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  1. Title of best practice

 

Adding value to lives of children and young people with disabilities through mainstreaming and mentorship, in order for them to lead empowered, self-reliant lives in an integrated society.

 

  1. Introduction and background

 

KG Maluleke Memorial Disability Integration Organization (Letaba-Helen Franz) is a brainchild of two individuals with disabilities. These two were institutionalized and attended primary education at a special school before proceeding to a mainstream school at secondary level. During that time there were no high schools for learners with disabilities. It was a great challenge taking into consideration their experiences and comfort in an institutionalized environment. This might have appeared cruel or unfortunate but instead, it was a blessing in disguise because they were able to socialize and integrate with their able-bodied peers.

Being at mainstream school helped the two to adjust and adapt to an unprotected environment and interact with able-bodied people much earlier than at tertiary level. As opposed to being at a special school, where they were assisted with every aspect of their lives, at mainstream school they started to do things for themselves. They had to start realizing and accepting the fact that they looked different from other scholars, but mentally capable to compete with anyone academically.

Eventually, the two young people proceeded to a medical university. One qualified as a Medical doctor and the other as a Dietician. Their experiences in life made them to come to a conclusion that it was counterproductive for a learner with a disability, who has academic potential, to stay too long in special school. They found it unfortunate that learners at special schools were encouraged by the new dispensation to study at their own institutions up to Grade 12.

The prolonged institutionalizing makes some learners with disabilities to develop fear and anxiety to proceed to tertiary institutions. Those that eventually got to tertiary institutions may struggle to cope and to adjust to the new environment that they feel is hostile, due to its challenging and competitive nature.

Some learners who stay for too long in institutions become fearful to venture out into mainstream society and subsequently resort to disability grants for living instead of education that could add value to their lives. If as a society we feel that learners with disability should be institutionalized from grade R to grade 12 and not provide for their further education beyond grade 12, it is as if we are saying that is the best level of education they can achieve.

 No one is saying that we do not need special institutions of education for learners with certain disabilities. It is a fact that there are those learners whose disabilities are such that they cannot lead independent lives. At the same time, is it correct to institutionalize a learner purely because he or she has a deformed leg, missing finger or walks differently? Definitely not. Institutionalization should not be by default but be determined by the level of incapacitation. Institutionalization may deny young people with disabilities opportunities and platforms to unleash their potential.

 

  1. Implementation of practice

    In its implementation process the Organisation established partnerships with the following important role players towards enabling the program implementation.

  2. 3 Special schools within the Districts of Capricorn, Vhembe and Mopani, which provide us with learners to be mainstreamed.

  3. 4 Receiver schools within the districts of Waterberg, Capricorn and Vhembe.

  4. Educators serving as coordinators and mentors within both feeder and mainstream schools.

  5. Provincial Departments of Education, Health and Welfare.

  6. Parents of the beneficiaries and learners from 5 district municipalities in the Province.

  7. Institutions of Higher Learning such as Universities, Universities of Technologies and FET colleges.

  8. Local and district Municipalities.

  9. Members, friends of the organization and funders.

     

Program implementation process

 

The organization consults and engages with educators, who are coordinators within the feeder schools, which select learners in grade 7 in line with the constitution of the Organization. The educators perform the groundwork by informing learners about the principles and values of the Organization. Meetings are then arranged with leaners, teachers, principals and parents for purposes of orientation and further clarity. Parents give consent about the learners’ placements in mainstream schools.

Home visits are arranged for each child to bring parents on board to understand the intention of KG Maluleke Memorial Disability Integration Organisation (KGMMDIO). We work with current and former beneficiaries to allay fears from parents. The idea is that parents should understand that the organization has no intension of taking away their parental responsibility of their children. We want them to be part of the process and program. They are encouraged to attend parents meetings at mainstream high schools.

Then KGMMDIO applies for space in the mainstream schools. There is an arrangement though learners with disabilities are reserved spaces at our partner schools. Prior to their arrival, teachers at those schools are orientated and are further prepared to mentor and orientate the new learners in their respective schools.

