The Formosa ELSEN Unit (ELSEN meaning: Education for Learners with Special Educational Needs) is the first of its kind to be established in the Plettenberg Bay district, and has been operating since January 2009.
The ELSEN Unit not only serves as a SAFE HAVEN for children with special educational needs, but also as a RESOURCE CENTER to other educators and schools.
Our VISION STATEMENT, namely: “To allow every learner in our class, regardless of background or learning disability, to feel accepted, loved and an achiever”, is based on the Constitutional principles of equality, human dignity and equal access to basic education for all (Sections 9, 10, and 29 of our National Constitution).
This vision of ours is being achieved by reaching down to the level of every individual learner in our class, through differentiation and intervention strategies, and by communicating in the learners’ most familiar language of fantasy and play.
After winning the South African National Teaching Award for Special Needs and Inclusive Education in Sandton on February 23rd 2012, this ELSEN Unit has been identified as a pioneer in Inclusive Education in our country.
It is an honour to be sharing our very own ideas and programmes, as we strive to assist every school in becoming a full-service inclusive school, as decided in National parliament on May 8th 2012.
In our class, every child is of utmost importance to us, because we believe that: “Even the smallest star shines in the darkness…”
ELSEN won the SA National Teaching Award for Special Needs and Inclusive Education in 2012
We make sure that every school day is filled with creativity, fantasy and fun, because according to the developmental stages of Piaget, exploration, fantasy and play form the basis of all learning…
Our learners are continually being exposed to co-curricular (outdoor); extra-curricular (after-hour); inter-class; and inter-school activities. We partake in projects with main-stream classes, and we frequently interact with the children from “Die Sterreweg” Daycare center for physically handicapped children, as well as with other schools and with the children from Genesis foster home in Plettenberg Bay. We allow these activities, to include our learners on all levels of society and education, as prescribed by Education White Paper 6 of 2001 on Special Needs and Inclusive Education.
Our in-class activities include: Music Therapy, Pottery, Beading, Drawing and Colouring, Baking and Decorating; EduPeg Mathematics programs; Mathematics and Language-centered Board games, Basic Reading, Shared Reading, Basic Computers (perceptual skills), as well as Occupational Therapy programmes like “Handle”, “Brain Gym” and “MonkeyNastix”.
Instead of implementing specialized education (where learners with specific syndromes or specific learning disorders are placed in a school specializing in that specific learning disability), our ELSEN Unit caters for learners with disabilities ranging from Dyslexia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), FASD (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome), Dyspraxia, Visual Impairments, various ranges of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and even slight physical handicaps, all in one class. Apart from these varying disabilities, each of these learners also has their own developmental level. They all need to be taught the same lesson at the same time, but with different intervention techniques and differentiation strategies.
Funding and Educational resources
Government funding is limited, and therefore we are forced to consider alternative sources of income. We are dependent on local businesses and NGO’s to buy in to our vision, our educational needs and our challenges.
Shortage of Special Needs Schools and ELSEN units
Government legislation (Education White Paper 6 of 2001) prescribes that special needs learners need to be taught in small group situations, with a maximum of 15 learners per class, to promote individual attention and the building of trust relationships between educator / caregiver and learner. Although the maximum class size is 15, it immediately becomes less, in the case of learners with physical challenges, seeing that by law a physically challenged learner equals 5 normal learners. Our ELSEN Unit therefore operates optimally with a number of 10 to 12 learners.
This is a huge matter of concern, seeing that the need for Special Needs classes in our country is ever increasing, and waiting-lists to Special Needs schools are very long. Research has proven that new syndromes like FDS (Foetal Drug Syndrome) are being developed in our country, which even further increases our need for more special needs classes and schools.
Future prospects for ELSEN learners
Learners are only allowed to be accommodated in the ELSEN Unit until the age of 13, after which they start developing sexually, and become a threat to the younger classmates. There needs to be high school ELSEN Units developed, because the 13 year-old ELSEN learners cannot be accommodated at a primary school any longer. These learners are referred to Skills Schools, but the application process and waiting lists are often so long, that these children end up being neglected. They need to be 14 years of age, in order to apply to a skills school, yet these schools sadly only accommodate them until the age of 16 years. We need to create opportunities for the inclusion of these youngsters in our society, in our attempt of assisting them towards developing into healthy citizens of our country.
