Inclusivity a key focus for the future of education in South Africa

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"Good teachers are true game changers for quality and equitable education"
"Good teachers are true game changers for quality and equitable education"

Teaching for All, an initiative focused on promoting inclusive education in South Africa through material and teacher development, hosted a digital conference on the topic of inclusive education in South Africa on 6 August 2020.

Embracing the premise that "all children have the ability to learn and have the right to a quality education, and every child matters and matters equally" the project’s mandate is to highlight the need for inclusive education and emphasise its importance in determining the future success of learners and the education sector as a whole in South Africa.

Hosted by Maps Maponyane and streamed on the British Council’s Sub-Saharan African YouTube channel and Zoom to over 1000 combined participants across both platforms, the aim of the conference was to engage with the next generation of school teachers on inclusive education issues and advocate for inclusive education by discussing the roles, responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that teachers currently face, especially when it comes to remote teaching.

Bernard Rey, Head of Cooperation at the European Union in South Africa, the project funders, gave a congratulatory message.

"Good teachers are true game changers for quality and equitable education," he said. "From the EU’s investment in this project, we are satisfied with what it has been achieved, and that the Teaching for All project has developed research and material to concretely support South African universities in equipping passionate teachers with the readiness to support any child, irrespective of challenges."

Programme Manager at Teaching for All, Joanne Newton, said the webinar provided an opportunity to mark the project’s successes over the past four years, as well as allow participating university students to share their insights on inclusive education in South Africa.

"We see teachers as key change agents, playing a pivotal role in transforming South Africa’s education system into one that is inclusive, equitable and quality-driven. Learners face several challenges such as the language of instruction, socio-economic circumstances, and learning or cognitive differences."

"We feel that the education system must be one that recognises and responds effectively to learner diversity, provides dignity and ensures better outcomes for all learners, particularly the marginalised," she added.

Keynote speaker and former chair and current Professor of Inclusive Education at the University of South Africa (UNISA), Professor Nareadi Phasha, said that the movement towards inclusive education in schools is gaining momentum worldwide and that she has no doubt that inclusivity will characterise schools in the coming decades.

"Inclusive education is socially justified as it promotes respect and dignity. Instilling this in schools will be an effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes and creating welcoming communities, building inclusive societies and achieving quality education. Further, the movement goes beyond physical access and includes access to educational materials," she added.

Phasha said the provision of access to quality education is expected to break the cycle of many problems, including poverty and mortality rates, as well as reducing the rate of HIV infection.

"While much attention has been placed on physical access to schools, active engagement and participation in the classroom has been negated. This is often the case with a child that lacks resources, has a low literacy rate or does not understand the work being taught due to a language barrier. This, in turn, can be exacerbated by factors such as teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence, which often lead to an increase in learner absenteeism."

Phasha highlighted three aspects of African traditional culture that are fundamental to inclusive education.

They include humanness - being treated as equal and with dignity, irrespective of attributes; interdependence - being an integral part of a society and community; and communalism - which implies that the community is more important than the individual.

The latter suggests that the responsibility of educating children should not be shifted onto one person such as the teacher, but should be the collective effort of many carers – in alignment with the African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child".

When asked about the greatest challenges for inclusive education in South Africa, webinar participants agreed that the lack of resources, as well as attitudes, are amongst the major issues that need to be addressed.

The event concluded with a panel discussion amongst learners currently studying education at their respective tertiary institutions. They all agreed that there is a need to acknowledge and accept diversity in the classroom, and thus promote inclusivity.

Various obstacles to promoting inclusive education were highlighted, such as a lack of technology and data to enable remote teaching, especially in the current state of lockdown, and introverted learners being unable to approach the teachers for help.

With the Covid-19 pandemic compelling educators to change their way of teaching, participants explored whether South Africa’s education authorities should place greater emphasis on home learning alternatives in the future.

University of Fort Hare student, Portia Lerato Jafter, said while the idea may seem plausible, it comes with its own challenges.

"For a number of children, particularly in rural areas, this may not be possible due to a lack of resources such as technologies to enable online learning, as well as the fact that they may require input and guidance from elders in the household, which they may not have access to." 

Tshwane University of Technology student, Gift Tshepo Mogobane, said that the burden of ensuring adequate resources to drive effective inclusive education while engaging in home learning should not only be the responsibility of the teacher, but a cooperative effort by everyone in the community to ensure that learners are guided to reach their full learning potential.

Ultimately, it was agreed that success depends on the attitudes of inclusivity and the drive for teachers to ensure their students are included.

And while there are still a number of obstacles and challenges that the education system will be faced with, Teaching for All is taking a step in the right direction of addressing one of the most pressing topics in ensuring quality education for all – inclusivity over anything else.

By the end of 2020, the Teaching for All module will be in place at Unisa and will reach more than 50% of graduating teachers.

In addition, it will be integrated at 15 universities across the country and translated in five languages, as well as braille. In-service training is currently being undertaken in six provinces.

To find out more about Teaching for All, visit www.britishcouncil.org.za

Submitted to Parent24 by Teaching for All

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