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Strategy sessions I.3 > Special Educational Needs
 
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
 
Meeting Special/Diverse Educational Needs: Making Inclusive Education a Reality
Issues Paper
 
Strategy Session I.3
 
Original : English
 1. Background
 
1.1 Inclusion as an internationally recognised policy
 
  Basic ideas of inclusion can be found in many international policy documents. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) outlines the rights of all children. Some of the most important are: the right not to be discriminated against (art.2), the right to live with his or her family, the right of a disabled child to have special care (art.9), and the right to education and training to help him or her achieve the greatest degree of self-reliance and social integration possible (art.23). According to the Convention, education shall aim at developing the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent. This means that education shall prepare the child for an active adult life in a free society and foster respect for parents, his or her cultural identity, language and values and for the cultural background and values of others (art. 29, 30).
 
 Basic ideas of inclusion can also be found in the previous work of the EFA movement. For example, the Jomtien Declaration's principles for promoting 'Education for All' emphasise the inherent right of a child to a full cycle of primary education, commitment to a child-centred pedagogy where individual differences are accepted as a challenge - not a problem, improvement of the quality of primary education as well as teacher education, recognition of the wide diversity of individual needs and patterns of development among primary school children, and commitment to an integrated and holistic approach. (World Declaration on Education for All and Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs, Jomtien. 1990).
 

The Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, stated that education authorities are responsible for the education of persons with disabilities in integrated settings. Thus, education for persons with disabilities should form an integral part of national educational planning, curriculum development and school organisation.

 
The Salamanca Framework for Action, adopted at the World Conference on Special Needs Education in 1994, reinforced the principles expressed in the Jomtien Declaration and Standard Rules and stated among other things that "schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalised areas or groups. …In the context of this Framework, the term 'special educational needs' refers to all those children and youth whose needs arise from disabilities or learning difficulties." (Salamanca Framework for Action. art. 3).
 

Today, a number of initiatives by countries, various multilateral and bilateral organisations and NGOs support a growing consensus that all children have the right to a common education in their locality regardless of their background, attainment or disability. The aim of inclusive education in providing good quality education for learners who have been excluded from education or whose participation within centres of learning has been limited coincides with the aim of providing community based education for all. Therefore, inclusive education brings together Community Based Rehabilitation and Special Needs Education agendas with the overall the Education for All movement.

 
Despite the consensus on the right to education, children with disabilities are still the group most excluded from schooling. How can the Education for All movement contribute to improving this situation?
 

If Governments are committed to achieve Education for All, should they put an equal emphasis on providing education for currently marginalised and excluded groups? Whose reponsibility is it to ensure that such groups figure on the education development agenda?

 
1.2 Major features of the debate on inclusion
 
Inclusive education has evolved from a movement associated with the struggle against exclusion of learners with disabilities and others categorised as 'having special needs' to one that challenges all exclusionary policies and practices in education. However, inclusion is not a concept that can be clearly and easily defined. It might therefore be better to view inclusion rather as an approach or a principle that aims at removing any barriers to learning.
 
However, there are different practical interpretations of inclusive education especially when the position of children with disabilities is considered. The following two interpretations are quite common: (1) inclusion as being physically in the same place and doing the same activities as other students, or (2) inclusion as social acceptance and belonging (see Norwich 1999, 8-10). But as Norwich argues, inclusion also implies a right to individually relevant learning. This means that inclusion involves broad kinds of rights that are "complex values over which there will be uncertainties about their applicability." In practice this can mean that the right to individually relevant learning may imply a different educational arrangement than would the right to be in the same place and participate with all other students. Of course these values vary from one cultural context to another.
 
Some authors view inclusion as a process rather than an ideal state or aim. For example, Booth believes that there are not many examples of inclusive schools that include all children from the neighbourhood, so it is better to think of inclusion as an 'unending set of processes' of increasing participation and reducing exclusion. (Booth 1996, 96)
 
Inclusion as an approach forces us to rethink integration - the term previously used in this context. The major shift in thinking is that instead of preparing children to fit into the existing schools, efforts should be made to prepare schools so that they can deliberately reach out to all children.
 
The shift towards inclusion involves respecting a wide set of values, and sometimes choices of emphasis must be made among them. What do we value most?
 
Which of these values are universal and which are relative to the cultural context? How can the values of local communities be taken into account?
 
