INTRODUCTION: BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE EDUCATION AND TRAINING SYSTEM
The people of Bulwer and KwaZulu-Natal have a good reason to celebrate today.
We can say without equivocation that together, we have taken a giant step on our journey towards an education and training system for the 21st century.
The official opening of the Pholela School for learners with special needs is a milestone achievement for our caring and people-centred government. We are unable to contain our joy because today, in word and in deed, our government is able to demonstrate that we treasure all our learners equally. Today, we can attest that with dedicated support, all children can learn and reach their full potential.
And so, on this Tuesday the 30th of March 2021, we can confidently say that this school is a cornerstone of our vision for an inclusive education and training system. Such a system is geared to actively work to minimise barriers to learning and to meets the needs of all learners.
Today evokes a memory of at least two of our departed leaders and icons. The late Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal and South Africa’s first democratic President, Tata Nelson Mandela.
It was under Madiba’s Presidency that in October 1996, the post-apartheid Ministry of Education appointed the National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training and the National Committee on Education Support Services.
The outcome of the Commission was the 2001 Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education and Training where Professor Asmal said of this new policy framework, “it is another post-apartheid landmark policy paper that cuts our ties with the past and recognises the vital contribution that our people with disabilities are making and must continue to make, but as part of and not isolated from the flowering of our nation.”
The 2001 White Paper makes the following poignant observation:
“Special needs education is a sector where the ravages of apartheid remain most evident. Here, the segregation of learners on the basis of race was extended to incorporate segregation on the basis of disability. Apartheid special schools were thus organised according to two segregating criteria, race and disability. In accordance with apartheid policy, schools that accommodated white disabled learners were extremely well-resourced, whilst the few schools for black disabled learners were systematically under-resourced.”
The key findings of the investigations commission observed that:
o specialised education and support have predominantly been provided for a small percentage of learners with disabilities within ‘special’ schools and classes;
o where provided, specialised education and support were provided on a racial basis, with the best human, physical and material resources reserved for whites;
o most learners with disability have either fallen outside of the system or been ‘mainstreamed by default’;
o the curriculum and education system as a whole have generally failed to respond to the diverse needs of the learner population, resulting in massive numbers of drop-outs, push-outs, and failures;
PHOLELA IS ABOUT BUILDING A NEW SOCIETY INSPIRED BY THE CONSTITUTION
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Twenty five years ago, in 1996, Founding President Nelson Mandela signed our Constitution into law.
The Constitution is premised on the idea and value of common citizenship, human dignity, the achievement of equality, and the advancement of human rights. Section 29 of the
Constitution stipulates that. “Everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education”. This Section further enjoins all of us to build a society free of discrimination, and this is crucial in protecting all learners, especially innocent and vulnerable learners with disabilities.
The rebuilding of Pholela Special School and turning it to into a state of the art educational institution in a deep rural area like Bulwer is part of ensuring that development restores the dignity of our people, especially people in rural areas who for centuries have been on the periphery of development under colonialism and apartheid.
The democratic government led by the African National Congress has invested no less than R220 million rand for this school. As government, we are supporting rural development and growth through the delivery of critical social infrastructure like schools. In 2019, we also opened the modern, state-of the art Daniel Mzamo Special School here in Harry Gwala at a cost of more than R115 million.
Pholela Special School will cater for the needs of learners with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities.
This is a school which boasts, for instance: An Admin block, an Activity block, a Media Centre, a Computer Lab, Special Needs classrooms and Therapy, Multi-purpose centres, accommodation facilities for learners and teachers, Consulting Dispensaries with sickbays, Male and Female Game rooms, Kitchen, Dining Hall and Laundry. External works consists of covered concrete walkways, seating areas, and Basket Ball/ Netball Ball Courts.
A PROVINCIAL PICTURE ON SPECIAL SCHOOLS
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are pleased to report that twenty two (22) schools in other districts have also been identified for renovations and upgrades to ensure that disabled learners receive quality, relevant education and skills in safe environments.
Currently, the Department of Education has built a total of 75 special schools in all 12 districts of KwaZulu-Natal. No less than 19 790 learners are benefitting from these schools. The schools employ 1 762 educators and about 161 therapists including speech therapists, physio and occupational therapist.
In addition, there are 101 full-service, ordinary schools that we have built to cater for the needs of learners with barriers. We have also identified learners in 42 Care Centres around the province who are eligible for formal educational programs in special schools. Our aim is to place these children and other out-of-school youth in quality education and training programmes.
To achieve the goal of inclusive education and training, we are deliberately ensuring that the doors of learning and culture are opened to all. We have thus instructed districts to identify small and non-viable schools for conversion to special schools, especially in districts where there is inadequate provision of special education and where learners have to travel long distances to attend existing special schools. It is for this reason, for instance, that we are currently converting Mvundla Primary School in King Cetshwayo District to become a special needs school. From King Cetshwayo, we are looking at converting a further 10 schools in various parts of the province.
Ladies and Gentlemen, our province remains committed to support learners with autism. It is clear that there is an increasing need for schools for autistic learners. Plans are afoot to build new units that will be established in 34 special schools to provide therapeutic support and care to autistic learners. Sensory rooms which provide essential calming support will be set up in at least six additional schools from next year.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this important investment and infrastructure belongs to the people of Harry Gwala and all South Africans.
Let us treasure this asset and safeguard it for future generations. It must always remind us about the caring, people- centred, and inclusive society that we want to build.
Our Constitution and the Human Rights that we enjoy today were cemented with the blood of our freedom martyrs. Our people shed their blood in wars against land dispossession, at Sharpeville against pass laws, and on 16 June 1976 during the youth uprisings. It was forged by the youth activists of the 1980s who sacrificed much and made South Africa ungovernable to give birth to a more humane society.
Let us use the school in the continuing struggle to free our people from the indignity of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. It must be at the centre of our efforts of restoring the dignity of our people. We must cherish it because it is the fulfilment of the vision of our Constitution whose spirit is averse to discrimination.
We have no doubt that the Principal and teachers will go the extra mile to ensure that this place becomes a resounding success and helps all learners of this school to reach their potential.
In this regard, we urge all parents and guardians to remain invested in the children that are learning here. One cannot overemphasise the need of support from family and guardians of these learners.
We hope that the learners who will be associated with the history of Pholela will know that this municipality gave us Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who went on to become the first Chair of the African Union.
We hope they will be inspired by the story of one of the greatest teachers of our country, the late revolutionary Harry Gwala after whom this district municipality is named.
We have no doubt that Pholela will hold a place of pride in the hearts of many South Africans and remind us that we are a society that is alive with untold possibility.
Together Growing KwaZulu-Natal!
I thank you!