The introduction of the National Curriculum Statement Grade R-5 for learners with Severe Intellectual Disability (SID) in South-Africa


The Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education (DOE, 2001) commits government to providing access to education for all learners who have a disability and those who experience barriers to learning. This requires the government to ensure that children with disabilities are able to access an inclusive, quality primary and compulsory education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live. The government must also ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from general education. In response to the prescripts of these legislative policies, the Department of Basic Education developed Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) Grade R–5, to address the aptitude, interest, knowledge and vocational needs of learners with severe intellectual disabilities.

What were the main aims of the initiative?

The main aims of the introduction of the differentiated CAPS were:

  • to create an opportunity for all learners with Severe Intellectual Disability (SID) to succeed in the education system and to prevent early school leaving;
  • to ensure that schools across the country implement a uniform curriculum for all learners with SID;
  • to strengthen the implementation of the curriculum in the classroom by providing relevant, specified content to be offered within a realistic time frame. This includes guidance on sequencing and coverage of essential content for learners with SID;
  • to ensure that learners who are transferred between schools and provinces can cover the same content of the curriculum;
  • to equip learners with the skills required for employment and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a whole.
Location, Setting, Scope, Key Events etc.

The South African Education Ministry (Department of Basic Education) developed the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) Grade R–12 (2005), which gives expression to the knowledge, skills and values worth learning in South African schools. This curriculum aims to ensure that children acquire and apply knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives. The CAPS addressed more of the theoretical/academic aspect of learners, which was seen as rigid, non-flexible and not differentiated. This made it inaccessible for learners with special educational needs, which is not in line with Education White Paper 6: Building an Inclusive Education System and Training (2001).

The South African education system consists of 25,000 schools in 86 districts, of which 464 are special schools catering for learners who require high levels of support (e.g. learners with SID). Special schools across the country were not implementing a uniform differentiated curriculum. Furthermore, the curriculum did not address the aptitude, knowledge and vocational needs of learners with SID, which was not in line with Education White Paper 6. As a result, the NCS CAPS Grade R–5 was developed to respond to the curriculum needs of learners with disabilities, especially those with SID.

This curriculum consists of 21 subjects (Table 1), 80% skills and 20% theory, which is being incrementally introduced in 177 special schools and 69 districts (Table 2) that offer programmes for learners with SID across provinces. This is in alignment with the principles of Education White Paper 6. This initiative was to ensure that there is full participation of all learners in education.

Table 1. Subjects of CAPS Grade R–5

Core subjects

Skills and vocational subjects

Languages: First Additional Languages;

Languages: Home Language;

Life Skills;


Agricultural Studies;

Ancillary Health Care;

Arts and Crafts;

Beauty and Nail Technology;

Bricklaying and Plastering;

Consumer Studies: Food Production;

Consumer Studies: Sewing;

Creative Arts;

Hairdressing and Beauty Care;

Hospitality Studies;


Motor Mechanics;

Natural Sciences;

Office Administration;



Woodworking and Timber

Table 2. Number of schools that are incrementally introducing the NCS for learners with SID



Total number of special schools

Number of schools that offer programmes for learners with SID

Percentage (%)

Eastern Cape





Free State

























Northern Cape





North West





Western Cape










Issues Addressed
What issues/challenges does the case study address?

Education systems have an increased responsibility to effectively teach learners, whose learning styles and needs vary widely, through inclusive education models. Learners want and need to learn in ways that are accessible to them, and they want to have varied choices for demonstrating what they have learned. The growing reflection in various countries such as the United States of America, Brazil, Tanzania, Ghana and Australia is that inclusive education initiatives need to be introduced and incorporated in all schools. In Sweden, Australia and Tanzania, inclusive education is considered within the social model context. This is the same as South Africa. However, in Ghana, inclusive education is still considered within the medical model and the focus is on the integration of people with disabilities into the community and economy. This is what South Africa is benchmarking against with regards to the introduction of technical and vocational skills in schools for all learners, including those with disabilities. All these countries reflect UNESCO’s action in inclusive education, namely: ‘... Schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, linguistic or other conditions’ (Article 3, Salamanca Framework for Action).

The CAPS addressed more of the theoretical/academic aspect of learners, which was seen as rigid, non-flexible and not differentiated, which made it inaccessible for learners with special educational needs. This is not in line with Education White Paper 6: Building an Inclusive Education System and Training (2001). This led to the development of the NCS CAPS Grades R–5 for learners with SID. In 2014, the Department of Basic Education began the journey of developing 21 subjects that speak to the aptitude and interest of learners who need practical and functional subjects that would align to the world of work. South Africa as a whole indicated the need for artisans and those with vocational skills that would boost the economy. This gave further meaning to the development of the 21 subjects, which are 80% skills and 20% theory. Models in the abovementioned countries were observed, which further led to making this development a reality.

How was the initiative implemented?

After all the research was done and various engagements were held with stakeholders, the subjects were written and all nine Provincial Education Department (PED) officials were trained on different subjects to be implemented. PEDs formed training teams, which then went to their respective districts and provided training to them. In turn, districts subsequently went to schools and provided training. Subject specialists are involved in the policy implementation and schools are continuously trained on how to implement the curriculum.

Who worked on and sustained the initiative/policy (key partnerships)?

The key partnerships are universities, union teachers from special schools, technical schools, Department of Higher Education and Umalusi (Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training), subject specialists and inclusive education officials who ensure that implementation is happening and that schools are supported at all times.

When did the initiative/change/policy development take place (give dates)? What was the timescale?

The subjects were developed from 2014. PED training on the curriculum began in 2017 and was incrementally introduced to special schools in 2017. This took place over a period of two years, in order to prepare the system for the full-scale implementation.

Key Outcomes & Impact
What where the key outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?
  • Learner performance increased and discipline in schools improved after the vocational subjects were introduced.
  • Once learners have been exposed to the skills and vocational curriculum, they have sustainable skills that can help them to be productive members of society.
  • Learner attendance at schools improved and parents embraced the fact that the department was focusing on other aspects of teaching their children in a non‑academic streamed manner.

The biggest challenges were:

  • the perception of subject specialists not to lead this initiative, as they view special schools as having learners who cannot cope and therefore require a ‘specialised’ type of education;
  • the lack of sufficient subject specialists trained in some of the subjects who can support training and schools;
  • building capacity at special schools where there are sufficient teachers to teach the different subjects;
  • schools aligning and changing their ‘old’ ways to new structured ways (which are offered by the curriculum);
  • sufficient support staff to assist and support teachers in determining the interests and aptitude of the learners so that they are correctly placed in a vocational skill.
Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The policy development has been evaluated and it was found that there is a lack of appropriate infrastructure for the implementation of skills subjects. Provinces are encouraged to work with the Infrastructure Directorate to ensure that there are appropriate workshops to successfully implement the curriculum.

There are also shortages of appropriate teachers in Beauty and Nail Technology and Hairdressing and Beauty Care. The Teacher and Development Directorate will be involved in re-skilling educators in services and technical subjects which will strengthen curriculum implementation

Contact information

Department of Basic Education

  • Millicent Boaduo, Chief Education Specialist. 0123574072 
  • Monkie Chaane, Deputy Education Specialist. 0123574105 
The introduction of the National Curriculum Statement Grade R-5 for learners with Severe Intellectual Disability (SID) in South-Africa