Developing an Inclusive Education in South Africa


23 Mar 2015 13 Dec 2017

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What is inclusion?

The foundation for a comprehensive understanding of inclusion have been laid by considering insights derived from United Nations initiatives, international experiences, research and debate in the field of inclusion. Different authors emphasise different aspects when defining inclusion and that makes it clear that inclusion is viewed differently (Dyson & Millward 1999:152). Other authors stress access, belonging and participation in the general classroom for all learners with an underlying culture that values diversity.

The following are at the sea inclusion is:

  • Increasing participation by the reducing exclusions from curricula, culture and communities. Ainscow (1995:9)
  • Premised out the understanding that learners can contribute one another's learning. Ainscow (1995:149)
  • Determined by school culture and ethos. Hall (2002:3).
  • Learners who experience barriers to learning attending the neighbourhood schools and being taught in general education classroom. CSIE (2000:12)
  • Initiated an entrenched by legislation and policy. Burden (2000:36)

On the other hand, the authors stress support and define inclusion in terms of the ways in which support is facilitated at various levels, and say inclusion is:

  • Dependent on training in requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes. Hall & Engelbrecht (1999:231)
  • Dependent on teachers who can would be five-year plans and activities. Ainscow (1995:151)
  • Characterised by collegial stuffed in relationships. Ainscow (1995:151)
  • About diverse learners requiring diverse in even individualised learning strategies. Ferguson & Ferguson (1998:307)

The examples given above indicate that the two emphases need to be maintained when seeking in comprehensive understanding of inclusion. First is that of school restructuring and improvement towards effectiveness and the second is that of a ensuring access through individually relevant support. Both are supported by the belief and attitudes that would characterise inclusive culture and art and trying to buy policy and legislation.

Inclusive education in South Africa.

Education that was based on race in South Africa was dismantled and substituted by unitary that needed to contribute to building the rainbow nation, as such the separate education system for those learners who were deemed to have special needs was revisited with a view of creating an inclusive approach to education. The legislative framework in which inclusion functions in South Africa is mentioned with specific reference given to education. White Paper Six: Special Needs Education (DoE 2001). It is acknowledged that the field of education encompasses many aspects, including higher education and training, edit childhood education and adult basic education and training the focus in this study is on schooling in areas known as general and further education. In South Africa these are called GET (General Education and Training) Band and the FET (Further Education and Training) Band. An appreciation of the historical, social, political and economic context in which education functions is important to an understanding of the education in a country. Booth and Ainscow affirm this. They conducted a comparative international study on inclusion, they asked questions on what is needed to know about local and national context in order to understand the process of inclusion in any particular country.

The apartheid era and post-apartheid.

Before 1994 in South Africa, education and schools in particular had been the locus of important struggle against apartheid. In 1976 there were uprisings especially in Johannesburg now Gauteng against the use of Afrikaans (modified form of Dutch spoken in South Africa) is a medium of instruction and then followed the 1980 boycotts.

Different race groups had different education departments, and white education was administered by provincial education departments. Past racial imbalances meant that education was not equally funded across all racial groups. The inequitable division of resources also meant that some schools were highly resourced than others (model C schools as they were known then) served a very small percentage of learners and separate special schools served mainly white children waiting to have special needs.

Since 1994 education is centralised, that is, it is controlled by a single national education department. Special education system was inherited from the apartheid era, which was not that equally developed for all races. The result was that special schools and classes have been well established and resourced to serve white to some extend Coloureds and Indians learners living with disabilities. Many white learners were taught in specially designed classrooms. The majority of black learners were served by education departments that did not provide quality special education services. Schools that were established for black learners who experienced areas to learning were not established by the state, but by churches.

The small house below next the red bricks house which was the home was built by my grandfather and the Department of Education requested to use it in 1967 for sub A learners:

Consequently, these learners were included in the general system by default, but did not benefit from the support that is necessary in an inclusive system.

