Inclusive educationSouth 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 educationInclusive 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 educationWe 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.
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