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P. du Plessis

University of Johannesburg (SOUTH AFRICA)
School staff have a significant role to play in supporting learners of diverse cultural and language backgrounds. How can teachers effectively engage learners from diverse backgrounds? It is a question that many teachers ask on a daily basis. School enrollment in South Africa is undergoing a vast racial and ethnic transformation, yet there is scant policy discussion of these changes in the current dialogue regarding the education of learners to understand the diversity of the society in which their lives will unfold. With the quickly shifting demographics of learners in schools, it becomes increasingly important to understand whether teachers are adequately prepared for working with diverse groups of learners.

Teacher preparation should be rested within a vision that values diversity, equity and social justice.Fundamental to that vision is conceptualizing its purpose as preparing everyone who qualifies for admission into teacher education to teach well in someone else's community. Regardless of whether one is located in a predomintly White or Black area, a diverse urban area, rural area, all teachers should learn how to cross cultural borders and to build productive interpersonal and academic learning environments for diverse learners.

The study locates the discussion on diversity and classroom practice within the context of socio-political change in South Africa. With the shift in learner demography teachers face multiple and complex issues that may challenge many of their educational practices and assumptions.

The study used mainly the interpretive research paradigm but also draw on aspects related to the critical theory paradigm, with the emphasis on the dialogical processes. The interpretive research paradigm had an emphasis of gauging teachers understanding and management of diversity in a changing school environment. The qualitative approach was useful for research being done in the Gauteng province, South Africa, a province with complex social, economic and political peculiarities.

Both purposeful and convenience sampling informed the selection of the sample. The sample of this study consisted of 20 teachers. These teachers were from the Senior Phase, i.e. Grade 7 to Grade 9 in the Gauteng West District. The teachers representall race groups. Ten teachers were from a primary school and ten from a secondary school.

The study incorporated two methods of data collection:
(a) individual interviews and
(b) a focus group session.

The focus was to see how teachers manage diversity in their classrooms. An individual interview was conducted with ten teachers. The semi-structured interviews lasted 30-40 minutes. A focus group session with six teachers were held. During the interview process, four main areas were addressed. The participants were asked to give their understanding of diversity, their personal role and opinions regarding diversity, the issues they have problems with and how they intervene and deal with diversity issues in the classroom.

Coding was used to organise the data. It was through the coding process that the similar and different trends were identified.

Responses from the interviews and focus group session will also be discussed.