Original Research

The promise of equal education not kept: Specific learning disabilities – The invisible disability

Melanie A. Gow, Yvonne Mostert, Lorna Dreyer
African Journal of Disability | Vol 9 | a647 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v9i0.647 | © 2020 Melanie A. Gow, Yvonne Mostert, Lorna Dreyer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 May 2019 | Published: 26 February 2020

About the author(s)

Melanie A. Gow, Department of Educational Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Yvonne Mostert, Department of Educational Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Lorna Dreyer, Department of Educational Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Background: This research is part of a larger project on the exploration of inequalities in South African higher education. This current study focussed on the implementation of policies to eradicate inequalities in an inclusive education system.

Objectives: This article aimed to establish the implementation of policy by researching the lived experiences of students with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) studying in the university.

Method: A qualitative, systematic review was employed as the research methodology. Original peer-reviewed qualitative studies published between 1994 and 2017 were systematically reviewed. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) was used to ensure rigorous reviews. The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) was used to guide the process of critical appraisal of the selected articles which resulted in a total of 10 articles being selected for reviewing. The target population of this research comprised undergraduate students diagnosed with SLD. Semi-structured interviews were the main data collection tools used in the studies that were reviewed. Data from the selected articles were extracted and synthesised.

Results: The dominant themes that emerged from the review were: (1) fear of stigmatisation; (2) gaps in policy implementation; (3) experiences vary across departments; and (4) self-determination and family support as success factors.

Conclusion: An important aspect in the transformation of higher education institution is to ensure the closing of the disjuncture between policy and implementation in support of students with SLD.


specific learning disabilities; higher education; inclusive education; PRISMA; transformation; equality


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