Each learner has unique characteristics and learning problems. One of the teacher’s main tasks is to identify those characteristics and problems (diagnosis) and create appropriate learning conditions (treatments) which will enable that individual to reach required levels of competence. (Thomas, A, 1998, p3) Learners with special educational needs include all learners who struggle to learn due to barriers in their lives. The government has adopted the policy of Inclusive education in South Africa, meaning that all children should be included at all mainstream schools (as far as possible). In order to understand how learners with special educational needs are catered for in mainstream schools an understanding of Inclusive education in South Africa in necessary.
What is inclusive education in a South African context? The book, Inclusive Education in Action in South Africa, states that:
Inclusive education can be defined as a system of education that is responsive to the diverse needs of learners.(Engelbrecht et al., 1999 p19) This is a very broad definition and it does not specify what this means for teaching and learning. It is stated in the same book that:
The NCSNET / NCESS report provides sufficient clarity in this regard:
The separate systems of education which presently exist (“special” and “ordinary”) need to be integrated to provide one system which is able to be recognised and respond to the diverse needs of the learner population. Within this integrated system, a range of options for education provision and support services should be provided. This operational definition thus speaks of a single educational system and the closure of the dual special ordinary education system. It articulates the need for support services which ensure a range of options for the provision for education. The support systems will include educators with specialised competencies, parents, community homes, community based transportation, NGO’s, lay community resources, and dedicated posts of personnel in all sections of the education departments.(Engelbrecht et al., 1999 p19) This definition is more comprehensive as it describes what is needed in order for inclusive education to be effective. It describes the underlying principles that are so important and on which this system is based. Only when the community plays an active role in facilitating all learners will the system work. Employing this system in schools is a way of getting everyone ready for life and the understanding that we need to accept, respect and appreciate individual differences as an important part of living.
Clearly, mainstreaming is different from Inclusion education as inclusion is about creating a permanent, inclusive environment that caters for all learners:
Inclusive Education is defined as a learning environment that promotes the full personal, academic and professional development of all learners irrespective of race, class, gender, disability, religion, culture, sexual preference, learning styles and language.’ (NCSNET/NCESS 1998) The emphasis in Inclusive education is on overcoming barriers in the system that prevent it from meeting the full range of learning needs, whereas mainstreaming focuses on the learner with the problem. In Inclusion education the focus is on adapting support systems available to the child.
Barriers to learning Barriers to learning could be social, emotional, physical or any other kind. Inclusive educators need to be aware of the possible barriers experienced by learners. Only then, will Inclusive education be meaningful as the educators address and minimize these barriers and eradicate the problem as far as possible. .
Anything that may stand in the way or prevent the learner to fully participate and learn effectively can thus be seen as a barrier to learning. WCED p 13 It is important to remember that barriers are not necessarily a constant factor but can arise quite suddenly due to a number of different factors.
Barriers to learning can be divided into four groups:
These are four very broad categories and issues. Conditions like oppositional behaviour and syndromes are not mentioned here. Barriers to learning can exist in a combination of two or more.
The purpose of classifying and identifying these barriers to learning is so that the educator may address them. In Inclusive education the learner is at the heart of the process and the educator is there to help the learner develop to the best of his/her individual ability. Barriers need to be dealt with and attention should be on finding ways to minimize and eventually eradicate them.
Lack of basic and appropriate learning support materials
Lack of assistive devices
Inadequate facilities at schools
Lack of mother tongue educators
The inadequate supply of suitable resources is sometimes indicative of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race and disability that can exist within a community.
The language used by the educator, in the classroom, can also be a barrier because some learners will be receiving input/instructions in a second or even a third language. Now obviously if the child does not know what to do his motivation will lag and his output will be disappointing.
‘Low expectations, lack of cultural peers and discrimination experienced by these learners, contribute further to their breakdown of learning.’ (WCED, p 13)
SOCIETAL BARRIERS The issues listed below are instrumental to a large variety of barriers experienced by many learners in South Africa.
