An exploration of teaching practices of special needs educators in the context of building an inclusive education system.
In the past learners with disabilities have experienced severe forms of discrimination, isolation and separation. They were perceived as persons with deficits and in need of help. They were separated from society as they were considered to be inadequate people. The discriminative practices against learners with disabilities and the doctrines of apartheid that contributed to discrimination and separation on racial differences resulted in learners with disabilities being doubly handicapped. The discrimination against learners with disabilities is largely the result of adherence to the medical model and deficit theory to disability. However, the current trends which support the social rights theory and ecological systems theory to disability which are consistent with the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, adopts an inclusive approach and promotes equal rights and equal opportunity to all people, including learners with disabilities. This commits schools to enrolling learners with disabilities and providing equal education opportunities for them. To provide a meaningful educational experience for all learners, education structures need to be enabled, and attitudes, teaching and learning methodologies, and the curriculum changed to reflect inclusive values. Furthermore, Education White Paper 6 (DoE, 2001) clearly states that classroom educators are the primary resource for achieving the goal of inclusive education. This implies that educators will need to be empowered to change their attitudes, refine their teaching practice and where necessary, develop new ones. Hence, this study aims to explore the teaching practices of special needs educators in the context of building an inclusive education system. A qualitative case study approach was adopted in this study, whereby six participants who were teaching at special schools were interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule, exploring their day to day teaching practices. The findings reveal that the teaching practices of special needs educators are in line with inclusive practices that could benefit mainstream educators. Special needs educators adjust and adapt their teaching practice to accommodate and address the diverse needs of all the learners so that each individual learner receives a learning experience that "fits". However, acknowledgement and recommendations are made with regard to the challenges encountered when adapting teaching practices.