By Sigamoney Naicker


The Ministry of Education in South Africa has launched Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education:Building an Inclusive Education and Training System.This brief document attempts to emphasizes the importance of interrogating conventional discourse in South Africa in order to move in a constructive manner towards an inclusive ethos.Secondly, it concentrates on the core philosophical, structural and practical changes in Education White Paper 6.Finally, it outlines the long term plan of the White Paper.


To shift from disabilist theories, assumptions, practices and models to a non-disabilist inclusive system of education in South Africa, there has to be changes that ensures theories and practices are consistent with the human rights discourse of inclusive education.

In South Africa we must take seriously the influence of conventional theory since the majority of special education discourses are located within conservative education theories.As Fulcher (1989) correctly points out the theme of professionalism influences the medical discourse and its associated discourses: psychology, social work, occupational therapy, rehabilitation, counseling and physiotherapy.Whilst these discourses can play an important role in an inclusive model, there is a need to examine its consistency with a new human rights model regarding the theory practice relationship.

Many of the psychological theories underpinning much of the understanding around learning breakdown shapes the belief that problems are located within learners.For example, very little is said about system deficiencies.The manner in which learners are socialised, exposure to intellectual work, poverty and its concomitant social problems have not been taken seriously in understanding why there is a breakdown in learning.

Special education theory is located within a predominantly functionalist paradigm and is concerned with learners who experience learning breakdown.The belief that the system worked and any breakdown was caused by individual deficits resulted in invoking the pathological label.That there was something always wrong with the individual is a common explanation for failure. 

In order to shift paradigms, a rethinking is required around oneís consciousness around disability. The first step is to move from an understanding of disability that is shaped by the medical model to an understanding underpinned by a rights model. Secondly, barriers to learning in the system need to be identified and interventions need to be made. In other words one needs to examine what impediments exist in the system that prevent access to learning.These barriers could include poverty, ideology, physical access, inflexible curriculum, inappropriate language, communication channels, inaccessible built environments, lack of or inappropriate transport and similar factors within the system that impedes access to learning.Arguably, there are some barriers that exist within children, for example, neurological impairment.These barriers need to be addressed through pedagogical responses, for example, take seriously the different intelligences such as linguistic, musical, logical?mathematical, spatial, bodily?kinesthetic or personal areas of competence or expertise in trying to establish which is the best way to respond to the learnerís needs.



The philosophical changes suggested by Education White Paper 6 is a radical departure from the special education model.The special education model excluded learners from the mainstream because of a disability that is thought to be natural and irremediable characteristic of a person.Education White Paper 6

suggests an inclusive model that:

qIs about acknowledging that all children and youth can learn and that all children and youth need support. 

qIs about enabling education structures, systems and learning methodologies to meet the needs of all learners. 

qAcknowledges and respects differences in learners, whether due to age, gender, ethnicity, language, class, disability, HIV or other infectious diseases.

qIs broader than formal schooling and acknowledging that learning also occurs in the home and community, and within formal and informal settings and structures.

qIs about changing attitudes, behaviour, teaching methods, curricula and environment to meet the needs of all learners; and

qIs about maximising the participation of all learners in the culture and the curriculum of educational institutions and uncovering and minimising barriers to learning.

This inclusive model focuses on changing the system and therefore attempts to create space and possibilities for all learners.


Instead of special schools, special classes and remedial classes in the special education model, the White Paper, structurally, emphasizes the following:

·Establishment of district-based support teams to provide co-ordinated professional support service that draws on the expertise in further and higher education and local communities, targeting special schools and specialized settings, designated full-service and other primary schools and educational institutions.

·   Converting special schools into resource centers that will be part of the district support team.

·Beginning with 30 school districts that are part of the national district development programme. Here the focus will be reflecting on policy development and a research exercise will cost an ideal district support team, conversion of special schools to resource centers, full-service school, full service technical college, determine minimum levels of provision for learners with special needs for all higher education institutions, personnel plan and non-personnel expenditure.

·Phased conversion of approximately 500 out of 20 000 primary schools to full-service schools.Full service schools and colleges are schools and colleges that will be equipped and supported to provide for the full range of learning needs among all learners.


At a practical level, there is a radical shift from a dual to a single system relating to curriculum.In this case C2005 (a new curriculum introduced after the democratic government was put into place) becomes the core curriculum.Other important aspects that constitute alternative practices relates to the following:

·Overhauling of the process of identifying, assessing and enrolling learners in special schools and settings, and its replacement by one that acknowledges the central role played by educators, lecturers and parents.

·  Use of multiple intelligences and various learning styles as a framework for understanding differences

·Injecting co-operative learning that celebrates different ability levels

·Adapting C2005 (a single curriculum) to meet the needs of diversity


In developing this plan for inclusion, policy makers have taken seriously the limitations any developing country should consider at a fiscal and other levels.Therefore, a twenty year plan has been proposed.This plan is captured briefly below:

In the short term (2001-2003) the emphasis will be on the following:

a)Implementing a national advocacy and education programme on inclusive education.

b)Planning and implementing a targeted outreach programme, beginning in Governmentís rural and urban development nodes, to mobilise disabled out of school children and youth.

c)Completing the audit of special schools and implementing a programme to improve efficiency and quality.

d)Designating, planning and implementing the conversion of thirty special schools to special schools/resource centres in thirty designated school districts.

e)Designating, planning and implementing the conversion of thirty primary schools to full service schools in the same thirty districts as (d) above.

f)Designating, planning and implementing the district support teams in the same thirty districts as (d) above; and 

g)Within all other public education institutions, on a progressive basis, the general orientation and introduction of management, governing bodies and professional staff to the inclusion model.

h)Within primary schooling, on a progressive basis, the establishment of systems and procedures for the early identification and addressing of barriers to learning in the Foundation Phase (Grades R-3).

In the medium term (2004-2008) attention will be paid to:

i)Transforming further education and training and higher education institutions to recognise and address the diverse range of learning needs of learners, especially disabled learners;

j)Expanding the targeted community outreach programme in (b) from the base of Governmentís rural and urban development nodes to mobilise disabled out-of-children and youth in line with available resources.

k)Expanding the number of special schools/resource centres, full-service schools and district support teams in (d), (e) and (f) in line with lessons learnt and available resources. 

In the long term (2009-2021) the focus will be as follows:

Expanding provision to reach the target of 380 special schools/resource centres, 500 full service schools and colleges and district support teams, and the 280,000 out of school children and youth.

The Ministry of Education will implement this White Paper after a comprehensive audit of all special education provision is undertaken.This audit will raise issues from the gaze of an inclusive education framework.


Department of Education. 2001. Education White Paper 6 on Special Needs Education. Building an Inclusive Education and Training System. Pretoria. Government Printer.

Fulcher, G. 1989. Disabiling policies? A comparative approach to education policy and disability. London: Farmer Press.


Next Article

Return to Rouge Forum index