Children and adolescents with disabilities face huge challenges to access education in South Africa. One year on from the release of Human Rights Watch’s report documenting barriers to a quality education for children with disabilities, the government has made little progress in addressing systemic barriers and introducing stronger reforms to guarantee inclusive education in South Africa.
Hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities are still out of school, but the government has not yet presented accurate data to show how many children with disabilities are out of school. The government continues to prioritize funding for special schools, to the detriment of inclusive education.
Children with disabilities should enjoy equality in the entire process of their education, including by having meaningful choices and opportunities to be accommodated in mainstream schools, and to receive quality education on an equal basis with, and alongside, children without disabilities.
But many children with disabilities and their families face exhausting and confusing processes before they can access a school.
In Gauteng province, for example, many children with disabilities are automatically referred to and enrolled in special schools and are excluded from mainstream schools. Many mainstream schools in this province do not comply with their obligations to provide reasonable accommodation—adjustments that allow a person with a disability to participate equally in schools. The provincial government has not yet adopted a strong focus on inclusive education, and continues to focus on special education to the detriment of inclusion.
In 2015 and 2016, caregivers of children and adolescents with disabilities from Orange Farm, a township in Gauteng province, wrote letters telling their experiences of navigating the complex system, tackling discrimination against their children, and the impact on their children when they are not in school. Afrika Tikkun, a nongovernmental organization working in Gauteng and Western Cape, provides many caregivers and families of children with disabilities with essential information on their children’s rights, filling an essential gap in basic services.
The letters of eight caregivers of children and adolescents with disabilities were included at ‘16 Days of Activism,’ a public exhibition hosted by Afrika Tikkun in Johannesburg, aiming to raise awareness of the experiences of caregivers in ensuring their children get an education.