25 Mar What is inclusive education and why does it matter?
At EmbraceAbility, we use the term ‘inclusive education’ a lot in describing our work, our strategy and our goals. But what does it really mean? And what/who is it really for? Today, we take a closer look at a term not only on our lips, but on the lips of the development community and governments everywhere.
The right to an inclusive education was enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for all people with disabilities in 2006. Arguably, this is the first time true visibility was given to a group too often left out of classrooms, and forgotten in the growing flurry of international development efforts. The notion of quality education for all was further emphasised in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the form of Goal 4. Crucially, Goal 4 Part A reads:
4.A Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
Put simply, true inclusion is an education system that includes all students, welcoming and supporting them to learn, whatever their background, ethnicity, abilities or requirements. No-one should be excluded. Every child has the right to an inclusive education, including children with disabilities.
What this means for education and schools
Like the ‘social’ model of disability purports, the system must adapt to include children with disabilities; it is not up to the child to adapt to fit the system. Any education system must recognise that it creates barriers for children with disabilities, and it is its responsibility to deconstruct those barriers.
Inclusion is not just integration
Having children with disabilities in a school or classroom setting – commonly referred to as ‘integration’ – is a half-step towards inclusion. Without meeting their needs adequately, and placing them on equal footing with their peers, achieving equality in education is an impossibility. It’s about working with students and teachers to break down barriers to education wherever they may arise. The Alliance for Inclusive Education provides the following examples of ways in which a school or classroom might work towards inclusivity through the removal of barriers:
- Faisal is a wheelchair user. So that he can go to the debating society after school, the accessible minibus collects him at a later time.
- Jenny has dyslexia. So that she can study a book along with the class, the teacher asks her to listen to the audio book rather than reading the text.
- James is Deaf and communicates using sign language. Instead of taking him out of his lessons to have a separate lesson with a sign language teacher, his teachers, teaching assistants and the pupils learn to sign too in order to communicate with him.
Of course, these are just a few examples of overcoming barriers to education among many. Each individualised solution requires thought and sensitivity; the simplicity of integration is not enough to achieve the complexity of inclusion.
Education is a pathway to other rights
The realisation of certain rights in the human rights framework is simultaneously the result and cause of other rights realisations. In many cases, the right to an inclusive education is what gives children the platform upon which to enjoy other rights – the right to community participation, the right to work, the right to legal capacity. Similarly, it is not possible to achieve an education without the realisation of other rights.
The lesson here for governments and development efforts is not to promote rights in isolation, rather to garner systems that help realise a broad range of rights for its citizens. It is undeniable, however, that the right to education forms an important underpinning to this effort.
Why inclusive education should be important to wider society
Aside from the benefits experienced by children with disabilities able to participate in an inclusive education, inclusion has wider societal benefits too. Inclusive education:
- improves the standard of learning for all children – a diverse range of equipment, teacher trying and lesson delivery methods means there is something every child can take from educational enhancement;
- promotes understanding, tolerance, reduces prejudice and discrimination, and strengthens social integration;
- ensures children with disabilities are empowered and equipped to work, and contribute economically and socially to their communities.
Exposure to inclusivity is the key to attitudinal change and the promotion of equality for all. We all enter classrooms at an early age. It is where we mature, form ideas, and acquire the knowledge that shapes our lives and that of our community. Promoting inclusivity in education and among our peers from the earliest possible moment lays strong foundations for empowerment, participation, personal and community development. Perhaps most importantly, it opens up the world to the minds and talents of its disabled community, a community that can bolster workforces, innovate, create, and change the fortune of the entire human family.