Inclusive education is about the education of all children in mainstream schools and the recent drive toward inclusive education is about more than disability or ‘special educational needs’. It reflects changes in the social and political climate wherein a new approach characterizes thinking about difference.
In recent debate about inclusion, a premium is placed upon full participation by all and respect for the rights of others. Discussion about the benefits of an inclusive society assumes that a society which can nurture, develop and use the skills, talents and strengths of all its members will enlarge its collective resources and ultimately is likely to be more at ease with itself.
These changes in thinking are espoused in much recent discourse about education. Increasingly, this discourse emphasises learners’ rights as well as their needs, and stresses the importance of an education free from discrimination and segregation.
The new anti-discriminatory climate has provided the basis for much change in policy and statute, nationally and internationally. Inclusion has been enshrined as segregation and discrimination have been rejected and outlawed. Articulations of the new developments in ways of thinking, in policy and in law include:
• The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) which sets out children’s rights in respect of freedom from discrimination and in respect of the representation of their wishes and views.
• The UNESCO Salamanca Statement (1994) which calls on all governments to give the highest priority to inclusive education.
What is inclusive education?
Inclusive education differs from previously held notions of ‘integration’ and ‘mainstreaming’, which tended to be concerned principally with disability and ‘special educational needs’ and implied learners changing or becoming ‘ready for’ accommodation by the mainstream. By contrast, inclusion is about the child’s right to participate and the school’s duty to accept. It is about …
• rejecting segregation or exclusion of learners for whatever reason – ability, gender, language, care status, family income, disability, sexuality, colour, religion or ethnic origin;
• maximising the participation of all learners in the community schools of their choice;
• making learning more meaningful and relevant for all, particularly those learners most vulnerable to exclusionary pressures;
• rethinking and restructuring policies, curricula, cultures and practices in schools and learning environments so that diverse learning needs can be met, whatever the origin or nature of those needs.
Inclusion is about school change to improve the educational system for all students. It means changes in the curriculum, changes in how teachers teach and how students learn, as well as changes in how students with and without special needs interact with and relate to one another. Inclusive education practices reflect the changing culture of contemporary schools with emphasis on active learning, authentic assessment practices, applied curriculum, multi-level instructional approaches, and increased attention to diverse student needs and individualization. The claim is that schools, centers of learning and educational systems must change so that they become caring, nurturing, and supportive educational communities where the needs of all students and teachers are truly met. Inclusive schools no longer provide "regular education" and "special education". Instead, inclusive schools provide an inclusive education and as a result students will be able to learn together. In other words, it is open to all students, and that ensure that all students learn and participate. For this to happen, teachers, schools and systems may need to change so that they can better accommodate the diversity of needs that pupils have and that they are included in all aspects of school-life. It also means identifying any barriers within and around the school that hinder learning and participation, and reducing or removing these barriers. Inclusive education is a process of enabling all students, including previously excluded groups, to learn and participate effectively within mainstream school systems. Placing excluded students within a mainstream setting does not of itself achieve inclusion.
- Every student has an inherent right to education on basis of equality of opportunity.
- No student is excluded from, or discriminated within education on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, disability, birth, poverty or other status.
- All students can learn and benefit from education.
- Schools adapt to the needs of students, rather than students adapting to the needs of the school.
- The student’s views are listened to and taken seriously.
- Individual differences between students are a source of richness and diversity, and not a problem.
- The diversity of needs and pace of development of students are addressed through a wide and flexible range of responses.
The practice of developing inclusive schools involves:
- Understanding inclusion as a continuing process, not a one-time event.
- Strengthening and sustaining the participation of all students, teachers, parents and community members in the work of the school.
- Restructuring the cultures, policies and practices in schools to respond to the diversity of pupils within their locality. Inclusive settings focus on identifying and then reducing the barriers to learning and participation, rather than on what is "special" about the individual student or group of students, and targeting services to address the "problem".
- Providing an accessible curriculum, appropriate training programs for teachers, and for all students, the provision of fully accessible information, environments and support.
- Identifying and providing support for staff as well as students.