Gangs/Violence in neighbourhoods and at home
Gender Issues in cultural groups and society
In South Africa sustained poverty is characteristic of many families of underprivileged communities. According to Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs, the basic physical needs of nutrition and shelter must be provided for before moving to the higher stage of emotional well being. Many learners lack these basic needs such as well as water, electricity and toilets meaning their environments are unhealthy and these learners are unable to flourish.
Unfortunately, many of these learners leave school to find jobs and provide supplementary income. It then becomes a vicious cycle of leaving school, limited skills, increase in the unemployment rate, poorly paid workers and on-going poverty.
I was very happy to discover that the school I was at during my practical teaching experience is aimed at eradicating poverty in communities. Through a system of running parent education programmes they are supporting the community at large.
Lack of access to basic services is something that a lot of South Africans, especially in rural areas, experience. Public transport is poor and learners in wheelchairs are often turned away. Some learners experience access problems to basic medical treatment in clinics near their homes. Floods, fires and epidemics can also impact negatively on learners. In South Africa the HIV-Aids crisis has left many children without parents, having to take care of households and other siblings. Without support from the community these learners will become part of the ‘drop out’ statistics.
When a learner is physically, emotionally or sexually abused, the emotional and physical damage could cause frequent absences from school and sometimes eventually dropping out. Substance abuse leading to family breakdown could mean children leave home to live on the streets. Pregnant teenagers may decide to leave home and school to ‘look after’ themselves due to fear of being shunned by the community and peers. In South Africa the increased use of street drugs such, as ‘Tik’, is becoming a huge problem. These cheaper, easy to get drugs are highly addictive and can take literally take over a learners life and suffocate any ambition to learn.
In certain communities violence and crime are common elements of everyday life. Even in the learning environment the learners may not feel safe. The negative attitudes of peers, communities and teachers to these learners are detrimental to the learning process. Their self-esteem suffers and they are not eager to participate in educational activities. Many home schooling parents feel that these undesirable elements present in school are reasons to home school.
Insufficient support of educators, inappropriate and unfair assessment procedures, and inflexible curriculum can cause barriers to learning. In order to accommodate all learners, educators must ensure that all learning styles are accommodated in the classroom. Ideally learners should be allowed to work at their own pace. Learners should not be excluded from subjects based on gender, religion or physical disabilities.
No matter which barrier learners experience, they all seem to struggle with:
Therefore it is the schools job to create conditions for all learners to succeed by:
Organizing teaching and learning in such a way that all learners can attain the outcomes.
Identifying and understanding barriers to learning and development and adapting learning assessment (WCED Pg 26)
If we look at individual learners with severe ‘problem’ areas and handicaps, it is obviously not the same as minor problems that can be handled with counselling and medication. Although these learners with minor problems could suffer from the side effects of medication or depression, this can be handled on a daily basis with the right intervention. It seems as though the government has placed these more manageable cases in the same class as severe cases where special facilities are crucial.
It is the role of the teacher to ensure that the ethos of the school is positive and accepting of all children. The curriculum must be dynamic instead of static, as the teacher evaluates her methods and activities continually. Unfortunately not all teachers have the tools and confidence to practice effective teaching methods when it comes to learners with special needs. In speaking with a mother who has a child who is severely mentally and physically handicapped, she was of the opinion that no one could educate her child the way she did. She stated that no one knows her child the way she does, and whereas she would never even consider home schooling her younger more sociable child, she believes she is the only one with enough patience and time to teach her handicapped child on an individual basis.
I spoke to other parents of children with special needs who felt that there are various non-mainstream schools that cater for their children’s individual disabilities, they are happy to send their children here. These same parents when asked about sending their children to mainstream schools, objected vehemently and said that in the case of conventional mainstream schooling, they would rather home school.
It has been said that home schooling is especially suited to children with special needs, such as children with an exceptionally high or exceptionally low IQ; or children with special talents, such as being gifted in music and sport; or children with special learning needs. This is something that I respect and therefore I can understand that in terms of learners with Special Educational Needs home schooling is an appealing option.
Chapter 5: Questions regarding home school (See Apendix B for a copy of interview questions)
The following are the interviews from which I based many of my thoughts about Home School. I have included my own perceptions regarding the comments made by the Home Schooling Parents.
