Children with disabilities cannot access ECD
While early childhood development (ECD) plays a critical role in preparing a child to thrive in school, children with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to ECD programmes.
Despite accurate data from the government, the Human Rights Watch estimates that about 600 000 South African children with disabilities were not at school last year. Most of them were found in poor communities.
Carron Strachan, a visually impaired woman who runs the Bright Eyes Centre in Durban, says many people think that good care should be expensive but it shouldn’t be like that.
“We believe that with the right stimulation, encouragement and nurturing, exercised within a supportive and comfortable environment, children can be motivated and guided toward their own natural development and unique potential,” she said.
The centre specialises in children with a range of visual impairments. It provides specialised intervention therapies for low vision 0-5 year-olds and adapted learning techniques, especially suited for low vision children.
The lack of reliable enrolment data, specifically about children with disabilities, significantly affects South Africa’s ability to ensure that it can guarantee high-quality, inclusive primary and secondary education for people with disabilities, experts say.
According to a report by Inclusive Education South Africa, many ECD centre educators do not have the skills required for successful early identification and intervention with respect to young children who experience learning barriers.
“Even those practitioners who have attained qualifications as early childhood development educators experience a mismatch between the knowledge acquired and the practical implementation of teaching these children,” reads the report.
Earlier this year, at a parliamentary committee to discuss the migration of ECD from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education, Vanessa Japhta, said access to ECD centres for children with intellectual disabilities in the Western Cape was often dependent on location and whether the parent could afford the service.
Phumeza Booi Welisa from New Crossroads in Cape Town, knows very well the struggles of finding a school suitable for her son with autism.
According to Welisa, her son was moved to about seven crèches in one year, which forced to quit her job.
In 2017, Welisa started her daycare Hlumelo Educare Centre, an NPO to prepare autistic children for school after completing an 18-month educare course at False Bay College. About 62 children, aged six months to eight years were enrolled at the centre, including eight autistic children from the community.
“In our community, there’s a lot of children whose parents are unemployed,” she said. I noticed that the children with autism were learning from the ones without autism. They’re learning from each other,” Welisa said.