University of Johannesburg: Teaching and learning for an inclusive society as UJ launches Neurodiversity Centre

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“At UJ, we see the 19 who have a daily opportunity to learn about diversity, collaboration, inclusion and friendship,” said Faculty of Education’s Prof Anthony Brown, who MC’d the launch event of the first Centre for Neurodiversity at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Soweto Campus on Friday, 9 September 2022.

The Neurodiversity@UJ (CND@UJ), headed by the Department of Educational Psychology is a result of a collaboration between the University, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the European Union (EU).

The CND@UJ will be involved in community engagement work within the larger Soweto area as well as in surrounding communities. The Centre is one of the three centres in the country funded by the DHET and EU as Centres of Excellence and National Hubs (the other two being Wits – Centre for Deaf Studies and University of Pretoria – Centre for Visual Impairment Studies).

The aim of the Centre is to address the neurodevelopmental learning needs of children and youth through a multi-pronged approach, including but not limited to:

Training teachers and other stakeholders on neurodivergent learning needs
Therapeutic and learning needs intervention for learners and youth
Parent support and development
Community engagement and empowerment
At the launch, Vice-Dean: Teaching and Learning & Centre Coordinator Professor Boitumelo Diale emphasised the important need to help people with disabilities.

“We are used to talking about taking care of people with disabilities but generally, communities when you talk about disabilities, they tend to focus on physical disabilities that can be seen and recognised. Little do people know about neurodevelopmental disabilities. Children with Autism, ADHD, specific learning disorders and cognitive disorders are mistaken to be naughty, not wanting to learn or not having interest in their work because their teachers do not understand them. This is where the Centre becomes important.”

She added that it was not only teachers that misunderstood the children but their parents as well.

“It is for us to begin to harness the abilities of children with intellectual disabilities and begin to say that they too can be able to enter the world of work and contribute to the economy of the country.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation Prof Saurabh Sinha reiterated the importance of inclusivity.

“Inclusive education is a tenant of sustainable development and features prominently in multiple Sustainable Development Goals and in our case contributes to SDG 4 which has an emphasis on quality education. The research in the field has been astounding. The mandates of the universities include the need to be socially responsive. In South Africa, in particular, it is apparent that our schools and educators are not equipped to deal with neurodivergence. Inclusivity needs to be thought of in a broader sense to ensure we speak to all segments of our population.”

Prof Sinha added that capacity and skill building were tenants of 4IR and were key to this endeavour.

“As our constitution emphasises, the target is education for all.”

In underprivileged communities, families usually cannot afford psychological (including neurodevelopmental) services.

This Centre will meet these needs and allow easy access for teachers as a walk-in service for information, development and support.

A keynote address was given by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education Dr Makgabo Mhaule who also officially opened the Centre in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

On Saturday, 10 September 2022, the Neurodiversity colloquium will take place at the Imbizo Hall, UJ Soweto Campus, under the theme: “The Neurodiversity Hub: A multifaceted community approach for South Africa”.

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