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The findings > Progress in Inclusive Education
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INCLUSION IN EDUCATION:
PARTICIPATION OF DISABLED LEARNERS
 
Prepared by Tony Booth Professor of Inclusive Education Canterbury Christ Church University College, England
 
 
1. INTRODUCTION: MAKING PROGRESS IN INCLUSIVE EDUCATION?
 
1.1. Overview
  

 This study reviews developments in the theory, policy and practice of inclusive education since the Jomtien Conference. It has a dual focus. It examines progress in the development of an inclusive system of education which in responding to the diversity of learners, minimises exclusion for all. Secondly, within this broad task, it charts the progress made by learners with impairments in overcoming barriers of access to, and participation in, education.

  
  The study contains analysis interspersed with examples of instructive practice. Such practice illustrates barriers to inclusive development encountered at all levels of the system, and ways that have been found to surmount them. The study provides a survey of changes in practice and has a strategic function in identifying priorities for development.
 
1.2. Including learners with impairments
 
  Inclusive education is commonly associated with the mainstream participation of learners with impairments and those categorised as having 'special educational needs'. Throughout the last decade, learners with impairments continued to be disproportionately excluded from any form of education, particularly in countries of the South. They remain the group most likely to be left out of the agenda when educational exclusion is discussed.
 

  Learners with impairments are not a homogeneous group. They are as different from - and similar to - one another as any learner is different from - and similar to the other. No two learners are exactly alike. For example, learners who are deaf and whose first language is sign language, have a need for a sign language community which has to be reflected in plans for increasing their participation in education.

 
  The study builds on the success of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities, the Jomtien Declaration on Education for All and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action in highlighting the exclusion of disabled people at all levels of education and society, and the formidable obstacles to participation that they still face. It recognises the key role that has been played by organisations of disabled people and parents of disabled children in pushing for the recognition of the right to education of disabled learners in their neighbourhood. It documents what has been learnt about the barriers to the inclusion of learners with impairments and how these can be overcome, and the role of governments and non-governmental organisations in supporting their education. In most countries of the world there are examples of instructive practice of the inclusion of learners with impairments even where economic circumstances or priorities lead to large classes and poor physical conditions.
 
1.3. From the inclusion of learners with impairments to learning and  participation for all
 
  However, in this study inclusive education is not only concerned with learners with impairments but with overcoming the barriers to the learning and participation experienced by all learners vulnerable to exclusion from full educational participation.
 
  The view of inclusion within the study involves a shift of focus from learners to learning centres, education systems and societies. It is about creating inclusive cultures, policies and practices at all levels of the system. The educational inclusion of any group of learners cannot proceed very far without developing the capacity of learning centres to respond to learner diversity. This step, moving beyond access to learning centres for some learners to the development of quality education for all, is perceived in many countries as critical to the development of their education policies, requiring a transformation of traditional approaches to teaching and learning. Inclusive education is thus seen as a means by which educational development can take place. By employing a restricted view of inclusive education interventions have limited their contribution to sustainable educational development.
 
1.4. Links to other thematic studies
 
  The study is a companion to the thematic studies addressing 'children in difficult circumstances', 'gender inequality', 'refugees' and 'excluded learners'. At the policy and administrative levels, the thematic study on decentralisation and community participation is seen to address some of the critical factors in the development of inclusive learning centres. It also has close links with the studies on 'health and nutrition'. The development of inclusion in education involves attention to the conditions which encourage learning for all both inside and outside learning centres.
 
   
2. DEVELOPING CONCEPTIONS OF INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
 
2.1 An approach to inclusion in education
  

 Inclusion in education is an unending process. It involves increasing the participation of learners in and reducing their exclusion from, the cultures, curricula and communities of local learning centres. It requires the restructuring of the cultures, policies and practices in schools so that they support the learning and participation of the diversity of learners in their community. A concern with overcoming barriers to the access and participation of particular learners may reveal gaps in the attempts of a school to respond to diversity more generally. Diversity is not viewed as a problem to be overcome by attempting to separate learners into groups, homogeneous in background and attainment. Diversity is seen instead as cause for celebration and as a rich resource for teaching and learning. All learners are seen as having a right to an education in their locality. Inclusion is concerned with fostering a mutually sustaining relationship between schools and communities. Inclusion in education is one aspect of inclusion in society. .

