Towards inclusive education : exploring policy, context and change through an ethnographic study in a rural context in KwaZulu-Natal.
This study is an ethnographic enquiry into the experiences of a school and its community as they interface with the implementation of the policy of educational inclusion in a pilot project in a rural school in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Through the lens of critical theory and postmodernism, I critique special education and argue for the discourse of inclusive education to be placed on the broader agenda of social inclusion and exclusion and for its focus to extend beyond a narrow emphasis on special needs education. The study focuses on the micro-level, the teachers, learners, and parents who act within conflicting discursive spaces. Under scrutiny is context as a discursive field, which includes social, political and cultural factors and practices. The study examines systemic issues related to inclusion and exclusion within situated contexts. On the macro-level it examines discursive forces, including national and global forces that influence the implementation processes. Ethnography as a methodological tool opened up spaces to interrogate change and reform at the level of the interpersonal in the context of wider social and political power relations. In uncertain and unstable circumstances, an ethnographic approach, with multiple and prolonged data collection strategies, provided me with a fuller picture of the multiple realities within the school. The concept of a conditional matrix is a useful construct in understanding the multiple interlocking and intersecting influences that impact on the process of policy implementation. In this study, the micropolitical and micro-cultural conditions in the school, the politics of participation of departmental officials in policy implementation , teacher identities, macro-economic policy of the state, globalisation and neoliberalism and competing policies, impacted on and at times constrained the policy implementation process. Many gains were made in moving towards an inclusive school in this pilot project, but fiscal austerity in a sea of poverty threatened the goals of equity and redress. In understanding the implementation of a generic policy in all schools in a country, the contextual conditions within this conditional matrix need to be understood. Empirical evidence from this investigation suggests that developing learning schools and communities helps to bring about educational change and build inclusive schools. Collaboration in the form of team teaching, peer coaching, mentor relationships, professional dialogue, action research, and collaborative partnerships with and between members of the community provided a crucial plank in teacher development and school improvement. Using collaborative learning for teacher development transcends personal, individual reflection, or dependence on outside experts, leading to a situation where teachers learn from one other, to share and develop their expertise. This investigation provides evidence that the accessing and building of human and social capital within the school and the community is one way to implement inclusive education and reduce exclusion in the school and community. Collaborative partnerships with universities, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Community-Based Organizations, Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs), and intersectorial networking with government departments, and people from the community, played a major role in the implementation of the policy of inclusive education. The data suggests that teachers' experiences in professional development can influence their identities for policy change. Changing mental models or deeply established conceptions is essential in developing learning organizations. Critical to this shift of the 'mental model' or identity, is how the policy is mediated to the incumbents. This study proposes a tripolar approach to policy implementation, that is, a combination of three dimensions of teacher development: the 'top-down' , 'bottomup' and 'horizontal' dimensions. While some teachers used constructivist learner centred pedagogy effectively, others grappled with the principles of constructivism. Constructivist approaches to teaching, a learner centred pedagogy, active learning, cooperative learning, curriculum differentiation and multilevel teaching created a pedagogy of possibility for an inclusive curriculum for all learners. Whilst on the other hand the hegemony of traditional practices such as a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, closed up possibilities for some learners to access the curriculum. Different forms of assessments or a flexible assessment system generates opportunities or possibilities for a more equitable and non-discriminatory assessment procedure. The formative assessment together with alternative forms/techniques of assessment opens up spaces for a more inclusive and equitable system of assessment. A transformational, democratic style of leadership with shared decision-making, accountability, commitment and risk-taking, are important factors in creating a climate for change in schools. More importantly, the leadership of the principal as an avant-garde for inclusion influenced the change process. Indigenous practices such as the informal open-air meetings and the 'imbiso' or the 'legotla' type of meetings created spaces for effective organizational strategies in the school. Evidence from the study suggests that the "Institutional Support Team" (IST) as a proposed new structure in schools, opens up possibilities for internal support for the institution rather than a reliance on specialized outside help. Collective problem solving by the IST addressed systemic, social, pedagogical and cultural barriers to learning and development. Paradoxically, the quest for quality or excellence in education sometimes stymies the goals of equity and redress. The notion that excellence and equity are incompatible or bipolar human values is based on fallacious or binary logic. One of the ways to depolarize the equity/excellence dichotomy is to value both and not privilege anyone at the expense of the other. 1. imbiso/legotla: Zulu/Soto word for meeting called by the King, traditional leader, chief or the leadership of the land.