A Commitment To Inclusive Education
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to:
“Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”
South African education has a history of segregation. Children have been excluded from quality education based on multiple forms of discrimination, including race, language, disability, and poverty. We cannot deny that the legacy of these exclusions is still with us today.
Inclusive Education is about diverse children and young people learning together (and learning from each other) in ways that affirm individual learners’ strengths, increase their confidence concerning their own capacity for learning, and encourage them to participate in ways that are meaningful to them.
To this end we need to recognise:
diverse dispositions (the different ways learners learn)
diverse abilities (conventionally abled and differently abled learning together)
diverse prior and current experiences of learning (different social, economic and cultural contexts)
diverse home languages (and the ways different languages construct knowledge of key concepts)
diverse identities (the different ways learners construct their sense of self through language, relationships and lifestyle choices)
diverse points of view (the different ways learners think and feel about what they are learning).
Inclusive Education in the South African context is defined as:
a learning environment that promotes the full personal, academic and professional development of all learners irrespective of race, class, gender, disability, religion, culture, sexual preference, learning styles and language
– Department of Education (1998) NCSNET and NCESS report. Overcoming barriers in learning and development.
A Case Study Approach
MindBurst Workshop experimented with a new approach. The process centred on an exploration of a case study of a teacher who is grappling with Inclusive Education techniques.
Imagine a class where every learner is meaningfully engaged. Highly-skilled learners are challenged so they do not get bored and learners who sometimes struggle are experiencing activities that stimulate and motivate them to persevere and master skills.
The teacher, Nokhuthula Zondi, has high expectations for all her learners. She has made an effort to get to know the strengths and interests of each learner, as well as the barriers to learner experienced by each learner. This understanding did not come quickly. She focused on a small group of learners every week, recording insights …
Different participants took turns reading parts of the case study in stages. At each stage groups used the reading to stimulate questions and practical ideas they could use in their classrooms. Groups then represented their insights in infographics that captured their collective understanding of Kingsmead’s commitment to Inclusive Education.
- What are the values that underpin Inclusive Education at our school?
- What are some of the practical techniques that any teacher can do in any class to practice Inclusive Education?
- What are the obstacles to Inclusive Education?
Participants felt that Nokhuthula was a super hero of a teacher who was able to pull together so many different techniques with such efficiency. Some said that they did apply some of these techniques some of the time, but needed to be reminded of them regularly. We emphasised the importance of experimenting with different techniques, integrating them gradually into teaching practice, rather than being pressurised to perform them all at once.
At its heart Inclusive Education is about creating a genuine sense of belonging and empowering the agency of all learners. There was a lot of discussion about the role that education needs to play in enabling every learner to create a sustainable, satisfying and meaningful life. A focus on academic achievement often neglects many of the skills necessary for this and privileges a narrow set of dispositions. Inclusive Education requires us to expand our understanding of the skills that we value. Once teaching practice and school culture embrace a wider range of transferable skills, teachers and learners discover that everyone experiences barriers to learning and has valuable strengths. Assessing learners knowledge in the context of dynamic collaboration opens up possibilities for recognising a wider diversity of dispositions, skills, languages, knowledge systems, identities and points of view.
Teachers were concerned that the curriculum is content-heavy and that it is a challenge to create diverse opportunities for engaging it, in addition to focusing on skills the curriculum doesn’t value. The question about how to offer a learning environment that strives to move away from memorisation and towards transferable skills was a central theme of the workshop.
Teachers also expressed some frustration around having to constantly include examples of all differences, almost getting locked into superficial identity tick boxes. It was agreed that when it came to using examples and narratives of different identities it was more important to explore individual scenarios with depth, and cover diversity over time, rather than every single time.
Here is a list of statements you can begin to use to assess the current state of your attitudes to diversity, identifying your own growing edges – your zones of proximal development. In the workshop we asked teachers whether they were “doing this already,” “ready to learn,” “not ready to do this yet,” or “not willing to.”
I consider the diverse experience of learners, with a genuine interest in each learner’s subjective experiences (and the communities they come from).
I create a learning environment that is meaningful and enabling for diverse subjective experiences and identities, with many opportunities for agency.
I don’t only engage diversity when lesson content covers it.
I choose to use language, examples, narratives and illustrations that are inclusive of diverse life experiences and identities.
I facilitate dialogue that deepens understanding between learners (and between teachers and learners) concerning different cultural identities and sexualities.
I recognise and question harmful generalisations, cultural assumptions, superstitions, prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination (especially the assumptions we communicate in the tasks we ask female learners to perform).
I resist labelling learners. I describe and give accurate feedback about what they do, not who they are. I understand that labelling a learner, positively or negatively, reduces their complex, multi-cultural being with diverse dispositions to a single identity, that they then have to live up to or work against I try not to perceive a learner’s disability or barriers to learning as the most important element in defining who they are. I do not label them on that basis and allow that label to cause me to neglect other aspects of their being and ability.
I pick up on serendipitous learning opportunities (through current events and popular media) to reflect on diversity and improvise discussions or activities based on what is happening in the classroom, the community and the world.
I recognise and prioritise issues of relevance to the everyday life of learners, and actively adapt the curriculum to accommodate those issues.
I try to understand a learner’s attitudes concerning the subject matter I am teaching and their beliefs about their own ability to perform the tasks I expect of them – and create opportunities for them to reflect on and express their experience of learning.I explore the ways that different languages (and uses of language) represent values, respect, success, intelligence, knowledge, beauty, power, wealth, health, identity, race, gender, sexual orientation, categories, cultural assumptions, social hierarchies, knowledge, truth, morality, sanity, freedom, etc.
I do not allow my own discomfort to ignore the fact that a learner is a sensual and sexual being who needs to explore and develop their capacity for meaningful and satisfying relationships – through safe and healthy experimentation.
I recognise that power is present in all places and is often invisible – and that if I am to perceive it I need to be willing to go beyond the surface, challenge my assumptions and question what I take for granted.
I want to “go beyond the content” and equip learners with the transferable skills they need to engage any content to their advantage – enabling all learners to think critically; innovate without fear of failure; communicate clearly and confidently; collaborate dynamically and participate actively in productive dialogue; risk small, regular, and carefully designed experiments; persevere and not give up when a solution isn’t immediately obvious; and adapt to change with as little anxiety as possible.
In closing, MindBurst provided key principles based on the values of dignity, integrity, community, and agency that place the child at the centre of their own learning experience.
For an in-depth look at Inclusive Education and how to start implementing it in your classroom and school, see Overcoming Legacies of Segregation and Exclusion: An Introduction to Inclusive Education.