Inclusive education in South Africa: the good, bad and ugly

Anjonet Jordaan -- Thu, 10/15/2015 - 11:06

Inclusive education in South Africa: the good, bad and ugly

Most teachers will agree that all children, regardless of what barriers to learning they may face, should be treated alike with equal access to education. Inclusive education seeks to facilitate equal opportunities to proper education for all children. Recently, the Optentia Research Focus Area on North-West University’s Vaal Triangle Campus hosted the First South African Symposium on Teacher Education for Inclusion.

 Inclusive education in South Africa is still in its infancy, with various challenges yet to be overcome to ensure it can be properly implemented in schools.

Prof Mirna Nel (NWU, Vaal Triangle Campus) explored the current contexts that positively contribute or negatively impact of inclusive education in South Africa. While both teachers and academics agree that inclusive education is the right thing to do, implementing it in practice is a complex undertaking due to the idiosyncrasies of contexts.

Prof Mirna Nel, researcher with the Optentia Research Focus Area on NWU's Vaal Triangle Campus
Prof Mirna Nel, researcher with the Optentia Research Focus Area on North-West University's Vaal Triangle Campus.

South Africa has enacted a number of policy and other governmental documents over the past 15 years that provides a good road map for primary and secondary education. This is further supported by the policy on the minimum requirements for teacher education qualifications.

The potential positive education context is however hampered by negative attitudes teachers develop towards education practice. These attitudes are the result of the multitude of difficulties teachers face due to factors such as large classroom numbers, training that is inadequate, lack of resources, and inflexible curriculums.

In South African 70% of children with disabilities and are of school-going age are presently still out of school. Those who do attend school are mostly still in separate, ‘special’ schools for learners with disabilities.

While teachers clamour for more training that provides practical solutions, Dr Elizabeth Walton (University of the Witwatersrand) pleads for more inclusion of theoretical knowledge teacher education curricula instead of more practical “tips” to facilitate inclusive education in the classroom.

Dr Elizabeth Walton from the University of the Witwatersrand
Dr Elizabeth Walton from the University of the Witwatersrand.

The problem faced by inclusive education as a practical knowledge in curricula is that it runs the risk of becoming procedural, rather than principled, theoretically informed and responsive to learner diversity. Simplified practical knowledge has limited transferability to the wide array of contexts and situations teachers face in the classroom – training can never be enough because there will always be a unique situation for which a teacher has not been ‘trained’.

For this reason Dr Walton pleaded with attendees of the symposium that practical knowledge should not be neglected, but that it is important to recognise the limitations in developing professional teachers who rely on theory to inform their professional judgement. Lecturers must make the theory that informs practice explicit to education students.

Read more on the First South African Symposium on Teacher Education for Inclusion on the Optentia Research Focus Area website. You can also visit Optentia’s Facebook page and watch videos on research done by the various sub-programmes within this research focus area on YouTube.