Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Inclusive Education

Throughout my studies and teaching here at uni, the issue of inclusive education is being brought to light more and more. We talk about providing inclusive facilities more here compared to back home and I sometimes wonder if it is a contextual matter, this matter of inclusivity. Regardless, with increased public awareness towards human rights and respect, it is making the headlines back home more in recent years.

Being inclusive is not just spraying the sign on the ground for disabled parking it is also about implementing it. What is the point of having it when it is not accessed by those who need to but selfishly want to? It is not about building a ramp on the outside of the building so that people using wheelchairs, delivery companies or mothers with prams could enter the building. What is the use of that if when that is as far as the ramp goes? Has anyone realised that we are great at setting inclusive systems up but are totally hopeless when it comes to following it all up to the end.

And it has to be advocated and supported by people without a disability, as well. I remember my holiday in New Zealand with a dear classmate. If possible, she would only buy coffee from a cafe that blends Fair Trade Coffee and would rather pay that little bit more to spend a night at a backpackers’ accommodation that has disability access. Small acts but if everyone had her mentality, imagine the ripple effect.

In education, it is vital to be inclusive. Yet, it is the most ignored part of our teaching. Admit it - it is extremely difficult to practice inclusivity. We are all, every single one of us, guilty of behaving discriminatorily at one point or another of our teaching career.

The ripple effect applies to inclusive education, as well. Take the example of a child who does not seem to enjoy reading. The words do not make sense and the time taken to put the words together is long, compared to peers. If we do not recognise that as a problem and try to come up with ways to support his reading in a different manner, it will persist to be a problem. In fact, it will become a bigger problem. The child will continue to lose interest in reading and in school the teachers may mistake his reading disability as laziness. The root of the problem was not tackled, which opens the doors to other behavioural problems. Why? Simple because to the child, lessons are not interesting anymore!

For all you know, it could have been a learning disability, such as dyslexia. Or it may have been ADHD, or some other contextual reasons, such as lack of good reading role models in the home environment. If you realise, all the above are issues that can become ‘non-issues’ when pointed out and intervened early.

A guest lecturer pointed out that there are three requirements for inclusive education:

• Fair
• Reasonable
• Essential

Think of the above three when you design your lessons. Think of the work you hand out to children to bring home. Will each child have parents or older siblings present to help them with their reading? Will each child access the same assistance with the task at hand? Is this work fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of attendance. Will each child have equal opportunity to be part of your lesson? Perhaps there is an illness, which deters a child from being part of the group? Is this fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of practical participation. Will each child be physically able to partake in the experience? Could every child read the book you are holding up or is the font too small? Is this experience fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of the cost of materials and experiences. Will each child have the ability to afford all the fancy things you say is crucial for learning? To some children, it makes more sense to save up for food than for books. Books will not fill up their stomaches. Is this fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

Think of the time constraints we place on children. Is it absolutely crucial for them to finish that painting by the end of 30 minutes? Or is it crucial for you? Is this timetable fair, reasonable and essential to the learning of each child?

We do not realise the unintentional consequences of our lessons. We live in a world where everything is fine and follows a routine. But hey, that routine is yours, not anyone else’s hence it is important to constantly remind ourselves not to impose on to others our own world view. That is when we start to take control of children’s learning too much. That is also when we stop growing as a person and begin to practice exclusivity.

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