South Africa has left over half a million children with disabilities out of school, and hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities, who are presently in school, behind, according to a new report published by Human Rights Watch.
Complicit in Exclusion disputes South African government claims that it has reached universal enrolment in primary education and achieved the UN Millennium Development Goal on education, requiring it to ensure that all girls and boys were in school and had completed a full course of primary education by 2015. Progress on paper, it says, has not translated into equal opportunities or protections on the ground.
Among the report’s findings are that:
- Schools make the ultimate decision—often arbitrary and unchecked—as to who can enrol.
- Many students in mainstream schools face discriminatory physical and attitudinal barriers, while those in special schools for children with sensory disabilities do not have access to the same subjects as their mainstream peers.
- Children with disabilities who attend special schools pay school fees that children without disabilities do not, and many who attend mainstream schools are asked to pay for their own teaching assistants as a condition of staying in mainstream classes.
Further obstacles highlighted by the report include violence, abuse, and neglect in schools; lack of quality education; and lack of preparation for life after basic education.
The report says factors underpinning these problems, include undercounting children with disabilities in governmental data, inadequate funding for inclusive education, and lack of adequate information and support services.
It makes a series of recommendations and says the government must ‘move beyond statements of commitment to real, inclusive implementation.’