 
2.2 Barriers to learning and participation
 
 The concept of 'special educational needs' is not used in this study except in referring to work of others who use the term. The term is not seen as helpful in resolving educational difficulties and is a barrier to the development of inclusive practice. Furthermore, it encourages educators to attribute difficulties in education to deficits in learners.
 
  The study adopts the notion of 'barriers to learning and participation'. It asks: What barriers to learning exist at each level of the education system? Who experiences barriers to learning and participation? How can barriers to learning and participation be minimised? What are the resources that can be mobilised to support learning and participation at each level of the education system?
 
  Learners who experience barriers to learning and participation, include learners in poverty, those affected by war and environmental degradation and change, learners who are victims of abuse and violence, street children, children being brought up outside of their own families, children in abusive forms of child labour, learners with impairments, girls in situations where their education is seen as less important than that of boys, learners affected by HIV and AIDS or other chronic illness, nomadic learners, learners from oppressed groups and subjected to racism or other forms of discrimination, girls who are pregnant or have young children, learners whose home language is different from the language of instruction, etc.
 
2.3. A 'social model' of difficulties in learning and disability
  
 The use of the concept of 'barriers to learning and participation' for the difficulties that learners encounter implies a social model of difficulties in learning and disability. A social model of disability has been strongly advocated by organisations of disabled people around the world but its implications for understanding difficulties experienced by learners in education have been less explored. According to the model, barriers to learning and participation arise through an interaction between a learner and their contexts: the people, policies, institutions, cultures, social and economic circumstances that affect their lives .
 
   Disabilities are barriers to participation for people with impairments, or chronic illness. Impairments can be defined as a long term 'limitation of physical or mental or sensory function'. Disabilities are created by the interaction of discriminatory attitudes, actions, cultures, policies and institutional practices with impairments, pain, or chronic illness. While we may often be able to do little to overcome the impairments of learners we can have a considerable impact in overcoming the physical, personal and institutional barriers to their access and participation
  
2.4. Measuring the progress of inclusion
  
 It is easier to measure the progress of inclusion when we use a narrow definition of it than when we adopt a broad one. It is relatively straightforward to work out what proportion of learners with impairments in an area attend schools or whether they attend a mainstream or a special school. Though even such statistics imply a regular and accurate gathering of statistics and an agreed definition of impairment. However, it is far more complicated to provide an assessment of improvements in the quality of the social and academic participation of learners in learning centres, or of overall changes in the balance between pressures for inclusion and exclusion at all levels of an education system. Nevertheless we cannot allow a wish to gather simple statistics to determine our approach to inclusion.
 
 
3. DEVELOPING INCLUSIVE EDUCATION POLICIES
 
3.1. Power and influence in policy development
  

  Many governments, organisations and individuals have been influenced by the strong stance of international organisations on inclusive education, particularly the Jomtien Declaration and the Salamanca Statement. The latter argued that 'the development of inclusive schools as the most effective means for achieving education for all must be recognised as a key government policy and accorded a privileged place on the nation's development agenda'.

 
 The importance of clear international and national policies is widely advocated. Yet in many cases the implications of national policy for local practice are not spelled out, and implementation remains patchy. It is increasingly recognised that policy development has to operate at all levels. Developments within communities have to be supported by local and national policies. National policies have to engage with the realities of life within local communities and ensure that strategies are in place to move local practice forward. There is increasing recognition too of the harmony that is required between Non Governmental Organisations and between them and national, local government administrations and local community and religious organisations. The significant role of religious organisations in providing education in many countries is sometimes overlooked by international agencies.
 
  In many countries there is a large private sector catering for the more privileged communities, with the state providing a basic education in the poorest areas. Such education is generally seen as having a low value and this is a major excluding pressure which it is extremely difficult to combat. Such divisions may also be culturally entrenched. According to one group of contributors to this review, in their region: 'the idea of exclusive education is more entrenched than inclusive education.' Educational inclusion is revealed as part of a political process which pears on the distribution of wealth and opportunity in society.
 