In the 1990s it was only then that the remedial teaching was offered to blacks to a limited extent in black schools (Nkabinde 1993:110 to 111). As a result barrier to learning went unrecognised and were not addressed and learners experienced repeated failure and eventually dropped out of school (Donald & Lazarus 2002:297). There were and still are learners who, because of barriers to learning they experience, do not attend school (Pendlebury & Enslin 2004:45)

Inclusion supported by legislative and policy framework.

The Constitution of South Africa affirms the fundamental principles that are foundational to inclusive education. These principles are of human dignity, equality and advancement of human rights (Republic of South Africa (RSA), 1996 a, Section 1, a), freedom from discrimination (RSA 1996 a, Section 9 (4) and a fundamental right to basic education RSA 1996 a, section 29 (1). The right to education is given legislative expression in the South African Schools Act (SASA).

South African Schools Act (SASA) was enacted in 1996, and sets "uniform norms and standards for the education of learners at schools." (Preamble SASA, RSA 1996 b). It makes allowance for an inclusive education system in South Africa through the following provisions:

  • Public schools must admit learners and "serve the educational requirements” without discrimination (Section 5 (1) ).
  • Not admission test may be used to determine the admission of the learner to a public school (Section 5 (2) ).
  • Where learners have “special education needs”, the rise in the wishes of the parents must be taken into account when determining the placement.
  • Where it is “reasonably practicable" learners with "special education needs" should be served in the mainstream and relevant support should be provided for these learners (Section 12 (4) ).
  • Physical, and many these at public schools should be made accessible to disabled learners (Section 12 (5) )

The year that SASA was promulgated, The National Committee for Education Support Services and National Commission of Special Needs Education and Training (NCESS/NCENET) were appointed by the Minister of Education (Prof Bengu then) and the Department of Education to investigate and make recommendations about special needs and support in education in South Africa. The NCESS/NCSNET report recommended that separate special and ordinary education systems be integrated (DoE 1997:155). Some of the ways that the committee saw these being realised, like building modification curriculum development would be included in the education. White Paper Six: Special Needs Education, thereafter referred to as White Paper, published in 2001.

The White Paper emanated from the need to respond to the fact that learners with different learning needs were not satisfactorily included in the South African education system. It was found that a small number of schools only served learners rule had been medically diagnosed as disabled and those who experienced difficulties due to other factors like abject poverty found themselves without the necessary support. The White Paper estimates that at the time of publication only 20% of learners with disabilities were included in the special schools and there was also, disparity among the provinces.

The white paper was published after a consultative process and outlines and national strategy to include and accommodate those barriers to learning.

The following where the principles of the White Paper:

  • All children and young people can learn and need support
  • Difference, including different learning needs, is valued as part of human experience.
  • Education can be enabled to meet the needs of all learners.
  • The home and community form an important source of learning.
  • Attitudes, behaviour and teaching methodologies will have to change to meet the needs of learners.
  • Participation of learners in the educational process should be maximised.
  • The individual strengths of learners should be encouraged.

An inclusive education system acknowledges the different levels of support required by different learners and should be organised to provide this.

The following strategies were to be followed:

  • improve special schools and convert them into resource centres;
  • Convert about 500 primary schools to be full-service schools that are capable of responding to the full range of learning needs;
  • Introduce management and teachers in the mainstream schools to the inclusion model, with a focus on any intervention in the Foundation Phase (grades R-3);
  • The establishment of district-based support teams (DSTs) to provide support services;
  • The implementation of an interaction programme to support inclusion;
  • A funding strategy to be developed.

The White Paper addresses extrinsic and intrinsic barriers to learning, with a particular focus on ways in which the education system may be itself a barrier to learning. There are also factors which become apparent and have an influence on the learning of learners. These factors may include "in adequate shelter and nutrition." Hall (2002:34).

Intrinsic barrier include various impairments like intellectual ability. The White Paper details the framework for establishing an inclusive education and training system through capacity building and the expulsion of provision and access in all education sectors. In considering financial challenges that are involved the White Paper outlines funding strategy that includes national and provincial spending and mobilisation of donor funding. Building an inclusive education and training is a 20 year developmental goal and short, medium and long-term strategies are described that will address barriers to learning and accommodate diverse learning needs in South Africa.

