Caroline Taylor was one of the founding members of Inclusive Education South Africa. Over the years, she has made a valuable and lasting contribution to the movement. This has been seen in her personal commitment to parents and teachers, both through her work in the Information and Support Programme and in her consistent and tireless efforts to raise awareness in education and other communities where children are at risk of exclusion.
IESA was originally started as the Western Cape Forum for Inclusive Education in 1995. It was composed of a group of NGOs and individuals who were involved in education and/or disability issues. Some, including Caroline, were parents who had had personal experience of the difficulty of accessing educational support for their own children. There was always a strong awareness of the even greater challenges facing those parents, with few resources and little opportunity to find support. Besides those children with intrinsic disabilities or learning difficulties, large numbers of South African children are also vulnerable to exclusion from school or failure due to a whole range of social or economic factors.
The group explored and promoted the implementation of an inclusive education system. In particular, it was involved in work which led to Education White Paper 6 (2001). This legislation was the basis on which the inclusive education movement was built. In 1999, a three-year grant by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund enabled the IE Forum to set up a Resource Centre, which was given a home in the Newlands School Clinic.
Caroline describes the challenges the inclusive education movement faces: ”It is always a challenge to be working towards systemic change. It requires endless patience and the ability to notice and support small successes, to keep motivated and to motivate others. Schools and educational provision in general mirror South African society as a whole – the great divide between those with resources and those without. It is a challenge to ensure that the voice of those most in need is heard clearly!“
This is how Caroline describes IESA’s Information and Support Programme, for which she has been responsible: “It is a unique engagement when parents, teachers, educare practitioners ask for advice or help. An important aspect of our work is to encourage improved relationships between parents and teachers, and the way we handle those initial contacts sets the tone for care and respect between those closest to a child.”
Caroline believes passionately that inclusion is a value, a way of living, and is relevant to South Africa. She says: “It’s a way of looking at the world. It’s a way of being, and it calls for constant personal interrogation. Inclusion is meant to be one of the cornerstone values of our education system and curriculum. It must be a starting point – not an add-on.”
About her son, Luke, she says: “Luke helped me discover my natural belief in inclusion. It wasn’t a brain thing. It was a feeling thing. My feeling was, why couldn’t he be in the same place as other children of his age? Why was he being excluded? It was through him that I learnt about exclusion.”
Inclusive Education South Africa has grown and developed, and our advocacy programme has made IESA known in parliament, the legal profession and the academic sphere. Our need for support and sponsorship has increased accordingly. Caroline feels that funders need to be shown the big-picture thinking of the organization in order to understand the impact of our work on its ultimate beneficiaries – the children. IESA is in an exciting period of growth and is extending its services across the country.
She shared her thoughts around inclusive education over the next five years of IESA: “I hope it will become more a part of the natural practice in schools, part of their everyday `bread and butter’ of providing services to children. I hope IE will be seen as the model of our education system, not something that is an add-on. Hopefully, teachers will feel better equipped as training becomes more IE-oriented, and parents will feel more informed and confident about the important role they play.”
Caroline has also filled an important mentoring role over the last two years. This is what one of her colleagues had to say:
“I joined IESA as a project administrator and co-ordinator in 2013. I was soon drawn to the Information and Support service and had the privilege of joining part-time in 2015. Working with Caroline has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a blessing that I cannot take for granted. Learning and having the opportunity to refine skills such as the art of listening to what is being `unsaid’ and digging deeper to get to the heart of the problem were only a few of the many lessons I have learnt from her.
What I most appreciate about her is that at no point was I ever made to feel incapable, and her belief was always – and still is – that the Inclusion journey is one of learning constantly, that we will never know all there is to know. We need to work in harmony in order to put our skills, expertise and passion together for the benefit of the ultimate stakeholder, which is the child. Caroline has shown me that ultimately we have the opportunity to help the poorest and most vulnerable in our country.”
Although Caroline is leaving IESA she wants to continue in the inclusion field, and we hope that this will certainly be the case. A wealth of experience and knowledge and compassion is there to benefit those who will need it most! She sums up:
“I am also drawn to the idea of having more hands-on contact with children. Another thing I would really like to do is to find some way of taking forward the idea of the telling of stories. Personal stories can be so powerful, and there are many people whose stories I would like to share. I am thinking about opportunities to record video clips and film. I would love to partner with a film-maker and help tell some of those stories.
Oh, and I hope to become a better vegetable gardener – despite water restrictions!”
All the best for the future Caroline, and may you continue to support those families who need your loving care and expertise – and may your vegetables grow and flourish as well!