In all my years of teaching I have never had a child ask me why another child is at the school! So why do adults think this is so hard? If we think about how difficult it is for some schools to racially integrate – imagine if it was just accepted as the norm that children of different races should attend school together? If we take this a step further, then accepting that children with special needs, which means they need additional support in order to learn, should just be the norm at all schools. In my experience, children get that but adults do not.
In my current position at school I spend more time working with parents than I do with children – but I do spend far more time observing children’s behaviour and interactions at school (especially when they are not ”supervised” like at break times or in the corridors between classes). I help children learn to get along with each other better, so – the idea is we are all here, no one is going anywhere – how do we learn to be friends, accept each other, co-exist or sometimes just tolerate each other?
Another way to create a more egalitarian society at school is to employ other adults who are also responsible for the education of the children – besides their classroom teachers. The school I work at, Pinelands North Primary School (PNPS), an Inclusive school in Pinelands, Cape Town – employs 7 Teacher Aides to support the children across the school. This has paved the way for facilitators who work with specific children ( the facilitators are paid for by the parents). This has then led the way for the many adult volunteers who work at our school every week.
I asked my daughter and nephew, both whom attend (PNPS) why some adults are in their class, working as facilitators – and they both replied – to help specific children. So, why do a 7 and 8 year old understand that some children may need more help than others at different times – and they can see that they don’t need help all the time.
This is an important observation, because during our break times we have 3 staff members on ‘duty’ to care for all 450 children as they play – is it not interesting then that most of the facilitators are not with their children. It is so encouraging and beautiful to see children who really need support during class playing at break times and sometimes this has been a slow weaning off process of the facilitator and child and the other children have stepped in as caregivers and … most times simply as friends!
I wish we would learn more from children. I wish more adults would stop and really think about what is possible. A textbook, policy, book or well written article makes sense if based on real life observations based on what actually happens in classrooms and on playgrounds.
I am proud that I work at a school that models and practices – in action that all people are different. Some people need more help than others and some need help to be closer at hand. I do understand that financially a facilitator is cost prohibitive to many families – but in a situation where a child who previously (and currently) could be excluded is included – and their presence awakens in everyone the knowledge that we all belong – then it is a very good thing. We also have many children who could have their educational experience enhanced by having a facilitator, but their parents cannot afford this, and so we use our volunteer adults as creatively as possible.
What children teach us about inclusion is that it does transform lives, because it shifts what was the only way of doing something to a new normal! We need a new normal in South Africa and it starts with a way of being human that honours others despite what they look like or may seem capable of!