President Cyril Ramaphosa recently called for unity in the pursuit of equal access to education for all at the 10th Education International Africa Regional Conference. However, the stark reality, as revealed by the Department of Basic Education, is that 489,036 children with special needs – be they physical or learning impairments - are not attending school.
This is largely due to their inadequate accommodation as a consequence of overcrowding, with lack of one-on-one attention from educators as a biproduct.
This is according to Dr Corrin Varady, CEO of ed-tech platform IDEA who, speaking in light of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), urges South Africa to address the root cause of overcrowding: school infrastructure backlogs.
Exacerbated by teacher shortages, this is a critical issue that not only impacts special needs learners but the overstretched education system as a whole.
With over a third of schools across the country requiring additional classrooms to address overcrowding conditions, Dr Varady proposes a proactive approach and advocates for the immediate utilisation of existing digital learning technologies. “This ensures greater access to quality education - providing a solution without having to wait for physical classrooms to be constructed.”
Highlighting the multifaceted benefits of these technologies, he underscores their potential in aiding educators to teach multiple children with different learning paces or abilities all at the same time. “The technology can assess and detect individual learners’ competencies and develop personalised learning solutions tailored to their needs.
Additionally, this could free teachers up to focus more on providing individualised support for special needs learners.
Moreover, Dr Varady stresses the relief these technologies bring to teachers, enabling them to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and create a more inclusive learning environment. “The adaptability of digital tools to different learning styles ensures that no student is left behind, aligning with the vision of equitable education”.
Echoing the President’s sentiment that improving access to education is pivotal in alleviating poverty and empowering marginalised communities, he concludes by saying, “Urgent action is essential for keeping special needs learners in schools and empowering them with inclusive, quality education.
This, in turn will help to unlock their potential and contribution to national development.”