Our academic curriculum content includes the following:
- During the first term each year, the ELSEN learner follows our own uniquely designed baseline assessment and school readiness program. From there, the learner progresses to our own ELSEN curriculum, based on the NCS (National Curriculum Statement) and CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements), which includes our pre-writing and pre-reading activities, which form a cornerstone to academic development.
- Once the learner manages to master these pre-reading and pre-writing activities, we have a unique phonics and reading program, which they follow. This includes our own reading book, filled with pictograms.
- We also have our own pictogram book, for the learners with speech problems.
- Learners are assessed in the areas of gross-motor skill, fine-motor skill, mathematics (numeracy), language (literacy) and life skills. Afrikaans is the mother-tongue of most learners in the area, so although we do activities in English as additional language, most of our assessment is done in their mother-tongue.
- How do learners get admitted to the ELSEN Unit?
- Do we accommodate physically challenged learners?
- Does government funding provide in the educational needs of this program?
- Is the educator fully qualified to teach these children?
- Is there another adult or class aid, for times of emergency?
- Are there ELSEN policies available?
- Does our education department have an ELSEN curriculum?
- Are schools ready and geared for Inclusive Education?
- Do we serve learners from other communities and language groups?
- In what ways do we receive support from the Education Department?
- Can ELSEN learners be successfully placed back into main stream education?
- Will government provide more ELSEN Units?
- Do we get ELSEN Units all over South Africa?
- How long will ELSEN Units continue to exist?
- What has winning the National Teaching Award in Special Needs Teaching and Inclusive Education meant for this ELSEN Unit?
- What has the documentary meant for this ELSEN Unit?
- What does the Formosa ELSEN Unit wish to achieve through this website?
- Can an ELSEN learner ever develop normally?
- Is FASD (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder) curable?
- What is the age range of the learners in this ELSEN Unit?
The ELSEN Program falls under the auspices of the Special Needs Directorate of the Western Cape Education Department in Cape Town, which means that it is a government program, and therefore the following admission procedures need to be followed at all times:
Before any learner can be placed in the ELSEN unit, they need to be registered as a learner at a government school. They need to be at least in Grade 1 of that school, and they need to possess their own C-EMIS number. The educator needs to keep record of poor progress throughout the year. The child then needs to be referred to the school’s EST (Educator Support Team) by his/her educator.
The EST then contacts the educational psychologist, who needs to do a complete range of assessments including an IQ test. The educational psychologist then needs to bring the results to the school, and the school will then fill in an application form for admission to an ELSEN Unit. The parent, educator and school principal all need to sign this application, which then gets sent to the Western Cape Education Department’s head office via our educational psychologist, who makes a recommendation.
The waiting period could be anything between one month and one year, after which the education head office sends the approved application to the ELSEN Unit. The ELSEN Unit educator then consults the waiting list, seeing that a maximum of 15 learners but optimally 10 to 12 learners can be accommodated.
In the meanwhile, the educator makes an appointment to meet the child, to see whether he/she will fit into the class situation.
Many learners get placed in the ELSEN Unit on a trial period, during which all stakeholders (the educator, parent, EST and educational psychologist tries to infer whether it would be in the best interest of the child to be placed in the ELSEN Unit.)
The child only gets admitted once all these matters are taken into account, in order to ensure that this is the right place for the child to develop and progress.
Children are admitted to an ELSEN Unit according to the following order of preference:
- Firstly, learners from that specific school must be accommodated, according to the latest Inclusive Education government policies;
- Secondly, learners between the ages of 6 and 11 years (the younger, the better);
- Thirdly, learners who have an IQ of less than 60;
- Fourthly, learners whose mother-tongue is Afrikaans;
- Fifthly, learners who are from the Plettenberg Bay and surrounding areas;
- Sixthly, learners who are not physically challenged but only mentally challenged;
- Seventhly, learners who come from a daycare center and not from a government school;
Finally, if space allows, and learners are placed out to other classes or schools, physically challenged learners can be considered.
The answer to question 1 will make our policies clear. It is therefore possible for us to admit a physically challenged learner into our ELSEN Unit.
