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Online learning a greater challenge for children with special needs

Child on a wheelchair.

Online education has proved challenging, but for families of children with disabilities, it is near impossible. Picture:Paballo Thekiso

Published Apr 23, 2021


Online education is challenging, but for families of children with disabilities, it is near impossible without access to the right technology.

The impact of Covid-19 continues to be widely felt, and no more so than for children with special educational care needs, who need more practical solutions.

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Getting specialist support to these children during the lockdown became a major challenge, especially as the majority were from poorer households who had limited access to computers and other crucial technology to remain in touch and on top of their curricula.

MTN SA Foundation’s Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi said while there were many resources available in the form of guides, YouTube channels and websites, little support was accessible to parents and families who had the task of home-schooling their children with disabilities.

“For instance, as parents and educators continue to navigate remote learning, children with visual impairments have the added burden of learning in virtual classrooms that aren’t designed for them.

“Hybrid and socially distant in-person classes present challenges of their own.

“Disruptions in daily routines pose a challenge to several children with developmental disabilities and their families.

“Children who have sensory, physical, or intellectual disabilities often require more intensive supervision and care than typically developing children,” said Mtunzi-Hairwadzi.

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He said children with disabilities may be less able to follow self-directed learning because they are not supplied with adaptations such as braille, or South African Sign Language (SASL), which are essential for them to access learning materials.

“Some have not yet learnt to read by themselves, while others require higher levels of interaction and learning support,” he said.

A study conducted by the UCT, highlighted concerns from a teacher at a school for the deaf regarding challenges of remote learning for her learners.

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The study quoted teachers as saying: “We are finding it very difficult to contact all our families.

“Some phone numbers don’t exist.

“For deaf kids, the videos that we send are data-intensive hence initially there was not a good response to the work sent.”

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According to the 2009 general household survey in South Africa, there are an estimated 2.1 million children with disabilities.

Of these around 600 000 have never been to class.

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