File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Cape Town – The National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) has expressed shock that hundreds of thousands of children are still missing out on their basic right to education.

Human Rights Watch said the government was dragging its feet in ensuring adequate education for children with disabilities, as an estimated 600 000 have never been to school.

André Kalis, specialist for advocacy, policy and children’s matters at the NCPD, said: “This lack of access goes against the Basic Education Department’s framework policy.

‘‘This is why the department must cater to those learners with disabilities in the educational space. By not doing so, they’re breaking the law.

‘‘The NCPD will continue to pressure the department to force this matter.”

Elin Martinez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, accused the government of failing to address the situation.

In a follow-up report to one done in 2015, Martinez said it was found that children with disabilities still did not have access to schools for a number of reasons, including being referred to social development centres.

“In some areas they are on waiting lists for assessments to see what disability they have and in the meantime there’s no school. I’ve met kids who are 8 and10 years old and have never been to school, despite the law saying they should be in school from age 6,” Martinez said.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the implementation of the policy of inclusive education as outlined in education white paper 6 of 2001 was a priority of the Department of Basic Education.

When probed on the 600 000 figure, Mhlanga said: “This department has established a protocol with the Department of Social Development and the SA Social Security Agency to ensure that all children aged 5 to 18 years who have identification numbers and who receive grants are in school.

“To date, this is the most effective method of identifying out-of-school children and youth of compulsory school-going age.”

Provincial education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said that in the Western Cape, 5.66% of the budget was allocated to special needs.

No answer was given as to how many pupils with disabilities there were in the province.

“This financial year we have allocated over R1.3 billion to special-needs education,” she said.

Cape Times