Exploring the implementation of inclusive education in the pinetown district school

A case study of learners' experiences and teacher' perceptions about the classroom environment at a selected school

Master's Thesis, 2009
136 Pages


Table of Contents

Title page





Chapter 1: Background to the study
1.1. Rationale of the study
1.2. Problem statement
1.3. What the thesis presents
1.3.1. Learners’ experiences within the classroom
1.3.2. Teachers’ role in facilitating inclusion
1.3.3. Relationship between learning and development
1.4. Focus and purpose of the study
1.5. Key research questions
1.6. Arrangement of the chapters

Chapter 2: Research findings underpinning the study
2.1. Introduction
2.2. Inclusion
2.3. Learning experiences
2.4. Learning environments

2.5. Inclusive education
2.6. Parental involvement in inclusive education
2.7. Conclusion

Chapter 3
Section A: Conceptual and Theoretical considerations
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Inclusion within the classroom
3.3. Asset-Based theory within Social Constructivism
Section B: Research design and Methodology
3.4. Research methodology
3.5. Research design
3.5.1. Research field
3.5.2. Participants
3.5.3. Data collection techniques Focus group interviews Semi-structured interviews
3.5.4. Process of data analysis
3.5.5. Trustworthiness
3.5.6. Ethical consideration
3.6. Conclusion

Chapter 4: Findings
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Social interaction within the classroom context

4.3. Learners’ classroom experiences
4.3.1. Interaction and relationships amongst learners
4.3.2. Learners account of their experiences during the learning 77-82 process Inequalities within the classroom Learner support during the learning process
4.4. Capacity development for teachers and learning resources
4.5. Conclusion

Chapter 5: Conclusion and Recommendations
5.1. Conclusion
5.2. Recommendations



Appendix 1 Interview schedule

Appendix 2 Focus group interview schedule

Appendix 3 Informed consent letter (Learners)

Appendix 4 Participation letter (teachers)

Appendix 5 Letter to the school

Appendix 6 Approval of ethical clearance

Appendix 7 Letter: Department of education

List of figures

Figure 1 Benefits of inclusion within the classroom

Figure 2 Scaffold learning model

Figure 3 The stages of Asset-based approach to intervention


The study intends to contribute to successful implementation of Inclusive Education in South African Schools, by exploring learners’ experiences within the classroom and teachers views about the classroom environment. A combination of these two factors will indicate the extent how far inclusive education is being implemented in the classrooms.

The school that was selected to participate in this study is located in the semi-rural area in Pinetown district. Learners participated in three focus group sessions. These sessions aimed at gathering data on learners’ experiences within classroom environment. Each group consisted of eight learners; that is, four males and four females. Focus group one was selected from grade seven; the second focus group from grade eight and the third group from grade nine.

The class teachers of the selected classes were requested to take part in the interview sessions. The sessions intended to gather information on teachers’ views about classroom environment and how it impacts on their implementation of Inclusive education.

The study reveals that in South Africa the problem of inclusive curriculum implementation still exists and need special attention

from all stake holders involved in education. What learners experience in the classroom result from how teachers conduct their practice. It is also evident that teachers have not been properly prepared for a paradigm shift and implementation of inclusive curriculum.

As a result teaching practice has not change to accommodate the requirements of inclusive education. Consequently, the losers in the process are the learners, as they continuously have negative experiences within the classroom which causes barriers to learning.


1.1. Rationale of the study

School buildings that existed during the previous apartheid education system still exist, and little has been done to change the classroom design to fit in with the new education system. It is worthwhile finding out how the classroom environment has been organized and designed to deal with change arising from the transition from an apartheid education system to an inclusive education system, rooted in democratic values such as social justice and inclusion, within the South African context.

The problem is that inclusive education was introduced and gazetted in South Africa at the introduction of democracy in 1994, yet teachers, including myself, are still finding difficulty in implementing inclusive education within the classroom. Consequently, I am interested in finding out how far inclusive education has been implemented in Pinetown district schools by exploring learners’ experiences and teachers’ perceptions about classroom environment.

