The latest budget put forward by the Eastern Cape Department of Education has shown that it does not care about learners with special educational needs, with scant provision to address the massive backlog for spaces.
There is a severe lack of space for learners at special schools for those who have been evaluated and are languishing on waiting lists, unable to find a space.
Principals at schools in Cradock and Middleburg also raised the alarm during recent oversight visits I conducted. They are concerned about learners who have been identified to have special needs, who are not being evaluated by the Department.
Principals have related harrowing accounts of submissions being made to the Department without any evaluations being done for well over a year and counting. This has prevented these learners from being eligible for placement at a special needs school, condemning them to either failure or dropping out.
It has also placed a further burden on public schools who are already under-resourced and now have to contend with the learning environment in the classroom being further disrupted by learners who require specialised attention.
During recent portfolio committee meetings considering the budget of the Department for the 2022/2023 financial year, the Democratic Alliance established that there are currently 806 learners on waiting lists to be admitted into special schools in the province, with only 200 additional spaces to be made available for the current academic year, as per the budget that will be tabled in the Legislature next week.
This is a pitiful provision given that the number of learners on the waiting list is not a true reflection of the need for additional spaces, considering the number of learners still awaiting evaluation.
With the number of special needs learners currently attending school, 121 specialists and therapists are required as per the post provisioning norms to provide services to these learners. The Department only has 48 specialists and therapists employed.
It was revealed in a portfolio committee meeting that the Department will not be able to provide the needed 121 posts over the MTEF due to funds not being available. This means that over the next three years, this problem will only grow, instead of being rectified.
Even the Department’s target of 74 in this regard is way below the need.
This under-resourcing of special needs schools has already resulted in at least 438 LSEN learners dropping out.
The impact on special needs learners does not only have consequences for the learners, but also for the parents and families in our communities.
The DA believes that every individual should have the opportunity to be themselves, develop themselves and pursue their aspirations and dreams. A caring government would open opportunities for learners with special needs to develop themselves and pursue their dreams.
The DA will not support the budget of the Department of Education in its current form, which essentially locks out learners with special education needs.
I will also be tabling detailed questions to the MEC with respect to outstanding evaluations and the capacity that the Department has, including the availability of psychologists, to perform these evaluations timeously.