The 2001 Education White Paper 6 on special needs education defines inclusive education as the pedagogical approach of recognizing and respecting the differences among all learners and building on their similarities. In contrast to mainstreaming or integration, which encompasses an adaptation process, inclusion focuses on learners and on overcoming barriers that prevent the system from fully addressing their needs.
Special education needs
The variety of learning needs arises from a range of factors. Some are related to the individual, including physical, mental, sensory, neurological and developmental impairments; psychosocial disturbances; differences in intellectual ability; particular life experiences; or socio-economic deprivation. Other factors are not related to the individual, including negative attitudes to and stereotyping of difference; inflexible curriculum; inappropriate languages or language of learning and teaching; inappropriate communication; inaccessible and unsafe built environments; inappropriate and inadequate support services; inadequate policies and legislation; non-recognition and non-involvement of parents; and inadequately and inappropriately trained education managers and educators.
According to the 2010 Dictionary of Education Concepts and Terms, a learner with special education needs requires additional support in the form of reasonable accommodation and interventions of a specialized nature, based on a process of screening, identification and assessment.
The South African school system is organized into:
- Ordinary schools and early childhood development centres.
- Full-service schools, also known as inclusive schools, which are mainstream schools, including colleges and further and higher education institutions, that deliver quality education to all learners, reducing exclusion by providing the necessary support and by developing students’ full potential regardless of their background, culture, abilities or disabilities, gender or race. A full-service school is equipped to take into account a broad range of learning needs through its structure, policies, practices, pedagogy and culture.
- Special schools equipped to provide a specialized education programme to learners who need specific education support on a full-time or part-time basis. Special schools have the expertise and capacity to deliver appropriate and quality education provision for those learners who need special care and specialized education programmes.
- Special school resource centres (SSRCs), which are special schools that have been identified as centres of excellence for their resources and expertise to provide professional support in terms of curriculum, assessment and instruction within district-based support teams (DBSTs). All special schools of the country were expected to be converted into SSRCs.
Early identification, screening and assessment
The 2014 National Strategy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) is the national framework that provides standardized procedures to identify, assess and support learners who need additional assistance for their access to and participation in education. Aligned with the Integrated School Health Policy, SIAS policy is targeted at learners in mainstream and special schools who encounter learning barriers and at children of compulsory schooling age and youth who are out of the school system. With the adoption of the SIAS policy, the process of identifying, assessing and enrolling learners in schools has been overhauled since the assessment and support provision is no longer based on predefined categories of disability, but on the level and nature of learning needs. At admission, teachers screen all children and record the findings in the learner profile. When a learner has been identified as being vulnerable or at risk, the teacher assumes the role of a case manager. The parent and caregiver are involved throughout the decision-making process. According to the level and nature of needs, the school-based support team (SBST) up to the DBST may be involved in SIAS support assistance.
The legal education framework provides the basis for the promotion of an inclusive education system in the country. The 1996 National Education Policy Act reaffirms the principle of non-discrimination and the right to basic education and equal access to institutions, while the 1996 South African Schools Act (SASA), last amended in 2011, aims to promote access, quality and democratic governance in the schooling system.
The 1996 SASA lays down the right to education for children with special needs at mainstream public schools through relevant support services and adequate measures, where reasonably practical. It further calls for including parents and the interests of the child in decision making.
In the education sector, the 2001 Education White Paper 6 outlined the strategy to make the education system more inclusive and equitable, recognizing the right of all learners to attend their local neighbourhood school and to receive the necessary support. To actually expand provisions and provide access to learners with disabilities within neighbourhood schools, the white paper identified and designated primary schools to be converted into full-service schools and strengthened the education support service provision through the reorganization of the system at district level. To enhance its implementation, the 2014 SIAS policy systematized the identification and assessment procedures and access to support.
Inclusive education is considered one of the priorities and a cross-cutting theme of the 2015–20 Five-Year Strategic Plan, addressed through curriculum differentiation and the implementation of the Home Education Policy to reach out to children who are out of the system. Among its main goals, the Action Plan to 2019 aimed to increase the number of schools that effectively implement inclusive education policy (Goal 26).
The 1996 National Education Policy Act promotes gender equality through education, while the 1998 Further Education and Training Act addresses the advancement of women in higher education and in previously male-dominated fields. The 1996 SASA specifically prohibits learners’ discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy assist educators with managing pregnancy at schools and with curbing dropout among girls. The Life Orientation Programme aims to provide sex education and prevent early pregnancy as part of the national curriculum. The Keeping Girls in School Programme is another initiative developed in some provinces by the Girls and Boys Education Movement to mitigate the risk of pregnancy.