1.2. Problem Statement

Large numbers of learners who experience learning difficulties and experiencing disability are included and are being accommodated in classrooms, hence, the context in which learning and teaching takes place requires a considerable change to cater for learners’ diverse needs within the classroom. Lomofsky, Roberts, and Mvambi, (1999) alluded to the above idea when stating that teaching has become more demanding and challenging to educators. This refers to the way the classroom environment is organized to include learners who have been marginalized by the previous education apartheid system.

How teachers deal with the situation and how they view the classroom context is a matter of concern in this study. The reason for such a concern is that, as stated by Green, Forrester, Mvambi, Janse Van Vuuren, and du Toit, (1999) teachers are the ones who make learning possible. Teachers are the implementers of the curriculum in the classroom. Their practice impacts on the experiences learners have of the classroom environment. In other words the exploration of learners’ experiences in this study will in turn give us an understanding of how teachers implement inclusive curriculum in the classroom and how teachers themselves view their practice within the classroom.

As human beings, teachers have certain beliefs, attitudes and skills which are important contributing factors to how they view the learning context and perform their duties. The statement made by Naidoo (2008) when reporting on the issue of teaching climate change in South African schools highlights the importance of educators’ perceptions and skills in the implementation of inclusive education.

The report states that a lack of knowledge amongst educators, and difficulties in implementing the new curriculum, are hampering efforts to educate South African learners about the global warming caused by climate change. The relevancy of Naidoo (2008) report to inclusion is that it points out the situation where learners are alienated from the curriculum.

This report raises the question of how inclusion is implemented in the classroom. I intend exploring answers to this question by listening to the voices of learners about how they experience learning within the classroom, and teachers’ views of how they deal with the issue of inclusion in the classroom.

I intend, in this study, to interrogate this situation by finding out what is happening in the classroom and examining how learners experience learning activities; what interactions and relationships prevail within the classroom; how teachers organize and view the classroom environment and how this learning space facilitates the implementation of inclusive education.

1.3. What the thesis presents

1.3.1. Learners experiences within classroom environment

The study presents learners’ experiences within the classroom. These experiences are viewed according to Lorenz's (2002) assertion that children bring to the classroom knowledge and skills that have been learnt from home and society. Considering this idea learners construct knowledge in the classroom by referring or building on the knowledge and skills learnt from home and their society. The knowledge the learner bring to school incorporates values and norms inherent in their society.

Moreover, Bennett and Dunne (2001) advocate the idea that what children learn in the classroom depends to a large extent on what they already know. These ideas indicate that learners do not come to school as clean slates but already possess knowledge on which formal education needs to build, to further develop the learner. Hence, education and activities taking place within the classroom has to accommodate the diverse experiences, norms and values the learner bring to the classroom. This notion is also echoed in Rowlands (2006) discussion on Vygotsky’s view that learning progresses from the known to the unknown. This idea originate from Vygotsky’s theory of learning, which states that the learner begins formal learning at school having some knowledge that was

acquired informally at home or in the community. Formal learning at school thus, progresses from what the learner already knows towards construction of new knowledge.

It is evident in Pritchard (2005) that learners have different styles of learning which need to be accommodated in their education. Pritchard (2005) states that there are different kinds of learners: visual learners; auditory learners; kinesthetic learners; extroverted learners; introverted learners; intuitive learners; thinking learners and feeling learners. Hence, the classroom community consists of individuals with different abilities and diverse learning needs. Recognition and accommodation of these special learning needs in the classroom is of paramount importance.

The learning environment is also a vital factor that needs serious attention, since it sets the scene for the type of experiences that occur during the learning process. Inclusion in the classroom in this study refers mainly to the accommodation of learners with special needs. How these different styles are accommodated within the curriculum (teaching and learning) implemented in the classroom is my main concern in this study. The learner is presented as an active agent in his or her own learning and development.

Lorenz (2002) exhibits the benefits of inclusion within the classroom. This description will enable me to show the products of inclusive classrooms emanating from the experiences that the

learner encounters as he or she is engaged in the inclusive learning process, that is, the learning process which caters for special learning needs within the classroom.

