Making education inclusive for all
Educational inclusion relates to all children accessing and meaningfully participating in quality education, in ways that are responsive to their individual needs. The terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive education’ are often used in relation to children with disabilities and/or special needs and emerged partly out of debates to reduce their segregation from mainstream schooling.
In recent years, these terms have been used by the Education for All (EFA) movement in relation to all children who are marginalised and excluded from basic education, not just in terms of initial access to schooling, but access to rights within schooling processes. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identifies inclusion as “…a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education.”
Inclusive education is the responsibility of everyone involved in educational delivery
Inclusive approaches to schooling are different to other initiatives, because they put the responsibility on the education system or provider at all levels (international, national and local) to adapt and be responsive to the needs of children. Interventions to address exclusion need to work at multiple levels. According to UNESCO, inclusion “…involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision which covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children.”
Some children are more vulnerable than others to forms of exclusion: for example, those with disabilities, those from very poor households, those living nomadic lifestyles, children from some socio-ethnic/ethnic-linguistic groups, those living in fragile environments and children who are over-age for their grade. The terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ highlight the multidimensional and intersecting nature of children’s vulnerability.
Both inclusion and exclusion are processes and states of (in)equality, with vulnerability rarely being stable. Inappropriate or unresponsive educational practices can further marginalise vulnerable children within the education system or those excluded from the system altogether.
EFA and inclusion
In response to EFA targets and the Millennium Development Goals, many countries have recently made great progress in increasing enrolments, with the focus on achieving universal access to primary school. Regardless, many hard-to-reach children remain out of the schooling system and every year, millions of children worldwide drop out of school before completing basic education. Without more emphasis on the quality of provision (including inclusive practices), many vulnerable children will remain both excluded from school and silently excluded within schools, learning little while they are there. Consequently, EFA goals will remain unrealised.
Approaches to inclusion
Pockets of good practice of inclusive education exist. Many are small-scale and initiated by non- governmental organisations. A few governments, such as South Africa’s, have made radical shifts towards inclusive education at a policy level, but practice still lags behind policy intentions. Questions remain about how inclusive approaches to EFA can be adopted and sustained on a larger scale with the support and enthusiasm of educational professionals. Many find themselves in under-resourced and difficult circumstances, and the focus on enrolments over quality continues.
Rights-based approaches provide one way of addressing inclusion in education, whereby rights to access, quality and respect frame policy, programming and schooling relations. Changes, which need not be costly, can be made, such as:
- ‘including’ vulnerable parents and children in school decision-making and national policy dialogue
- giving school councils and governance structures a remit around children’s rights
- training teachers on issues of inclusion and child-centred teaching methods
- making school opening hours flexible
- abolishing corporal punishment.
One of the biggest challenges is to get educational professionals worldwide to want to address inclusion.
This edition of insights features a range of articles showing some of the complexities of inclusion across a range of international, national and local contexts. They highlight a range of exclusions and actions needed to improve inclusive practices in these particular contexts. While each article provides a unique perspective on a particular situation, there are common threads. There is a demand for good quality, relevant education and communities are eager for (all) their children to learn.
Many children remain excluded from education and EFA goals remain unrealised. Nidhi Singal highlights the limited educational opportunities for children with disabilities in India. This includes a lack of initial access and access past primary schooling. She highlights the need for teacher training to improve poor quality provision for children in mainstream schools.
Current policies and practices fail many vulnerable children. Kwame Akyeampong and Eric Ananga show how schools fail to adapt to the needs of children at risk of dropping out in Ghana. Without additional classroom help, these children become increasingly marginalised, and drop out permanently.
Inclusive education remains marginalised within educational discourses that emphasise improving enrolments. Yet without more inclusive approaches to schooling, access goals remain unrealised. Helen Pinnock advocates a pro-active approach to tackling exclusion for education in emergency situations. She argues that without this, marginalised children can become less visible to emergency workers and education providers.
Getting hard-to-reach children into school requires flexible, needs-based and non-discriminatory approaches to education delivery. Caroline Dyer demonstrates how educational initiatives working with the mobile lifestyles of pastoralist communities in South Asia can enable access to education without compromising lifestyle choices. Filiz Polat describes how participatory action research at the school level in Tanzania can be a way of stimulating discussion and action around inclusion.
Inclusive education is the responsibility of everyone involved in educational delivery and interventions need to occur at multiple levels. At the international level, development agencies must apply pressure and hold national governments to account for failing the most marginalised, according to Sheldon Shaeffer. At the national level, governments need to ensure groups of children are not under-prioritised and/or excluded from educational provision; Masooda Bano highlights the necessity of addressing fundamental structural problems in the state education system in order to increase the enrolment and retention of girls. And at the local level, Patricia Ames shows that schools can encourage children and communities to shape local educational priorities, thus reducing exclusion.
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- Inclusive education: where there are few resources
- S. Stubbs; I. Lewis (ed) / Enabling Education Network, 2009
- This book aims to provide a background and critical overview of key issues, concepts and strategies in relation to inclusive education, that are relevant to situations where economic resources and access to information is limited.&nbs...
- EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010: reaching the marginalized
- Education for All, UNESCO, 2010
- The aftershock of the global financial crisis threatens to deprive millions of children in the world’s poorest countries of an education, the 2010 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report warns. With 72 million children ...
- A human rights approach to Education for All: a framework for the realization of children’s right to education and rights within education
- G. Lansdown; M. Clark (ed); D. Craissati (ed) / United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2007
- This document is a comprehensive analysis of actions necessary to undertake a rights-based approach to achieving EFA. It offers a comprehensive framework of strategies and actions necessary to translate human rights into legislation, ...