What is Inclusive Education?
As the Ministry of Education’s Inclusive Education Adviser, I had often being asked questions such as: What is Inclusive Education? What is the difference between Inclusive Education and Special Education? Does the term ‘Inclusion’ mean the inclusion of children with a disability or special needs parse?
The many questions I have received along these lines, from educationists, stakeholders, people of the Cook Islands that I have met during my tour of duties all over the Cook Islands and people I have generally met gave me an inkling or a hunch that I needed to clearly define what Inclusive Education is. In my quest to define what it is , fueled by a recent workshop, where I had to make a presentation titled :- “What is Inclusive Education?”, for newly appointed principal, I found this to be a daunting task. For the term can never be defined very simply as it might add to the confusion or haziness in the meaning of this educational agenda, that exists within our local context.
In this light, a brief review of the literature is necessary to enable us to gauge other’s definition before we can read our own meaning that is contextualized or that can make explicit a meaning that all Cook Islanders can relate to. So here we go:-
The discourse of Inclusion and how it has developed including the different terminologies that are associated with the move towards the realization of an inclusive education system can in itself be a challenge to policy makers as Clough and Corbett (2000) have reminded us:-
Inclusive Education is a contestable term that has come to mean different things to politicians, bureaucrats and academics. Inclusion is not a single movement; it is made up of many strong currents of belief, many different local struggles and myriad forms of practice” (p.6)
To this effect, Segal (2005) wrote that Inclusive Education has become an international buzz word and has been adopted in the rhetoric of many countries across the globe. Furthermore, Booth (1996) described inclusive education as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education.
Similarly, UNESCO (2003) defined inclusion as a developmental approach that ‘…seeks to address the learning needs of all children, youth and adults with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion’ (p 4). Many international declarations have legitimated the idea of inclusion. The principles of inclusive education for example were adopted at the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education (UNESCO, 1994) and were restated at the Dakar World Education Forum (2000). It reads:-
Inclusive education means that schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas or groups. (UNESCO, 2003: p4)
There are many opinions about inclusion globally: ‘what it is, where it occurs, how it is implemented and so on. What ever, the term, it is a reality that students with special needs and those at risk will at some level receive instruction in the general education setting.” (Wood, 1998: p. 5). Clearly Wood in this quotation viewed inclusion as the movement of children from segregated settings into general education settings or from special schools into regular classrooms such as the move to close down the Avarua Special School and mainstream all students with special needs in the Cook Islands a few years back. To substantiate this move, a Special Needs Education Policy was written in 2002 which is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with PRIDE (acronym for Pacific Regional Initiative for the Development of Basic Education). I have been facilitating the consultation processes for this review consulting widely in the Cook Islands. From the consultations, it was obvious that the narrow meaning of Inclusive Education that means; the movement of children either from a home (outside) environment or from special segregated settings towards a school setting in regular classrooms, still prevails.
Inclusive education has a much wider meaning than all the terms discussed above. In this respect Len Barton has argued a major role for inclusive practices in education in order to realize wider changes in society:
Inclusive education is not merely about providing access into mainstream school for pupils who have previously been excluded. It is not about closing down an unacceptable system of segregated provision and dumping those closing down an unacceptable system of segregated provision and dumping those pupils in an unchanged mainstream system. Existing school systems in terms of physical factors, curriculum aspects, teaching expectations and styles, leadership roles. will have to change. This is because inclusive education is about the participation of ALL children and young people and the removal of all forms of exclusionary practice. (Barton, 1997: p. 84-85)
Barton’s definition above supports the concept of inclusion as a process rather than a specific philosophy or set of practices. The process of inclusion in this case, requires an overhaul of current cultures that are often driven by deeply embedded negative values and believes. Armstrong (2003) and Ainscow (1999) also shared similar views:-
…inclusion refers to a set of principles, values and practices which involve the social transformation of education systems and communities. It does not refer to a fixed state or set of criteria to be used as a blue-print, but seeks to challenge deficit thinking and practice which are ‘still ingrained’ and too often lead many to believe that some pupils have to be dealt with in a separate way. (Ainscow, 1999,.p.8 as cited in Armstrong, 2003)
The many meanings and approaches highlighted how different ways of seeing the broad picture will influence the detail of practice and provision. Not only are interpretations of what inclusion means contentious, but there are also diverse and conflicting debates in which different approaches are seen as detrimental to the effective development of this area(Clough and Corbett,2000). Having looked at the meaning of inclusive education discussed, it can be said that inclusion is not only about placement or the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular classrooms. This paper shares the views of Barton, Booth, Armstrong and others who believe that Inclusive education must now stand alone , only by definition at least, driven by social justice and the need to remove all forms of iniquities from our education system. It involves the changing of school cultures that are deeply embedded with exclusionary beliefs and values that need to be eradicated lest they remain a challenge to Inclusive Education.
Next Article: Part 2: Inclusive Education: The Challenges of the Cook Islands.
- Armstrong, F. (2003) Spaced Out: Policy, Difference and the Challenge of Inclusive Education, Netherlands: Kluwer.
- Barton, L. (1997) ‘Inclusive education: romantic, subversive or realistic?’ International Journal of Inclusive Education,
1, 3, pp.231-42.
- Booth, T. (1996) Stories of exclusion: natural and unnatural selection, in E. Blyth and J, Milner (eds), Exclusion from School: Inter- Professional Issues for Policy and Practice, London: Routledge.
- Clough,P. and Corbett, J. (2000) Theories of Inclusive Education- A Students’ Guide, London: Paul Chapman.
- Segal, N. (2005)’ Mapping the field of inclusive education: a review of the Indian literature’. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 9, 331-350.
UNESCO. (1994) The Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs education: Access and Quality, UNESCO and the Ministry of Education, Spain. Paris: UNESCO.
- UNESCO. (2003) Overcoming Exclusion through Inclusive Approaches in Education: a Challenge, a vision-Conceptual Paper, Spain, Paris: UNESCO
- Wood J.W. (1998) Adapting Instruction to Accommodate Students in Inclusive Settings. New Jersey, U.S.A: Prentice Hall