What are the practical steps to be taken in developing more inclusive education systems?
 
1.3 Inclusion in practice - voices of reality
 
Full inclusion is what we all would like to see, but the way forward is not straight, clear or easy. Research findings are still somewhat controversial: one can find results for and against. What is even more problematic, there are no convincing findings of successful inclusive education on a comprehensive scale. Experiences of small pilot projects may not be enough to convince decision-makers that inclusion, as an overall approach, is beneficial for all.
 
Furthermore many teachers do not fully agree and believe that inclusion would work. An UNESCO survey (1985) on teachers' views about integrated education found that countries where teachers favour education of all children in ordinary classes have a law requiring this. Whereas, in countries that offer sophisticated, segregated educational provision, teachers are not in favour of inclusion. Perhaps the teachers in the sample simply showed an awareness of the official policy of the country, but more likely their opinion reflected their own experience of those policies put into practice. It has been shown also that teachers' positive attitudes towards inclusion depend strongly on their teacher education, experience with learners having special educational needs, class size, workload, and the availability of support. A recent study in Romania revealed that negative attitudes of teachers and adults are the major barrier to inclusion - but children do not have a prejudice unless they learn one from adults (UNESCO, 1999).
 
Also, the voices of various advocacy groups such as parents' organisations are often controversial, especially with regard to the right to learn or the right to participate: many people still believe in special classes. A recent OECD report (1999), based on eight country case studies, concludes that there are no barriers in principle to inclusive education in the countries studied. However, there are remarkable practical difficulties in trying to teach everybody together. One of the difficulties is that some parents want their disabled child to learn in a special class. Another difficulty involves safety issues: socially and emotionally challenging pupils can be seen creating a physical threat for others. Yet another barrier is the wish of some disabled children to be able to study at least part of the time together with other children with a similar disability. The OECD study emphasises that in designing education services, these barriers or wishes should be seriously taken into account. However, each country is a special case, and the findings based on these Northern countries may not be directly applicable world-wide.
 
Research findings are controversial and they are mainly from the countries of the North. What attention should we pay to these findings? What role could research play in the future?
 
Different advocacy groups, stakeholders and experts, voice different opinions on some goals and steps to be taken towards inclusive education. What can we learn from these different voices?
Theory and praxis sometimes do not meet. How do we transform the theory of inclusive education into good practice?
 
2. The focus of the strategy session
Many children are still excluded from, and within, education for a variety of reasons. This Strategy Session will address the issue of inclusion in education by examining the challenges and barriers to learning throughout education systems and addressing, in particular, the possibilities to increase access and participation in learning for all children and young people. It is an unfortunate reality that learners with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from access to and participation in education and thus deserve concerted efforts to address the situation. Therefore the possibility for development and further action for learners with disabilities or who have other special needs will be explored thoroughly and set in the wider context of inclusive education.
 
This Strategy Session is intended to serve as a platform to share present thinking and experiences from different regions of the world. The discussion will be based on previous regional meetings and is thus linked to the efforts different countries have made in developing inclusive systems that respond to diverse learning needs. The following topics are suggested as the specific operational issues for discussion in this strategy session as they can lead to identifying important international strategies that could contribute to developing inclusive education:
 

1. Increasing the acceptance of diversity in schools through development of more flexible curricula and more relevant student evaluation mechanisms

   

 2. Increasing the capacity of schools to meet the demands created by more diverse regular education student population by improving the teaching resource in schools.

 
The invited presenters represent different geographical and organisational contexts, so they will address these issues from their particular perspective. Practical strategies and the sequence of steps to be taken may vary according to these different contexts, so the discussion should be sensitive to this diversity.
 
Selected References
 

Booth, T.1996. A Perspective on Inclusion from England. Cambridge Journal of Education. 26, 1, 87-99.

Norwich, B. 1999. Inclusion in Education. From Concepts, Values and Critique to Practice. In: Special Education Re-formed. Beyond Rhetoric? New Millennium Series. Editor: Miles, H.London: Falmer Press.

OECD. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. 1999. Inclusive Education at Work. Students with Disabilities in Mainstream Schools. France: OECD.

UNESCO (1985) Helping Handicapped Pupils in Ordinary Schools: Strategies for Teacher Training.

UNESCO (1999) Inclusion in Education and National Development: Case Study on Romania. (in preparation)

 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
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