How Independent Schools are Helping Remedial Students to Win
The South African government’s aim of inclusive education by 2021
In 2001 the South African Department of Education set out to ensure that all learners would have access to inclusive education by 2021. This would be regardless of their remedial needs or physical challenges. At the time there were an estimated 280 000 special needs children who were not in a school.
What is the plan?
Barriers to learning would be identified as soon as possible. This would ensure that the learners have the remedial help they need at the earliest opportunity. Teachers would be trained to be able to give remedial support for pupils with learning challenges. They would also be equipped to handle learners with physical disabilities. 500 primary schools would be converted to full-service schools by the deadline. These would also become resource centres. These would then work together with district-based support teams.
How is the implementation going?
Implementation has been very slow. There are approximately 25 500 schools in South Africa. Almost 24 000 of these are public schools. Only 725 – 900 of these public schools accept children with learning or physical difficulties and challenges. That means that only 3.5% – 4% of government schools accommodate students in need of remedial programmes. And this is only if the schools are in fact well-run and resourced. Most still lack the trained staff or facilities to deliver quality remedial support.
The extent of learning challenges has been greatly underestimated
The need for remedial education is greater than most people realise. Dyslexia is just one of many learning challenges that students might face. About 1 in 10 South Africans suffer from dyslexia. This might be higher, as some studies suggest that as many as 30% of people on the planet are dyslexic. Another study concluded that 1 in 5 American children were dyslexics.
South Africa has about 12 million school going students. Assuming that 1 in 10 South Africans suffer from dyslexia would mean there are 1.2 million students in grade 1 – 12. They are in need of special remedial education to assist with their dyslexia. Each of the 900 schools that accept students with special needs would need to cater for over 13 300 students with dyslexia. This is if they are evenly distributed. This is obviously not viable, even if each school was state-of-the-art! Then there’s also the lack of infrastructure and resources. Many of these 900 schools cannot even offer the remedial students that are already enrolled the attention and help they need.
There are only about 150 schools that cater specifically for special needs pupils. This is less than a third of the aim for 500 such schools. But one has to consider all the other learning challenges facing the student population. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia and the entire spectrum of autism are just three others. There are learning challenges millions of South Africans are living with.
Teachers lack the training to assist remedial learners – and it’s not just learning challenges!
Pupils with learning challenges suffer more from behavioural and health problems than the general population. This adds to the need that they have qualified remedial teachers. Only equipped teachers can address these particular remedial challenges. But even in the United States many teachers have not had the training to help these learners. In our country 10% of teachers are absent on any given day. 79% of grade 6 mathematics teachers don’t have the knowledge to teach their subject. There is no way that in this environment special learning needs could possibly be met.
In 2010 there were less than 105 000 special challenge learners placed in schools. There are easily over 1.1 million more that are not in a school that caters for them. Many of these have gone unassessed, and therefore their learning difficulties are never identified or addressed.
Statistics from America also show that 7 out of 10 students in need of specialised remedial programmes spend over 80% of their time in classrooms that don’t offer them any special education. Mixed schooling is also not necessarily the best way to assist remedial pupils with learning challenges.
The situation sounds bleak, but there is hope! How independent schools can help remedial students
Each independent school will save the government between R120 million and R200 million in infrastructure costs. Each year an independent school saves the government a further R20 million to R40 million in running costs. This is money that, if used well, can benefit students with special learning difficulties in less affluent districts. It can free up the resources needed to make inroads to meeting these students’ needs.
Independent Schools can meet the needs of Remedial Students
Quality independent schools can meet the needs of students with special challenges. Students with specific learning challenges in the educational mainstream are often overlooked. This is often due to lack of resources. They fall through the large cracks in the system.
Early intervention is necessary for learners struggling with these difficulties. Studies have shown again and again that these students need teaching in small groups, individual instruction and additional tutoring. Implementing these measures could even see a portion of pupils with learning difficulties transition to mainstream school classes and do well.
But small groups, individual instruction and additional tutoring are exactly the teaching environment that the vast majority of government schools cannot provide. Independent schools are able to give remedial learners the attention they require to succeed while public schools cannot.
Not Just Theory – Remedial programmes help!
A study done in Israel showed how much remedial intervention assists students with learning difficulties. Two specific subjects, language and mathematics, were targeted. All the students who enrolled in the program saw significant positive results. They all showed academic and emotional improvements. Even behavior improved over the course of the remedial programme. This shows the importance of remedial programmes, which the South African government is at this time unable to provide.
This is one other reason that independent schools, equipped with staff and facilities specifically geared to assist these learners, are a parents’ best option for children facing these challenges. These are exactly what an independent school can offer remedial learners, which government schools cannot.
The need for more qualified teachers
Studies have shown that improving resources does yield positive results for learners. But the most effective way to see better outcomes is to hire more qualified teachers. This is at a time when many South African teachers are leaving the profession. The problems are complex: one of the main reasons is the poor salaries in the public sector.
There are between 27-31 students for every teacher at pubic schools. Remedial leaners will not get the attention they need in classes this size. Independent schools come in at about 17-20 students for every teacher. We can already see that this is a vast improvement.
Independent schools focusing on the remedial learner
An independent school that focuses on learners with special needs will have the best-equipped teachers for these students. They will be the most qualified teachers to address their learning challenges.
Class numbers will be kept especially low at a remedial school. The aim will be to ensure that remedial learners are in the environment that has been shown to best suit their needs. With the correct, qualified professionals, students will also get the correct assessment to ensure their needs are met.
We want to see the government succeed
We all want the government to succeed in giving quality education to all school children in our beautiful nation. But remedial learners require immediate solutions. An good independent school is at present the best provider for the quality education and attention a remedial learner needs.
Numbers of learning disabilities:
DBE progress report:
Special needs – mainly physical disabilities