The main object of any educational system is to create equal opportunities to provide quality education and effective learning so that all learners can reach their full potential and make a meaningful contribution to their future and participate in our society throughout their lives. It is imperative that the educational system is able to prevent learning breakdowns and exclusions. Barriers to learning can be found within the learner, be located within the centre of learning, found within the educational system or located within a broader social, economic or political context. Sometimes it is possible to identify these barriers which can then be addressed appropriately. The key to preventing barriers from occurring is the effective monitoring and meeting of the different needs amongst the learner populations and within the educational system as a whole. But the current focus of school improvement policies and practices are too limited to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school.
Effective learning is influenced by the availability of educational resources to meet the needs of all the learners in the educational system. The lack of numbers of learning centres does not meet the learning population number. Inadequacies in resources and inequalities of discrimination in gender, race and disability found in our society result in forming barriers. The discrimination of the race factor was influenced by the apartheid era where the black population received a poor quality of education and even today non-urban districts are more marginalised with the educational system then urban-based districts that achieve higher exam marks. The inability to pay school fees will lead to the total exclusion of learners from the educational system due to the socio-economic barriers that further include; serve disabilities, living in poor communities and high areas of violence and crime.
With the inability of learners to access services or the non-existent services that are linked to educational provisions that contribute to the learning processes, learners can not gain anything from the educational system. If learners are unable to reach the learning centres due to there being inadequate transport facilities, the roads being poorly developed or the learners are disabled and the transport is unwilling to transport them to the learning center, they will be excluded from the educational system. Clinics also affect the learner being involved in the educational system as the learners either have to get regular treatment that will leave the learner experiencing long periods of absence or if learners are unable to acquire the necessary treatment, will decrease their concentration, their capacity to learn and increase impairment.
The lack of access to other services such as communication services and welfare also hinders the learning process. Educational systems are also largely inaccessible to deaf learners due to the lack of sign language interpreters. The lack of and distribution of different resources creates barriers to learning. With no money; no books, no human resources or writing material, the learners will not benefit from the educational system.
Poverty and Underdevelopment
The inability of families to meet their basic needs such as shelter and nutrition, effect the learning process of learners as there is increased emotional stress and under-nourishment that leads to a lack of concentration. Communities in poverty are also poorly resourced with limited educational centres and the learners are more likely to leave school and find a job to provide an income for their family. Disable learners are more easily excluded from the educational system and labour markets as able-bodied siblings have been accommodated first. Environment conditions can form barriers to learning through economic deprivation, community disorganization, violence, drugs and the rural people being in the minority.
Negative and discriminatory attitudes on the basis of prejudice towards gender, race, class, culture, disability, religion, ability; remain a critical barrier to learning. The negative attitudes and the stereotyping of learner’s differences due to poor knowledge as well as from fear and lack of awareness are easily picked up by other children who further alienate other learners. These attitudes result from traditional and religious beliefs.
Disturbances that arise within a social, economic and political environment can affect the social and emotional well-being of learners. A learner who is abused emotionally, physically or sexually, can be physically and emotionally damaged. Other factors that influence learners are substance abuse, conflict within the family, young girls being raped and falling pregnant, the lack of a support system and the lack of infrastructure that could lead to the learner’s breakdown or dropout of the educational system. In the wider parts of the African society, civil war and other forms of political violence can lead to trauma and emotional distress in learners.
Some families that are evicted become refugees and the learning process is disrupted while the family seeks a safer environment. A safe environment for the educators and the learners cannot be guaranteed and this can prevent effective teaching and learning taking place. An unhealthy environment with a lack of electricity and toilets places learners at risk to diseases. Natural disasters and epidemics such as HIV/AIDS result in the learners having to deal with the loss of family members and making them vulnerable because they might have to fend for themselves.
School and Peer Influence
Learners who drop out or who are going through a learning breakdown can further manifest their negative behaviour to become disruptive and self-destructive. This negatively influences the other learners and may result in resistant and harmful attitudes in the classroom. Learners may have a negative encounter with a teacher or their peer and a mental block can be formed towards the educational system. Inappropriate teacher and peer role models cause a critical barrier in the learning process.
The curriculum itself creates barriers by being inflexible in the style and tempo in which teaching and learning takes place, the way in which the classroom is organised and managed as well as the availability of materials and equipment as it prevents, the needs of the diverse learners, from being met. The way in which assessments are designed can form a barrier between the learners who can memorise a certain amount of information and the learners who understand the concepts that are involved. The teachers need to be enthusiastic about their teaching subject and get the learners more engaged and active in their lessons.
Language and Communication
Barriers to learning arise when the medium of teaching and learning takes place through a language that is not the learner’s first language. It places the learners at a disadvantage.
Learners with disabilities may not be able to have effective learning taking place nor have their particular needs met due to the fact that their impairments may prevent them from learning and developing which results in barriers being met. Some learners will more easily experience a learning breakdown.
The majority of learning centres are physically inaccessible to a large number of learners. The amount of learners in an area compared to the amount of schools is a shocking comparison, creating a barrier for learners to eventually get accepted into a school or to go to a school with many learners in the one class and have no one-on-one attention and it becomes difficult to meet the different needs of the diverse learners. Many schools are not built for the accessibility of blind, deaf and wheelchair bound learners, with these disabilities, and the environment becomes unsafe.
Lack of Family Care and Involvement
The parents and community’s active involvement is central to the effectiveness of learning and developing. Learners need to get recognition from their parents because without support and encouragement learners become insecure, have a low self-esteem and lack innovation that leads to the learning process being hindered.
All learners come from different backgrounds and have grown up in different environments but in the African context we have generalized their situation. An individuals barriers could include; medical problems, inadequate nutrition, underdevelopment, psycho-physiological problems and having a difficult temperament and adjustment problems.
“If the education system is to promote effective learning and prevent learning breakdown, it is imperative that mechanisms are structured into the systems to break down existing barriers.” These mechanisms must be able to recognise the different barriers, overcome the barriers that occur, prevent barriers from occurring and promote the development of effective learning and teaching environments. It is important to have the ability to recognise, identify and understand the nature of the barriers at hand. There must be dedicated commitment to develop those mechanisms which will then allow diversity to be accommodated in the educational system.
The enforcement of positive behaviour as well as the challenge to overcome negative attitudes must be effectively monitored to ensure that there are results. The promotion of mental and physical health to all the learners will help them become more aware to how they can improve their learning process. These mechanisms include: the improvement of protective legislation and policies, innovative practices for recognising and accommodating the continent’s diversity, government and non-government owned organizations aimed at including learners that were previously excluded from the educational system, activities that challenge attitudes against discrimination and curriculum restructuring. It is most important to work towards the involvement of the learners, parents, educators and community members, in the process to govern centres of learning and create training programmes that are equipped to deal with diverse needs. These mechanisms need to be supported in order to organise and develop teaching and learning environments as well as to help transform the economic, political and social environments.