In an ideal world, inclusive education would be a part of the everyday experience for all children. But this is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak, and making this a reality becomes something different entirely. In order to appreciate where we are heading with inclusive education, it seems important to encapsulate and acknowledge where we have come from, which I aim to explore throughout this blog. Much of the information throughout this blog comes from the study of my Masters of Education, with a major in inclusive education. 12 months on from writing some of this content, I have built up the courage and desire to share this beyond my tutors, professors and associate professors. I hope that you find it an informative, encouraging, and, most importantly, enjoyable read.
All children have the right to an education where they are faced with equal opportunities and protected from discrimination, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24, 2016), but it still seems that schools have distinct differences in the way that they address this right. Perhaps this is a result of the ethical dilemmas that Principals face and the decisions that they have to make for the better good. The "historical road" that we continue to "travel"along is enabling us to learn more about inclusion along the way, so we are able to do more. But have we managed to reach the end of the road yet? Although we're not a million miles away, it seems not. But it is safe to say that we have come a long way since the predecessors of inclusion.
Integration... a failure
Integration (often referred to as "mainstreaming") attempted to place students in everyday classrooms for them to absorb mainstream education. The introduction of integration enabled a shift in thinking as students with learning disabilities were no longer deemed uneducable. Also, they were transitioned into mainstream schools, rather than separate special schools, although often working with a teacher aide and accessing different domains of the curriculum. Therefore, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that integration moved us away from a culture of segregation and that some of the attributes that have derived from integration have enabled us to get to where we are today.
However, integration failed due to its lack of consideration and alterations of "organisational structure" and "pedagogical routines". Although students were placed in the same classroom, there was emphasis on the need for individuals to 'fit in' and adjust to the expectations of their peers. This created a negative focus on "how do I become like others?" It is obvious that integration does not consider the holistic needs of a child, including their social and emotional needs. Why should an individual feel the need to be like somebody else? Why not just be themselves? Placing individuals into a classroom without reasonable adjustments, changes or modifications merely scratches the surface of providing equal opportunities for them. It does not provide them with an equitable education. As a result of this, schools who have executed integration have been known to be constantly tackling hurdles of effectively implementing inclusive education policies. It could be suggested that when schools applied integration within their classrooms, they did not acquire the depth of knowledge to know any better, to facilitate the needs of all individuals.
A wealth of research has found that the benefits of inclusion far outweigh those of integration, not only for students with learning disabilities but also for those without. Inclusive practice is now a fundamental part of legislation, policies and declarations across the globe. The Salamanca Statement (1994) played a vital part in the shift from integration to inclusion, mentioning that successful inclusive schools celebrate diversity, develop communities, create an inclusive society and enable education for all. Based on this statement being reinforced 25 years ago, it is clear that the theory of inclusive education being the key to achieving the right education has continued to develop and intensify over this period of time.
The percentage point difference of benefits of inclusion for students with disabilities, overlooking academics and in consideration of the 'whole' child.
With inclusive education, all individuals are guaranteed an education that is: "accessible, free, appropriate, timely, non-discriminatory, meaningful, measurable and in the least-restrictive setting" (p. 19). We move away from the idea of 'how do we make these children become like others?' and we turn to 'what adjustments can we make to ensure that we cater to the needs of these children?' Furthermore, we no longer see students with disabilities as a burden, we celebrate how each individual is unique. Our key focus is to support successful outcomes from all students through adapting to individuals' needs using "equity, inclusive language, the social model and adjustments to barriers." We educate all children in the same classrooms and teach them the same things, with no 'pull outs' for 'special' classes.
Are we there yet?
Although the reinforcement of policies such as the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), Disability Standards for Education (2005), and the Salamanca Statement (2004) have been digested by educational institutions for up to 20 years, it seems that they have not been implemented effectively across all schools. The current challenge that we face is the need for "genuine inclusive schools" for all. In order to achieve this goal, a top-to-bottom model is required. First and foremost is the need for a culture shift in schools to celebrate diversity. Also, the need for whole school change which involves the mapping of the current school, both physically and socially, in consideration of what do we need to do, what are the barriers, and are the staff and families on board? Finally, pre and in-service training for educators could eliminate any existing assumptions that students with disabilities are burdens and that they need to be dealt with separately, and to successfully implement inclusion effectively within their classrooms.
"One can alter the conditions of access or enhance the person's criteria of access; it is a matter of determining responsibility and the most effective locus of change." (p. 176)