Speech delivered by the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP, on the Occasion of the Light it up Blue for Autism Awareness Function, held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

“Hope for People with Autism and other Disabilities and Special Needs”

 Programme Director

 Principals of Schools

 Members of Governing Bodies

 Provincial and District Officials

 Representatives of Disabled Peoples’ and Parent Organisations


 Distinguished guests

 It gives me great pleasure to address you on the occasion of the 2016 Light it up Blue for Autism Awareness function. We appreciate the work organisations such as the organisers of today’s event namely the Connect Special Needs Autism Forum do for the cause of autism. We also acknowledge the outstanding work done by the Autism South Africa and Action in Autism, as well as the other Disabled People’s entire Organisations do to serve the interests of learners with autism and other disabilities.

 Programme Director; we also value this opportunity given to us to be part of raising awareness about the rights of children with disabilities to access quality education and support in an inclusive education system.

 We are committed to take the Inclusive and Special Needs Education agenda forward with more vigour. In February 2016, we presented a Progress Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6 to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Basic Education. This Report not only highlighted progress made in achieving access to education for children with disabilities, but also revealed alarming estimates of the large number of children with disabilities who are still out of school, or in school without being identified. Currently, the enrolment in the 74 special schools in Kwa-Zulu Natal stands at 44 065. But the estimated number of children of school-going age with disabilities who are not in school may be as high as 155 675.

 The DBE Progress Report on Inclusive Education further highlighted improvement in the quality of delivery of curriculum and provision of support services in special and full-service schools. But also in this area, there is still cause for concern, in terms of lack of availability of health professional staff such as nurses, therapists, social workers, caregivers and other staff needed to ensure that special schools can deliver services that are up to standard. Furthermore, the lack of specialised competencies amongst educators teaching at special schools is still a concern, e.g. knowledge of Braille, South African Sign Language, Autism, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, etc.

 In response, the Department is collaborating with the Department of Higher Education and Training, with the support of the European Union, to ensure that training of teachers in these areas of specialisation, is strengthened through the introduction of Advanced Diplomas in Education of Learners with Autism, Visual Impairment, Intellectual disability and those who are Deaf.

 Every province also has a substantial budget to ensure that teachers receive continued professional development that will ensure that they are able to identify barriers to learning and developmental delays from a very early age and provide the necessary interventions and support.

 The DBE is also currently finalising funding and post provisioning norms that will ensure that more therapists, psychologists, social workers and learning support teachers are appointed in itinerant teams in each circuit, to provide support to teachers, school-based support teams and school managers on how to support learners with special needs in their schools.

 According to the statistics of the DBE, there are currently 1171 learners with autism enrolled in public special schools in KwaZulu-Natal and 199 in ordinary public schools. Of the learners with autism enrolled in special schools 649 are boys and 197, girls. This is in line with international trends in autism, where the incidence is higher amongst boys than in girls. However, we are aware that the incidence of autism might be as high as 1 in every 80 children. The reality for parents is, therefore, that they continue to struggle to find access to education for their children, especially in the deep rural areas.

 After the Action in Autism Conference held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2010, the KwaZulu Natal Department of Education introduced radical steps to increase access to education for all children with autism in the province, by allocating a special budget of at least R200 000 per annum to each of the 74 special schools. Each of the schools has therefore now started to admit learners with autism, having been supplied with specialised equipment, support materials, teacher training and teaching assistants.

 Inclusion of children with disabilities starts in the home and in the family. Families of children with complex disabilities such as autism need to be embraced and supported in their communities. These families, especially the mothers, should never have to fend for themselves and for their children without the support of the neighbours and the community in which they live.

 Furthermore, children with disabilities have a right to access early intervention services at their local clinics and Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres. We are working closely with the Departments of Health and Social Development to ensure that support to young children with disabilities is made available through the implementation of the Children’s Act, the ECD Policy and the National Curriculum Framework and the Integrated School Health Policy.

 It is during the period from conception to four years that disability must be identified as early as possible and early intervention provided so as to improve the chances of children to develop optimally, but also to be accepted and included in settings where they can learn and socialise with their peers.

By being enrolled in education sites, they have a better chance to have access to social, health and education services, than when they are kept at home.

 The implementation of the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS) which was promulgated in November 2014, has introduced a new dispensation with regard to how learners are identified early and receive the necessary support in the schools where they are. This Policy also overhauls admission procedures to special schools and outlines collaboration between the Departments of Basic Education, Health and Social Development.

 Through the Integrated School Health Programme more than 2 million children have already been screened for developmental delays and other health problems and referred for the necessary health interventions. Through the SIAS protocols, they will then also be placed on an individual support plan so that schools would take concerted efforts to ensure that their health condition or disability do not impact on their effective learning.

 A Draft Policy Framework and Learning Programme for Children with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability have also been completed and the draft is now available for consultation. We acknowledge the right of these children to basic education and the Policy Framework outlines how these learners will incrementally be enrolled in schools.

 There are also already 101 Full-Service Schools in KwaZulu Natal. These schools have all received some form of orientation and some of the schools are truly excelling as flagships of best inclusive practice. This programme will ensure that there are more sites available where learners could receive specialised support closer to their homes.

Programme Director; our commitment to the cause of providing quality education for all is supported at the highest level of Government. On 10th March 2016 President Jacob Zuma committed this ANC-led Government to ensure that all children with disabilities, who are currently out of school, will have the opportunity to attend schools in their neighbourhoods by 2021 and receive the necessary support.

 In conclusion, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was ratified by the South African Government in 2007, has introduced a new era for special education where it will no longer be business as usual. We expect of all special and ordinary schools to operate within a rights-based model of disability which respects the dignity, rights, wishes and autonomy of their learners, giving them a voice in all decisions that affect their lives.

 Let us now all join hands to focus on what needs to be done to ensure that every child with a disability of compulsory school-going age is enrolled in a registered educational programme and/or school, and has full access to the learning opportunities including access to appropriate accommodation.

 We all know that in every settlement in South Africa, rural, peri-urban and urban, there are children with disabilities who remain excluded from education. The time has come for all of us to take responsibility for exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination of children with learning difficulties. We, as Government must be held accountable. The rights-holders must have recourse when their rights have been violated.

 It is not the responsibility of parents of children with disabilities to go up and down seeking a door that will open, spending the family’s meagre budget on transport to move from one school to the next … it is the responsibility of all government officials and school managers in the value chain to ensure that children with disabilities access education through suitable assessment and support by the relevant district education offices and school-based support teams.

 We see stakeholder organisations such as yours, as well as the range of Disabled People’s and Parent Organisations as key partners in our programme of implementing an Inclusive Education and Training System and improve access for all children.

 All learners must be exposed to children, youth and adults with disabilities. By learning together, we can learn to live together.

 Programme Director; given early intervention and decent education, many people with autism are able to utilise their unique set of skills to the fullest.

 Finally, we acknowledge partnerships in today’s international “Light it up Blue” autism awareness campaign that is spearheaded the Imbalito Hope College and Therapy Centre. This partnership includes the Lifestyle Shopping Mall, the Alberlito Netcare Hospital, the King Shaka International Airport, Moses Mabhida Stadium and many more community partners who have agreed to light up their buildings blue to create autism awareness. Indeed, Together, we Move South Africa Forward.

I thank you.

Issued by: Department of Basic Education

By cbadmin