Government provides the following: the venue; the salary of the educator; and limited funding for the basic needs of these learners. Yet, we always need to think of creative ways of making an extra income. Through this website, it is our goal to create a greater awareness of our programs and our needs. Every bit of support is appreciated.
As prospective educator, I studied a B.A degree in Educational Psychology as well as a post-graduate teaching diploma at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. Thereafter I studied a B.Ed degree with specialization in Education Psychology (Children with Learning Disabilities).
After starting the Formosa ELSEN Unit as the first male ELSEN educator in 2009, I further enrolled for a B.Ed Honours degree in Education Management, Education Law and Education Systems, through the North West University in Potchefstroom. This degree helped me with ELSEN policy design.
As part of Government’s policy, I also had to do one week’s training at Carpe Diem Special Needs School in George in term 1 of 2009, on the specifics of teaching children with special educational needs.
In March and April 2012, I had the privilege of visiting more than 20 Special Needs institutions in Europe, to do some further research on Inclusive Education practices worldwide.
There is a definite need for also having a female adult in our class on a daily basis, to provide in certain specific needs of the learners, and especially because research has proven that young children much easier relate to a mother figure, than to a male authority figure.
We therefore are fortunate enough to have a full-time class assistant, who gets paid a small monthly stipend. She is employed by me to assist with discipline and supervision, class activities, differentiation and individual work of specific learners, caring, meals, toilet routine, and cleaning.
There are no ELSEN policies on central government level, nor on provincial government level, nor on local government level.
ELSEN classes and ELSEN schools are expected to follow the NCS (National Curriculum Statement) and CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements) policy documents, which we do. And we are expected to teach these children the main-stream curriculum, but on a lower, adapted level. When I noticed this shortcoming in policy and curriculum, I started to design an ELSEN curriculum and policy, suitable for our ELSEN learners, and based on national legislation, including the National Constitution, The Grade R White Book of 2007, The Education White Paper of 2001 on Inclusive Education and Special Needs teaching, as well as on the NCS and CAPS documents.
Our uniquely designed ELSEN programs (including our own baseline assessment, school readiness programs, pre-reading and pre-writing activities), policies and draft ELSEN curricula have combined all of the above-mentioned legislation, yet adding a necessary touch of creativity, fun and fantasy…
Children need the fun element put back into their school curriculum, and will only succeed if they enjoy what they are doing. This forms the basis of my ELSEN programs, which landed our ELSEN Unit the National Teaching Award for Excellence in Special Needs Teaching and Inclusive Education in 2012.
See the answer to question 6.
I have done some research and discovered that even school principals and education officials do not fully understand the terms: “full service inclusive schools” and “resource centers”.
Most schools still believe the misconception that an ELSEN Unit is a place of separation, where the child with learning disabilities gets treated “differently” and “separately”.
“Inclusive” education means “including” those who are different, which means that every school and every classroom needs to include and provide for their own learners, regardless of their ability or disability.
This means that schools cannot “dump” their slow learners in ELSEN Units anymore. They need to care and provide in the needs of these children too, and they need to teach these children, by adapting their teaching styles and methods.
Schools that do not have ELSEN Units will get an educational assistant / remedial educator, who will have to serve the whole school. This is not a learning support educator, but a help for the school.
Schools which do have ELSEN Units will become full-service schools, and the ELSEN Unit will become a resource center to the school, and probably to other developing full-service inclusive schools as well.
Our school has been identified as a pioneer in this field, which is a first for the Western Cape, and then needs to roll out to the rest of our country.
The Formosa ELSEN Unit does not belong to Formosa Primary school. It belongs to Government. Yet, it is on the premises of the Formosa Primary school, which is very central to the Bitou / Plettenberg Bay schools.
This ELSEN Unit currently serves learners from all the areas in Plettenberg Bay. We have learners from the following suburbs, namely: Wittedrift, New Horizons, Kwanokothula, Qolweni, Kranshoek, and Plettenberg Bay central.
This situation will change, as soon as our schools become full-service inclusive schools, having to provide for their own learners, which will be to the benefit of these children, who often need to travel quite far.
It is important that these children be taught in their mother-tongue, especially when doing phonics, and therefore we operate mainly in Afrikaans, although we do speak English as well.
