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Celebrating a century of inclusive education

15 Mar 2021

By Seema Johannes Seabela

A KwaZulu-Natal public school has just celebrated 100 years of inclusive education for learners with special education needs (LSEN).

Open Air School was founded on February 9, 1921 under a fig tree in Glenwood, Durban.
Originally for learners with respiratory challenges such as tuberculosis, classes were held outdoors in the open air – hence the name. Interestingly, the school celebrates this milestone during the covid-19 pandemic, which is primarily about respiratory issues.

Principal Noel Moodley told ThisAbility that, “The school is the first school with dual campuses, that’s what makes it unique. The school is on one campus, the hostel is on another campus.” He added that because there was no land on the school premises, the hostel, which is 58 years old, was built 2km from the school.
Over the years, the school grew and started admitting learners with physical disabilities and neurological conditions such as epilepsy. Twenty years ago, learners with visual impairments started coming in and they were followed, 10 years ago, by learners with blindness, autism and those who are hard of hearing.

Moodley says Open Air has become the only school in South Africa that offers inclusivity for various disabilities.

The school caters for pupils from pre-primary to matric, and offers speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and professional medical support.

“Our theme for this milestone is a hundred years of breaking barriers and building bridges,” however, “due to covid-19 we could not have a formal celebration,” Moodley said. Instead they planned a series of celebrations during February.

Sanelisiwe Hlope, an 18-year-old pupil with albinism, who has been at Open Air school for 14 years, said being part of the 100-year milestone is an important part of her educational journey. “Open Air school is a very healthy environment. The teachers are like parents and I am aspiring to study towards a degree in law after completing my matric this year.”

Head of department and secretary of the school governing body (SGB) Claude Pillai said the 100-year milestone is very important for the school and for the SGB “as they work hand in hand with the principal in making sure the school continues its mission of inclusive education”.

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