Monday 15 April

Children with extremely severe intellectual disabilities must be properly accommodated in the education system, they cannot be disregarded as ineducable or too costly to educate. This is according to the South Africa’s Constitution and a 2011 judgment of the High Court and reiterated in a SECTION27 report” Too Many Left Behind” Exclusion in the South African Inclusive Education System  with a focus on the Umkhanyakude District in northern KwaZulu Natal.

The report documents widespread violations of the rights of children with disabilities in the Umkhanyakude District. These violations are so severe that it is clear the dual racial and disability apartheid in South Africa’s education system persists. These realities, described in detail in this report, exact a very heavy price on poor, black children with disabilities in the Umkhanyakude District, and amount to systemic violations of their constitutional rights to basic education, equality and dignity.

For decades, apartheid’s brutally segregated education system actively deprived black children in South Africa of an opportunity to receive quality education. For children with disabilities, racial apartheid in the education system was compounded by a second ‘disability apartheid’, which isolated children with disabilities to poorly funded special schools – that often treated them as incapable of being educated. This had a particularly dire effect on poor black children (with disabilities), who often had no opportunity to attend school at all.

South Africa’s inclusive education policy seeks to redress this situation, and accommodate all. Education White Paper 6: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System’ (2001) divides schools in South Africa into three types: special schools, full-service schools, and ordinary (‘mainstream’) schools. The paper outlines a vision for inclusive education in South African schools over 20 years which includes improving existing special schools as well as building and converting some ordinary schools to full service schools, which will accommodate higher learning needs. All ordinary schools should be able to accommodate learners with physical disabilities without higher learning needs.

“Despite the fact that Inclusive Education and White Paper 6 have been on the table at implementation stage for over a decade now, the achievements are far below what should have achieved,” says Mr VF Hlabisa, principal at Somfula Full Service School.

SECTION27’s report is the product of over three years of research into barriers to accessing education for people living with disabilities in Manguzi in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Interviews were conducted with nearly 100 caregivers of children with disabilities between 2013 and 2015. In late 2015, SECTION27 visited all three special schools and 11 full-service schools in the district, interviewing principals, teachers and other staff.

Some of SECTION27’s finding include: 

Too many out of school and too few appropriate schools

As recently as 2002, there were no registered schools for children with disabilities in the Umkhanyakude District. A study completed in Manguzi in 2001 estimated that 53% of children with disabilities “did not attend school”; and of those who did, a further 53% “reported having difficulties at school”. Of all people in the district, 25.3% have no schooling at all; while 25.6% of people have a matric qualification, and a mere 4.6% have accessed higher education.

There are only 11 full-service schools in the district, which were designated as such between 2007 and 2013, and have markedly varying ability to accommodate children with disabilities, are scattered throughout the district.

There are large number of children with disabilities in the District who do not enjoy any access to school at all, and may never have done so. A mother, in Manguzi told SECTION27 that her son has never been in school because he is deaf and did not have the opportunity to learn sign language. The child was put onto a waiting list for a special school when he was 8 years old and was subsequently rejected from admission for being too old when he was 12. He has now lived for 17 years of sitting at home being unable to communicate with anyone aside from pointing, despite being perfectly intellectually capable of learning and growing and contributing to society.

According to a Department of Basic Education (DBE) report released in November 2015, there could be as many as 182 153 children with disabilities in KwaZulu-Natal between the ages of 5 and 18, of which as many as 137 889 (76%) may not be receiving any schooling. Any child with an intellectual disability wishing to attain a higher level of qualification than grade 7, or attain a National Senior Certificate, simply cannot do so in the Umkhanyakude District.

In addition, 10 of the 11 full-service schools are only primary schools. This means that out of the 14 schools in the district that cater for the learning needs of children with disabilities at all, only one – Somfula Secondary School – is a high school.

Too little money: inconsistent, non-transparent and unreliable funding for inclusive education

Full-service schools report that though they are expected to accommodate children with disabilities, they are not provided with sufficient and consistent funding to do so. While some schools receive as much as R273 000 for this purpose, one school reports receiving as little as R22 000 from the KZN DoE for the purposes of inclusive education, as recently as 2014/15.

Chronic underfunding is another problem for special schools around the country, including those in the Umkhanyakude District.  As Human Rights Watch uncovered in 2015, too few – if any – of them are declared no-fee schools, and they are therefore unrealistically expected to supplement Department-provided funding with fee intake.  This is particularly taxing on special schools in rural areas such as the Umkhanyakude District

Abuse, neglect and corporal punishment in special-school hostels

The lack of trained, paid house mothers is particularly urgent, given the widespread reports from caregivers that children are neglected, mistreated and abused by volunteer house mothers in hostels. There were shocking reports of abuse in hostels; theft, unlawful corporal punishment, and a widespread perception on the part of caregivers that their children will be abused and neglected if they are sent to stay in special schools.

Inadequate infrastructure and poor service delivery

Both special and full-services schools in the district report serious problems with infrastructure and access to basic services. Though all three special schools have only recently been built, and therefore appear impressive at first sight, schools often lack the furniture and facilities required for the education of learners with disabilities. Full-service schools report lack of classrooms, which results in multi-grade classrooms that must be shared by as many as 89 learners.

Inflexible and undifferentiated curriculum

At special schools, teachers struggle to teach the curriculum – both because they are hired without the requisite skills to teach learners with varying barriers to learning, and because their classes are simply too big to give children individual attention and support.

SECTION27 has put forward a number of recommendations in its report. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education should urgently devise a turnaround plan and strategy to improve the state of special and full-service schools in the Umkhanyakude District.

This plan should be the product of meaningful consultation with relevant public stakeholders, including people with disabilities. On its completion and publication, it must be made publicly available and explained to the parents of children with disabilities and to Disabled People’s Organisations in the district, clearly and in understandable terms.


For more information contact:

Ntsiki Mpulo


082 782 7143



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