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The Right to Inclusive and Quality Education for Children with Disabilities

South Africa commemorates National Disability Rights Awareness Month annually between 3 November and 3 December. This post aims to raise awareness about children and young people with disabilities, and their right to empower themselves through access to quality education and lifelong learning.

Disability Rights Awareness Month 2019

Children with disabilities are one of the most socially judged and excluded groups in society. They face various forms of discrimination, which leads to isolation and alienation from community, society and school.

The general attitude toward children with disabilities, and the lack of resources to accommodate these children, compound the challenges they face. The lack of easy access to school – and the inability of the education system to make sure that they receive quality education is of equal concern.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Education For All framework aim to meet the learning needs of all children and youth. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recalls those obligations and further specifies that “States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children”, and “ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning” (articles 7 and 24).

To ensure quality education for children with disabilities the following must be addressed:

  • Promote accessible and inclusive learning spaces – Ensure physical accessibility for children with disabilities, including commuting and moving around in the school environment as well as having safe access to water and sanitation facilities whilst at school. Likewise, learning materials need to be made available in accessible formats to suit the needs of children with different types of disabilities. 
  • Invest in teacher training for inclusive education – Where available, approaches to education for children with disabilities have changed over the years. While the initial emphasis was on ‘special schools’, there has been a shifting that indicates a preference towards inclusive education. Preparation and orientation of teachers for inclusion should happen through teacher training which, besides the child-centred pedagogy will also address attitudes towards children with disabilities, and how to prepare/support families for them to be encouraged to keep their children in school and informed about their children’s potential.
  • Take a multi-sectoral approach – Barriers that prevent children with disabilities to access education are located both within and outside the education system, for example transport, social services for assistive devices, health etc.
  • Involve the community – The education of children with disabilities must include a strong involvement from community as well as from parents, being two key factors which determine the success of IE.
  • Collect data for evidence building and progress monitoring – In order to have evidence to advocate for inclusion and create a baseline for monitoring progress in disability mainstreaming in the educational system, it is required to collect and disaggregate data on the patterns of enrolment, attendance, completion, attainment and drop out as a result of having a disability (in addition to gender, ethnicity, income level, geographical location etc.).  Also other qualitative and quantitative studies, like one on Out Of School Children, provide important baselines and as such must become a regular component of monitoring education standards.  Research findings are helping to define strategies to ensure specific target groups are reached.

Inclusive Education in South Africa

“In 2015, it was estimated by Human Rights Watch that over 600,000 children with disabilities are not in the school system in South Africa. Since the release of these statistics, it has come to light that this number may be even higher, as the government is yet to determine the exact number of children with disabilities not attending schools.”

Inclusive Education recognises the right of ALL children to feel welcomed into a supportive educational environment in their own community. It refers to the capacity of ordinary local schools and ECD Centres to respond to the needs of ALL learners, including those requiring extra support because of learning or physical disability, social disadvantage, cultural diffrences or other barriers to learning.

We now have a strong legislative and policy framework that promotes an Inclusive Education system in South Africa. The South African Constitution, The South African Schools Act, White Paper 6, The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child all place obligations on the State to ensure ALL children are given access to meaningful participation in learning in the general education system. –

Be Inspired

Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to join hands in raising SMA Awareness with Kerry Walsh, an inspiring young lady with a “never say no” attitude.

Kerry was diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) around the age of one, and was given the life expectancy of 5 years old. Today, at age 21, she is a motivational speaker and extremely passionate about changing the level of accessibility in South Africa!! Kerry was an ambassador for the Nappy Run 2016-2017, and was nominated as a Margaret Hirsch Women in Business 2017-2018!! Learn more about Kerry`s story and her mission to raise SMA Awareness and changing the level of accessibility in SA.

Kerry Walsh
Kerry Walsh


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