In relation to gender and sexual violence, the Department of Education developed the Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Public Schools in 2008 to assist education institutions in maintaining minimum standard procedures for addressing situations of sexual violence and harassment and to support victims. As part of the National School Safety Framework, a targeted initiative was developed to create a safe environment for LGBTI learners, educators and parents through the publication of a booklet.
An initiative aimed to make school environments socially inclusive, the Girls Education Movement (GEM) was initiated in 2002 to encourage girls to participate in science and technology through the Techno-girl programme, providing career guidance and life skills support. In parallel, the Boys Education Movement (BEM) has been established in schools to empower both girls and boys in education and social-related skills.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa lays down the right to receive education in public education institutions in the official language of choice. The SASA affirms the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of language, culture or religion.
As a matter of policy, the 1997 Language in Education Policy and the 2011 National Curriculum Statements require learners to be taught in their native language in the Foundation Phase and to choose their language of instruction in more advanced grades, where it is reasonably practicable. The 2017 Language Policy for Higher Education provides for all higher education institutions to develop their own language policies to promote multilingualism. An advisory panel on the use of African languages has been set up at post-school level. The Norms and Standards for Language in Public Schools promote and regulate the learning and teaching of indigenous languages.
A system of exemptions from school fees was established for poor parents, including for learners who are orphans or in foster care, and, starting from 2006, also for those receiving a child-support grant. In addition, the National School Nutrition Programme contributes to food and nutrition security for primary school learners from poor households through a daily school meal.
Coordination across sectors
As described in the 2001 Education White Paper 6 on inclusive education, implementation requires the collaboration of multiple actors:
- The Ministry of Education holds the responsibility for the provision of education to all learners. In particular, within the Department of Basic Education, the Directorate of Inclusive Education manages the development, evaluation and maintenance of policy, programmes and systems for learners with special learning needs.
- The Ministry of Social Development and the provincial departments of education ensure that children and youth are provided with a supportive and effective learning and teaching environment. The Department of Public Works is responsible for ensuring physical accessibility of buildings and grounds and for making full-service institutions. On the other hand, the Department of Social Development assists with the provision of social development services, such as child support grants for needy children under the age of seven and care dependency grants for children with disabilities.
- The Ministry of Health is involved on multiple fronts through health professionals participating in the SIAS process, while community-based rehabilitation workers are a valuable source of information and support, particularly in rural communities. As regards the promotion of inclusive education, the Department of Health implements the Primary Schools Nutrition Project to provide learners from poor households with a nutritious meal as part of its Integrated Nutrition Strategy.
The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities was set up with the mandate to mainstream gender rights at all levels of government, while the Commission on Gender Equality, established by constitutional provision, promotes and protects gender equality, including through public education. Within the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Science, Engineering and Technology for Women Subcommittee promotes the role and engagement of women in the field.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
As constitutional body, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities works to preserve, promote and develop cultures, religions and languages through public education and engagement.
Cooperation across government levels
To implement the 2001 white paper on inclusive education, and according to the 2005 Framework for the Establishment of District-Based Support Teams, each district, through its provincial department of education, establishes DBSTs. Consisting of representatives of different government levels and involving professionals, such as psychologists, social workers and therapists, the multidisciplinary support team has multiple functions.
The DBSTs evaluate education programmes and provide recommendations for their improvement. They act as supportive bodies for schools, providing them with the capacity to identify and address severe learning difficulties. In their consultative role, the DBSTs manage activities related to inclusive education within the district, assisting teachers with curriculum differentiation and principals with the implementation of inclusive policies and practices. DBSTs also liaise with different government departments, such as the Health and Social Development, to ensure the provision of health services and the engagement of health professionals at school level.
Institutional-level support teams or SBSTs identify and assist with children with special education needs within each education institution, from early childhood to adult learning centres and higher education institutions. Consisting of educators and education staff, such a team is a focal point within the education institution, dealing with the DBST and other support providers in assessing and addressing learners’ needs and education barriers.
