for tomorrow

George Campus

EMBRACING DIVERSITY

1. Can you identify the students who have specific learning difficulties?

Source: www.merritt.edu [accessed 08/09/2015]


2. Can you identify the different learning styles of these students?

Source: www.epr.eu  [accessed 08/09/2015]


3. Can you identify the students with mental health challenges?

Source: www.markmaish.com [accessed 08/09/2015]

 

Universities are spaces where we have students who differ vastly with respect to age, gender, language, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, mental health challenges, disabilities, learning styles, etc. We also have learners who experience barriers to learning such as language barriers, poverty, an inflexible curriculum, inappropriate communication, inadequately trained staff, inadequate support services, etc. While it may be possible to identify those with physical disabilities, it is not always possible to identify those with specific learning difficulties or those experiencing emotional or social difficulties.

As a result, it is important that we have the requisite polices, practices and procedures that accommodate various needs and learning styles. We also have to take into account the various factors that impact upon teaching and learning and aim to ensure academic success for all learners. The Inclusive Education Project on the George campus aims to create an environment in which all students, including those with disabilities and diverse needs, can thrive and excel. It recognises that all students need academic, emotional and social support. The aim is therefore to provide an inclusive environment within which ALL students have the opportunity to succeed. One of the ways of achieving this is by embracing the Universal Design for Learning.
 

UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING (UDL)


Universal design for learning is an educational framework that guides the design of learning goals, materials, methods and assessments with a diversity of learners in mind. UDL provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged. Furthermore, UDL reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient (CAST, 2015). (http://udloncampus.cast.org/home).


UDL comprises of three main principles: Multiple means of representation, Multiple means of expression and Multiple means of engagement. Multiple means of Representation is about providing students with various ways of acquiring information and knowledge. Multiple means of Expression is about providing students with alternatives for demonstrating what they know. Multiple means of Engagement is about tapping into learners’ interests and offering appropriate challenges and increasing motivation (CAST, 2015). Universities across the world are adopting the UDL principles in order to make the curriculum more responsive to the diverse learning needs of their students. They are finding that this leads to innovative classroom practices that benefit all learners, not only those with special needs. (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines).

BARRIERS TO LEARNING
What is important to note, however, is that within the South African context, we need to look beyond UDL and incorporate it into an inclusive framework that includes equity and redress and addresses barriers to learning. These barriers, according to White Paper 6 (DoE, 2001), include:

  • Socio-economic barriers
  • Negative attitudes to and stereotyping of difference
  • An inflexible curriculum
  • Inappropriate languages or language of learning and teaching
  • Inappropriate communication
  • Inaccessible and unsafe built environments
  • Inappropriate and inadequate support services
  • Inadequate policies and legislation
  • Non-recognition and non-involvement of parents and community
  • Inadequately and inappropriately trained staff
  • Disability

It is important for a single inclusive system to be developed where each student is valued and supported to achieve their potential.   

 

"If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn" - Ignacio Estrada