Implementing an Inclusive Learning Model

21 March is celebrated in South Africa as Human Rights Day. It is also celebrated amongst the International Community as World Down Syndrome Day. According to the World Down Syndrome Day website ‘What I bring to my community’ is a key theme for this year’s celebration.

We take a look back to an article that was written and published by the Daily Maverick on behalf of Siyakwazi in April last year, which looked at the story of Unathi Jula, a now 7 year old girl who has been with Siyakwazi’s programmes since starting with creche in 2015 and who is now happily succeeding in Grade R at the local Primary School. Unathi is a child with Down Syndrome and although she experiences barriers to learning, managing an inclusive approach to her education has allowed her to integrate successfully within the mainstream education environment

Unfortunately, Down Syndrome is still not a widely known and understood condition in the rural areas. Siyakwazi’s director, Cathy Mather-Pike, has been to schools where teachers may recognise that a child experiences a barrier to learning, but who has never heard of Down Syndrome. This poor understanding of the condition can mean that children with Down Syndrome go unnoticed in terms of their individual learning needs. Very often, by the time the child reaches an age where the condition is recognised and/or diagnosed a big gap in their development already exists.

For Siyakwazi early identification is critical to ensuring that no child is left ‘behind’. Cathy explains, “Inclusion of children with Down syndrome is greatly beneficial. In all the cases we have worked with when a child with Down Syndrome is included in an ECD Centre their development has improved significantly. Their language improves in many cases because of exposure to peers, following instructions as well as toileting skills. The correct ECD setting with the support to encourage their individual development while learning alongside their peers from their community is ideal for development.”

Inclusion in all schools is such an important part of the system. As was highlighted in the Daily Maverick article, “The “special school” is in itself an imperfect solution. There is a shortage of schools equipped for children with special needs, but even where these are available, children with vastly different needs may end up in the same classroom.  Moreover, such schools can be prohibitively expensive and more difficult to access than the nearest public school.”

Unathi celebrating her first successful year in Primary School

Siyakwazi therefore prioritises inclusion in all its programmes, supporting a child with Down Syndrome as they would any child with any barrier to learning. An Individual Support Plan (ISP) and laddering activities are just some of the processes used to ensure active participation. In addition, parent involvement through therapy programs and teacher participation and support are all encouraged. 

“Unfortunately, it is not a system that can be fixed overnight and although our hope is to ensure all children have access to an inclusive learning environment it’s going to take a lot of effort from multiple stakeholders to make it a reality. In Unathi’s case for example it is likely that she will eventually need to attend the local school for children with special needs as she may fall to far behind academically. However, that does not take away from that fact that through exposure to our programmes and the right support from her family she has successfully achieved many milestones that otherwise may never have been reached.”

Addressing the need of an inclusive model in every school, Cathy explains that each institution (i.e. creche or school) should have a nominated champion within the institution who can drive inclusive practices, “We would then strive to support towards improving these practices, through our programmes.”  Siyakwazi understands that every school and ECD Centre has their own set of values and perceptions as they are individuals with their own beliefs and experiences. In some instances, there is resistance to inclusion, “In these cases, we brainstorm ways together as a team, to break down these barriers by creating Disability awareness and motivation to implement inclusion in the various ways we believe support all types of children to learn through play,” states Cathy. 

Creating awareness and celebrating inclusion are the first step in assisting with the process that ensures ‘Every Child Can Learn’.


To read the full article by Daily Maverick –

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