  An emphasis on rights to inclusion in education of learners with impairments has been pushed forward by disabled people's organisations, and by organisations of parents of disabled children sometimes in alliance with each other. This is similar to the ways which women's organisations and ethnic organisations have championed the rights to equal treatment of girls and boys and all ethnic groups. Where the proportion of learners with impairments attending a local school has increased, frequently this has been as a result of a struggle between parents and professionals. The assertion of rights by parents of learners with impairments and disabled people, drawing on the influence of international organisations, has had a major effect on policy development. The Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action have had an impact on these developments.
 
3.2. Developing national policy
  
 In most countries the division between special and general education policy clouds the development of inclusion policy. Inclusion policy is often seen as part of special needs education policy and this prevents an examination of the exclusionary pressures within the system as a whole and undermines the development of inclusion. In countries of the North, in particular, inclusion policy may be sub-divided into policies concerned with the inclusion of learners who have impairments or are categorised as having special educational needs, and policies about reducing social disadvantage called 'social inclusion' policies.
  
   Some countries have adopted an approach to raising attainment levels in learning centres which encourages them to compete against each other for positions on league tables of educational attainments. Parents compete, too, to get their children into the most desired learning centres and the most successful schools choose the parents and learners they prefer. Such policies put an additional pressure on learners in economically poor areas because they lead to a concentration of the most vulnerable learners in particular learning centres which may be forced to close as numbers and general attainment levels fall. An inclusive approach to raising standards is about providing the support necessary to enable schools to encourage the highest achievements of all learners in their neighbourhood.
  
 In systems attempting to become responsive to learner diversity there are attempts to introduce flexible and responsive assessment policies. The practice of grade repetions arising from applying single grades for particular ages, is being questioned, along with forms of tracking or streaming. These practices are based on the assumption that teaching groups need to be as homogeneous as possible. In contrast to this approach, inclusion involves valuing diversity in teaching groups and the adaptation of teaching approaches to support them. (see chapters 4 and 5).
 
 Inappropriate curricula taught by teachers poorly prepared to teach the learners in front of them, remain widespread and major causes of student absenteeism, failure and drop out. For many learners the language of instruction is inaccessible. Policy has to be directed at creating conditions for active, successful learning within all learning centres.
 
   Legislation specifying national curricula and assessment systems have to take account of the range of attainments of similar age learners if they are to be used to support inclusive practice. Many countries have enacted laws giving access to the education system to learners irrespective of the severity of an impairment (educability laws) and many have also passed legislation indicating a presumption that this education should take place in a regular rather than a special school. Some make a distinction between severe and less severe impairment with the presumption of special school education in the first case. In very few cases does the law come close to giving a right to an education within the local community school.
 
  There is an on-going debate between those who want a single inclusive system and those who wish to maintain a separate special needs education system. All countries are faced with the challenge of addressing diversity amongst the learner population. To date, no system has avoided or made a complete shift away from segregated thinking about learners with impairments. Even in contexts where education is provided in the mainstream, this has often produced segregating practices inside regular learning centres.
 
  In some countries the special school system has been the only means for distributing targeted resources for learners with impairments. Inclusive funding strategies involve a combination of devolving funds to learning centres to respond to diversity generally and providing funds on an area basis for equipment and specialist support and advice for a small number of learners with very severe impairments. This system has to be monitored to ensure that funds are directed to reducing the particular barriers to learning and participation in the neighbourhood.
 
3.3. Learning from countries of the North and the South
  
 Caution has to be exercised in applying the solutions to educational problems that are adopted in one country in an entirely different context. For example, special needs education arose in countries of the North in the context of universal, free education. Where countries of the South adopt the special school model as the way to include learners with impairments in the education system, in the absence of universal education, and without a widespread belief that such learners have a right to education, only a minority of learners with impairments receive an education and these generally belong to privileged sections of society.
 
  Yet, countries of the North and the South do have much to learn from each other. Many educators in countries of the North suggest that inclusion cannot move forward because of the limitation of resources in their countries. Yet, there are examples of creative inclusive practices within countries of the South, in the context of severely limited resources. Such examples reveal the importance of shared inclusive cultures and values in enabling progress.
 
