How do teachers position themselves within socially constructed discourses of disability and inclusion? A case study at a semi-rural township school in KwaZulu-Natal.
Since a democratic dispensation in South Africa in 1994, the country has been immersed in processes of social, economic, political, and educational transformation aimed at entrenching principles of social justice and inclusion by foregrounding issues of equity, redress, quality education for all, equality of opportunity, and non-discrimination. The purpose of the current study was to listen to how teachers position themselves within socially constructed discourses of disability and inclusion in a mainstream setting that has integrated disabled learners. It further attempted to address the challenge of understanding ways in which teachers' constructions of their experiences of inclusion of disabled learners shape their professional lives, beliefs, and practices; and to interrogate contradictions, contestations and tensions embedded in these dominant discourses. In essence, the study sought to analyze the interactional dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. The research was conducted within a qualitative research paradigm, and took the form of a small-scale case study. The data collection techniques included in-depth semi-structured interviews, nonparticipant observations, and document analysis. Findings of the study revealed that teachers positioned themselves within discursive limits of dominant discourses. This was evident in how they constructed disabled learners as not meeting some pre-established standard of the discourse of normalcy. There was also evidence of policy-practice tensions in the voices of teachers regarding support provision and delivery of a 'curriculum for all'. It can be concluded that although significant steps had been taken to include disabled learners, most of these arrangements were still located within the limits of dominant discourses of deficiency, deficit and pathology. The findings point to the fact that, in essence, the education system does not examine the ideological, political, and economic "needs" of learners with disability within the context of inclusion. This supports the arguments put forth by Sayed (2002) that inclusion and exclusion are not simply bipolar processes. Inclusion in itself presents problems of co-option and control and does not imply that people are not excluded. The act of inclusion begs the question of what the included have become included in, on whose terms, and what new exclusions the act of inclusion presents for them.