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Barriers to Inclusive Education

There is a long list of barriers that hinder inclusive education. These are summarised below.



The greatest barriers to inclusion are caused by society, not by particular medical impairments. Negative attitudes towards differences result in discrimination and can lead to a serious barrier to learning. Negative attitudes can take the form of social discrimination, lack of awareness and traditional prejudices. Regarding disabled children some regions still maintain established beliefs that educating the disabled is pointless. Often the problem is identified as being caused by the child's differences rather than the education systems shortcomings.


Physical Barriers

The vast majority of centres of learning are physically inaccessible to many learners, especially to those who have physical disabilities. In poorer, particularly rural areas, the centres of learning are often inaccessible largely because buildings are rundown or poorly maintained. They are unhealthy and unsafe for all learners. Many schools are not equipped to respond to special needs, and the community does not provide local backing. Environmental barriers included: doors, passageways, stairs and ramps and recreational areas. A major problem identified by many students is physically getting into school.



In any education system, the curriculum is one of the major obstacles or tools to facilitate the development of more inclusive system. Curriculum is often unable to meet the needs of a wide range of different learners. In many contexts, the curriculum is centrally designed and rigid, leaving little flexibility for local adaptations or for teachers to experiment and try out new approaches. The content might be distant to the reality in which the students live, and therefore inaccessible and unmotivating.


Teachers' abilities and attitudes can be major limitations for inclusive education. The training of staff at all levels is often not adequate. Where there is training it often tends to be fragmented, uncoordinated and inadequate. If teachers do not have positive attitudes towards learners with special needs, it is unlikely that these children will receive satisfactory education.


Language and communication
Teaching and learning often takes place through a language which is not the first language of some learners. This places these learners, at a disadvantage and it often leads to significant linguistic difficulties which contribute to learning breakdown. Second language learners are particularly subject to low expectations and discrimination.


Socio-economic factors
Inadequacies and inequalities in the education system and are most evident in areas which have sustained poverty and high levels of unemployment. The impact of violence and HIV/AIDS can also have adverse effects.


A major constraint is serious shortages of resources – lack of schools or inadequate facilities, lack of teachers and/or shortage of qualified staff, lack of learning materials and absence of support. The inadequacy of resources available to meet the basic needs in education is a pervasive theme. It is estimated that achieving education for all will require additional financial support by countries and donors of about US$ 8 billion per year (Dakar Framework for Action, 2000).


Organisation of the education system
Education systems are often centralised and this can inhibit change and initiative. Responsibility for decisions tends to be located at the highest level and the focus of management remains orientated towards employees complying with rules rather than on ensuring quality service delivery. There is also a lack of information within many systems and often there is not an accurate picture of the number of learners excluded from the school system. Only a small percentage of learners who are categorised as having ‘special needs' receive appropriate education in ordinary schools or special settings and there is no support available for those learners who are outside the system. Existing provision after primary school is inadequate to meet the needs.


Policies as barriers
Policy makers who do not understand or accept the concept of inclusive education are a barrier to the implementation of inclusive policies. In some countries there may still exist policies that facilitate the possibility for authorities to declare that some children are ‘uneducatable'. Usually this practice applies to children with severe intellectual disability. In some other countries, the education of some specific groups of learners might the responsibility of another authority than the Ministry of Education. Very often this leads to a situation where these learners are not expected to participate in mainstream education and, consequently, they do not have equal opportunities for further education or employment.