Educators' experiences of inclusive learning contexts : an exploration of competencies
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The successful implementation of an inclusive education system relies heavily on educators, since they engage daily in reciprocal interactions with learners. The implementation of an inclusive education system in South Africa was part of the educational reforms that occurred after 1994. Inclusive education promotes the full personal, academic and proficient development of all learners and is based on values such as human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedom. Although most educators were only trained for either mainstream education or specialised education, they now had to cope not only with the diverse challenges posed by individual learner barriers, but also with broader systemic issues such as non-protective legislation and policy, cultural prejudice, inaccessible and unsafely built infrastructure, and lack of parental involvement. The complexity of the interactive relationships between different systems such as learners, educators, families, schools and the learning context were recognised and therefore the ecosystemic perspective was applied. The purpose of the research was to explore the experiences of educators in ordinary schools regarding the challenges involved in inclusive learning contexts, and to identify the competencies that they apply to deal with some of these challenges. A qualitative research design was chosen, using a case study to obtain an in-depth understanding of educators' experiences in a specific context. The study was conducted in the North-West province at Klerksdorp Secondary School. The school is characterised by its cultural diversity among educators and learners. Various contextual and micro systemic barriers that threatened an enabling learning environment were observed. Seven educators, one male and six female, participated in the research after ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee of the University, the Department of Education, the Head of the school as well as the individual participants. Participants were involved in the research through purposive sampling. Three methods of gathering data were used in this research, namely written assignments that were completed by the participants; in-depth follow-up interviews and a focus group with all the participants. Thematic content analysis was used to identify themes and subthemes in the educators' descriptions of their experiences. The findings indicated that educators demonstrated competencies that enabled them to support learners and initiate and form collaborative relationships in an inclusive learning environment. The competencies associated with supporting learners included unconditional acceptance, focussed observations, adaptation and flexibility and motivating and encouraging learners to achieve. The competencies associated with the initiation and forming of collaborative relationships included involving parents in the learning process and forming collaborative relationships with colleagues. The findings clearly indicated that although educators had not received formal training in dealing with learners challenged with barriers to learning, they intuitively explored various ways of co-creating enabling learning contexts. Various implications for the Department of Education and school management teams are suggested. The Department of Education's training policy should acknowledge teachers' existing competencies. Educators should form part of advisory committees that could advise the Department of Education about the development of inclusive learning contexts. School management teams and institutional support teams could emphasise collective planning for inclusion so that educators' expertise is explored and further developed.
- Humanities