Hence, the learner acquires knowledge and skills through interacting with significant others (peers and teachers) and the classroom environment provide the context for learning. The relationships, communications and mediations that occur within the environment are important factors in the process of learning, since they assist the learner to develop knowledge and skills which the learner has already acquired towards new skills and the acquisition of new knowledge.

Figure 1: Benefits of inclusion within the classroom. Adapted from Lorenz (2002)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

According to the diagram above (1) the learner within the inclusive classroom environment acquires new skills; (2) develops independence in learning and behavior; (3) develops age- appropriate behavior and (4) develops friendly relations with peers in the classroom community. These factors have an important consequence in terms of nation building in South Africa, since the primary aim of education is to prepare learners to become fully functional, tolerant and peace-loving citizens of this country.

Karagiannis and Stainback (1996) stress this idea when pointing out that inclusion in education prepares learners for life in the community, and enables them to operate according to the social value of equality for all people, with the consequent results of enhancing social peace. Moreover, in integrated classrooms learners are enriched by having the opportunity to learn from one another, grow and care for one another and gain the attitudes, skills and values necessary for our community to support the inclusion of all citizens.

Hence, learning together and acquiring new skills through interaction with other learners develops independence in learning and behaviour. In this process learners also develop age- appropriate behaviour and social relations in the form of friendship with peers, thereby creating a healthy community in the classroom. These will in turn be translated to social relations in society when they become adults.

These developments occur as the learner interacts with knowledgeable others as he or she progresses through Vygotsky’s Zone of proximal Development (ZPD). The term ‘Zone’ in this theory refers to the space between that which a learner cannot do alone and that which he can do later with the help of capable others, such as peers or teachers. The tasks that are set for the learners to progress through the ZPD are those which a learner cannot do independently, but can do with the assistance of capable others. Thus, the classroom environment should provide conditions that will facilitate the optimum development of the learner, thereby ensuring that inclusive learning processes are effectively implemented.

Dwyer (2001) suggests that all kind of good learning may require an initial buzzing confusion, the opportunity to shuffle and search, to read and reflect, to argue and to express doubts. This process requires the teachers to tap learners’ intrinsic assets, such as values, interests and skills already mastered, and extrinsic assets like learning resources that are available in the classroom to stimulate higher achievements in learning tasks.

In Vygotsky’s terms, the implementation of inclusion requires mediation by teachers and capable others to enable learners to develop independence in learning behavior, and to develop healthy relationships with peers in the classroom (Vygotsky, 2001).

1.3.2. Teacher’s role in facilitating inclusion

Teachers are confronted by inequalities within the classroom, which Rose (2005) calls ‘the moral order in our classroom’. She argues that teachers are ill- prepared by their professional training to manage and to overcome these inequalities in the classroom. The findings of her study are that only a minority of learners are consistently able to engage actively in classroom activities, to respond successfully to teachers’ questions and to succeed in assessment tasks, while the majority of the group will fail to achieve these learning outcomes.

For this reason the relative position of learners within the classroom is unequal. Such inequalities are the result of the power of knowledge, to which some learners have full access while others have limited access due to learning barriers that exist in the classroom. This issue also extends to the teachers, since they possess knowledge; hence have authority and power within the classroom.

What then is the role of the teacher in facilitating inclusion in the classroom? Inclusion is about recognizing and respecting the differences and building on the similarities among learners, by overcoming the barriers within the classroom that prevent the meeting of the full range of learning needs (Department of Education, 2001).

I shall discuss the role of the teacher in the implementation of inclusion according to the Vygotskian model of social learning as portrayed by figure 2, which is adopted from Rose (2005). The diagram below illustrates that the learner comes to school with some abilities that have been learned at home and in society. The teacher in the inclusive classroom, together with the support from peers, assists the learner to develop until he or she reaches the independent competence where learners can tackle any task without the assistance from others.

In other words, the role of the teachers is to mediate the learning process and support the learner towards achieving the optimum level of his ability. In this process learners are given communal tasks. Through interaction with one another and their environment, learners will develop and learn new skills with the support and mediation by their teachers until they reach their optimum development, which Rose (2005) in figure 2 indicated as independent competency.

