SA Journal of Education, Vol 35, No 3 (2015)

Enacting understanding of inclusion in complex contexts: classroom practices of South African teachers

Petra Engelbrecht, Mirna Nel, Norma Nel, Dan Tlale


While the practice of inclusive education has recently been widely embraced as an ideal model for education, the acceptance
of inclusive education practices has not translated into reality in most mainstream classrooms. Despite the fact that education
policies in South Africa stipulate that all learners should be provided with the opportunities to participate as far as possible in
all classroom activities, the implementation of inclusive education is still hampered by a combination of a lack of resources
and the attitudes and actions of the teachers in the classroom. The main purpose of this paper was to develop a deeper
understanding of a group of South African teachers’ personal understanding about barriers to learning and how their
understanding relates to their consequent actions to implement inclusive education in their classrooms. A qualitative research
approach placed within a cultural-historical and bio-ecological theoretical framework was used. The findings, in this paper,
indicate that the way in which teachers understand a diversity of learning needs is based on the training that they initially
received as teachers, which focused on a deficit, individualised approach to barriers to learning and development, as well as
contextual challenges, and that both have direct and substantial effects on teachers’ classroom practices. As a result, they
engage in practices in their classrooms that are less inclusive, by creating dual learning opportunities that are not sufficiently
made available for everyone, with the result that every learner is not able to participate fully as an accepted member of their
peer group in all classroom activities.

doi: 10.15700/saje.v35n3a1074

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