Thuthukani Special School in Empangeni is a school for learners with severe to profound intellectual disability aged 6 to 19 years. The school was founded in February 1981. We are based on Dover Sugarcane Farm just outside of Empangeni and we accept learners from Empangeni, Richards Bay, eNseleni, Kwa-Mbonambi, eSikhaweni, Ngwelezana, and other rural areas.
Thuthukani has grown significantly over the years and currently we are educating as many learners as we can physically cater for. In 2019 the enrolment is 425 learners, and we have a steadily growing waiting list. Thuthukani currently has a staff of 111 adults – teachers, therapists, class assistants, general workers etc. Many of our staff are volunteers, and some of our volunteers have been a part of the Thuthukani family as long as 15 years.
The learners all have severe to profound intellectual disability, come from multicultural, multi-language backgrounds and often have more than one disability, such as autism; cerebral palsy; hearing, speech and visual impairments; Down Syndrome; etc. The main aims of the school program are to build our learners’ self-esteem and functional ability to ensure that they leave the school as independent as possible, equipped with skills they can use to contribute to their communities.
Thuthukani Special School has been identified as a Resource Centre by the National and Provincial Department of Education to pilot the National Educational Policy on Inclusion. Our work has been recognised internationally – We had representation at the World Down Syndrome Congress and we have had visits from schools and universities from all over the world, like Michigan, UK, Hong Kong, Brazil, Norway, New Zealand – to mention a few. The program that we follow at Thuthukani has received National acclaim – our school leaver and school-to-work link programmes and other teaching philosophies were included in the newly developed National Curriculum for children with Severe Intellectual Disability (CAPS Grade R-5 for learners with Severe Intellectual Disability), specifically the subjects Life Skills and Physical Education. Our teachers are involved in training educators and senior officials on this curriculum nationally and locally in the above subjects, as well as Languages and Mathematics. We have many community outreach programs and we have solid relationships with local traditional leaders and businesses. Surrounding schools, organisations and municipalities contact us for assistance and guidance in improving the support and education of people with intellectual and physical disabilities as well as their families.
Thuthukani focuses on holistic education. We are implementing CAPS Gr R to 5 for learners with SID at our school. We also have additional programmes to equip learners with life skills and functional academic skills. Over and above the class program the learners get the opportunity to participate in sport, dancing, cultural activities, choir, physical education, occupational therapy, physical therapy, alternative communication training, sign language training and more. This ensures their social, emotional, motor and cognitive development at all levels. We also offer a Skills Development program for the stronger school leavers where they learn good work habits as well as the skill of cleaning, gardening or sewing. The Department of Social Development supports an adult workshop on the premises. This workshop offers employment opportunities for our learners once they leave school as well as for other disabled members of the community.
Thuthukani is a value driven school. Our parents and staff collectively have identified core values that we all aspire to. These values form the background to our teaching and learning. Every adult and child in the school know, understand and live the values of:
- Show Respect
- Have Faith
- Love Myself
- Love One Another
- Say Thank You
- Forgive One Another
- Have Fun
- Be Creative
- Be on Time
- Be Honest
- Be Patient
- Never Give Up
Many of our learners come from very poor families and arrive at school hungry. We receive support from the National Nutrition Programme, but we also provide a cooked breakfast to our learners when they come to school. No child can learn on an empty stomach! We purchase additional food for our learners, especially if they go on an outing for sport or other events.
Thuthukani provides specially adapted learning and teaching support material and stationery to the learners.
To ensure that our learners are included and not segregated from their non-disabled peers, we have an active sport and cultural program where our learners have the opportunity to compete against both disabled and non-disabled learners. We do not provide a boarding facility at our school. This allows our learners to have similar “out of school” experiences as their peers and assists with better community inclusion. All our learners are assisted with taking public transport to and from school on a daily basis.
Thuthukani receives a subsidy from the SA Government, but this amount is not sufficient to run the school effectively and safely.
Thuthukani deliberately keeps school fees very low, to enable the parents of learners who can pay school fees to meet this requirement. The School fee for 2019 is R210 per month. Despite this deliberate action, only 26% of our families can pay school fees due to their socio-economic circumstances. The School Governing Body writes off all unpaid school fees on an annual basis.
We rely on fundraising to effectively operate the school. Thuthukani Special School is grateful to all the members of our community as well as our international sponsors for the financial and other support that we receive. Our budget, that is set to meet the learner’s basic educational needs, has to be calculated with an expected shortfall, and we have to eliminate all extra requirements such as capital expenditure, new projects or stipends for our volunteers. In fact, our SGB Treasurer calculated that we have to raise R 4 040.00 per learner to cover their educational needs for 2019. This amount grows annually.