for all blind learners to be provided with braille textbooks for each subject. Here is what SECTION27 said:
“SECTION27 stated that the Braille Advisory committee does not meet as often as required and in 2019 had only met once. They said all learners are required to have textbooks by the start of the year and Information and Communication Technologies is meant to supplement textbooks. They further stated that their client, the South African National Council for the Blind, was of the view that tactile learning material is essential and improves the schooling experience.
“Last, it is no anomaly that learners need to share braille textbooks or machinery. As far back as 2012, our engagements with the DBE have indicated in no uncertain terms the impact of the lack of shortages of textbooks has on the learners. It is only since the launch of litigation in 2017 and our continuous engagement with the DBE that we see improvements in the provision of braille textbooks to each learner for each subject.”
Blind SA CEO Jace Nair expressed similar views in a response letter to the DBE, citing the irregularity of the Learning and Teaching Support Material committee’s meetings. He said, “Blind SA is not aware that in the past twelve months of Schools for the Blind being capacitated with equipment, human resources or technical guidance to set up Braille Production Facilities at the schools.” (sic)
On the question by the parliamentary portfolio committee regarding teachers, the DBE said they had “been enrolling teachers at universities to study specialised areas, such as teaching through Braille and South African Sign Language. Some teachers have already graduated from university”.
In response to this Blind SA said they were not aware of any university that provided teachers with braille training and that “Blind SA has trained 131 teachers in braille Grade 1 (uncontracted) and 148 in braille Grade 2 (contracted) in the past three years using the ETDP SETA Unit Standard 264937 and 117872”.
It is of great concern that the DBE’s update tabled by its director-general is so contested as this creates the impression that the department’s reporting provides an inaccurate reflection of the state of basic education.
On 22 October, Equal Education and SECTION27 tabled reports on the state of sanitation and basic education to the basic education portfolio committee. It will be up to the parliamentary portfolio committee to test the validity of the assertions in order to get a more conclusive picture of the inroads of Inclusive Education. MC