Today, five members of the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities Alliance (R2ECWD) took our fight for access to quality education for all children all the way to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in Geneva. Though inclusive education is a right “ultimately, segregation remains the prevailing attitude towards education for children with disabilities” in South Africa, we told the Committee.

Leading R2ECWD’s submission, Robyn Beere the Director of Inclusive Education South Africa emphasised the urgency and depth of the crisis in inclusive education in South Africa: “Systemic transformation of the general education system has not been achieved and urgent attention must be given to the drastic improvement of quality education in all schools children with disabilities currently attend. Children with disabilities, particularly in rural provinces, still experience “dual apartheid” discrimination based on race and disability,” she said.

Silomo Khumalo, a blind constitutional lawyer, activist, and individual member of the campaign shared some or his person experiences in South Africa’s inclusive education system with the Committee. Emphasising the abysmal conditions in special school hostels where government itself has acknowledged there are “extremely poor conditions” and a “high rate of child abuse” he observed: “It is very disturbing for me to know that in 2018 children with disabilities like myself still live in life-threatening conditions in hostel facilities. Abuse, neglect and inadequate care characterise life for children in many special schools and special school hostels in South Africa.”

 “A recent South African Human Rights Commission Report highlights the lack of adequate supervision, safety equipment, staff training and care in a special school hostel resulting in the death of 3 Deaf learners when a fire broke out in their hostel in August 2015”, he explained. The urgency of this problem cannot be underestimated if more tragic deaths are to be avoided.

Turning to the government’s failure to ensure that individual learners receive reasonable accommodation in ordinary schools, as is their constitutional right, internationally acclaimed ability activist and co-founder of the Chaeli Campaign, Chaeli Mycroft spoke from her own experience in such schools.  “When I started school I was denied entry to pre-school because I have always struggled with incontinence and as a result it was deemed an impossibility to support my education in that space. This is not and should not be an insurmountable problem, it is an issue that can be managed”, she said.

Building on this, referring to the inadequacy of the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, Chaeli continued: “Reasonable accommodation is particularly important in the context of a failure to realise the Article 9 right to accessibility. This failure is reflected in the 2030 timeframes for school buildings to comply with universal design requirements. This token reference to the vague objective of universal design is inherent throughout most policies without accompanying comprehensive guidelines.” 

Odette Swift, Director of Deaf education at DeafSA highlighted the lack of essential assistive devices provided to learners even in special schools. “This is evident in the failure to provide braille textbooks in nearly all of the schools for blind learners in South Africa. Similarly, Deaf or hard of hearing learners are not provided with much needed assistive devices”, she said.

Compounding this problem “In schools of the Deaf, teachers remain unable to use South African Sign Language (SASL) proficiently for teaching and learning. Though the government reports frequently on increased training of SASL, evidence suggests that this does not translate into competent subject teaching. The extremely poor matric pass rates for deaf learners reflect this. Similarly, in schools for visually impaired most teachers cannot read braille at even the level expected of their learners.”

The Right to Education for Children with Disabilities Alliance’s submission today follows on years of campaigning in Parliament, meetings with the Department of Basic Education, repeated litigation by its members and constant media advocacy. Unfortunately, none of the issues we have highlighted to the Committee today are new and these are just a sample of the many problems that indicate a systemic failure to provide education to children with disabilities. Our statement to the Committee therefore concludes:

“Our recommendations echo those made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016. Not one of these recommendations have to date been actioned by the South African government. Without clear targets, action plans, accurate data, budgets and accountability measures which prioritise these recommendations as a matter of urgency, our fear as civil society, is that we will be standing before you again in 5 years time saying exactly the same things, whilst the right to education for thousands more children with disabilities will have been denied.”

[Find full Oral Statement to the UN Committee here


Robyn Beere                            +27 (0)82 927 2996

Silomo Khumalo                        +27 (0)79 216 4370

Chaeli Mycroft              +27 (0)82 419 8908

Odette Swift                  +27 (0)74 186 633

Tim Fish Hodgson                       +27 (0)82 871 9905

Qobo Ningiza                 +27(0)71 511 0976 (sms only)

Media on the R2ECWD trip to Geneva:

[READ] R Beere, S Khumalo & TF Hodgson “Lend children with disabilities a hand” (Mail & Guardian)

[READ] Q Ningiza & O Swift “Education system fails deaf children through neglect” (Business Day)

[WATCH] Blind constitutional lawyer Silomo Khumalo advocates for an inclusive education system (SABC News)

 Background and further information:

R2ECWD argues that the current state of South Africa’s inclusive education system violates various provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Rights of Persons With Disabilities including: the rights to inclusive education (Article 24), equality non-discrimination (Articles 5), freedom from violence and abuse (Article 16), general accessibility of society (Article 9), physical and mental integrity (Article 17) and the general principle of the right to respect for inherent human dignity (Article 3). The Constitutional Court has confirmed that this Convention is binding in South African law.

R2ECWD’s full oral submission to the Committee today is available here (March 2018).

R2ECWD’s full written submission to the Committee is available here (January 2017).

R2ECWD’s most recent submission to Parliament is available here (May 2017).

R2ECWD’s concise position statement on the implementation of inclusive education in SA is available here (March 2016).

The text of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities is available here.

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