Inclusive education a decade after democratisation: the educational needs of children with disabilities in KwaZulu-Natal
Commitment to a single, inclusive education system has been the aspiration of reform in education in a democratic South Africa. The dilemma facing the democratically elected government was to write educational policy which, when translated into practice, would improve the educational standards offered to students in impoverished schools while at the same time allow the maintenance of the high standards achieved in schools which had been privileged under the apartheid system. There was, furthermore, the challenge of providing a curriculum that would be meaningful to students from diverse backgrounds bearing in mind the socio-historical moment within which education found itself.Research on inclusive education in the developed world has been extensive. There has been less research completed in developing world countries. Situated in the Pietermaritzburg area of KwaZulu‐Natal (KZN), South Africa, a developing world country, participants in the current study were parents of children with disabilities, aide workers, regular and special educators, managers who made decisions affecting the education of these children, and the children themselves. The research is positioned in the theory of interpretivism which provided the opportunity to give a voice to the participants, to interpret how they made sense of their world. The methodology used was qualitative description with an evaluation component. Qualitative description allowed the discovery and understanding of "a phenomenon, a process, or the perspectives and worldviews of the people involved" (Merriam, 1998, p. 11). Data are presented so that the participants' point of view could be understood and made explicit (Artinian, 1988). Using qualitative description, this current study explored the beliefs about disability and inclusive education specifically of stakeholders in the education of disabled children. The evaluation component provided the means of ascertaining the extent to which disabled students were having their educational needs met, and the extent to which the policy ideals of inclusive education, as articulated in White Paper 6 (Department of Education, 2001), were being achieved.Inclusive education in this present study is viewed as a multifaceted construct which shares a reciprocal relationship with various theoretical determinants. The determinants considered in the present study are (a) concept of other, (b) disability discourse, (c) equity, (d) reconceptualist/incrementalist approaches to inclusive education, and (e) prerequisites for regular and special educator buy-in.Findings revealed that there was evidence of inclusive education beginning to be implemented in KZN in that barriers to learning for many students were being addressed and removed. The specific provision in policy documents directed towards children with disabilities was behind schedule, however, and there was little evidence of full inclusion of students with disabilities in regular education. Reasons for this were multiple and were explored in relation to criteria at a macro- and micro-level, distilled from the literature, which seem to be necessary for the successful inclusion of students with disabilities.The most significant macro-level factors were (i) the legacy of apartheid and the democratic process, moving towards a liberal democracy, still being in progress; (ii) the discourse around disability espoused by the majority of the population resulting in high levels of ostracism of the disabled; and (iii) the disabled becoming lost in the wide definition of need in the barriers to learning approach to inclusive education.The most significant micro-level factors were (i) regular educators being reluctant to embrace the inclusive education initiative because of problems they had encountered with another recent initiative, the implementation of Outcomes Based Education; (ii) special educators fearing for their students if they were to be included without the requisite preparation and support; and (iii) some parents lacking the efficacy to access education of any sort for their disabled children.These macro- and micro-level findings exist within a multifaceted array of factors, an intricate web of nuances and complexity.