Shocking revelations of young learners with special needs collapsing due to heat exhaustion and epilepsy while attending class in a converted shack at a rural school, highlight the plight of Limpopo’s learners with specific requirements that has been raised with Premier Stan Mathabatha on Tuesday.
Democratic Alliance (DA) Limpopo Legislature Member Katlego Suzan Phala is seeking urgent intervention into the state of dilapidated and under-resourced special schools after a series of oversight inspections conducted over a period of time. Phala, who is DA Limpopo’s spokesperson on Quality of Life and Status of Women, Youth and Disability and a member of the relevant Legislature portfolio committee, embarked on visits for oversight purposes to schools for learners with special needs across districts of the province from 31 July to 2 August. She said her visits might have caught the attention of portfolio committee members, who have embarked on oversight visits to special schools last week.
In a media statement, Phala said since Education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe has failed to respond to queries about the shocking state of special schools after earlier oversight inspections, they have now escalated the matter to Mathabatha for immediate intervention.
“During an oversight inspection last week, the DA discovered more appalling conditions in various special schools around the Mopani District that are being sidelined and have been neglected by the department for over five years,” she further said in the statement. She raised a crisis at Nthabiseng Special School in Phalaborwa where Grade R and 1 learners are reportedly forced to attend class in a sizeable converted shack, apparently resulting in some learners regularly collapsing due to heat exhaustion and epilepsy.
“The school does not have the capacity to accommodate more than 166 learners in its five classrooms, which are already overcrowded and do not provide a conducive learning environment for wheelchair-bound learners. To compound the matter, there are no nurses, speech therapists or a social worker at the school to assist these learners on a weekly basis. Due to insufficient classrooms, all Grade 1 learners are forced to attend their classes in a shack where some learners are said to be collapsing on a regular basis due to the heat and epilepsy. The DA has noted that the school needs a hostel for these learners, considering that there is currently no scholar transport provided by the department.”
At Pfunanani Special School in Giyani over 436 learners were reportedly accommodated in only eight classrooms and eleven mobile classrooms, she said, but due to overcrowding at the school some learners were taken to a nearby Mihlekenthwa High School that didn’t cater for learners with special needs.
Phala mentioned that she has already filed a complaint against the Department of Education with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). “It is totally unacceptable for the department to neglect these schools considering the amount of money being returned to National Treasury annually due to underspending.”
Phala forwarded copies of the letter sent to Mathabatha as well as acknowledgement of receipt thereof.
Comment from the Department of Education’s spokesperson, Sam Makondo is printed verbatim: “The department acknowledges that the infrastructure is not adequate and it is part and parcel of the infrastructure backlogs that the department is dealing with every financial year within what is allocated to the department. There is no single financial year since 2014 where the department has not spent every cent meant for school infrastructure and it is because we understand that there has to be adequate classrooms for every school across the province. As of now, there is a need for classrooms above hostels.
The majority of the learners at this special school benefit from scholar transport and it is only five learners whose matter is receiving attention so that everybody benefits in terms of scholar transport. So it is not true that there is no scholar transport.
Learners at Nthabiseng Special School are special learners whose condition is Profound Intellectual Disability (PID), which means their condition is intellectual than physical, as such they do not require wheelchairs at the school unlike, say learners at Letaba Special School who need wheelchairs to move around because of their physical conditions. The department has appointed last year and recently this year professional support staff such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, (and) social workers who will be rendering services to special schools. If a school does not have a social worker, it does not mean it will suffer in terms of services because they are always sent to our schools to render services.
Learners from Pfunanani are only using three classrooms which are not being used at Mihlekenthwa High since the schools are next to each other and only separated by a fence. It is a temporary arrangement and does not affect teaching and learning at both schools. Teachers are still teachers from Pfunanani Special School and the learners are only using the classrooms that are available at that school and there is no need to travel.
Schools across the province are expected to use their norms and standards funds to maintain their infrastructure while we deal with the backlogs. The department gives schools 100% of these funds and the department wants to see schools maintained as there is no excuse why they should not be maintained while resources to do so are given to schools. It is very important that this work is done all the time.”
Story: YOLANDE NEL