The role of physiotherapy in inclusive education
Pillay, Savondarie Govindaswami
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The education system in South Africa has been on a path of change since 1994, in an effort to correct the injustices and inequalities of our apartheid past. In 2001 Education White Paper Six and the inclusive education policy was introduced. This policy is based on creating an environment where special needs education is seen as a non-racial and integrated part of the education system and envisages the role of special schools changing in order to facilitate this process. Special schools will continue to provide services to the severely disabled and high needs learner. However staff at special schools will be encouraged to make their expertise and resources available to the ordinary schools in the community. This study is focused on the role of the physiotherapist in special schools. The introduction of the new policy required physiotherapists to serve the needs of learners at special schools as well as provide indirect support to ordinary schools in the community. However physiotherapists have not been trained to provide indirect support and feel that they have not had adequate assistance to improve their skills and knowledge in this area. This study therefore looked at how the knowledge, skills and attitudes of physiotherapists can be enhanced and developed in order to meet the need of successfully implementing inclusive education. The aim of the study was to design, implement and evaluate an intervention aimed at improving the knowledge, skills and attitudes of physiotherapists in providing indirect support in the education system. In order to do so, it was necessary to meet the following objectives. Firstly to determine how physiotherapists perceive indirect support and their role in the district based support team; and secondly to determine the barriers experienced by physiotherapists in providing indirect support as well as their needs to provide appropriate support within the inclusive education framework. A qualitative study was conducted using the action research method. This study involved five special schools in the Western Cape and a total of nine participating physiotherapists. Focus group discussions were used to collect data. The first focus group discussion involved participants identifying their perceptions of indirect support, their role in the district based support team, barriers to indirect support and their needs in order to provide appropriate support in the inclusive education framework. The data collected were analyzed using content analysis. The findings revealed that many of the physiotherapists are experiencing difficulties in making the shift from direct to indirect support, due to not having been provided with the necessary support, resources and training to facilitate the transition to inclusive education practices. A second round of focus group discussions were held for the physiotherapists to prioritise a need that the intervention would be based on. Thereafter a training workshop was held, based on the prioritised need, to improve the provision of indirect support by physiotherapists. This research has shown that physiotherapists have begun to engage with the change process by questioning the implications of the inclusive education policy and looking at how their role in special schools needs to change. The physiotherapists require assistance in the facilitation of a transition from providing mainly direct support in special schools, to also providing indirect support in an inclusive education setting. They require the assistance of the school management and the Department of Education to provide the necessary support, resources and training to facilitate the transition to inclusive education practices.