What is it and why do it?
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), inclusive education “involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision that covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children.” Put simply, inclusive education is Education for All (EFA). Without the specific focus of inclusive education on removing barriers to participation and learning for those now excluded, EFA will not be achieved.
Who are the excluded? There is a relatively small group of children with severe disabilities who may need additional support beyond mainstream school. However, excluded children are also those who have never enrolled in school, or were enrolled but then dropped out, but who could participate if schools were more flexible and welcoming; and those who are enrolled in school but are excluded from learning.
Pressure to reach the EFA goals has intensified interest in, and enriched approaches to, inclusive education
Ministries of Education should be as embarrassed by their system’s net non-enrolment rate as they are proud of its net enrolment rate (NER). In some countries, children with disabilities are not even counted in the school-age cohort; in many more, the last 5 percent of the non-enrolled are considered too difficult to identify and too expensive to educate. This willingness to accept less than universal education goes against the Millennium Development Goals and the EFA targets. International development agencies should hold governments responsible for achieving them – and help them to do so. But this is not always easy; once primary enrolment rates reach an acceptable level (not taking into account the EFA quality goal), there are pressures to move what is seen as surplus funding up the system (to secondary education) or down (to early childhood programmes).
Another problem has been debate over the evolving definition of ‘inclusive education’. Once focused on the ‘special needs’ of learners with disabilities, the term now refers to a process which addresses and responds to the diversity of all learners. The evolution of this definition has not come without tension and the concern that the very real needs of people with disabilities will be overlooked in the rush towards mainstreaming; ‘integration’ in the classroom, in other words, does not necessarily lead to ‘inclusion’ in learning.
Practically, inclusive education can work through the development of schools which are child-friendly – meaning child-centred and child-seeking. Such a school actively identifies excluded children and gets them enrolled in school and included in learning. It does this by:
- not excluding or discriminating against children because of difference
- providing free, compulsory, affordable and accessible education
- respecting and welcoming diversity and viewing it as an opportunity, not a problem
- meeting the differing needs of children.
The lessons from the global experience with inclusive education were visible at the International Conference on Education in Geneva, 2008. The general conclusion was clear: pressure to reach the EFA goals has intensified interest in, and enriched approaches to, inclusive education. One particular lesson was that it is insufficient to consider how to integrate one particular group of children. While we need to understand and respond to the needs of each category of exclusion, the overall need is to develop strategies to remove barriers to learning and participation for all children.
- Policy guidelines on inclusion in education
- International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO, 2009
- These guidelines explain the relevance of inclusive education and describe how inclusion is linked to Education for All. They outline the key elements in the shift towards inclusion with a particular focus on teaching for inclusion and the ...
- Index for inclusion: developing learning and participation in schools
- T. Booth; M. Ainscow / Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, Bristol, 2010
- The Index for Inclusion is a set of materials to guide schools through a process of inclusive school development. It is about building supportive communities and fostering high achievement for all staff and students. It provides: a se...