In 2002, the South African Human Rights Commission, in its report Towards a Barrier-Free Society, called for a revision of legislative framework for accessibility to build environments to ensure universal access. In relation to school accessibility, the 2010 National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment, accompanied by the 2012 Guidelines Relating to Planning for Public School Infrastructure, contains specifications for universal school design, which were not fully translated into the 2013 Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure. The development of the National Education Infrastructure Management System, an electronic planning and management tool, intends to provide information about the conditions of infrastructure, including public schools, and facilitate tailored interventions.
Providing buildings within reasonable distances to facilitate communities living in rural and remote areas has been one focus of the Department of Education’s work in collaboration with the Department of Public Works. The use of technology and learning aids, such as computers, has been promoted to accommodate this need.
In line with the 1996 White Paper on National Transport Policy, and as prescribed by the National Development Plan, the 2015 National Learner Transport Policy was adopted to meet the mobility needs of learners through the provision of a safe, secure, reliable and affordable learner transport service. The policy is applicable to the transportation of learners from grades R to 12, including learners with disabilities, consistently with the SASA provisions.
In line with the SASA, the 2015 White Paper on the Right of Persons with Disabilities and the 2015 National Disability Policy call for mainstreaming disability in curriculum development.
In making education accessible to all, the Department of Education introduced the National Curriculum Statements, based on the principle of inclusivity. The 2010 Guidelines for Inclusive Teaching and Learning also aim to make classrooms more accessible through an education approach underpinned by the principles of individualization, flexibility and inclusion and through the implementation of curriculum differentiation and adaptation.
Reviewed to incorporate changes in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, the 2011 Guidelines for Responding to Learner Diversity in the Classroom provide practical guidance to school managers and teachers on planning and teaching to meet the needs of a diverse range of learners.
The 2018 National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement for Information Technology Grades R-12 serves the purpose of equipping learners, regardless of their socio-economic background, race, gender, physical ability or intellectual ability, with the knowledge, skills and values necessary for self-fulfilment and full participation in society. According to the 2015–20 strategic plan, besides the academic curriculum, skill- and vocation-oriented programmes are expected to be developed for empowering learners with disabilities.
Learning materials and ICT
According to the principle of curriculum adaptation, learning and teaching support materials are required to accommodate different communication needs, for example, in a variety of media. E-learning is encouraged as it offers a range of options for differentiated instruction that may be tailored to learner needs, including to learners with disabilities.
The National Strategy for Continued Professional Teacher Development considers inclusive education a key component of teacher training. Considered as manuals to train educators, both the 2010 Guidelines for Inclusive Teaching and Learning and the 2010 Guidelines for Responding to Learner Diversity emphasize the principle of inclusiveness and the practice of curriculum differentiation. As pointed out in the Education White Paper 6 on inclusive education, educators are considered the primary resource for the promotion of an inclusive education and training system. This implies that educators and education staff must acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.
The 2007 National Policy Framework for Teacher Education specifies that accessing and addressing learning barriers is a fundamental component of teacher education. The 2010 Draft Policy on the Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications identifies the need to train professionals for teaching and learning support through specialized teacher training, such as education of learners with hearing and visual disabilities and learners with autistic spectrum disorders and intellectual impairment. As reaffirmed in the 2015 White Paper on the Right of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights awareness training programmes should be integrated into the curricula of all education and training programmes.
As specified in the SIAS policy, all teachers, managers and provincial and district officials are expected to be trained in the use of the new SIAS model. To implement the SIAS policy and compensate for the shortage of specialists in rural areas, paraprofessionals or peers are trained for the provision of individual support. In addition, a model of itinerant service has been developed.
As part of their professional development and training programme, the national course Opening Our Eyes aims to increase educators’ awareness of sexual harassment, gender-based violence and school safety. Educators are also trained to become mentors and counsellors to support peers to address gender-based violence, learner pregnancy and sexual harassment through the GEM and BEM clubs and through the Life Orientation Learning Programme in the national curriculum. In 2015, the Department of Basic Education promoted a training for officials at the province level to encourage gender equity and gender transformation.
As regards learning support, full-service schools may designate a learning support educator with a coordinating role among educators and staff, parents and various outside service providers.
The Department of Basic Education provides annual education reports.
The education management information system (EMIS) is a function and unit in the Department of Basic Education. EMIS information is collected at national and provincial levels. School Realities reports are published every year, with reference to the number of learners by province, sector, gender and grade, while the Education Statistics Report provides a broader overview of the education system, including the number of learners in special needs education sectors, by primary disability and province. Gender-disaggregated data are always provided.