During 1996 to 1999, Marthie Combrinck, (then an occupational therapist on staff at the school, currently the Principal of the school) realised that the learners with intellectual disability in the school were unable to achieve the requirements set by the national curriculum in South Africa. She researched the full curriculum, looking at all the aspects covered, as well as the realistic abilities and needs of the learners at Thuthukani. After much research, she developed the CLASSIC ( (Computerised Learners Assessment Syllabi System for the Intellectually Challenged) in collaboration with an IT specialist Thys can der Merwe. Each phase of the CLASSIC is divided into the following learning areas: Self Help, Functional Academics, Socialisation, and Occupation and under these headings, learners are taught functional life skills that they need to achieve the highest level of independence possible.
This system was used at Thuthukani from 2000, and it has also been distributed to 30 other schools by the Natal Lottery Fund.
The Department of Basic Education has realised that in terms of White Paper 6, the biggest barrier to learning that a learner with Severe Intellectual Disability faces is the National Curriculum Statement itself. The need to develop a National Curriculum based on CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements) was identified, and a process to develop the aligned, but differentiated curriculum was initiated. Three policy statements were developed by national teams drawn from various schools (teachers and management), FET colleges, and Department of Education officials over a period of 5 years. The three policy statements are CAPS TO (Technical Occupational), CAPS Gr R to 5 for learners with Severe Intellectual Disability and a Learning Program for learners with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability.
By 2018 National Training has taken place on all three curricula and the process of implementation is underway as from 2019.
From Thuthukani Special School, Tanya Girvin (an Occupational Therapist and Departmental Head for the Pre-Vocational Phase) was appointed to the writing team for CAPS Gr R to 5 for learners with SID in the subjects Life Skills and Physical Education. She was also part of the Provincial training team for CAPS TO and the National and Provincial training team for CAPS Gr R to 5 (SID). We were able to introduce our teachers gradually to the curriculum, and under the guidance of the School Management Team, training of our teachers started long before piloting of the curriculum was started.
Subjects we have implemented:
- Life Skills (Grade R to 5)
- Mathematics (Grade R to 5)
- Physical Education (Grader R to 5)
- Arts and Crafts (Grades 4 & 5)
- Consumer Studies: Food Production and Sewing (Grade 4 & 5)
- Natural Sciences (Grade 4 & 5)
Subjects that we are in the process of introducing are:
- Creative Arts (Grade R to 5)
- IsiZulu Home Language (Grade R to 5). The curriculum statement for this subject does not yet exist, we are working on functional communication in the learners’ home language. Our English speaking learners are also currently focussing on functional use of their home language
- English and IsiZulu First Additional Language (Grade 4 & 5): also on a functional level. Our teachers are introducing First Additional Language vocabulary to the learners at a much earlier level than Grade 4 to improve their ability to communicate with their friends. We also use South African Sign Language as a communication tool, in addition to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
In the PID phase we have been using the Learning Programme for learners with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability (LPSID) since 2016.
The way forward for Thuthukani is a long term (10 year) plan that we are building around our learners’ needs. As a school we have decided that our learners’ needs come first, and that we are not leaving any one behind in this process of implementation. The overall management plan of our school was changed to anticipate the changes. This included lengthening our school days, adjusting our timetables, reallocating teachers and support staff, and many other changes. Our teachers are working with the CAPS Gr R to 5 documents, creating adapted lesson plans and making learning and teaching support material to ensure optimal curriculum coverage. They are developing ways to meet the requirements set by the policies. However, the teaching team insist that we also ensure our learners’ functional independence and ability to integrate into their communities.
The CAPS Gr R to 5 has not yet been promulgated, but as a school, we are getting ready to run a quality educational program as soon as this happens.
We are also considering expanding the Skills subjects to include Ancillary Health Care, alongside our current offering of Consumer Studies (Food Production and Sewing) and Art & Crafts. In this way we hope to be able to prepare our learners for a realistic future where they can be as independent as possible and support their families at home by looking after children and the elderly, being able to cook a basic meal, doing basic mending, and by creating artwork for sale.