The White Paper outlines South Africa with developments in inclusive education internationally and draws on the foundation laid by the United Nations initiatives and in particular, the Salamanca Statement.

The Salamanca Statement and the White Paper.

The White Paper has included many of the key recommendations of the Salamanca Statement of 1994 and in this way. South Africa can be seen to be pursuing policies, congruent with international trends. The following are Salamanca Statement for governments to give attention to: early identification and intervention when barriers to learning are experienced, the importance of the participation of parents and the need for teacher education to meet the needs of inclusive classrooms UNESCO (1994: I X). All these are included in the strategic plan outlined in the White Paper. Consistent with the Salamanca Statement's advice that developing countries should build inclusive schools, rather than try to expand a separate special as a cost-effective way of expanding access, the White Paper describes the conversion of some existing schools into full-service schools that can with the support of DSTs and neighbouring special schools, several learners with diverse learning needs. It is envisaged that these full service schools will be able to accommodate children living with mild and moderate disabilities were currently out of school. The Salamanca Statement sees a special schools having a role to play, not only in educating a small number of learners who cannot be satisfactorily served in ordinary schools but also as a resource centre that can provide inclusive schools with a valuable human and material resources. The White Paper embraced this and foresees that, after an audit of special schools, they will be upgraded to improve the quality of the education they provide for learners with high support needs and will be converted into resource centres.

The White Paper reflects the thinking of researchers and theorists in the field of special needs education. The White Paper echoes positions taken from the writing of Ainscow (1995) Booth and Ainscow (1998) and Ballard (1999). The term barriers to learning in the White Paper it also appears in The Index for Inclusion, published by the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) in 2000. The CSIE uses the term barriers to learning and participation. Inclusion is more than ensuring that learners with various barriers to learning are taught in regular classrooms. It is also about these learners being accepted and having a sense of belonging within the school and the community.

Mordal & Stromstad (1998:16) ask in this regard, "… Is this child surely included as if full member of the community, or have we only made a superficial adaptations which leave the child just as isolated as in a special class or special school?"

There is prove that the White Paper does not take participation as part of an inclusive system (DoE 2001 a: 16) and yet has chosen to stress the learning needs and barriers to learning. The White Paper could be criticised by those who advocate for a full inclusion approach to inclusion. They abstain from any notion of separate special schools, and their position is that all children irrespective of the severity of their disabilities could be educated in regular classrooms together with their non- disabled peers. The contend of that as long as special schools exist, there will be the assumption that there are some children who cannot be taught in regular classrooms and exclusion will be justified. Van Rooyen & La Grange (2003 154) for his critique of the White Paper as the irony of the conditional acceptance of inclusion, noting the conditions that learners have to meet in order to be included in either ordinarily, full-service or special schools.

The White Paper only claims an outline (DoE 2001:5). For an inclusive education system and many questions that the White Paper arises are perhaps details that are outside its scope. Practical concerns and many for example it has been noted that some provinces (and we have nine provinces in South Africa) have very few special schools (DoE 2001:30) and yet special schools are conceived as an integral part to the support that full-service school will need. I think in South Africa time will tell whether timeframes envisaged by the White Paper are realistic and whether enough funds can be generated from sources described to implement an inclusive education system.

Other publication for schools that are not directly concerned with inclusion and in close of principles integrated into the content. For example, Teachers Guide for the Development of Learning Programs (DoE 2003) describes inclusivity as an underlying principle of the curriculum and explain how barriers to learning should be identified and addressed in the design of learning programs in the various learning areas. These documents are evidence that inclusion is conceived as part of ordinary education in South Africa and teachers are expected to plan teaching and learning in such a way that fosters access and participation. However, even these years of South Africa, move towards inclusion has been noted and teachers.


In as far as inclusion is concerned of the South African experience must inform the understanding of inclusion that is practical and applicable locally. Inclusion has been shown to rest on values, attitudes and beliefs about society, schools and learners. It is given direction by policies and legislation. In practice inclusion is restructuring schools and providing support to learners through different strategies that facilitate access and participation. A significant challenge faced by South Africa in the implementation of inclusion seems to be the training of teachers in the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes required for successful inclusion.


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