Thursday, 17 December 2015

Inclusive education

South Africa is a country with a history of exclusion. It wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that exclusion is the basis on which the entire apartheid system was based. Which is why, in the post-1994 democratic South Africa, such an emphasis is placed on integrating the previously excluded, in a myriad ways.

Consequently one of the most important functions of education in this country is to equip previously excluded people with the skills and knowledge they need to live productive lives, with a full measure of self-worth, and to make meaningful contributions to their communities and the country as a whole.

One of the traditionally excluded and neglected communities is that of people with disabilities. Society in general poses serious challenges for such individuals and there are many ways in which they are still excluded. So it's very important for the education system to do its utmost to prepare and equip people with disabilities, in order that they too may make meaningful contributions to their communities and the country, and live fulfilled lives.


The concept of inclusive education

Inclusive education is the opposite of the previous approach to educating learners with disabilities. Previous thinking was that it was most beneficial to separate these learners from the general school population in order to provide them with specialised attention and assistance.

Inclusive education, however, is based on the concept of teaching those with and without disabilities in the same class. This idea is supported by research that indicates that there are significant positive effects of this approach for learners with disabilities.

Of course, it's not that simple – merely placing these learners in the same class is not enough. Positive outcomes are achieved with inclusive education when there is ongoing advocacy, planning, support and commitment.


The principles of inclusive education

We can identify three central principles in the inclusive education approach.

 The first principle is that all learners belong, and should be treated and made to feel that way. Inclusive education's simple approach is that all children are equally valuable – both intrinsically as human beings and in society – and they should have the same opportunities. The important point about inclusive education is that it focuses on learners with disabilities participating in everyday activities, as they would if they did not have these disabilities.

Of course this is done with support, because one has to be realistic about the challenges that many of these learners face. It's the social lessons that are the most meaningful in this context – learners with disabilities should be exposed to opportunities to make friendships and ways to have different types of memberships in society, as represented by their peer groups.

The second principle is that every child has a right to be included. Inclusive education proponents make it very clear that in the context of a society that places a priority on educating its youth, inclusive education is a right, not a privilege. Learners with disabilities should have the same access to the general education curriculum as those without disabilities have.

The third principle is that different people learn in different ways. This means that inclusive education places an emphasis on helping learners to learn and participate in ways that are meaningful to them. And it proposes exposing learners to as many different ways of learning as possible.


How does this affect South Africa?

In a country now dedicated to equality and access to education for all, inclusive education should be a standard part of the educational approach. Equality can only be said to have been achieved when we give those with disabilities the very same chances for success through education that others get.
Let's start a conversation.

Let me know what you think here or connect with me on Twitter (@EduloanSA)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Educating the girl child in South Africa

In many senses our country has come a long way in providing better education to more people. We see schools where there hadn't previously been any, and children of all races able to access any school they choose, provided they can afford it. This is a far cry from the conditions under the apartheid regime, where equal access to education was deliberately prevented.

However, there is one burning issue that we must still properly address in our efforts to provide quality education for all. This is the particular challenge of educating the girl child. On the surface it may appear to be a simple matter of giving girl children access to equal education. This ignores the underlying, systemic challenges that the girl child faces, both in life and, consequently, on her educational journey.

Girl child access to education

Looking north across Africa we see that the girl child generally enjoys less access to education than boys. Enrolment rates at primary schools are typically lower for girls, and their proportion continues to drop off as they move through secondary and tertiary education.

Fortunately, in South Africa things have become more equal. For instance, female enrolment at higher education institutions has steadily increased over the years, reaching parity with males in 2001.

This does not mean, however, that the plight of the girl child has improved much. Even though they have better access to education, the ability to take advantage of this right is sabotaged by a multitude of factors that have an impact on their lives as a whole. This has caused a situation where, despite virtually equal enrolment rates, girls have a much higher drop-out rate than boys.

The girl child's reality

The girl child is subjected to the worst results of historical injustice and current social prejudice, particularly in the rural areas of South Africa.

One of the most critical realities that she faces is the horrendous rate of violence and harassment against women and girls. This can have huge ramifications for the girl child, not only psychologically but also for her education. The psychological effects of harassment or rape are long lasting. These can in turn manifest in the classroom, including the inability to concentrate and social withdrawal. Then there is the high rate of teenage pregnancy, which is related to the sexual violence incidence. Many young girls are left with children that they have to raise, even though they themselves are mere children. This is a significant contributor to school drop-outs.

There are other factors that prevent the girl child from getting the most out of educational opportunities. Poverty is a serious obstacle, not only in the sense of being able to afford education, but in a much deeper way. With poverty generally comes some form of malnourishment. This prevents optimal development in a child, which can lead to later learning problems.

Of course it can truthfully be said that poverty affects boys too, but the unfortunate reality is that poverty has a far greater impact on women than on men. Girls are disproportionally affected by cultural and economic issues, and are also responsible for domestic duties from an early age.

HIV/AIDS has also had a severe impact on girl child education. There has been an increase in child-headed families, due to AIDS fatality rates among the previous generation – and the responsibility for looking after the family falls disproportionately to the girl child.

Other, perhaps more subtle, conditions contribute to the challenges that the girl child faces in education. Relatively simple issues to solve, like a lack of sufficient sanitary facilities, negatively affect the girl child's educational experience.

What to do for the girl child

This is admittedly not an easy problem to solve. It's clear that the challenge of educating the girl child is a societal one, requiring interventions and development in many diverse areas. We need to put in a concerted effort across all levels of society so that the girl child can start to derive the most out of her education.

In many ways, solving the issues that girl children face requires solving the issues that our country as a whole faces. However, as we do this, it's important to remember that the girl child faces additional challenges that need to be squarely addressed. In essence, the challenge of the girl child is also the challenge of all women in our society today.

Let's start a conversation. Let me know what you think here or connect with me on Twitter (@EduloanSA)