NWU presents the First South African Symposium on teacher education for Inclusion

Anjonet Jordaan -- Fri, 10/02/2015 - 12:06

NWU presents the First South African Symposium on teacher education for Inclusion

The First ever South African Symposium on Teacher Education for Inclusion was hosted on 1-2 October by the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University (NWU) in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng.

The symposium, initiated by the Optentia Research Focus Area of the Vaal Triangle Campus, is attracting a wide array of delegates both nationally – academics, researchers, teachers, as well as representatives Department of Education and teacher organisations – and international.

Globally there is a realisation among teaching professionals that there is an urgent need for change in how inclusive education is practiced and that teachers need more training to use it effectively in classrooms. Perspectives on how different countries have endeavoured to develop and implement inclusive education in practice and prepare student teachers to use it properly were shared by experts from all over.


South Africa

Former Dean of the Faculty of Education at NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus, Prof Petra Engelbrecht, provided attendees with an global bird’s eye view on teacher education for inclusion, with special reference to the challenges and opportunities it poses for South African education.

Prof Petra Engelbrecht

Many countries globally have moved from special schools to inclusive school communities. However, global differences in economic and political powers translates to contexts where inclusion in education is differently constructed. Inclusive education is an ongoing, dynamic process that is preferable to separation based on factors such as ability, deficit, gender, language or religion. Here the historical context and development phase of countries also tend to play a big role. Whereas South Africa has a particularly big emphasis on equity, other countries may place bigger emphasis on inclusion of learners with disabilities.

To date many countries have developed policies for inclusive education that employs general terms and resulting in superficial compliance. This can to some extent be attributed to differing definitions globally on what inclusive education includes and a inconsistent understanding of diversity, as well as disparate interpretations of policies. 

The way forward seems to include a move towards a collaborative partnership framework that includes teachers, parents, universities and the education department to work together to realise inclusive education in South Africa that transcends policy to be realised in practice.


United States of America

Prof Kozleski from the University of Kansas in the USA provided attendees insight into teacher education in inclusive education in the USA. The movement towards inclusive education started to take shape in the USA during the mid-1970s. “Inclusive education is a continuous struggle forward”, Prof Kozleski said, as she detailed the path taken in the USA from no education for learners with special needs to the eventual formation of inclusive schools.

Prof Elizabeth Kozleski

Complex contextual variables of each state and school district with the accompanying political and policy changes impact upon schools, providing either challenges or opportunities for inclusive education.

A shift in teacher education has taken place in the USA towards working with what learners bring to the class in terms of knowledge; thereby having the teacher adapt to child instead of having the child adapt to the teacher. For this approach professional learning schools are being used. Student-teachers explore who they are to understand how culture and other background factors have shaped them. On the other end of the spectrum teachers endeavour to understand who their learners are. This approach is rounded out with coaching of student-teachers during their teaching in a class, whereby a mentor will make suggestions to them through the use of an inconspicuous earpiece enabling student-teachers to make adjustments in real time.



Prof Werning from the University of Leibniz in Hannover, Germany provided delegates with insight into how inclusive education is practiced in German schools. Germany started in the early 1970s with a process of integration towards joint teaching of disabled and non-disabled children, whereby the aim is to minimise discrimination and maximise social participation. Today, the most inclusive schools receive an award to recognise the efforts made by such schools.

Prof Rolf Werning

Initial teacher training in Germany requires that students complete Bachelor and Master degree studies, adding up to five years of initial teacher training. In Germany, general teachers with special education teachers collaborate as a team to plan and present lessons. This approach requires a teacher to be an action researcher of what is going on in his or her classroom.



According to Prof Hannu Savolainen from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, inclusivity within the Finnish schools have mixed results. Finland  has a strong social justice background that gradually developed into a system of efficient teaching by highly educated teachers with a drive for ‘school for all’.

Prof Hannu Savolainen

Fortunately the move to equity in education in Finland also coincided with increasing quality of the education system. Teachers provide learners with three levels of support with a drive to support a child as soon as possible and with the right intensity.

Teaching is a very sought after profession among youth entering tertiary education, resulting in universities being able to admit only the best applicants for initial teacher training. From the universities a fifth of the teachers who complete their training are special education teachers.

Prof Savolainen foresees that in future there will in Finland be a move towards greater teacher professionalism and putting it to good use through collaboration. In Finland the municipalities are responsible for running schools; greater collaboration between universities and municipalities are important to enhance inclusive education in Finnish schools.

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*For more information on the presentations delivered during the First Inclusive Education Symposium on Teacher Education for Inclusion, visit the Optentia Research Focus Area’s website. The mission of the Optentia Research Focus Area is to develop and organise knowledge for the optimal expression of individual, social and institutional potential, with specific interest in the African context. The research programme utilises the inputs from various disciplines in the social sciences, including Psychology, Industrial/Organisational Psychology, Educational Psychology, Sociology, Educational Sciences, Employment Relations, and Social Work.