«I want to go to school because I want to learn, and I want to be educated and I want to define my life, to be independent, to be strong, and also to live my life and be happy.»
Inclusive education is the universalizing access to education for all children, youth and adults, and promoting equity. This means being proactive in identifying the barriers that many encounter in accessing educational opportunities and identifying the resources needed to overcome those barriers. Inclusive education therefore seeks to address the learning needs of all children, young people and adults, with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. Where education opportunities are made accessible, people with a disability have greater access to further learning and employment and in turn are more likely to engage in social and economic opportunities.
Inclusive education acts as a broad strategy to address marginalization and promotes the rights of all children to participate in mainstream education. Inclusive schools create an improved learning environment for all because its approaches ensure participation from all members of society allowing for experiences of people with a disability to be included into the broader social context hence feeling included in the society. People with a disability have the right to access the most relevant education option. This could be inclusive education at their local school, mainstream education with specialist support, a specialist unit connected to a mainstream school, partial integration or learning in a specialized setting. Addressing barriers such as poor teacher training, inaccessible school buildings, discrimination and exclusionary policies enable improved access to education for all. In resource poor communities, especially remote areas, children with disabilities who are not included in their local school tend not to attend school at all.
How then should we practice inclusion of these people?
There are numerous approaches to ensure people with a disability participate in education. No one single approach will be correct for every child because of individual differences and other factors e.g. community capacity, attitudes, education policies and funding. Partial integration and specialist school settings can be considered as the most relevant places of learning for some students with a disability.
Awareness should be raised to identify the number of people with a disability within the community. This information can be gathered, for example, through meeting local people with a disability, census data, household surveys and disability services and facilities for inclusive education. Use billboards, posters or other information that depicts people with a disability in their mainstream school environment as a part of the general population. Highlight capacity of people with a disability in education, showcasing diverse tertiary, vocational and employment pathways including access to scholarships as viable opportunities. Education should be understood as a basic human right.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the CRPD, the „education for all“ (EFA) platform and MDG 2 all identify education as a priority for all.
Highlight talents and abilities of people with a disability and promote their participation in education programs
In addition, highlight talents and abilities of people with a disability and promote their participation in education programs. Work with early childhood educators and providers on identification and inclusion of young children with a disability as these maximize inclusion from an early age. Mainstreaming in such settings increases acceptance of children with a disability and improves their pathway into formal schooling. Share program information at all stages with people with a disability including parents of children with a disability, and children with a disability themselves.
Consult with people with a disability and their parents to seek their active input at key stages of the program, especially during design and evaluation. Invite someone with a disability or a parent of a child with a disability to be on program reference committees. Work with classmates without a disability in developing their capacity for fostering participation through student-to-student inclusion strategies. Employ people with a disability or a parent of a child with a disability to work within the project.
Comprehensive accessibility is another important aspect of inclusion. It refers to physical, communication, policy and attitudinal access. Identify the preferred communication mode for individuals with a disability. Be prepared to source alternative communication options including large print, Braille, pictorial, audio and sign language based on individual requirements. These may be arranged through local partners, inclusive education services and disability organizations. Identify and overcome barriers in travelling to school for people with a range of disabilities. Look at terrain, transportation, safe and accessible walking paths. Review policies and legislation through identifying existing country, local and Ministry of Education policies regarding inclusive education or anti-discrimination laws.
Teacher capacity should be built to ensure confidence in including children with a disability in education programs. Encourage Ministry of Education and school governance to train teachers in inclusive education using universal design principles. Ensure that the environment is disability friendly. Raise disability awareness for classmates and all school staff to build a culture of support and inclusion. Raise aspirations of students with a disability to ensure diverse educationand employment pathways. Encourage creative teaching strategies that focus on diverse strengths and different learning styles to foster inclusion for all.
How then do we check disability inclusion in education?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are children with a disability attending school? If not, why not?
- What is being done already for children with a disability?
- Are there local success stories to learn from and community mentors to use?
- Are the voices of girls with a disability being heard when promoting access to education?
- Is data being collected for students from different disability groups?
- Have people with a disability been involved in the decision making process?
- Is disability included in all phases of the program cycle?
- Are disability measures included in design process?
- What opportunities will be provided to women and children with a disability to take an active role in decision-making processes?
- What strategies are there to ensure the needs and rights of women and children with a disability are adequately addressed?
- Have mainstream teachers received training in inclusive education?