BACKGROUND : It can hardly be disputed that a school environment should be conducive or, at the
very least, not prohibitive to effective learning. The provision of fair, equal and barrier-free
access to education is referred to as inclusive education. South Africa supports a policy of
inclusive schooling, striving to accommodate all children, including those with disabilities, in
mainstream schools. This article sets out to prove that noise control in classrooms is a relevant,
yet neglected, aspect of inclusive classroom design in South Africa and requires specific attention.
OBJECTIVES : The objectives of this study are to: (1) establish the impact that noise has on
learners with sensory, language or learning impairments; (2) establish the preferred listening
conditions for these learners by examining prior research and guidelines available in other
countries; and (3) outline the current South African regulations pertaining to classroom
acoustics and assess them against the preferred listening environment.
METHOD : This research was conducted as a systematic review with reference to the South
African context. Local and international research and guidelines were used as references,
providing an overview and evaluation of data concerning noise and learning.
RESULTS : Noise is disadvantageous for learners, particularly those with sensory, language or
learning impairments. Research and international guidelines show that the ideal ambient level
is 30 dBA – 35 dBA, allowing the achievement of an ideal signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of +15 dB,
and the ideal reverberation time is 0.4 s – 0.6 s. Various South African regulations discussed are
inconsistent regarding ambient noise level (ranging from 35 dBA – 50 dBA) and say little about
reverberation time for classrooms.
CONCLUSION : South African regulations regarding classroom acoustics require revision to ensure
inclusion of all learners with disabilities. The current status does not enforce barrier-free environments in mainstream schools for children with sensory, language or learning impairments.