What is Inclusive Education? The Definitive Guide

All children have the right to benefit from schooling and more importantly, access to quality education, no matter what their abilities, race or economic background. Yet, often children with disabilities or special needs miss out on mainstream schooling because schools aren’t equipped to cater to their needs. Inclusive education, however, advocates for all children irrespective of their abilities to learn together, in one common environment.

disabled child playing with other kids

What is Inclusive Education:

As Unicef defines it  “Inclusive education means all children in the same classrooms, in the same schools. It means real learning opportunities for groups who have traditionally been excluded-not only children with disabilities, but speakers of minority languages too”.

Having said that inclusive education aims at educating children together in a common environment, it also demands that classrooms, curriculum and the education system are designed and developed in a way to accommodate varying abilities and needs. This ensures active participation from all students. If children of varying abilities are in one classroom, but the school isn’t fairly equipped to meet their needs, this wouldn’t fulfil the concept of inclusive education rather it would only be integration. Inclusive education advocates that the system adapt to include disabled people and not the other way around.

Core Principles of Inclusive Education

For a school to truly exercise inclusive education, it must fulfil the following key tenets:

  • Inclusive education must make all students feel welcome and provide a sense of belonging. Each child must feel like they belong to their classroom where their needs are met and their skills acknowledged. All children must feel appropriately challenge and be given a fair chance to learn, build skills and thrive
  • Inclusive curriculum: This means the curriculum includes a fair and inclusive representation of people, relevant themes. The curriculum should also adapt to the learning styles of children with special needs.
  • It is carried out in a common learning environment; that is, an educational setting where students from different backgrounds and with different abilities learn together in an inclusive environment. The common learning environment is used for the majority of the learning hours, which might include the classroom. library, playground, gym. This doesn’t mean that children with special needs do not attend any additional special classes, but this is apart from the time spent in a common classroom.
  • It must include different ways and methods of teaching and learning, to accommodate the learning styles and needs of all students. This ensures active participation by all students.
  • Most importantly, schools must be equipped to meet the needs of all students. This includes having well-trained staff, special educators for assistance, school buildings and facilities that are disability-friendly

The Benefits of Inclusive Education:

Ensures equal opportunity:

Every child should have access to good education and the opportunity to achieve. Inclusive education gives every child an equal ground, to begin with.  

An advantage for children with varying abilities.  

For years people believed that children with disabilities and special needs should attend special schools separate from regular and mainstream schools. Recent research has shown that children benefit from learning and integrating with typical children and benefit much more from typical school programmes and environment. A disability shouldn’t and doesn’t prevent a child from excelling in many other areas at school.

autistic children sitting down
Increases sensitivity and awareness:

School is where most children learn about people and the world around them. Inclusive education is crucial in changing the discriminatory attitudes and beliefs we might have about people who are different from us. Having the right exposure to students with diverse backgrounds and abilities, in an environment that is safe and respectful to all its members can help create a positive impact and a more sensitive attitude.

Develops a sense of belonging:

Very often, children with disabilities feel left out not just because of their needs but because they don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else. Inclusive education helps all children feel like they belong together and give them access to equal privileges and opportunities. This effect can also ripple to the community at large to foster respect and acceptance.

Children of different abilities can learn from each other:

Inclusive education believes that each child contributes to the learning experience in their own unique way. There is something each child can learn from the other. Being together in one classroom creates more opportunity and exposure for children to understand and benefit from the other’s experiences and abilities.

Every child irrespective of their abilities has dreams and hopes for their future. Inclusive education aims at giving all of them equal opportunity, quality education without discrimination. Inclusive education is a process that’ll take time. It requires changes at many levels. This starts with schools accommodating children with disabilities and special needs, the community at large to show acceptance and equal opportunities and of course governments that make laws to protect their needs and future. It is a massive goal that’ll need advocacy and effort and it can all begin with the right atmosphere and attitude in our schools.

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