HomeArticles‘Horrendous’ state of schools for the blind in the spotlight

‘Horrendous’ state of schools for the blind in the spotlight

Civil society bodies are meeting education officials to formulate an urgent response to the shortage of tools and teachers for the visually impaired.

The “paltry state of education” for blind and partially sighted children in South Africa is depriving them of quality education, despite policies that entrench their right to good schooling, according to the South African National Council for the Blind. The social justice group, Section27, has found that schools for the visually impaired have severe shortages of Braille textbooks and machines, as well as a shortage of teachers – especially those who can read Braille.

Civil society organisations have called an urgent meeting with government representatives about this situation on April 7 in Pretoria.

In a Section27 report, based on interviews and visits to all 22 public schools for the blind and visually impaired, one grade 12 learner said that “the teachers need to know Braille … They must learn to read and write Braille so that they can mark our work. They often ask other teachers who might not have the knowledge of the subject and they mark us down.”

The report also found that many posts for nonteaching staff needed in these schools, such as social workers, occupational therapists and mobility and orientation practitioners (who teach learners how to navigate their surroundings without sight), are unfilled.

“One school in Limpopo has 60 vacancies for support staff,” the report said.

Schools are also severely underfunded to the point where “many cannot even afford electricity bills and other necessities for the entire year, never mind expensive but essential assistive devices [such as specialised Braille laptops]”.

According to the council, the “education crisis” requires “a co-ordinated and sustainable response” to meet the education, health and social needs of young children who cannot see and who currently experience “horrendous learning conditions” in South African public schools.

In the foreword to the Section27 report, former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob, who went blind as an infant, says that “if the facilities at the school at which I was a pupil had been as paltry as in most of the schools described in the report, I would never have completed school successfully”.

Amy Green was a health reporter at Bhekisisa from 2013 until 2016.