Figure 2: Scaffold learning model, equitable outcomes

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Moreover, the teacher’s role is to guide learners and give them support by providing ‘scaffolding’, which is, learning that moves up as the level of tasks operate at a higher level. Scaffolding supports all learners to do the same higher level tasks, but provides the greatest support for the weaker learners, thereby ensuring that inclusion in the learning process is implemented (Rose, 2005).

1.3.3. Relationship between learning and development

The position I have adopted in this study is that learning and development of the child are inseparable Bennett and Dunne (2001). In this sense, to affirm that learning has taken place is synonymous with the notion that development within the child has occurred. This idea is confirmed when considering that development can be viewed as the mastery of conditioned reflexes and so the process of learning is completely and inseparably blended with the process of development (Ackermann, 2001).

Pritchard (2005) pointed out the constructivists’ view of learning as the result of mental construction. That is, learning takes place when new information is built into and added onto an individual’s current structure of knowledge, understanding and skills.

Moreover, what the child can do without any assistance, reflecting the skills and knowledge that the learner brings to school, is indicative of the learner’s mental development, and points to experiences that have been acquired. Through interaction with peers and teachers during the learning process in the classroom, the learner acquires new skills and further develops holistically (mentally, emotionally and physically) during this process (Pettigrew & Akhurst, 1999).

1.4. Focus and purpose of the study

Firstly, the study focuses on learners’ experiences within the classroom since they are the recipients of the education provided, and have direct experience of classroom conditions. The classroom is conceived as a pedagogical space where learning and teaching takes place. It is also understood that learning can take place outside the classroom such as under a tree or in the playground. This study limits its scope to the classroom. Secondly, the study focuses on teachers’ perceptions about the classroom, since teachers are the implementers of education policies within the classroom.

In this case the focus is on how teachers view the classroom environment in terms of their teaching within an inclusive education system, according to which, as White Paper 6

Department of Education, (2001) states, all children have the right to quality education and all learners can learn.

The purpose of the study is to collect data from the learners’ point of view about the type of education they receive in the classroom. Combining the learners’ experiences with the teachers’ perceptions, the study will ultimately provide a true picture of how inclusion, in all its forms, is implemented within the classroom situation.

1.5. Key research questions

- What are the experiences of learners within the classroom?
- What are the views of teachers about classroom environment in relation to the implementation of Inclusive Education?

1.6. Arrangement of chapters

Chapter 1

This chapter elaborates on the background of the study by spelling out the rationale, the problem statement and themes presented by the study, and conclude by summarizing how the chapters are arranged in the study.

Chapter 2

An examination of literature on inclusion; the learning experiences of learners in the learning environment; inclusive education, and teachers ’ roles and attitudes towards inclusion is undertaken in this chapter.

Chapter 3

Section A of this chapter discusses the concepts as well as the theoretical background of the study. Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) together with the asset-based theory is also discussed at length within the constructivist paradigm. Section B deals with the research methodology and research design which is situated within a qualitative paradigm. The research field, choice of the sample, data collection, analysis techniques, ethical consideration and trustworthiness are discussed in this section.

Chapter 4

This section discusses the findings of the study and the analysis of the collected data in relation to Vygotsky’s theory, namely the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), and the Asset-Based theory.

Chapter 5

This chapter deals with conclusions and recommendations to improve teaching practice and learning within inclusive classrooms. These recommendations are based on the findings of this study.


2.1. Introduction

This chapter examines the existing research findings on inclusion, learning environment, inclusive education, and teachers’ attitudes and roles in facilitating inclusion. These concepts are discussed in the light of these findings to establish the framework and parameters of the study.

2.2. Inclusion

The philosophy of inclusion in the South African education system is rooted in our constitution, which is grounded in the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedom (Republic Of South Africa, 1996). With regard to this idea, all learners, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, language and disability, have a right to quality education and respect ("South African Schools Act", 1996).

Hence, the move towards inclusion in the South African education system aims at maximizing the participation of all learners in the curriculum, and developing them to become fully functional citizens who can participate meaningfully in our economy and compete globally.

