There is a line in South Africa’s Freedom Charter, which was drafted 60 years ago, that foreshadows the country’s current attitude to education. It declares:
The doors of learning and culture shall be open to all!
Twenty-one years into its life as a democracy, South Africa appears at first glance to have met the Freedom Charter’s challenge. Almost 97.5% of the country’s children aged between seven and 17 are attending primary or secondary schools.
The picture was very different during apartheid, particularly for black South African children at every level of schooling. In 1982, only 57.4% black children attended primary school and just 17.2% were enrolled in high school.
But access hasn’t improved across the board. Not all children have fared well. An estimated 200 000 children and adolescents do not attend school, many of whom have disabilities or special needs. The school gates are closed to these children partly because teachers lack the skills needed to teach learners who have disabilities or need extra support.
The solution seems simple: if teachers haven’t been properly prepared to help differently-abled pupils, why don’t we just train them better?
A disconnect between workshops and the classroom
South Africa has followed international trends by making a policy commitment to inclusive education. The Department of Basic Education defines this as “the process of addressing the diverse needs of all learners by reducing barriers to and within the learning environment.”