What is Inclusive Education?

Inclusive Education is mainstreaming students with special needs into a classroom together with students without special needs. While inclusive education has already been introduced into many countries around the world, its effectiveness depends primarily on socio-economic conditions, educational and cultural traditions.

The main principles of Inclusive Education:

1. Notwithstanding difficulties, all children should learn together whenever possible.

2. Schools account for the different needs of their students and adapt the learning environment so that everyone stands on an equal footing for acquiring knowledge.

3. The school develops various curricula and utilizes its own and other resources to provide quality education, organizational activities, and teaching strategies.

Reasons to Discourage Inclusivity

1. Social Issues

Some children with special needs have behavioral issues that need to be addressed in the classroom. Aside from disrupting their classmates, these issues are often a source of embarrassment to those children as well, causing them more damage to self-esteem and their social standing than had they not been mainstreamed.

2. Academic Issues

Even though children with special needs can learn from the same curricula as other children, they often have difficulty keeping pace with them. This can lead to feelings of being left out. On the other hand, the teacher’s giving the children with special needs the additional attention that they need may be at the expense of the other students.

3. Tolerance

While it is critical for children to learn tolerance, there is a downside as well. Students without special needs may be given the impression that, when children with special needs are given special treatment, they are “getting away with” more than everyone else.

Reasons to Encourage Inclusivity

1. Social Advantages

When children with special needs are in the same classroom as their non-disabled peers, they interact with their peers in ways that they wouldn’t have, had they been in a special education class. This often results in the children with special needs improving their social skills and achieving higher self-esteem because they know that they are in “regular” education courses with their peers.

2. Academic Advantages

Being taught the same curricular content as their non-disabled peers, albeit with the requisite accommodations and modifications to the curriculum, gives these children the opportunity to learn things that they may have never had a chance to learn, had they been in a special education class.

3. Tolerance

Those students without special needs, through their exposure to children with special needs, are given the opportunity to learn tolerance, compassion, acceptance, collaboration, and patience, life-long skills that will better prepare them for the future. And as the others learn tolerance, children with special needs will learn which behaviors are acceptable.

Research Supports Inclusive Education

The relevant research into education for over 40 years has overwhelmingly and consistently established that inclusive education is more effective in its social and academic outcomes for all students, not only those with special needs.

A comprehensive review of the research was undertaken by the Alana Institute and presented in an international report entitled “A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education“ which was released in 2017.

The Report was prepared by Dr. Thomas Hehir, Professor of Practice in Learning Differences at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in partnership with global firm Abt Associates.

Overcoming Barriers to Inclusive Education

1. Leadership Barriers

It is critical that inclusive education be the expectation from the top-down, not only at the school district level but originating at the state board of education level as well. This should be ensconced in state policies that explicitly state goals related to inclusive education.

In addition, local boards of education at the school district level need to develop policy statements supporting inclusion, and articulate specific goals to be achieved.

Aside from state and district leadership, it is important to invest in parents to serve as advocates for inclusivity amongst families in a community. This grassroots dimension has been shown to be effective in building support with local leadership that can eventually be leveraged at the state level as well.

2. Attitude/Belief Barriers

An effective way to influence the attitudes of teachers is to reach out to them prior to entering the field of education. Being exposed to the philosophy of inclusion beforehand will prime them so that when they enter the classroom they are already prepared to begin its implementation.

3. Instructional Practice Barriers

A long-term dream for many inclusive education advocates is that general and special education departments could be eliminated to form a singular education system. While it’s important to have educators specializing in certain kinds of support for students with disabilities, any teacher can teach a student with an Individualized Education Program.

It is time for the line between general and special educators to be erased. One of the primary barriers to authentic inclusion has been the lack of collaboration time between general and special education teachers.

In inclusive schools, planning time becomes a collaborative experience. This collaboration has the important consequence that special education teachers become viewed as valued members of a grade or subject team and are included in communications.

The ostensible goal of education is that which is of most benefit to every student. As such, districts around the country have begun implementing a multi-tiered system of supports for all students; this is intended to serve not only those with identified needs. As this becomes the norm, the category of “special needs” will gradually fade away, to everyone’s benefit.

4. Resource Barriers

The reason to encourage inclusive education should never be that it is financially prudent. But rather, inclusive education is the right thing to do and will facilitate quality education for all students.

Consequently, funding should be “placement neutral,” which means there is no incentive to have more restrictive placements because they pay the school more. Otherwise, chasing the “almighty dollar” will become the driving force of inclusive education, which will ultimately sow the seeds of its own destruction to the detriment of everyone.

The Future is Now

Despite these hurdles, it can be expected that Inclusive Education will continue to gain momentum. This is because research shows that it has significantly upgraded the quality of education for students with special needs at minimal cost to the other students. And the evolution of more effective methodologies will continue to reduce that cost to the benefit of students everywhere!