 
4. DEVELOPING INCLUSIVE LEARNING CENTRES
 
4.1. Taking education to communities
  
  State primary and secondary education is generally school based. However, NGOs and others are involved in improvising education with groups who do not have access to schools or have a life-style for which schools are not the immediate solution. Such groups may include street children, other children who work from economic necessity, and nomadic learners. Education cannot be identified solely with schooling.
 
4.2. Improving the conditions for learning
 
  Many learners face barriers to learning and participation within learning centres because of poor nutrition or a supportive environment at home, the absence of basic resources such as water and sanitation, learning resources such as books and paper, the preparation, commitment and attitudes of staff and the relevance and accessibility of the curriculum and buildings. Many learners arrive at learning centres unable to concentrate because of hunger or tired from a long trek or work. In some places, both in countries of the North and the South, the security of buildings is a problem and it is difficult to keep any equipment on the learning centre premises. Such difficulties can be reduced when communities feel ownership of their local learning centres.
 
  In most countries there are instructive attempts to increase the participation of learners. In learning centres attempting to become more inclusive, the development of a supportive community for staff and learners is seen as important as the encouragement of academic attainment. The basis for sustainable inclusive development within any learning centre is the emergence of an inclusive culture underpinned by shared values, that can be passed on to new members of the centre's community. The development of a safe, secure, accepting, collaborating, stimulating community in which everyone is valued, becomes the basis for encouraging the achievement of all learners. It involves making all learners, parents/carers and community members, welcome and valuing them all equally. There is a concern to uncover and minimise barriers to learning and participation in all areas of the centre and to remove all forms of discrimination.
 
4.3. Producing inclusive learning centre policies
 
  In order to plan to increase inclusion, learning centres have to identify barriers to learning and participation within any aspects of their work and may construct policies to minimise them. The precise nature of these policies depends on the characteristics of a particular area. Inclusive education involves staff as well as learners. It is necessary to ensure that all staff appointments and promotions are carefully considered and with an attempt to make the teaching staff representative of the communities of the learners. Staff try to ensure that buildings are accessible to learners with impairments. There may be policies for recruiting new learners from the surrounding area, reducing barriers to their attendance, and procedures for making all new learners and all new staff feel settled. Policies may need to be in place to minimise bullying between any members of the centre community.
 
   There is considerable variation in the support that is available for staff and learners and how it is used. Inclusive support can be defined as all those activities which increase the capacity of the staff in learning centres to respond to the diversity of their learners. All staff development activities and any support policies need to have this as an aim, which needs to be shared with support agencies external to the school with the help of local educational administrations.
 
4.4. Evolving inclusive teaching and learning practices
 
  With the support of staff development activities, learning centres attempting to become more inclusive, increase the responsiveness of lessons to the diversity of learners. The curriculum itself can foster an understanding of difference. Sometimes particular arrangements have to be made so the learners are not disadvantaged because their home language is different from the language used for teaching. Teachers have to try to ensure that the words they use are understood by learners or are explained to them. The details of inclusive teaching strategies differ depending on available resources but the principles are constant: learning and teaching are varied and differentiated, collaborative, active, and draw on all available resources within teachers and other staff, learners, parents/carers and communities.
 
   All learning centres and their communities have resources to support education that are not fully mobilised. The lower the staffing levels and material resources the more important it becomes to release the potential in under-used resources in the school and in the surrounding community. The diversity of learners is itself a rich resource for learning. Every learner, irrespective of their attainment, or impairment is also a teacher. There are examples of learning centres employing the difference between learners in terms of maturity and skills to enhance learning opportunities. The Child-to-Child approach, draws on children to act as a resource for their communities. Parents of all learners have a deep knowledge about their children and this can be particularly valuable for children and young people whose learning becomes a focus of concern, such as some learners with impairments. There are learning opportunities within all communities which can be exploited for education.
 
