As I write this piece, South Africans are hotly discussing and debating the incident at the Primary School in Schweiser-Reneke, where an allegedly racist school teacher circulated a photograph of her new Grade 1 class on social media. Unfortunately, the photograph clearly shows white and black children sitting at separate tables. Before the day was over, her life had changed; angry community members, parents and the media were protesting outside the school gates, reportedly even causing damage to school property.
As I watch the media, the in-depth discussions, press conferences, images of the protesters and emotional parents, it strikes me that something is missing from the classroom photograph. And then I see it.
Children with disabilities. There are no children with disabilities in the classroom. I marvel at the enormity of the rumpus surrounding the teacher’s actions (whether rightly or wrongly is not for me to discuss here), when a large portion of children in South Africa are not even present!
The White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (WPRPD) quotes the National Development Plan 2030, saying “The education system will play a greater role in building an inclusive society, providing equal opportunities and helping all South Africans to realise their full potential, in particular those previously disadvantaged by apartheid policies, namely black people, women and people with disabilities. It furthermore advocates the provision of inclusive education that enables everyone to participate effectively in a free society. Education provides knowledge and skills that people with disabilities can use to exercise a range of other human rights… Ensuring that all children with disabilities have access to quality education will help South Africa meets its employment equity goals in the long run.”
Now, this situation is not peculiar to this primary school at all, as it is the norm for the vast majority of schools in South Africa to exclude children with specific needs. However, this situation will remain unchanged unless we, the people of South Africa, and particularly persons with disabilities, disability rights and inclusive education activists, and organisations of and for persons with disabilities.
I acknowledge that inclusive education is not a simple matter and there is still much to be done to ensure that it is done properly, and to the benefit of both the child, their classmates and the school concerned. There are already organisations and individuals who work tirelessly in advocating for the right of children with disabilities to an equal and quality education, so let’s get behind them. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s create a national outrage on the denial of the right to equal education for kids with disabilities on the same national level as that currently happening in Schweiser-Reneke.
How quickly will you react when you see discrimination against a child with a disability? Will you be as eager to report or retweet a photograph of such inequality and abuse? Can we count on you to stand up for the rights of persons with disabilities and make #InclusiveEducation trend on Twitter?
Let’s be vigilant and uphold the rights of these children – they need your voice!