At the beginning of the year new learners are introduced and orientated in their new schools. During the first six months KGMDIO visits the schools on monthly basis to ensure that the learners are settled and deal with any challenge that may arise. Learners are also encouraged to participate in sports and make friends to adjust and adapt quicker.

Within six months of the school calendar there is a stakeholders’ workshop, consisting of LRC Presidents, Prefects, Housefathers, Housemothers, our beneficiaries and teachers of the mainstream and feeder schools to further provide support and mentoring.

Mentoring and support of our beneficiaries is an on-going process. KGMMDIO monitors performance of the learners and receives reports on quarterly basis and where possible and when the need arises provides extra classes during weekends and those extra lessons are provided by the former beneficiaries.

Furthermore, annually a career guidance workshop is held and the attendees are among others, the beneficiaries, feeder and mainstream schools, Universities of Higher learning, provincial sector departments including the Department of Education. In the main the event seeks to re-emphasize the fact that people with disabilities can choose any career path like any other person and become successful and learners are supported and encouraged to move away from employments that are known to be suitable for persons with disabilities.

Subsequent to completion of secondary education, the organization assists the beneficiaries in applying to further their studies at institutions of higher learning including application for financial assistance at the office of the Premiers and from many other funders.

On an annual basis, a stakeholder’s forum is held with potential employers to advocate for people with disabilities to be employed. Upon completion at tertiary institutions, KGMMDIO liaises with placement agencies for employment.

The organization receives funding from various sources, which include companies, national funders and individuals. These funding partners are invited to an annual Disability Day event on the 03 December to receive reports from the Board and its management.

The organization has a Model Documentation Program. Through this program we engage our psychologist and her team to conduct research on the impact and benefits of early integration of learners with disabilities. Results are presented at seminars and conferences, and also available for publication in scientific journals. This makes the organization a knowledge based structure.

 

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    Number of beneficiaries with disabilities in mainstream high schools = 19

    Number of beneficiaries with disabilities in tertiary institutions = 6

    Number of employed/ internships/ learnership beneficiaries with disabilities = 9

    Number of unemployed beneficiaries with disabilities = 3

    Number of beneficiaries who dropped out of the program ( 3 deceased) = 6

    Number of able bodied learners exposed to the program at mainstream high schools = More than 10000

     

     

    1.   Lessons learned

    2. Raising funds was a challenge for the Organization but a fundraising strategy has since been developed that will further ensure sustainability.

       

    3. The first few months the grade 8 learners went to a new school, they found it hard to adjust to the new environment but the Organisation has now intensified its mentoring and support initiatives to counter such challenges and to manage the drop out of learners from the program.

    4. Intensified commitment, hard work, passion in engaging the beneficiaries, managing stakeholders, engaging parent and stakeholders has improved as the program matures.

      KGMMDIO developed the model documentation program through scientific research that has made the Organisation to become a knowledge based Organisation. The research work conducted through the programme provides scientific evidence of the benefits of early integration of young learners with disabilities.

      There are still a lot of challenges at work places, with some employers not comfortable with employing people with disabilities.

      It is not as easy as we had thought for a young person with a disability to be employed despite his or her professional skill.

       

    1. Conclusion

     

    The disability empowering and mainstreaming model should be considered as a good practice for the following strengths

                                                     

     

    • KGMMDIO’s model is a unique tried and tested program that has managed to unleash the dormant hidden potential within learners with disabilities and has changed the societal perception and attitudes towards people with disabilities in the education sector and in general.

     

    • The model is cost-effective, lucrative, and sustainable and can be used by both private and public entities to be replicated elsewhere locally and internationally.

     

    • The need for disability integration is a global challenge, as such Government could consider adopting this tried and tested model for fast-tracking the implementation of its 20 year plan in line with its Inclusive Policy of 2001.

     

    1. Further reading

     

    1. Web site – www.disabilityempowerment.co.za

    2. Stories of success - testimonies

    3. Model documentation research document.