Please state your name (optional) and where you live. (Cape Town) Dawn Marias: DM
Teresa Dennis: TD
(B.Prim.Ed. cum laude)
Jenny Needham: JN
Jaqui Badenhorst: JB
1. What are your reasons for doing home school? DM: Excellent form of education.
Anon:Low standards in school, undue pressure to perform, content of school subjects, undesirable elements related to too much peer interaction, want my children to adopt our family values, not others problems.
TD: We home educate because we felt a deep conviction from the Lord to keep our children near, to ensure our family remained united and to train up our children in the way they should go so that when they were old they would not depart from it. We also wanted to grow our children in Godly character and within our value system according to our faith. We also wanted our children to love learning.
JN: Varied, inter alia:
One child severely compromised through teacher mismanagement in the public school system, in the foundation phase.
A desire to impart constructive values not shared in the system.
Removing our children from the negative influences of peer pressure.
To remove them from the presence of drugs, smoking, foul language and other inappropriate behaviours as minors.
To expose them to effective and appropriate disciplinary measures, encouraging them to face the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for themselves.
To encourage a love of learning and offer a superior, practical, hands-on learning efficacy.
The need to train effective entrepeneurship and social awareness in SA today.
To build family unity and raise family values.
JB: Really just because we can. I am a home based mum, and the curriculum is available, so we decided to give it a bash.
K: We not only want to raise our children in a Godly way, but we also want to give them a Christ-centred education. Secondly, having come from a teaching background myself. I feel that educating children in a small group is far more effective than educating them in a large group.
It seems as though most of my interviewees have chosen home school because they feel that it is the best mode of education for their children. The pitfalls in the school system are highlighted; things like big groups, peer pressure and negative influences are mentioned. More than two of my interviewees have taught in the school system and have critically assessed the problems which exist in schools.
2. How many children do you home school? (Please specify if they are your own) DM: 2 at present, both my own children
Anon: I have 4 but only 3 are school going age, all my own.
TD: Theoretically you may not “home-school” children who are not your own, you would need to register as a “cottage school” with the Department. We home educate our three children aged 15, 14 and 8.
JN: We home-educate our own three children, aged 15(F), 14(M) and 10(M).
JB: Our son, one
K: Two – both our own.
All these interviewees home school their own children. The definition of home school varies from person to person but it is generally accepted that home schooling parents educate their own children outside a mainstream school.
3. What is your definition of home school? DM: Educating one’s own children or taking responsibility for it. Anon: Develop the learning tools of maths, reading and writing
Help my children to discover their passions which will lead to a life vocation.
To develop high standards of work and a good work ethic, knowing that whatever they do trains them in character and perseverance.
Train them to have hearts that seek the Lord
Develop family fitness and exercise habits
Give them a strong family culture
To help them to be Godly men/husbands and women/wives Develop strength of character that they would without compromise seek God’s will for themselves.
To give them strength of faith so that they will not be swayed by popular culture.
TD: We do not see ourselves as “schooling” our children but rather as educating them, hence the use of home educate. We try to engage in a lifestyle of learning where we see every opportunity as a learning experience. Our first focus is on experiencing all that we learn in the light of our Creator who has created all that we are learning about, including mathematics and language. Emulating “school” at home will inevitably lead to burnout.
JN: To home-school is to effectively educate, teach life and social skills, and prepare one’s own children for their futures by identifying their strengths and aiming them in the right direction from an early age, in a safe and loving environment. JB: Education out of a mainstream school.
K: Firstly, I prefer not to refer to it as home school but rather as home education. The reason for this is that it should not be an exercise in re-creating school at home! We believe that education does not only come from books (and other media), although they form a very important part of a child’s education, but education is achieved through life’s experiences. It is especially important that when a child is young that these experiences are shared with a parent. Therefore, home education becomes a lifestyle, and not just a time of teaching/learning between set hours – i.e. home education is a lifestyle of learning.
It is evident that these parents see home schooling as something that they choose for their own children for different reasons. They have different descriptions of home school but they all agree that it is unconventional education that happens outside the mainstream system and in the home. They agree that home school is an education that happens through life experiences.
