Inclusive Education: Defining inclusion

Inclusion, as a concept, has been associated with other terms that are not new to the education systems. Terms such as mainstreaming, deinstitutionalization, least restrictive environments and regular education initiatives have been used in relation to aspects of inclusion (SEDL, 2010). The earlier terms such as mainstreaming were mainly referring to physical integration of disabled students with general students and hardly did they factor in the intent of such inclusion (SEDL, 2010). As such, mainstreaming goals were to ensure that students with disabilities could share physical facilities such as classrooms and playgrounds with able students if they could effectively perform same activities as these other students with a few modifications (SEDL, 2010). Mainstreaming thus involved “selective placement of special education students in one or more ‘regular’ education classes” where a student was expected to “earn’ his or her opportunity to be mainstreamed through the ability to ‘keep up’ with the work assigned to other students in the class” (Rogers, 1993, p. 2). Mainstreaming thus essentially prevented integration of students with severe disabilities in general classrooms only allowing such integration for learners with mild disabilities (SEDL, 2010). As the clamor for education rights to be afforded to all advanced mainstreaming was discarded in favor of a more “just” approach.

Legal provisions that advocated for integration in education systems provided a more just approach. Integration unlike mainstreaming incorporated other aspects of education such as promoting academic and social interactions between disabled and able students in addition to physical blending (SEDL, 2010). Integration thus brought along the idea that classrooms were supposed to be a reflection of disabilities occurring within the society with a proportion of the classroom being comprised of disabled learners (SEDL, 2010). According to Michailakis and Reich (2009) integration was to be achieved through two ways: establishing “a common curriculum for all forms of education [and] compulsory education irrespective of whether pupils are to attend ordinary schools or special schools” (p. 25). Such an aspect has been replaced later by the term inclusion that lays a greater emphasis on the values rather than the physical integration.

According to Rogers (1993) inclusion refers to the “commitment to educate each child to the maximum extent appropriate in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend” (P. 2). The “Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education”; has reinforced the concept of inclusion by stating that “those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child-centered pedagogy capable of meeting these needs” (UNESCO, 1994, p. viii). This arises from the perception that in current educational policies disabled learners “often attend nothing but special classes whereas non-disabled children attend nothing but normal classes” (Michailakis & Reich, 2009, p. 29). If these groups of students are allowed to mix in at least some lessons, it is argued that a higher mutual understanding would develop thus enhancing their integration even in the community later (Michailakis & Reich, 2009).  Overall inclusion on current understanding thus indicates a commitment to move the resources and services needed to the disabled child rather than segregating the child in a setting more removed from the community (SEDL, 2010). An inclusive schooling system does not only focus on alleviating the barriers facing disabled children in their quest for education; but also establishes “cultures, policies and practices in educational systems …. [that enable them] to respond to the diversity of their students and to treat them equally” (Angelides, 2008, p. 318). For inclusive schooling then the expansion of capabilities of regular teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students including needs of disabled students, and expanding the consultancy and teaching role of special educators is one of the salient features (SEDL, 2010). Go to part 4 here.

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