How parents can help schools become more inclusive, according to Nabeel Allie from 'A School Where I Belong'

Nabeel Allie
Nabeel Allie

I sit alongside Nabeel on a sunshiny September's day as he becomes more passionate about change with each question he answers. He is one of the wisest young minds I've come across.

Nabeel Allie – affectionately known as "Beelo to coloured people and Nabs to white people" – is an avid reader and writer. Schooled in Cape Town and graduated with an honours in history at the University of Cape Town, he is committed to equitable, socially just and decolonised education at all levels. Shameless plug: he also has a blog called Dog's Ear where he reviews books.

I asked Nabeel a few questions relating to inclusivity, as discussed in A School Where I Belong. This is what he had to say: 

1. What does an inclusive school mean to you?

An inclusive school means a school where everyone is accepted, everyone feels welcome and a part of the structure of the school. An inclusive school is a school that caters to a student body that is heterogeneous – that doesn’t all live the same life or come from the same place and have the same religious or cultural backgrounds. An inclusive school is one that works hard to include everyone.

2. Do you think there has been any progression in terms of inclusivity in schools?

Integration of multiple races among the learners usually happens in richer schools. A classic case in Cape Town is black learners going to former coloured schools. Has anything been done in terms of inclusivity? I think absolutely. In terms of policies, subjects and that sort of thing.

I mean, if you go to a white school, they offer Xhosa, but who’s taking the subject? So in one way you could say they offer a subject that’s inclusive but in another way you could say the rugby stands are fuller than the class. It’s like a plague of South Africa: good policy, bad implementation. Good constitution, bad rights, etc. It would be a lie to say nothing’s been done, but is it good enough? Nah, not for me.

3. You’ve been vocal about white privilege in schools before. What does that entail?

In terms of a high school context, white privilege entails speaking the language first and foremost. The power to speak English is unparalleled in South Africa, especially if you speak English a certain way. What comes with it is a culture of dressing, of lifestyle, of sport especially. Sport is a weird way that schools police kids. 

Involvement, what does it take to be included in the school community? What do parents have to do? What do you as a learner have to do? White privilege is incredibly subtle because when you’re a kid, the only thing you’re concerned with is being a kid and you want to do whatever your friends are doing.

It's difficult to see, unless it's blatant. When you're a kid you don’t think about the fact that a teacher gave you a nickname, perhaps. Sometimes, as black people we police ourselves, that’s an extension of white privilege, but in a school where you’re a minority as a black person it affects the way you cut your hair, the way you talk, it just invades your whole body.

4. You've mentioned that inclusivity is about more than just acknowledging your privilege. What do you think the next step should be?

For me, this is truly one of the greatest conundrums because I don't know what people can plausibly and realistically do once they know they have privilege. Some people have an existential crisis, others donate their money, but I don't think we've come to an agreement about what works.

Regardless, whatever people do with their privilege needs to be sustainable: sustainable growth, transformation and so on. I honestly, honestly believe that South Africa should embark on a national consultation process (akin to the parliamentary ones that toured the country regarding land expropriation). Some people want war, some people want dialogue, some people want action with consequences. We'll never know until we all sit down. This country spends so much money on education and it needs to reevaluate how it spends that money.

5. Who do you think has the influence to affect inclusivity in schools? Parents, schooling staff or both?

Everyone, I would include learners in there as well. The way a school works is so simple: the school board of governors has the power to hire teachers, the power to fire teachers, and the power to hire a new principal. The principal essentially runs the school and teachers are an extension of that, parents form part of the governing body... so there are parents, teachers and school learners on the governing body.

Each school in the country has two learners on the governing body, that’s the RCL [representative council of learners]. That school learner’s vote is just as important and just as valid and carries as much weight as a parent, as a teacher, as a headmaster, and that’s a result of anti-apartheid struggle that didn’t exist pre ’94.

As a result of school protests, the Soweto uprising, we’ve got SRCs [students' representative council] in schools now, which is often underutilised. People view the SRC as just “prefect juniors” and they’re not. So on one level, kids could get involved. Parents can be involved for sure, but then you have to ask how schools ensure parents are involved.

6. How can parents initiate inclusivity at home and how does that affect them in the schooling environment?

It’s important to remember that a lot of parents are damaged – in their psyche. They emerge out of one of the worst times in history. How do parents create inclusive schools? We have to ask, are parents inclusive in themselves? Parents, just like teachers, just like school kids, are people who can learn things.

Parents need to work on themselves if they want to work on their kids. Parents can get involved in schools. I would encourage schools to make sure the board of governor elections are available for everyone.

One thing I always say is that parent-teacher meetings that happen maybe once or twice a year, every parent should go to it without fail. I would say that when you’re at that meeting, the school needs to ensure that the board of governors’ voting happens at that meeting so that you have as many parents as possible who can say, “How come that person’s been on the board of governors for 10 years and all that’s happened in the school is x, y and z.”

Also, if parents feel a job is being done badly then they must nominate themselves [to be on the board], otherwise you’re just hot air, you know? 

A school where I belong

7. When you were in high school, what do you wish was implemented in order to make the schooling environment more inclusive?

I wish that my school changed the admissions policy because they hide behind a lot, they come up with the catchment area argument. If you apply to a school and they say "no", even if your kid has good marks, even if you’ve got the money, they’ll say you’re outside the catchment area. Supposedly the catchment area is the area surrounding the school and if people live in that area, you are eligible to attend the school. It’s not in the constitution. It’s like a golf club mentality [looking for reasons to exclude people].

Another thing I would’ve liked to see changed is the [practice that] if you had a sibling at the school, father, mother or whatever was at the school, then you could go to the school. Why? For what reason? Your genetic predisposition enables you to attend the school. That’s BS, I think all schools should change it. Unless your child is inescapably different to the values of the school, I don’t know. Schools need to take away the nepotism one hundred percent. They need to stop privileging people who live in the area when there are people who work thrice as hard.

8. Besides race, what other forms of inclusivity should be introduced in schools?

I’ve gone back to my school a couple of times and because the kids are just kids, you don’t wanna tell a coloured kid or a black kid who are without a doubt a minority in the school that they are being excluded. I don’t think that you can tell them “people are being racist to you.” If they don’t believe it, they don’t believe it.

I’m not going to say, “This kid over here thinks that because you are this colour, you are x, y and z.” However, the influence, the reality, the impact and the pervasiveness of patriarchy and rape culture, especially at boys’ schools – because I went to a boy’s school – is mad, it’s so mad. Things like feminism at boys’ schools is extremely taboo.

9. Do you think there should be a governmental mandate to make schools more inclusive?

There should be a governmental mandate for that, but the thing is, this government throws so much money at schools – among the most in the world – but still can’t get it right. I think a lot of that has to do with staff because they retain a lot of old apartheid teachers, some of whom are black, white, coloured, who weren’t trained properly as black or coloured teachers or don’t understand the realities of what South African kids need now, inside the classroom and outside the classroom. It’s not just about passing, you’ve got to go home to a certain background, to a certain area, have got to survive there, got to do all sorts of things there.

Workshops for teachers are a major key, but if you go to a workshop at a certain place or at your school but you’re not seeing that translated into wherever, then it’s like “I just came for a workshop this term, see you next term.” It’s like, did you come here to fill up time or did you come here to sincerely help people?

Check out A School Where I Belong for information on the book, blog, workshops and more.

What do you wish was implemented at your school to make it more inclusive? Let us know by emailing us at and we could publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

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