An exploration of former special-school learners' preparedness for adulthood.
Unemployment is on the rise in South Africa. Learners who attend special schools are marginalised in the labour market. As an educator in a special-needs school (‘special school’), I noticed many learners returning to school to ask for my assistance to find them jobs. This inspired me to ask: to what extent does the special school that they attended prepare its learners for adulthood? What were the learners’ experiences and how did the curriculum prepare them for work and socialising? In order to answer this question, I used a case study methodology within an interpretative paradigm using semi-structured interviews with three educators and 17 former learners of a special school which is referred to as School X. The study was analysed through a theoretical framework that explored medical and social models of disability, curriculum (especially the enacted curriculum) and transformative learning. The analysis revealed that the learners’ transition to adulthood was problematic. They experienced their schooling and subsequent employment prospects predominantly through a medical model of disability which labelled and defined them, rather than environmental factors, as the problem. This was evident in the enacted curriculum in terms of content and educator responses, though there were some exceptions. Their social life rarely developed beyond family connections. Their experiences of contributing to transformative learning were often negative in that raised vocational prospects on entry to the school resulted in disillusionment by the time they left. Again there were exceptions, however, as some former learners highlighted individual educator efforts to positively reinforce their self-esteem and thus keep their hopes up for a brighter future. Recommendations are made for special schools to have a more appropriately designed curriculum that meets learners’ context specific needs. This curriculum both for the technical and the academic learning areas must work in conjunction with work programmes followed by industry so that these learners can fit into the work programme when seeking employment. Lessons must be designed taking the learners’ learning pace into consideration. Society, and prospective employers in particular, must be conscientised about the merits of the school and special schools in general. It is recommended that there be integration between special schools and industry, and other mainstream schools. This would make people aware of the capabilities of learners with special needs and highlight the fact that they have a place and an equal chance in society. The teachers who are involved with special education should have the appropriate training so as to be able to understand the nature of these learners and deal with them in an appropriate manner. Their training should be constantly upgraded in order to keep abreast with the latest demands of industry and employment agencies. Post-school follow-up support must be made available to former learners to offer them career guidance and to afford them the opportunity to brush up on their technical skills and familiarise themselves with the latest trends in industry. All stereotyped thinking must be removed from the school, starting with co-ed workshops rather than separate workshops for boys and girls. This would help to remove the one aspect of negativity that appears within the hidden curriculum.