If you ask me what my favorite colour is, I often get bamboozled because its a tough choice to make. Choosing one from a range of colours, is difficult , especially when I can have all. Why the need to choose one favourite for life? I may happen to prefer a few colour to the others on some days, but I can have them all that way!
Inclusion versus Special education:
Special education is a system of education that caters to the special needs of students with disabilities. It was started on the premise that children with disabilities cannot be taught in mainstream classrooms with other kids who have no disabilities. This is because the former have certain needs that cannot be met in a mainstream classroom. There are different kinds of special schools across the world and more often they are more niche wherein they cater to a particular kind of disability only, for example School for the blind/visually impaired, School for the deaf/auditory impaired, School for kids with Learning Disabilities and so on. While special schools are beneficial with respect to the resources they are equipped with to support kids with disabilities, and help them gain confidence and feel more accepted, there are disadvantages too. Special schools isolate or single out kids with disabilities from those with no disabilities and that may impact them in different ways and parents often worry about how their kids would interact with the outside world in the future.
Inclusive education, on the other hand, refers to restructuring classrooms to make them more accommodating of differences. It means that all learners will be greeted and supported to learn, play and participate in the classroom and outside it too. It strongly believes that every child has the potential and ability to learn and effectively apply the learnt knowledge and skill in the way they contribute to their communities. It views diversity or different as a strength that can be leveraged by using suitable strategies and designs in planning and executing lessons or activities, both in and outside class.
Between special and inclusive education, I personally prefer the latter. I stand in favor of inclusive education because I believe that every child matters and therefore as an educator I would want to reach out to every child in my class and work actively towards supporting them in ways that will facilitate learning for them instead of removing them from their known surroundings and their peers. Moreover we can see how the term inclusion is more holistic than some others that are more often used as synonyms to it. Moore et al. (1998:2) examine the meaning of the term “inclusion” and how phenomenon of “inclusion” is different from “integration” and “mainstream” approaches (these words are often used interchangeably): Mainstreaming brought students with special education needs into general classrooms only when they didn’t need specially designed instruction-when they could keep up with the “mainstream”. Integration presumes that “segregation” exists and students are with their peers without disabilities part time. In reality students who were integrated part time were not truly a part of the class and were often involved in activities very different from the other students in the class. Inclusion, a philosophy of acceptance, belonging and community, also means that general education classes are structured to meet the needs of all the students in the class.
Inclusion requires teachers to be more flexible and adaptive. It requires educators to create curriculums that are more inclusive. Teachers and other stakeholders need to be more patient and empathetic, and try to understand kids with disabilities by engaging in a subjective introspection and placing themselves in the shoes if the child who is struggling each day. Inclusion helps emphasize the significance of the diversity we are surrounded with and embrace it whole-heartedly. There are multiple advantages that inclusive education holds for learners: 1. It propagates a culture of acceptance, respect and belonging. 2) It spreads awareness about inclusion and its need in the community and among the people. 3)It makes both kids and adults more aware of individual differences among humans and strives to lessen incidents of harassments and bullying. 4) makes kids role models, that is while being students in class, they become the teachers that make people more conscious about the need for inclusion. 5)diversity is perceived as strength and leads to the development of strong bonds among kids and adults.
How does inclusion look in a school? : A school that allows for inclusive education will ensure that children with disabilities or with special education needs are present in the school with their peers, neighborhood friends, cousins and siblings. It will ensure that kids with special needs are participating and engaged both inside as well as outside class and are assigned tasks that neurotypical kids are required to complete. It ensures that kids with special needs are learning and achieving success in class; that they are taking ownership of their learning despite being challenged while enjoying lessons too. Finally it must ensure that kids with special needs feel accepted, are able to befriend peers and look forward to going to school.
To create such a strong inclusive environment in the school, it is imperative for schools to accept kids with special needs instead of expecting the children to adapt to the given standards, rules and parameters of the school from the start. This then requires schools to be willing to restructure their environments and operate more flexibly. Besides schools will need to have support structures in place and be more collaborative in their approach. They need to work with teachers and parents alike, by making them more aware of the need for inclusion and how it may look on a daily basis.
How does an inclusive classroom look?
An inclusive classroom is one that makes learning available to all kids. It uses strategies and tools that enable all kids to learn and grow. An inclusive classroom ensures that all kids have access to agency and support. It addresses the needs of all kids. An inclusive classroom ensures that: 1)Content is broken down so that all kids can comprehend it. 2) Content is represented in multiple ways so different learners can learn differently. 3) Learning is activity oriented, fun and engaging. 4) Use alternate modes of assessment instead of the systemic paper-pencil method. This can be presentations and interviews which can be both a group or individual activity. It can also be a drawing/craft/ a self created song or script. The aim is to assess mastery of content, hence the method can be anything that the child is comfortable with because we are trying to set the kids up for success. 5) Teachers are patient, supportive and encouraging. They know that behaviour is just a manifestation of something that is bothering the children but they are unable to explain it, therefore teachers know not to take it personally. 6)The emotions and feelings of the children are validated and addressed, instead of being brushed under the carpet. 7) Positive language is used in the classroom. 8) Using a lot of team based work so all kids interact with each other, and no one feels cornered or isolated. 9) Structures and cues ( verbal or non verbal and/or visual) for kids who have ADHD or Visual/Audio processing disorders.10) Classroom environment should be adaptive too. Seating arrangements and decor should be need based.
Remember that it is not an inclusive school or classroom, if kids with disabilities are sent to a special room with a special educator for most of the day and given tasks that are entirely different from that of their peers. They hardly get to see or interact with their peers and miss out on other opportunities and experiences, available to the rest of the class or school.
Inclusion treats all colours with respect and acknowledges that while each colour is different from the other, each is like a puzzle piece that helps complete the picture. To reiterate: Inclusion helps build long lasting friendships amongst all kids. It boosts the confidence of kids with disabilities whereby they take more ownership and responsibility of their learning. They feel motivated to participate and engage in activities. They look for opportunities that will enhance their knowledge and skills.
Thus, as Lisa Friedman mentions in Removing the Stumbling Block: 'We do not “do” inclusion “for”people with disabilities. Rather it is incumbent upon us to figure out how all the things we do can be inclusive’.