2018 World Education Research Association – Symposium on Special Needs Education in SA – UJ contribution

At the 2018 World Education Research Association congress in Cape Town, a symposium was held on ‘Promoting special needs education and the implementation of inclusive education policy in South Africa.’ Ronel Ferreira from the University of Pretoria chaired the session which included contributions from UP, WITS, UJ and UCT.

Effective implementation of inclusive education policy remains a worldwide concern, necessitating on-going research and teacher training. In this symposium we elaborated the four research projects focusing on the promotion of special needs education and implementation of inclusive education policy in South Africa, through the enrichment of teacher training. These projects form part of an international drive, funded by the European Union, in collaboration with the Department of Higher Education and Training. Despite South African policy requiring the implementation of inclusive education, it is concerning that many teachers do not feel sufficiently equipped to teach inclusively. In promoting policy implementation, research has been undertaken in the fields of specialised teaching for children who are visually impaired, children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, and children presenting with neurological difficulties and complex, profound disabilities. The four research projects are driven by core teams at four higher education institutions in South Africa, yet in collaboration with peers at other higher education institutions as well as stakeholders and experts in the various fields. An inclusive approach to the various projects has allowed for sound established networks and the participation of national and international experts. The ultimate aim of the projects is to develop and enrich teacher training programmes and better equip current and prospective teachers to implement inclusive education policy, both in specialised and full-service schools.

Dr Helen Dunbar-Krige and Dr Jean Fourie from the University of Johannesburg presented a conceptual paper focusing on in-service teacher training programmes for supporting neurodevelopmental diversity in South African schools. Since the formalisation of inclusive education there are more learners in all schools displaying neurodevelopmental deficits and educators require skillful competence to identify, assess and support these learners. Training programmes need to teach teachers how to differentiate the curriculum, adapt classroom practices and individualise learning plans. Designing special needs teacher training programmes required negotiating conflicting paradigmatic views; rigorously deliberating unit content and material choices; rethinking blended learning, and careful framing of indigenous knowledges around health, illness and disability. Teacher training needs to show teachers how to support diverse learners, how to work collaboratively with multi-disciplinary teams, how to work with multi-cultural parent communities and with professionals to support neurodevelopmental diversity in learners.