NWU Vaal: Seeking holistic development for learners

Anjonet Jordaan -- Thu, 04/09/2015 - 14:35

NWU Vaal: Seeking holistic development for learners

It is not ‘education as usual’ at the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University (NWU).
Prof Mary Grosser, together with Prof Mirna Nel, heads up a new sub-programme within the Optentia Research Focus Area located on this campus dedicated to researching better ways to provide holistic education in diverse classrooms.

Over time it became more important to take into account the diverse learning needs of learners and to ensure that students in the School of Education are better equipped to do so in practice.


Prof Mary Grosser (left), a leading researcher in the field of cognitive education in South Africa, and Prof Mirna Nel (right), head up a new sub-programme within Optentia. Prof Grosser was recently elected the new president for IACESA (International Association for Cognitive Education in Southern Africa).

The sub-programme is called Holistic Learner Development in Diverse Classrooms, and is built on the premise of caring by enhancing the teachers’ ability to respond to a diversity of learning needs, thus developing a school’s enabling component. Instead of referring learners to special education, the aim is first to increase a teacher’s repertoire of strategies for working with a wide range of individual differences among learners; and secondly, to create a caring context for learning where learners receive nurturance, support and empathy in order to master learning outcomes.

These strategies could include different ways to accommodate and teach learners to compensate for different barriers to learning that interfere with their benefitting satisfactorily from learning and instruction. These barriers include the following:

  • Extrinsic barriers that compromise socio-economic barriers, as well as systematic and pedagogical problems within the school system; and
  • Intrinsic barriers that include medical conditions and medical barriers; sensory impairments and physical impairments.

The sub-programme aims to use the research findings of two research projects: Schools as Thinking Communities (cognitive education) and Inclusive Education to encourage the explicit teaching of thinking and eliminate the effects of barriers to learning in diverse classrooms.

What is cognitive education?

Cognitive education refers to education that offers explicit cognitive and metacognitive instruction, which aims to enhance the thinking processes of all learners by developing and mediating concepts, skills and strategies for learning how to learn.

Learners learn how their minds work and how to make them work more efficiently. They also acquire a language that enables them to talk about their thinking and they then learn how to transfer these concepts and strategies to other situations, such as their subject areas and their personal and social lives. In developing learners as autonomous thinkers and lifelong learners, they will be prepared to take on the challenges that confront them throughout their lives.

What is inclusive education?

Inclusive education as a global education approach emphasises that education is a fundamental human right and that education systems need to recognise and respond effectively to diversity. Inclusive education is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms, programs and activities so that all students learn and participate together. Teachers play a pivotal role in this transformation of schools to ensure the successful implementation of inclusive education.

Through inclusive education all students are brought together in one classroom and community, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area, with the aim of maximizing the potential of all students:

  • Inclusion is an effort to make sure that diverse learners – those with disabilities, different languages and cultures, different homes and family lives, different interests and ways of learning – are exposed to teaching strategies that reach them as individual learners.
  • Inclusive schools ask teachers to provide appropriate individualised supports and services to all students without the stigmatisation that comes with separation.
  • Teachers in inclusive classrooms vary their styles to enhance learning for all students.