Saturday, 23 August 2014

Inclusion in Higher education

Dr Tshediso Makoelle 
At the SOTL@UJ seminar on Thursday 21 August, Dr Tsediso Makoelle discussed the concept of inclusion in Higher Education. The presentation is included in the blog and Tsediso had so much fun in developing the seminar that he is already considering the article that he will write on this! As inclusion is really important when considering social justice, it opened lively discussion on various aspects of the topic. The discussion on link between cognitive justice and indigenous knowledge systems was particularly lively, but as this is the topic for a seminar in September, I will leave the discussion on IKS till later. However, it was not only the topics themselves that set the scene for the discussion.

What do we mean by inclusion? It can not only mean the inclusion of disabled students nor is it limited to looking at racial representation at enrolment. Tsediso stated that “inclusive education means providing equitable education and widening participation of all learners regardless of their background”. The variety of definitions that exist combined with the different theoretical orientations applied to inclusive education has led to a situation where many people and institutions have formed fixed views of what constitute appropriate responses when dealing with the challenge of increasing inclusivity.

The call to academics and practitioners in higher education, to reflect on their pedagogical practices and underlying assumptions that result  in practices and behaviours that could lead to exclusion, was heard by everybody present. This led to furious scribbling of notes and intense questions as the audience engaged with the reality of implementing inclusiveness in higher education.

For myself, I started reflecting on the relationship between massification and inclusion. The concept of massification in higher education creates strong emotive responses among academics and higher education practitioners. Many would consider that pedagogical approaches that foster inclusivity may be very difficult in a massified scenario and that it would lead to situations where exclusion will occur. Massification is seen as a means of commercialising higher that will lead to reduced quality and even to a situation where the knowledge that students acquire and produce may have a reduced economic utility. And yet, massification of higher education is also associated with the democratic need to move away from education as an opportunity for the elite and a direct mechanism to increase educational inclusion. The relationship between inclusion and massification may be seen in many different ways and it would be worth considering why a response that is directly aimed at increasing inclusive education is seen as leading to a conflicting outcome. It is definitely necessary that a responsible approach to massification and not an unbridled increase in numbers is necessary. Innovative and progressive structural and pedagogic responses are needed. There were divergent views on the issue of massification, though, with others saying that this does not mean that one cannot cater for diverse needs at all, one just has to find innovative and more forward planning ways to do this.

When faced with the reality of the challenges to inclusive higher education in South Africa – what would be the appropriate pedagogical responses? This very important question drives the activities and planned research linked to SOTL@Uj and it was clear that all the participants at the seminar are excited and energised by it. 

Seminar participants:

Tsediso's presentation

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