Responding to learner diversity in the classroom : experiences of five teachers in a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal.
The principle of quality education for all learners is embedded in all policy documentsand legislation and this emphasis on quality education for all suggests that schools have to meet the diverse needs of all learners. However, throughout South African schooling contexts, there are many learners who face barriers to learning and participation in view of the fact that schools are unable to respond to the diversity of needs in the learner population. The issue is not how the learners adjust to the learning environment but whether the learning environment is flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of all learners. The responsibility of achieving the goal of a non-discriminatory education system lies heavily on the shoulders of classroom teachers. The purpose of this study is to examine how teachers at a primary school experience diversity within the classroom. The research was undertaken in a historically Indian boys' only state primary school in KwaZulu-Natal, with a learner population of almost 95% African, 4% Indian and the other 1% comprising White/Coloured learners. The focus of the study was the teachers. I sought to investigate how teachers construct and respond to diversity in their classes. Within the context of the post apartheid South Africa, the classroom has become a microcosm of the 'rainbow nation', with teachers having to deal with many differences at varying levels within the classroom. How teachers interpret and respond to differences is likely to be subjective. In light of the fact that teachers' interpretations are subjective, for the purpose of this study, symbolic interactionism was used as a theoretical framework. Qualitative research , methodology, which took the form of a case study was used. Teachers experiences were examined through semi-structured interviews, observations and document analysis. Throughout the study, there emerged the "them" and "us" syndrome in teachers. The study shows that while the teachers did not treat African learners unfairly, there are numerous exclusionary practices at the school. Very little attempt is made by the teachers to change their teaching behaviours in ways that make the curriculum responsive to their learners. In fact, very little was done to change the ethos of the school, and African learners where expected to 'fit in' and become part of the existing culture of the school. There emerges from the study, a definite need to train teachers to think and work within a new frame of reference, that is, a human rights framework which constantly interrogates unequal power relations and inequalities that schools perpetuate.