4. What is the history of home school in South Africa? (As far as you know) DM: Illegal until April 1998. Laws making it illegal rescinded then but no new laws on criteria or how to register with Department of Education yet in place.
Anon: Been going for about 20 years. Legally for 12, I think. Speak to Mr. Van Oostrum for more.
TD: Home education started in South Africa at least 20 years ago. There was a small number of families who petitioned the government during the compiling of the new Constitution which ensured parents had the right to keep their children at home to educate them. The schools act of 1999 also ensured that home education was an option parents could take regarding their children’s education – the other tow options being private or public education. Parents are required to register with their local Education Department. Home education has however grown considerably in the last 6 years.
JN: I believe that home-schooling has been around in an unofficial capacity for some time, but to the best of my knowledge, was legislated sometime in the past six years. It seems to be a growing trend, but a distrust of the government’s potentially negative influence seems to exist, resulting in many people choosing not to register with the education department. JB: Haven’t done any research
K: I am not sure.
Those who have researched agree that home school began approximately 20 years ago before it was legalised in South Africa. In my opinion more people practice home school than is documented.
5. Do you feel that people/parents who want to home school their children need a background or some input on educating the young child? (If so please specify) DM: Support very important as this seems to be the reason why most people give up. It also helps to keep people stimulated and focused on the needs of the child i.e. either the need to stop pressurizing too much or structure more etc.
Anon: No, I do not think they need any training, like teachers training or preschool training. But they have a responsibility to their children before God to make sure they are equipped for their task. The equipping is not only about how to teach the three R’s but to train the whole child through a direct personal relationship with them.
JN: A parent’s love and commitment, coupled with good material, is really all that is required. It is not so much an impartation of information, as it is a shared learning experience. As the educating parent cannot be out earning an income, it is important that both parents are committed to this choice. People who do so naturally tend to avail themselves of as much information as possible regarding teaching methods, materials and other aids. Formal teacher training prepares the educator for dealing with large numbers of children, requiring that they be conformed in order to be managed. In the home environment, the numbers are much lower, but ages vary and individual personalities come into play, resulting in less conformity and more creativity.
JB: I haven’t any qualifications, except a love for learning. I enjoy seeing him love learning. I need a base from which to work, and have chosen a curriculum that satisfies me with it’s content. I was worried I’d leave out basics, and often compare what we’re doing with what is being done in schools at the same age.
K: Not at all – after all, a parent knows their own child best and isn’t it the parent that has taught the child everything they know up until age 7 (school-going age) – more than half of what they will learn for the rest of their lives. Perhaps in later years, especially high school, parents may need some assistance in the subjects that they have not mastered themselves, e.g. Mathematics. Although, saying this, the curricula that are being used by home educators usually have excellent Parent Manuals available and are usually self-explanatory themselves.
It is a general consensus that parents wishing to home school their children do not require any kind of special training. The resources available to them are very good. These parents feel that they know their children’s learning style, personal interest and time constraints better than anyone else therefore enabling them to lay a strong foundation to base teaching and learning experiences on.
6. If a parent home schools their own children where do they draw the line between nurturing parent and teacher? DM: Does there need to be a line? I find that I do need time off but this would be true whatever my tasks. I certainly don’t feel the need to don a different persona in order to educate my children. I discipline them in the same way whether we are busy with an educational task or with recreation.
Anon: It is not separated. The two go hand in hand, separating it will only cause a “school” and limited learning time mentality. Home ed is an adventure for both parent and child and the whole time you interact with them it is nurturing and exposing them to thoughts and ideas around the world they see and people they meet and how to interact with these things. It is not a set of hats we wear interchanging them after 2pm!
TD: No line needs to be drawn. Parents are nurturing teachers of their children from when they are first born, this grows into nurturing mentors as their children mature. We are called to train up our children, which is what we do as we rely daily on the Lord for His guidance, wisdom and discernment.
JN: Home-education is a lifestyle. Every opportunity is used to full advantage both to nurture and educate on some level. No line need to be drawn to disassociate the two.