System lets pupils fall through cracks, say parents

A Heideveld organisation is helping parents of children with learning difficulties.

A Heideveld non-profit organisation is helping parents of children with learning difficulties.

Hope for the Future has started an online petition and is doing research on how many children at primary schools in the area need intervention.

Vanessa Nelson, founder of Hope for the Future, says her organisation has been inundated with pleas from parents.

“The learners fall through the cracks of the system, because their learning disabilities, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia, are not identified early enough,” Ms Nelson said.

The organisation believes the education system, which does not allow a pupil to fail more than once in a phase (foundation, intermediate and senior), disadvantages the child.

“My son was diagnosed with ADHD, and I had to fight the system on my own,” Ms Nelson says. “Now, 15 years later, I still see parents fighting the same battle.

“Over the past five years, so many parents have approached me about their children struggling at school. What I have found is that because the children are being pushed through the system, they become frustrated, chat back and develop behavioural problems, among others. Some end up getting expelled, while others drop out of school, and then this could lead to other social ills, such as domestic violence, gangsterism, or drug abuse.

“The system is designed only for children who are academically sound. Teachers are not adequately trained, and there is a lack of schools of skill, or specialised schools – especially for the child whose parents cannot afford private schooling.”

One of the parents who approached Hope for the Future for help says her son needs to attend a school of skills.

“I don’t have money for transport for my child, and all the specialised schools are outside of Heideveld. The last time I went to enquire at a school, I had to borrow money for transport, as I am unemployed. My son was told he would fail Grade 10 this year and then they told me a few weeks ago to enroll him at a school of skills. The two schools I approached had no place for him, and I also don’t have transport money for him.”

Her 17-year-old son says the system has failed him and he feels trapped. “I am tired of feeling like a failure. I don’t want to stand on the corner and do illegal things in order to survive. I want my own welding business one day.”

Another parent says her 16-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 7 – the same year he failed.

“I took my child to a psychologist myself. All the teachers did was complain that he was naughty at primary school. He felt like he was stupid and it affected his self-esteem. The teachers did not discuss his challenges with me, but they discussed it among themselves. They broke my child down. I fear for his future.”

A third parent appealed to the Western Cape Education Department to tell parents where they can go for help.

“My child is in Grade 6 and he cannot read, and it’s not for the lack of trying. It is really hard for him. I had to tell his teachers that he has a problem. He is good in maths but struggles with three-letter words. It’s not nice seeing him struggle. He really wants to read.

“If he can go to a special-needs school where he is surrounded by children like him and teachers who know and understand him, it will make a big difference. I can’t afford private schooling for him. It’s not right that the education department just pass the kids on to the next grade.”

Kerry Mauchline, spokeswoman for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, urged Ms Nelson to approach the department with her concerns. “We have noted the petition, which unfortunately gives no specific details or cases we can respond to.”

Ms Mauchline says there are “at least two schools of skill in each of the Cape Flats education districts”, and a new school of skills will be built in Manenberg.

“In addition, a pilot project offering Grade 8 and Grade 9 skills subjects in 23 selected high schools was started in 2021. All teachers are to be trained in Teaching for All, starting this year with one school in every circuit which has been designated as a full-service/inclusive school.

“Teachers at these schools will be trained to increase their capacity to deal with learners with low to moderate support needs. An outreach team from a special school resource centre will provide additional support.

“There are also learning support teachers who provide support to learners with learning difficulties in ordinary primary schools. The number of learning support teachers has been increased this year to 624.”

She encouraged parents of children with learning difficulties to approach their child’s principal to request a meeting with the school-based support team or learning support teacher.