Learners with special educational needs have enjoyed the rightful legal backing through legislation for a number of years. The international influence upon South African legislature can be found in various sources, but have these legal acts proven sufficient to see the inclusion of these learners in the classroom?

The Charter of the United Nations (1945) was signed by over fifty countries, South included. Article 73 on Chapter XI states that all members are to ensure the social and educational advancement and well-being of individuals, those with special educational needs included (Lemmer et al. 2014). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), particularly article 26, states that everyone has the right to education, which will be focused on the development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (Lemmer et al. 2014). The International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) reiterates the above by stating that everyone has the right to education. Lastly, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) emphasises equal treatment of all persons and further prohibits any form of discrimination on the grounds of, amongst others, physical and mental ability.

Those vitally basic documents are supported by more recent developments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (1989), Rule 6 of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for persons with Disabilities (1993) and the Education for All initiative (2001) that highlight the importance of providing quality inclusive education for learners with special educational needs.

South Africa soon followed suite and began writing legislature that affirmed these International statements. Our own Constitution is the first place that one can look towards to see what South Africa has to say about inclusive education. Section 29 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution (Republic of South Africa 1996) states that everyone has the right to a basic education, again echoing the International legislature. White Paper 6 deals exclusively with the inclusion of learners with special needs and highlights many of the above-mentioned traits (Lemmer et al. 2014). The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 also reiterates the fact that education is a right applicable to all South Africans (Republic of South Africa 1996).

 

The Challenges of implementing inclusive education in South Africa and my own recommendations to overcome these challenges.

Inclusive Education remains a challenging and controversial topic in South African education. Because of its notoriety, implementing an Inclusive form of Educating all of South Africa’s children has proven difficult and often times near-impossible. I will highlight some of the challenges we face as a nation and make some recommendations that might assist us in overcoming these challenges.

The first and, probably, most difficult challenge is to change, transform and renew the attitudes and ingrained beliefs of all the relevant stakeholders. As Professor Phasha (2014) puts it,

“South Africans are products of an education system underpinned by a pedagogy of domination, at the expense of appreciation, acceptance and respect for diversity”.

The prolonged injustices of the past have indoctrinated people into thinking that segregation, whether it be based on racial lines, cognitive ability, physical ability or even religious inclinations, is the only viable and efficient method of schooling in South Africa. This is a gross misjudgement. One of the easiest ways to conquer this myth, is to simply shed light on the various and diverse types of people in the country. To give people the opportunity to know more about people from different races, different cognitive and physical abilities, and even people from different religions. The more people are aware of and exposed to these different groups of people, the less they will fear them because they will soon realize that they are just the same as everyone else. I would therefore recommend various workshops and open seminars that allow people to see and experience the beauty of diversity first hand. These events can be once-off or regular, pre-planned and purposeful events aimed at various ages.

The second challenge deals with an incorrect understanding of the term ‘Inclusive Education’. This misunderstanding can be traced to various sources, two wort mentioning are the previous reliance on old definitions that have been used with only half a picture in mind. This picture, was taken from various troughs of literature that only deal with inclusive education as including those with a physical or mental disability. The second source of the incorrect understanding of ‘inclusive education comes from the creation of White Paper 6, which deals specifically with the inclusion of learners with special needs. Because this White Paper was drafted very early on, it soon began to encompass all understanding of ‘inclusive education’. In a sense, it ‘high-jacked’ the term and made it a very narrow form of a very rich and complex term (Lemmer et al. 2014).

In order to rectify the problem of a distorted and incomplete view of ‘inclusive education’, I recommend that all relevant stakeholders be alerted to the fact that inclusive education indeed is a broad and complex term that entails much more than only learners with disabilities. This definition should be make public and advertised on all correspondence where the term is used. Academics who research and write on the term should be able to define it clearly with all the current complexities included. I would also strongly recommend that all relevant stakeholders undergo a mandatory short course on Inclusive Education, its definition, its scope and its layout in society at large.

A third challenge is the practical challenge of whether or not the people who are tasked with the daunting challenge of providing, implementing and maintaining Inclusive Education are actually capable of providing a suitable and efficient service to the relevant communities. This has been an issue pre-1994, due to the obvious inequalities in the segregated Education spheres, and, unfortunately, it still proves to be a major difficulty post-1994, especially in areas where the previously disadvantaged have not been fully able to benefit from a democratic and free South Africa. This issue can be termed ‘Capacity development’ and entails everything from nurturing teachers and other stake holders to inspiring and developing a future generation of inclusive minded individuals who function as a unit to achieve their teaching and learning goals.

Although this issue is a major stumbling block, there are ways in which to overcome it. One would be to partner teachers, principals and even school who have excelled and shown great promise in the area of Inclusive Education, with a school that has struggled in that area. This pairing should allow for the imparting of knowledge and resources as well as allow teachers on both sides to interact regularly and openly with each other to foster a good sense of community and communication. Another way to overcome this issue of a lack of capacity development is to provide regular and quality opportunities for those stake holders who struggle with inclusive education to learn and be exposed to quality content and teaching on this topic. A last suggestion would be for these stake holders who struggle in inclusive education, particularly with developing their leaders, to have robust accountability. This accountability could mean that if a district manager sees that a particular school is not conforming to White Paper 5 and 6, changes will need to be made in the leadership of that school or in the teaching personnel. So in essence, allowing the various levels of leadership to make changes without the problems of bureaucracy to worry about.

Lastly, international transfer or borrowing of educational policies has proven to be beneficial in general terms, but it severely takes out of place, and often misinterprets, the local situation and local context. These international educational policies are usually rooted in strong academic research, but are often aligned to a certain context, usually very far removed from the local setting. These policies, when ‘blindly’ placed over a local South African context, often cause more harm than good. A way to avoid this is to use the basic premise of the research and idea of the policy and conduct thorough and relevant research that is tailored to a local context, thereby adding to the educational research in the country and also providing a relevant and thorough understanding to a local context with issues that often times can only be understood locally.

 

Works Cited

Constitutional Court of South Africa 2000. “Christian Education South Africa vs Minister of Education, South Africa.”

Donnelley, K. 2007. “Australia’s adoption of outcomes based education – a critique.” Issues in Educational Research 17(2):1-21.

Lemmer, E, N van Wyk, SJ Berkhout, J Booyse, C Brandt, C Harber, CS Le Roux, S Naicker, N Phasha, SG Pretorius, B Smit, and P van Niekerk. 2014. Themes in South African Education: For the comparative educationist. Pinelands, Cape Town: Pearson Education.

Lippman, PC. 2010. “Can the physical environment have an impact on the learning environment?” CELE Exchange 13.

Mazur, AJ and PR Doran. 2010. Teaching Diverse Learners: Principles for Best Practice. Corwin, USA.

Noah, H. 1984. “The use and abuse of comparative education.” Comparative Education Review 28(4):550-562.

Phillips, D. 2000. “Learning from elsewhere in education: some perennial problems revisited with reference to British interest in Germany.” Comparative Education 297- 307.

Republic of South Africa 1996. “Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996.” Pretoria: Government Gazette.

Republic of South Africa 1996. “The South African Schools Act (Act 84 of 1996).” Pretoria: Government Gazette.

Republic of South Africa 1998. “Employment of Educators Act (Act 76 of 1998).” Pretoria: Government Gazette.

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