In the Western Cape, every education district has an IE Team (Inclusive Education Team). This team consists of occupational therapists, speech therapists, educational psychologists and social workers. We fall under the Eden Education District in George. The Eden IE Team has many towns and hundreds of schools to serve. Although we have a really good relation with them, they usually manage to visit our ELSEN Unit once or twice a year.
Especially our Occupational Therapist, Mr Bronwyn Weilbach, makes sure to visit us and determine our needs, although this cannot happen as often as we wish, due to a hectic schedule on their side.
We therefore need to divert to option B, which is making contact with local Occupational Therapists ourselves, courtesy of the Bitou 10 Foundation, The Sabrina Love Foundation, and “Die Sterreweg” Daycare Center for Physically Handicapped learners in our town. These therapists provide an excellent service, and we wish to thank them for always being available.
Learners with special educational needs always need special academic attention. Yet, we have proved that it is possible for an ELSEN learner to develop and progress emotionally, socially and even academically, to a position in which he/she is capable of functioning satisfactorily in a main-stream class. This is encouraged to happen more frequently, according to the principles of Inclusive Education. In 2009, our ELSEN Unit was the first to place learners back into main-stream education, and our education minister made mention of it on SABC2’s Morning Live program in October of that year. When they do get placed into a main-stream class, they follow an additional remedial support program, and progress is monitored regularly.
Although the ELSEN program is successful, and the need exists for the program to be phased into high schools as well, government funding is limited. The idea is that instead of opening more ELSEN Units, the existing units will become resource centers. Schools with these resource centers will become full-service inclusive schools, and these resource centers will also assist other schools. And the schools which do not have ELSEN Units, will be receiving an additional class assistant / aid, to help educators to implement inclusive practices in that school.
In the previous apartheid education system, schools used to have special needs classes known as “Adaptation Classes”. These classes were taken away in 1994, with the new Constitution. Yet, seeing that many learners failed to progress in main-stream education, and systemic evaluation results were so poor, the Western Cape Education department pioneered the establishing of ELSEN Units, and started establishing ELSEN schools, from the year 2001, when Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs and Inclusive Education was released.
The ELSEN program is only found in the Western Cape, but as they change to resource centers, it will be phased into the rest of South Africa, in our government’s goal of aiding every school in our country towards becoming a full-service inclusive school.
There will always be a need for special needs teaching. And although Inclusive education means that these children need to be included in main-stream education, the ELSEN Units will become resource centers, which will fill very important roles in our country. These classes will not only serve specific learners, but will serve as a guideline to other classes and schools in the Inclusive education model.
15. What has winning the National Teaching Award in Special Needs Teaching and Inclusive Education meant for this ELSEN Unit?
The award has placed this ELSEN Unit in a strategic position as pioneer in Inclusive education in our country, which allows us to share ideas and good practices with other schools. We are often asked to write articles, speak to educationalists and journalists, and share our best practices with other educators and schools, which we regard a great honour indeed!
The documentary has been viewed by many educational stake-holders, and has been used by the University of Ghent in Belgium in November 2012, as a tool to train educators from developing countries in Inclusive Education and Special Needs teaching, at the International Special Educational Needs Conference. This means that our ideas and suggestions have been shared worldwide, and we know that we are making a difference in the education situation in the world.
Through this website, we wish to create a much greater awareness of Special Needs education – a sector of our society which has still been very hidden and misunderstood in our country.
With the necessary emotional, social, physical, cognitive and academic stimulation, it is possible for an ELSEN learner to excel and succeed in life. They are often placed back into main-stream education, or into a skills school, where they learn important life skills and learn to cope as well-developed citizens of our country.
No. Mothers seldom realize how detrimental alcohol abuse during pregnancy can be. The child’s brain and body are under-developed, and it then stays in the child’s genes, which makes it even a genetically transferable disorder. There are different levels of FASD, from subtle, and teachable, to visible and highly problematic. Yet, the disorder is incurable.
The learners are between the ages of 7 and 13. They either need to be placed into main-stream, or admitted to a skills school, after the age of 12, depending on their level of development and achievement within the ELSEN Unit
Physical Address: Formosa Primary School
Postal Address: PO Box 3 Plett
Postal Code: 6600
Directions: Formosa Primary School New Horizons Plettenberg Bay