Inclusive Education

A Journey from Classroom Struggles to PhD, Nurturing Change for Learning Disabilities


Join me in this transformative journey as a passionate educator who bit into the elephant of inclusive education. From realizing the gaps in traditional teaching to founding a school for children with learning barriers, explore how the journey continues.

I was recently asked to present a talk on the saying “How do you eat an elephant – just one bite at a time” meaning that any “big” project or venture is possible if you break it down into manageable steps. The problem I’ve always had though, is that I always tend to “bite off more than I can chew”. Have you heard of that one?

My story begins when, as a young teacher in the late 90’s, I was feeling very overwhelmed and helpless because there were students in my class (and in my remedial practice) who were also feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. After all, they weren’t making good enough progress.

Their parents were also feeling overwhelmed and hopeless because they didn’t know what to do about it all. I knew that an hour a week of remedial therapy, or extra lessons, wasn’t nearly enough to fill in the learning gaps.

So I started exploring down this rabbit hole called “special needs education” and I’m still exploring, but on the way down, I achieved my honours, master’s and now finally my Ph.D. in Inclusive Education. But I’m still learning and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

Back to our elephant…

The head – What do I know about?

I know that 1 in every 5 or so children have a learning barrier of some sort…common, broad issues…like dyslexia, ADHD, autism, language delay, speech and language impairments, and so on. I also know that the education system doesn’t adequately prepare teachers to help students, nor are classrooms equipped to accommodate different learning styles and abilities. I also know that parents are often at a loss on what to do, where to go, or how to help their child who is struggling in the classroom.

The heart – What do I need to change? 

I can’t just sit and wait for change. It’s not going to happen fast enough for me. I can’t put up with a rigid, cruel, and mostly old-fashioned system that is failing so many of our children.

The same conveyor belt that we traveled along back in the day, our kids are traveling along. The difference is that the pace is much faster and they have so much more content to have to learn. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones that did well at school and flourished but our kids today are struggling. I had this burning desire to DO something.

 In 2005, 3 ladies met for a coffee and decided to start a school!!! But not just any school, a school for children with learning disabilities/barriers and  Inclusive Education. I knew nothing about how to start a business but we took that first elephant bite together, it was a huge bite…and swallowed.

The hands – What do I need to do?

I knew nothing about business, bank accounts, budgets, hiring people, drawing up policies, creating systems and structures, fundraising, and marketing…but head down, jump in…sink or swim. I swam!

Empowering Inclusive EducationWe registered a NPO and a school and started in the Sunday school classrooms at our church, with 13 brave children and their parents, we downloaded and printed workbooks, we arranged our desks into discussion groups, not rows and lines, we used multi-sensory learning experiences and we listened to what our students were telling us about how they learn and what they need to understand the content. They taught us just as much as we taught them.

Another mega-bite.

The gut – What keeps me hungry?

As a student myself, I had my share of issues at school…from severe anxiety about every new school year starting, getting a new teacher, and even starting at uni, I was a nervous wreck. In primary school, I couldn’t write neatly and often got into trouble for my messy writing, and struggled with maths. I hated the story sums.

I saw classmates at school, victimized and bullied for not being able to read properly, not walking properly, looking or acting weird, getting into trouble for being cheeky or disrupting the class…struggling to cope, and I never want to witness any child feeling overwhelmed and frustrated because they didn’t fit in and felt lost. No child should ever feel not clever enough, not good enough.

The legs – What keeps me going forward?

There’s still a lot to do. Teacher training. Creating places of learning that are pockets of excellence with a more inclusive mindset, Parents need to be brave to seek out these pockets of excellence, or if you can’t find them, create them.

If your child is thriving and doing well on all sides, emotionally, socially, academically, and physically, that’s worth celebrating. But if you are noticing that one or more areas, is losing their sparkle or your child is changing who they are to try and fit in, that’s a red flag right there.

In 2022, I took another huge bite of the elephant of inclusive education and established another company to address these issues. I wanted a place where parents and teachers could come to find information and solutions for learning or school-related issues. Teacher workshops and training, parent talks at schools and academic assessments and individual learning programmes can be provided. 

So what’s your elephant? Is there something that you know a bit about or a lot about? Can you see a need or a problem to solve? Does that “gap” or “need” make you restless or angry or upset? Are there others who feel the same way as you do? Get them together in a room over coffee, talk about it together and take that first bite.

A bit about me:

Philippa Fabbri is an education consultant and remedial reading specialist based in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha, South Africa) and is the Founder/Director of Elsen Academy, and CEO of Education Services a helpdesk and resource for parents and teachers. She can be contacted ot:



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