Regular schools as a straitjacket for zone of proximal development
A Vygotskian Perspective of Malawian Inclusive Secondary Education
Keywords:inclusive education, Malawi, regular schools, special education, zone of proximal development
Malawi has a twin-track system of primary and secondary education. In this system, some learners with special educational needs are enrolled in regular schools while others are still in special schools. Research has shown that regular schools receive learners with special educational needs into the system but with the possibility of enabling and constraining their developmental and learning abilities. Put metaphorically, when learners with special educational needs are placed in regular schools, they are dressed in straitjackets that may enable or constrain their development and learning. A straitjacket refers to the freedom and limitations that regular schools give learners with special educational needs. When prisoners and people with mental health conditions are dressed in straitjackets, the foremost reason is to ensure that they can be easily restrained once they turn violent. This situation can be understood through a theoretical frame of what Lev Vygotsky termed the zone of actual development versus the zone of proximal development which was employed in this study. The study conducted in-depth interviews with ten regular teachers from five regular secondary schools in the South West Education Division in Malawi. The results from the interviews show that inclusive education is failing at the point of implementation due to: (1) a lack of capacity development for regular teachers, (2) limited support for learners with special educational needs, (3) inadequate specialist teachers, and (4) lack of parental and community involvement. These challenges originate from an entrenched view on special education that makes the transition to inclusive education cumbersome. I, therefore, argue that special education should be used as a stepping-stone into inclusivity to expand learning rather than as a discriminating tool against learners with special educational needs. The study proposes a third space schooling model in which special education facilitates inclusivity towards the zone of proximal development. The study concludes that the third space model has the potential to help Malawi and other countries to move towards meaningful, inclusive education.
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