The South African education system is struggling, with many students unable to access meaningful education and schools failing to retain students. This is even more true for the thousands of children with disabilities who have no access to any form of education, are not in school or receive sub-par schooling.
The Centre for Human Rights, located in the Department of Law at the University of Pretoria, hosted its annual Disability Rights Conference to discuss the policies and implementation projects in place to protect the rights of people with disabilities. This year, the focus was on the education of children with disabilities.
Allan Tumbo and Omolara Akintoye, research advisers at the South African Human Rights Commission, spoke about their research into implementing universal design for learning (UDL) in South Africa. The purpose of UDL is to remove children from special schools and place them in mainstream schools with their peers.
Theoretically, UDL will allow students to learn at their own pace in a classroom with children of all races, cultures, backgrounds, languages and abilities. The purpose would be to socialise these children with one other.
Tumbo notes that, through UDL, children without disabilities can be introduced to various forms of disability. Many South Africans might only interact with people with disabilities while at university or when they enter the workplace. They sometimes lack the necessary knowledge, sensitivity and social skills to engage with people with disabilities without offending them.
While the theory of UDL seems to offer a route towards a more inclusive society, there are many challenges involved in its effective implementation. Schooling infrastructure will have to be adapted to cater for all of the needs of the children with disabilities; teachers will have to receive training on how to work with children of various disabilities; and perceptions of children with disabilities will need to be changed.
The education system will need to actively help children with disabilities develop the necessary skills to access tertiary education or employment. There’s a long way to go and policymakers will have to be persuaded about the contribution of UDL; however, the discussion at the conference suggests that changes will take place soon.
Read more about the conference and the challenges of providing inclusive education for all in Issue 6 of ROLLING INSPIRATION for 2018. You can subscribe to the magazine here.