It is general practice that students in an inclusive classroom are with their chronological age-mates. Also, to encourage a sense of belonging, emphasis is placed on the value of friendships. Teachers often nurture a relationship between a student with special needs and a peer without need. Another common practice is the assignment of a buddy
to accompany a student with special needs at all times (for example in the cafeteria, on the playground, on the bus and so on).
In principle, several factors can determine the success of inclusive classrooms:
- Family-school partnerships
- Collaboration between general and special educators
- Well-constructed Individualized Education Program plans
- Team planning and communication
- Integrated service delivery
- Ongoing training and staff development
Teachers use a number of techniques to help build classroom communities:
- Games designed to build community
- Involving students in solving problems
- Songs and books that teach community
- Openly dealing with individual differences
- Assigning classroom jobs that build community
- Teaching students to look for ways to help each other
- Utilizing physical therapy equipment such as standing frames, so students who typically use wheelchairs can stand when the other students are standing and more actively participate in activities
Inclusive education is claimed by its advocates to have many benefits for the students. Instructional time with peers without need helps the learners to learn strategies taught by the teacher. Teachers bring in different ways to teach a lesson for special needs students and peers without need. All of the students in the classroom benefit from this. The students can now learn from the lesson how to help each other. Socialization in the school allows the students to learn communication skills and interaction skills from each other. Students can build friendships from these interactions. The students can also learn about hobbies from each other. A friendship in school is important for the development of learning. When a student has a friend the student can relate to a member of the classroom. Students’ being able to relate to each other gives them a better learning environment. Involving peers without need with special needs peers gives the students a positive attitude towards each other. The students are the next generation to be in the workforce; the time in the classroom with the special needs and peers without need will allow them to communicate in the real world someday. Special needs students are included in all aspects of school-life. For example, homeroom, specials such as art and gym, lunch, recess, assemblies, and electives. Special needs students involved in these classrooms will give them the time they need to participate in activities with their peers without need. Awareness should be taught to students that will be in the classroom with the special needs peers. The teacher can do a puppet show, show a movie, or have the student talk to the class. The teacher could also read a book to help the student describe his or her special need. The class can ask questions about what they learned and what they want to know. This will help when the students are together in the classroom. Positive modeling is important for the students in the classroom. Positive modeling is the teacher showing a good example towards both special needs and peers without need this will help the students to get along more.
Opponents of inclusive schools believe that individual differences will slow the progress of students without special needs. Therefore, this will create problems for teachers. Some argue that inclusive schools are not a cost-effective response when compared to cheaper or more effective interventions, such as special education
. They argue that special education helps "fix" the special needs students by providing individualized and personalized instruction to meet their unique needs. This is to help students with special needs adjust as quickly as possible to the mainstream of the school and community. Proponents counter that students with special needs are not fully into the mainstream of student life because they are secluded to special education. Some argue that isolating students with special needs may lower their self-esteem and may reduce their ability to deal with other people. In keeping these students in separate classrooms they aren't going to see the struggles and achievements that they can make together.
More recently, post-modern and post-structuralist approaches have also led to critiques of mainstream thinking on inclusion. Broadly, these have explored the exclusionary influence of the language that is characteristic of most current debates on inclusion, going on to challenge the relations of power and hierarchy that operate in much inclusive education. Julie Allan, for example, examines the ideas of the 'philosophers of difference' – Gilles Deleuze, Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida - and puts them to work on inclusion (Allan 2008). She argues that these ideas allow the task of including children to be reframed, and offer not solutions, but different ways of working which involve altering adult-child relationships –subverting, subtracting, and inventing and restructuring teacher education – recognition, rupture and repair. She also advocates making greater use of the arts to challenge exclusion, disrupt boundaries, and establish more inclusive practices.
Ainscow M., Booth T. (2003) The Index for Inclusion: Developing Learning & Participation in Schools. Bristol: Center for Studies in Inclusive Education
Allan, J. (2008) Rethinking Inclusive Education: The philosophers of difference in practice, Dordrecht: Springer
Thomas, G., & Loxley, A. (2007) Deconstructing Special Education and Constructing Inclusion (2nd Edition). Maidenhead: Open University Press.