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Inclusive Education, a strategy for achieving Education for All

As a result of the World Education Forum in Dakar, 2000, the challenge of exclusion from education has been put on the political agenda in many countries. This has helped to focus attention on a much broader range of children who may be excluded from or marginalized within education systems because of their apparent difficulties.

These may include:

  • Those who are enrolled in education but are excluded from learning.
  • Those who are not enrolled in schools but who could participate if schools were more flexible in their responses and welcoming in their approach;
  • The relatively small group of children with more severe impairments who may have a need for some form of additional support.

The Dakar World Education Forum recognised the urgency to address the needs of these learners:

‘…Education systems must be inclusive, actively seeking out children who are not enrolled, and responding flexibly to the circumstances and needs of all learners…”

 

The ultimate goal of inclusive education is a school where all are participating and treated equally. However, it is important to remember that inclusive education is a constant process to ensure that Education for All really is for all.

 

When looking to reach the students who do not participate fully, it is important to give attention to the forms of education provided for all children, including a consideration of which children are given the opportunity to participate in school and which children are excluded and on what basis. Care has to be taken when looking into which children come to be categorized as being in some way “special” or “excluded” within particular contexts. In communities where all children, including children with disabilities, are sent to the local school, the community and the school take responsibility for all children. Bringing special needs thinking, where one group of children is identified as different, into such a context might diminish this sense of responsibility. It is also important to remember that a child categorized in one context as “special” might not be so in another and that children categorized within one “group” might have more different than similar needs. Experiences in different countries show that it is not sufficient to look at how to integrate one particular group of children, such as children with disabilities.

 

In some schools one can see that children categorized as having special needs might be in the same classroom, but have separate tasks to do or even a separate teacher. Communication and interaction with the other pupils then become difficult, and eventually the child is excluded within the class. Integrating one group of students may not address other grounds for discrimination in classrooms. So, when moving towards more inclusive policies and practice, the focus needs to be on strategies to remove barriers to learning and participation for all children.

It is necessary to look into how schools can be modified or changed to make sure that the education is relevant to the local context, includes and treats all pupils with respect and is flexible so that all can participate. This requires re-directing resources and inter-sectorial cooperation and has implications on the following areas:

 

1. Policy Development

In some countries policies exist that open up a possibility for authorities not to take responsibility for certain groups of children. Often this applies to children with severe intellectual disability, but it might also refer, for instance, to ethnic minorities or children without a birth certificate. Also in a great number of countries, the education of some specific groups of learners might be the responsibility of another authority than the Ministry of Education. Often this allows for a situation where these learners are not expected or encouraged to participate in mainstream education.

 

2. Curriculum Development

Within the education system the curriculum may be one of the major obstacles for inclusion. In many countries the curriculum is extensive and demanding, and centrally designed and rigid. The curriculum can facilitate the development of more inclusive settings if it leaves for the school or teacher to make adaptations so that it makes sense in the local context and for the individual learner. Linked to this is the issue of language of instruction. In many countries it may be different than the language that students use at home making it difficult for some of them to follow what is happening in the classroom. Bilingual education can help to address this problem.

 

3. Teacher Training

Often much of the teaching in the classroom is based on rote learning, meticulous following of textbooks and copying. In order to change the practices in the classroom into more child-friendly and flexible practices, teachers and schools need training building on the existing expertise. There also needs to be a school environment that encourages risk-taking so teachers have the time and dare try out new approaches, and for example do not have to worry about inspectors or head teachers not liking what they are doing. A whole school approach to school improvement has proven more effective in establishing change in schools, than training a few of the staff.

 

4. Local Capacity Building and Community Involvement

The first task in building effective support for schools is to mobilize the resources that already exist in schools and the local community. In addition there might be need for some external support such as teams of teacher trainers or support teachers coming in on a regular basis. For instance, in some countries, the roles of the inspectors have changed from “grading” schools and teachers to giving pedagogical support on a regular basis. Often this type of support can also be derived from the elders in the local community.

 

UNESCO recognises that separate projects for marginalized and excluded groups do not have a huge impact. Instead, UNESCO promotes inclusive approaches throughout its activities. UNESCO concentrates on how we can work together to raise the quality of education for all students. The focus of the work has been on:

  • strengthening inclusive approaches in national EFA plans, education policies and strategies
  • developing approaches and resource materials to address diverse needs in education
  • supporting national capacity building for government policy-making and system management
  • gathering and disseminating information and ideas