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Flanders learns from South Africa... and vice versa

South Africa started implementing Inclusive Education (White Paper 6) in 2001. Flanders (Belgium) started implementing its M-decree in 2015. This decree also deals with inclusive education. Both Belgium and South Africa experience challenges and celebrate successes. A perfect start to learn from and with each other.

From the 24th till the 28th of October 2016 a South African delegation visited Flanders. The delegates were representatives from the Department of Basic Education, the Free State and Mpumalanga Provincial Education Departments, North West University and Inclusive Education South Africa (IESA) who are all actively involved in Inclusive Education.

The programme of the study visit allowed for a rich variety of learning experiences. The delegates engaged with representatives of pedagogical guidance services (comparable to subject advisors and learning support advisors). They interacted with researchers from the University of Ghent and Arteveldehogeschool University College involved in research about the implementation of inclusive legislation. All participants also shadowed different practitioners in their daily inclusive work, such as:

  • Shadowing a teacher trainer mentoring a student teacher at the teaching practice school.
  • Shadowing a researcher meeting the advisory committee to interact about a research proposal on inclusive education.
  • Shadowing a pedagogic advisor (comparable to a subject advisor) coaching teachers doing co-teaching is done. This means that a teacher from a public ordinary school and a teacher from a Full Service School or Special school teach a lesson together.

Participants also contributed to professional development activities for officials, HEIs and teachers, amongst others by participating in network activities with guidance services (responsible for pre-service training) and initial teacher education. They shared their experiences, vision and lessons learnt. Via a debate on Inclusive Education, in which a wide range of education stakeholders participated and contributed, Flemish and South African experts exchanged policy and practices, successes and challenges which led to mutual learning and inspiration.

The exchange visit ended with a visit to the Flemish Child Rights Commissioner. This, indeed, made once more clear that inclusion is a basic right. The question is not "if" education should include, but "how best" it can include.