The Stepping Stone Special Education School (SSSES) at Swakopmund aims to provide an equitable learning environment for pupils with special needs, including pupils with neurodivergence and autism.
School founder and principal Almarie Mostert says the school’s vision is to give such individuals the chance to reach their full potential.
“This so they can become valued participating members of the community. We aim to do so through improving the quality of life of people with neurdivergences and learning disabilities, as well as their families by developing and disseminating essential skills, knowledge and values through research, teaching and service,” she says.
Mostert says there is a lack of special schools in Namibia.
“In Namibia, most of these children are not diagnosed, and in some Namibian cultures, children with such challenges are often relegated by society and even their families,” she says.
“Mainstream school placement of most children with autism and other neurodivergences are usually unsuccessful and parents often find that there are not enough schools or classes available to help their children,” she says.
Mostert says SSSES is the first registered private school in Namibia that provides specialised, tailor-made education for children with neurodivergence.
“The school received its registration from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture at the beginning of 2019,” she says.
The school’s curriculum caters for two different groups of pupils.
“The one stream is for pupils with moderate learning needs or who need some adaptations to teaching and learning. These children are taught the Namibian mainstream curriculum from Grade 1 to Grade 7,” she says.
“The other stream is for pupils with complex learning needs who need significant adaptation to teaching and learning, and we cater for pupils in preschool, aged 3 to 7 years, primary school, aged 8 to 13 years, and for pupils older than 13, we’ve started a life skills curriculum that supports them in developing fundamental skills for life,” she says.
Mostert says some of the main elements of the tailormade curriculum also include social communication and interaction, independent learning, self-management of behaviour and emotions, development of responsibility, personal, social and health education, individual learning profile and achievements, the provision of various therapies, as well as community experiences and involvement.
She says teachers at the school are assigned a small group of children at a time.
Mostert says the school is committed to developing assessment practices that will capture all potential evidence of progress for the pupils.
“Recognising diverse pupil needs, progress is shown through knowledge, skill growth, experiences, improved communication, social interaction, sense making and independence in various areas, fostering holistic development,” she says.
Mostert says the school is committed to providing inclusive learning opportunities that are both challenging and enjoyable.
“It aims to foster learners’ holistic development by promoting their spiritual, moral, social and cultural growth, preparing them for life’s responsibilities,” she says.
The school emphasises effective communication and decision-making, enabling pupils to express preferences and make choices, according to Mostert.
“It seeks to enhance self-esteem, autonomy, and positive relationships among pupils, encouraging exploration and critical thinking,” she says.
The school currently caters for 29 children who are reliant on intensive therapy and specialist teaching to navigate learning, coping and communicating, according to Mostert.
“Some 92,5% of the children with complex needs at Stepping Stone do not have verbal expressive language, in other words, cannot speak effectively.
“Thus only 7,5% of the pupils in this division can use conventional language,” she says.
Mostert says the school relies on sponsorships to be able to send its teachers for training.
“It is important to us that our teachers receive relevant and up to date training in the specialised teaching methods used at the school,” she says.
Mostert says the school’s primary focus is ensuring the happiness and enjoyment of their pupils, while fostering friendships and strong relationships with staff.
Zanet Pieterse, a parent of one of the pupils at the school, says: “The positive impact the school had on my son cannot be overstated. The school combines various teaching philosophies to create individualised education for each pupils.”
She says the individualised system is the most ideal setting for a child with autism, highlighting that “they all differ so much from each other even though afflicted by the same spectrum of challenges”.
“They enrol neurodivergent children of all races, socio-economic positions, genders, afflictions and challenges as allowed by the school’s charter,” she says.
“Stepping Stone was prepared to create a specialised curriculum for my son based on the American ‘Son Rise’ approach, which we purchased as a home-based therapy programme,” Pieterse says.
She says students are also exposed to extramural activities, group excursions, shopping trips and various organised activities to expose them to real-life experiences.
Pieterse says in order to not compromise on the education of her son, constant communication is maintained between her and his teachers.
“The school encourages all parents to be involved in their children’s education and in school committees and initiatives,” she says.
Complex needs head of department Javier Punzul says SSSES presented her with an opportunity to practise the skills she has acquired through many years of studying.
“Stepping Stone gave me a platform to use my knowledge and learn way more than I ever thought I would in such a short period of time,” she says.
Punzul says she has learnt to deal with children who have different needs, which usually requires her to dedicate time to getting to know them to work towards an approach that works for them.
“I believe in diversifying my teaching methods and finding the correct approach for each child,” she says.
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