When one thinks of special education schools, a certain Western Cape town comes to mind. Worcester.
It is here, between the majestic Du Toitskloof and Hex River mountains, where you will find two of South Africa’s most well-known schools for children with special needs. Indeed, here special education schools are nothing strange. Seeing blind and deaf learners making their way around town is part and parcel of everyday life.
The Pioneer School caters for blind learners, partially sighted learners, deafblind learners and learners with learning barriers.
The school’s website proclaims that their main aim is to ensure that their learners are educated in a safe and happy environment. They strive towards empowering their learners to become responsible and independent citizens who have reached their full potential and who can serve their communities with self-respect and self-confidence. The Pioneer Schools remains a beacon of hope for parents and learners.
The blind person has always been part of mankind, but has not always been part of society. For centuries society marginalized the blind, leaving their care in the hands of the family.
In 1784, however, this changed when the first school for the blind was established in Paris, France.
South Africa had to wait almost another hundred years for its first school for the blind. 1881 was the year in which “Het Doofstommen en Blinden Instituut” was established in Worcester. It was the brainchild of two ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church, Pastor William Murray of Worcester and Pastor Christiaan Rabie of Piketberg. This institution paved the way for the education of the blind.
The first teacher entrusted with the educational needs of these learners was Mr Jan de la Bat. The academic programme with special adaptations was developed, and very soon the blind child followed the National Curriculum as offered in mainstream schools throughout the country. As they do till this day.
In 1981 the name of the school changed from School for the Blind to the Pioneer School.
The second of the special education schools in Worcester is the De La Bat School. It serves as a special school for the deaf’s educational needs.
As far as special education schools go, De La Bat has quite a few unique features and offerings.
They employ deaf and hearing educators and assistants. They offer South African Sign Language as a subject from 3years to grade 12. They take pride in their vocational and skills orientated courses. They have a section for multi-disabled deaf learners as well as diverse sport and cultural activities.
Support services on campus are also not neglected. There is ample health care, social services, and psychological, audiological and occupational services.
Students are further supported by way of transport for day scholars as well as weekend and holiday transport. Nine hostels ensure that age appropriate 24 hour care is provided.
First-year teachers at special education schools worldwide are said to find their job extremely challenging. International trends suggest that first-year special education teachers are more likely to leave the service than main stream teachers (Gehrke & McCoy, 2007). Studies indicate that low job satisfaction can be attributed to an excessive workload because of curriculum changes, unreasonable demands and a lack of support systems (Castro et al., 2010; Howard & Johnson, 2004; Kirk & Wall, 2010).