Background of the problem
Traditionally framed by a medical model perspective, disability has been viewed as an individual’s problem. The medical model focuses more on individual’s deficit and functional limitations and less on contextual barriers. As a result, among others, the Salamanca statement, sustainable development goals (SGDs) and other United Nations agreements on human rights call for a shift of public mindset from the medical model to the social model perspective which appeals for inclusion. In education systems, it is quality inclusive education which purports to shift from individuals’ functional deficits to contexts and practices which exclude, discriminate and impair student’s engagement and participation in the learning process. In this light, it is particularly important to explore how schools promote inclusive education. Some studies reported that teachers can effectively promote quality inclusive education by making use of the principles and guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Argument and purpose of the study
In Tanzania, inclusive education is supported; yet, training of teachers about UDL is limited foregrounding the need to investigate in depth the inclusion of students in higher education in this setting. In this study, the inclusion of students is framed as an activity which necessitates barrier-free mediating tools of which ensure equal learning opportunities.
This thesis explores how inclusive education is conceptualized by teachers, students and experts in the Unit of Special Needs Education and their perceptions on the institutional practices related to promoting inclusive education. Additionally, this thesis is set to explore which instructional pedagogical practices teachers applied in classrooms and if these practices were universally designed to promote inclusion of students- particularly, those being blind. Lastly, this thesis also takes into consideration the learning experiences of those students.
Setting and methodology
Cultural-Historic Activity theory and UDL guided the present study. A case study was conducted at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), the first public and long serving university in Tanzania. Data were collected from teachers, students and special needs education mainly through interviews and observations. A questionnaire, group discussions and document reviews complemented the data collection. Data collected were mainly analyzed qualitatively with a support of HyperRESEARCH computer assisted data analysis software.
The study found that inclusive education was diversely conceptualized by teachers, students and experts in the special needs education unit but mainly confined to disabled and other minority social groups. Likewise, the UDSM was perceived to be inclusive but challenged by lack of universally designed mediating tools and practices to support equal opportunity for engagement and accessibility to knowledge and skills of equal quality to all students. The Students with visual impairment mostly perceived that the mediating tools like some of assistive technology devises, instructional methods and assessment tools and procedures were less universally designed to support different alternatives for their engagement, access to information and demonstrate their abilities. As a result, a retrofitting approach was necessary but inconvenient in some learning contexts. All in all, despite the fact that the practices of this university were perceived to be inclusive by both teachers and students, data related to the students’ experiences also indicated that more opportunities were required to support inclusion of students. The study concludes that knowledge about UDL was not among those approaches explicitly advocated in higher education in Tanzania. Hence, call for a need for a discussion and investigations on how UDL can be promoted in higher education in Tanzania as a pedagogical approach to support inclusion of students in higher learning institutions in Tanzania