Moreover, the findings of the National Commission on Special Needs in Education (NCSNET) and the National Committee on Education Support Services (NCESS) regarding barriers to learning strengthen the move towards inclusion in South Africa. This committee pointed out key barriers to learning as being rooted in socio-economic factors; attitudes; inflexible curriculum; language and communication; inappropriate and inadequate provision of support services; lack of enabling and protective legislation and policy; lack of parental recognition and involvement, and disability (Department of Education 1997).

This report contributed to an understanding of the nature of the barriers to learning within the South African context (Swart & Pettipher, 2005). These learning barriers have a unique historical and political orientation, that is, they are the product of the apartheid education system which inclusive education aim to redress in South African schools.

According to British researchers Davis (2003) and Lorenz (2002) there is no single definition assigned to inclusion, meaning that definitions depend on the political goals and societal values that are inherent within the country. Davis (2003) in her work points out the distinction between the terms inclusion and integration. She argues that the term integration is associated with the medical model of disability, in which problems in education are considered as residing with the individual.

On the other hand, inclusion is in line with the social model of disability which implies that disabilities are the product of the environment, attitudes and institutional practices (Engelbrecht, 1999). Lorenz (2002) also defines inclusion as celebrating diversity and responding positively to the challenges that are present. This refers to the acceptance of individual differences and building on their strengths to ensure full participation of all learners in the education system.

Swart and Pettipher (2001) elaborated that the concept of inclusion embraces the democratic values of liberty, equality and human rights, and recognizes and accommodates diversity thereby respecting the rights of all learners. This definition is in line with the South African approach to inclusion as it is stated in White Paper 6 (Department of Education 2001) that inclusion changes the attitudes, behavior, teaching methodologies, curricula and environment to meet the diverse learning needs of all learners.

This idea is echoed by Rouse and Florian (1997) that schools have to undergo change to become a good fit with the diverse learners they serve, rather than learners having to fit in with an unyielding curriculum and organization. Hence, this marks a shift from seeing learners as the problem, to the realization that the educational problems reside within the education system.

The Department of National Education (1999) alludes to the above notion that the move towards inclusive education shifts the focus from learners having to adjust to the demands of the system, to the system being capable of accommodating the diverse needs of all learners as inclusively as possible. In line with the aforementioned notion, Zelaieta (2004) suggests that inclusion relates to the principles and processes that are involved in increasing a school’s capacity to respond to learners’ diversity and promote greater participation for all learners. It is therefore evident from research that inclusion is deeply concerned with accommodating learners’ diverse learning needs, with the aim of ensuring the holistic development of these learners.

2.3. Learning experiences

A study done by Selvum (2004) in a South African school revealed that the majority of learners who experience learning difficulties or are physically disabled have negative experiences within the school environment. Learners are being laughed at by their peers and are labeled and excluded in peer group tasks and activities assigned in the classroom.

These issues raises the questions of why the majority of learners encounter such experiences and what the root causes of this situation are. These incidents violate the rights of learners as stated by the South African Schools Act (1996) which states that all learners have a right to decent education and respect. This study explores the meanings that learners attach to their experiences in the classroom, with the view to understanding how the classroom environment impacts on the implementation of inclusive education.

Moreover, Bhengu (2006) in her study, while investigating the influence of teaching facilities and teacher training on the attitudes of primary school educators towards the implementation of inclusive education, found that children with disabilities are not easily accepted in regular classes. She suggested that much needs to be done to change the attitudes of teachers and society as a whole so that inclusive education can be implemented successfully. This poses a problem since inclusive education is a working education system in South Africa. If the curriculum is not effectively implemented in the classroom, the greatest losers in the process are learners.

2.4. Learning environments

Lomas (2006) points to the tensions that exist between classroom design and the ability of learners to be actively involved in the learning process. He states that classrooms have relatively straightforward requirements: line of sight, good acoustics and a focal point at the front. This implies the traditional arrangement of the classroom physical environment, that is, desks arranged in a linear fashion, facing the front, with the teacher in the front of the class where all focus is directed.

