Inclusion is the way forward

COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION

In India, special schools are growing and there is awareness among educators, of children who have Special Educational Needs (SEN).  Courses for teaching children with SEN are full and teachers want to learn how to cope with children who need their help.

I am talking about regular schools that accept children with special needs, and include them in the school system; this is called ‘inclusion’.

Children, who have learning difficulties, are often excluded from many schools that are ‘results’ orientated. So here we are:  How does a school discriminate one child from another?

There are fundamental requirements to consider:  First the child is required to be able to physically attend classes. 

Secondly,  the candidate for inclusion might not be suitable because of their effect on other students. For example, a student with severe behavioural problems may represent a serious physical danger to others and themselves.  

A school has a duty to provide a safe environment to all students and staff. Some students are not good candidates for inclusion because normal activities prevent them from learning – students with severe attention difficulties might be distracted or distressed by the presence of other students working at the same desks.  For some students with severe autism spectrum disorders or mental retardation, inclusion may not offer an appropriate education.  

There is a constant flow of parents who come to schools with the hope that there is a place for their child with learning difficulties.  

I have discovered, from parents, that many schools do not want to admit children with learning difficulties because they feel that the student will disrupt the class environment and affect results. Some schools admit these children, but then do nothing to enable a conducive learning atmosphere.  Schools appoint teachers to deal with children with special needs, yet do not have them adequately trained.

The recent decision in Mangalore to make a division between children in a school gaining 60 per cent marks and below and those whose scores were above this number, upset many parents.

Maybe there is a case for a two-tier class, allowing the slower students to learn at their own pace.  The danger is that the lower achieving class could become second class – literally!  This is not what we want; inclusion, with support, is the way forward.

With our increasing awareness about the rights of the child and fairness of education, we need to think about inclusion for all children. Inclusion is an approach to education where children with special educational needs spend most, or all of their time with abled  students. 

Inclusion means...
This differs from the idea of ‘integration’ and the implication that the learner becomes ready to join mainstream tuition, which is not always possible with SEN children. Inclusion is the student’s right to participate and the school’s duty to accept the child. Inclusion rejects the use of special schools for SEN students, except those with the most severe disability, but does not reject the need to separate students with disabilities from those without disabilities on occasions. Participation from students with disabilities is their social and educational right.  Schools which are inclusive are structured so that students learn together.

Inclusive Practice (IP) means that students with special needs are educated in regular classes for nearly all day, but are withdrawn for special/specific attention during the day. 

Wherever possible, the student receives the help they need in the classroom and is treated as a member of the whole class. Where the student needs intensive tuition in a 1:1 situation, this is achieved through a ‘pull-out’ system, or special Independent Education Programme (IEP).

To enable inclusive education to achieve its aim, it must be understood that full inclusion does not save money, nor reduce the student’s needs. To avoid harm to the school and the development of other children, adequate support and services for the student need to be put in place.

There needs to be a process to help teachers develop their skills to handle differently-abled students.  There must be time allocated for teachers to meet, plan, create and evaluate these students. In some cases, a reduced class size can meet the students’ needs.

Inclusion programmes depend on the availability of funding. Without sufficient funding schools will not be able to develop programmes for students based on student needs.  To determine the success of inclusive classrooms, there needs to be a family-school partnership in place. Parents need to collaborate with special educators and plans need to be in put in place to identify modifications and goals for each student. General staff who may be time-tabled to teach in a class with slower learners need support and ongoing training. All teachers are not special educators.

There are so many positive effects to inclusion. When students with special needs are made to mingle with other students in the classroom; both groups can benefit from this.

Positive effects on children without disabilities include:

*Development of a caring attitude and perception of peers with disabilities
*Enhancement of social status.
Students with disabilities that are included in schools usually show progress in social skills development. Children who are included are motivated to do better and achieve their potential.

The success of inclusion is based very much on the philosophy of the school, the safety of the environment, the qualifications of the staff and the suitability of the student for an inclusion programme. Coupled with this, parent’s feedback and willingness to be involved in school programmes also help. Schools themselves tend to sponsor gifted children, because they want the best students for their school.  Maybe we should think about trying to get sponsored scholarships for the child with learning difficulties, as they need help more than the brighter child?

Comprehensive education is the right of every child. This means education in a mixed ability group of students, where the brightest can prove themselves and the less-abled can aspire for higher levels .   

Some students are really bright at mathematics, but not so good at writing skills, communication skills — all children are different and not necessarily gifted in every subject. By all means, enable and encourage the gifted child, but let the child also grow up with a cross section of children with mixed abilities, to become a balanced individual.

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