Should youth with disabilities be celebrating this month?

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June is Youth month and we celebrated Youth Day yesterday. Youth Day commemorates the fateful student uprising against inequality, especially in the education system, in 1976. Although we have made great strides towards a more equal education system in South Africa since that day, there are still children growing up with unequal access to education and a lack of opportunities. Children with disabilities are most often overlooked when we talk about youth development and education.

In South Africa, almost a quarter of children with disabilities of school-going age are out of school (based on data from SSA Community survey 2007). A journal article entitled, The Challenges of Realising Inclusive Education in South Africa, written by Dana Donohue and Juan Bornman, suggests several challenges that may account for this high percentage:

  • Lack of support at school level, specifically lack of resources for “special schools” and for transforming “mainstream schools” into inclusive places of learning;
  • Lack of understanding on cultural level, specifically with persistent discrimination and negative stereotyping;
  • Difficulty in implementing the Education White Paper 6 due to ambiguities in the paper itself but also a lack of clear action plans.

Despite the persistent challenges, there is some reason for children with disabilities to celebrate this youth month. There has been progressive improvement in the number of children with disabilities that go to school, in the quality of education at special schools and successful examples of “full service schools” that implement inclusive education in previous “mainstream schools”.

NGOs in South Africa have played an important role in the protection and promotion of the rights of children with disabilities. Through innovative strategies and programmes, and by developing small-scale models of implementation progress is steadily being made. It is so important that NGOs continue to advocate, work and collaborate towards education for all during this month and beyond. That is one of the reasons why ChangeAbility initiated the Stellenbosch and Helderberg Disability Networks.

If you want to find out more about educational options for children with disabilities, send us a message and we will put you in touch with the most appropriate organisation that can help.