The classroom is also designed to allow good sound to circulate within. However, this organization might limit learners’ full participation in group work, discussion activities and other interactive activities. The aforementioned dilemma is further expressed by Tanner (2003) when raising the fact that there is an important aspect of education which is taken for granted in education, that is, the way schools are planned, designed and built.

Considering Lomas’s (2006) discussion of classroom design as a limiting factor in learners’ active involvement in the learning process, Graetz (2006) on the other hand, points out the importance of environment as the basis for learning. He asserts that all learning takes place in a physical environment with physical characteristics, and that learners are engulfed by environmental information.

For example, when the learner enters the science laboratory, the arrangement of furniture, science apparatus, charts on the walls, the colour of the walls and the neatness of the classroom, set the scene and the atmosphere for the type of learning that occurs within that environment. Moreover, the Department of Education (2001) describes inclusion as involving a reciprocal encounter between the learner and the space created for learning. The policy on special needs education calls for the creation of an environment that will cater for the needs of all learners.

Furthermore, Dittoe (2006) argues that learning environments need to be created in such a way that they facilitate the learning process. This idea states that the classroom environment needs to be supportive to learners during the learning process, and stimulate active participation, creativity and critical thinking.

Considering the aforementioned idea, Brodin and Lundstrand (2007) discuss the principle of normalization, that people attach meaning to their reality and that these meanings determine what behavior is accepted and regarded as normal within a society. The principle of normalization gives insight into the fact that the meaning learners and teachers attach to their classroom environment affects the behaviors, relationships and interactions that occur within the classroom environment.

This is consistent with Campion (2004) on the use of space in 21st

century education where the editor notes that the younger generation of this era deserves a schooling environment that is inspirational and designed to motivate the teaching and learning that will enable learners to compete in the global economy. This idea emphasizes the intention of inclusive education in South Africa to produce competitive citizens in our local as well as global economy. The question needing some answers is: Do classrooms facilitate the development of competitive learners who will take part in our economy? These questions are the main concern of this study.

2.5. Inclusive education

The move towards inclusive education is marked by a paradigm shift in education systems both internationally and in South Africa. As Engelbrecht (1999) and Sebba (1996) argue, inclusive education deals with restructuring schools and education systems so that they can accommodate the learning needs of individual learners. South African schools are characterized by vast differences in physical structure (school buildings), infrastructure and distribution of learning resources, which is the legacy inherited from the apartheid education system. Therefore, restructuring is vitally needed in schools to meet the requirements of inclusive education.

Naicker (2000) elaborates on the paradigm shift within the South African education system. He argues that rethinking around disability, race, class and gender is needed. This statement calls for change in belief systems and attitudes towards learners who were marginalized by the previous apartheid education system thereby recognizing their right to quality education and respect as full citizens of South Africa. For example, some schools that were privileged by the apartheid system still hold fluency in the English language as the entry requirement to these schools. This factor inhibits learners who were disadvantaged by the apartheid system from admission to these schools.

Nind (2005) highlights the importance of pedagogy and curriculum in inclusive education. She argues that inclusion and exclusion occur in the context of the curriculum and that differences in learning arise because learners fail to meet the requirements of a given curriculum. In this sense the curriculum becomes a barrier to learning and excludes most of the learners.

Hence, teaching and learning in the classroom should be designed and planned in such a way that learners’ diverse learning needs are accommodated, and full participation in the learning process is achieved. This will maximize learner performance and ensure that all learners succeed in their learning tasks. In line with this idea, Collins, Harkins and Nind (2001) pointed out that we need to de- centre and see the world through learners’ eyes so that the curriculum and learning experiences are relevant and meaningful. This idea highlights the importance of identification of barriers to learning and of having a flexible and accessible curriculum for all learners.


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Exploring the implementation of inclusive education in the pinetown district school
A case study of learners' experiences and teacher' perceptions about the classroom environment at a selected school
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Master of Education
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Patrick Mweli (Author), 2009, Exploring the implementation of inclusive education in the pinetown district school, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/201965


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