4.5. Indices for inclusion
 
  In several countries, indices of inclusion have been developed to assess participation in schools and to assist schools in planning inclusive development. Most of these indices have concentrated on learners with impairments, though they have carried the assumption that enabling schools to respond effectively to one aspect of diversity will help them to become good places for all learners. One group of researchers have drawn on these earlier attempts but with a change in emphasis so that the index is concerned with the inclusive development of the whole school for staff as well as learners and their parents/carers. It consists of a set of materials which support staff to share their existing knowledge, engage in a detailed examination of the exclusionary pressures and inclusionary possibilities in all aspects of their school/ learning centre. It requires them to draw on the views of learners, parents, community members and other stake-holders in education locally.
 
 
5. DEVELOPING HUMAN RESOURCES TO SUPPORT INCLUSION
 
5.1 The development of inclusive capacity
 
  In systems undergoing inclusive development, change has to be introduced at all levels and sectors of the system if it is not to be undermined. Those in government directing change must have detailed knowledge of their education system and of educational developments. While teacher educators play a vital role in encouraging more inclusive, flexible and responsive ways of working, they also carry teaching and academic traditions which may support a less inclusive system of education. Some may find that qualifications gained in other countries have not prepared them sufficiently for their own educational realities. They may have grown up in relatively affluent urban circumstances, amongst communities unfamiliar with the rural conditions and cultures of many learners. They too need to be introduced to new thinking in order to overcome their own prejudices about excluded learners in general and learners with impairments in particular.
 
5.2 Revising initial teacher education
 
  In many countries the teaching force is not representative of the ethnic groups, linguistic communities and impairments within the population and this requires a concerted strategy and monitoring. For many teachers the content of their training remains unrelated to the nature of the teaching job and the conditions in which they work; there is a separation between theory and practice. Inclusive initial teacher education requires methods which are themselves inclusive. In some teacher education institutions in both the North and the South, teacher educators attempt to teach a content about active learning in diverse classrooms using passive methods which take no account of the prospective teachers' backgrounds and experiences. On many teacher education courses, inclusion is considered in separate sessions, usually associated with learners with impairments or those categorised as having 'special educational needs', rather than permeating the approach to education in all courses.
 
   In most countries a rigid separation continues to be maintained between special and mainstream teacher education and this discourages the development of inclusive teaching approaches. In some cases the qualifications do not permit specialist teachers to teach regular classes. There has been a growing recognition that any specialism should follow a common general training.
 
5.3 Encouraging staff development
 
  Staff development activities are most successful when they are linked to whole school improvement. Cascade models of training, which attempt to multiply the effect of limited training resources, require groups of teachers from one learning centre to train together, supported by the head teacher, if they are to be enabled to effect changes in their practice and spread practice to other institutions. Arranging learning centres in clusters widens the resources available for training and dissemination. Clusters could include special and mainstream centres sharing resources as a step towards greater inclusion. The knowledge of parents and disabled people can form an effective part of staff and school development. In many countries teaching assistants are employed, sometimes to support learners with impairments. There needs to be clear strategies for how these staff can support the learning and participation of all learners. This may involve some separate training but involvement of all staff in shared training activities provides the best model for collaboration.
 
  The UNESCO Teacher Education Resource Pack: Special Needs in the Classroom has been particularly influential in encouraging inclusive learning centre development in eighty countries. It involves teachers in a set of activities which give them experience of collaborative, inclusive teaching and learning strategies and help them to incorporate these within their own thinking and practice. Despite its name it discourages the division of learners into those with and without 'special needs'. It supports teachers in sharing and reflecting on their experience, and drawing on the recorded and observed experience of others, in order to teach diverse groups together.
 
5.4 Providing support for diversity
 
  experience difficulties. These include teachers for particular categorised groups of learners with impairments, educational psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, sign language interpreters and interpreters for those who do not speak the languages used in the school/ learning centre. In countries of the South, widespread employment of highly trained professionals may be prohibitively expensive, and unavailable at times, and thus community based support has to be constructed from people available in the education service and in the communities. In countries of the North and the South, if support is to be used efficiently, its role in increasing the capacity of learning centres to respond to diversity, has to be recognised. It has to be based as close to learning centres as possible and to employ a social model of difficulties in learning. The support coming from specialist centres will need to adjust and match the new setting compatible with inclusive development.
 
 
6. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
 
6.1. From access to participation
 
  In many countries there is a recognition that providing access to a local learning centre is only the first stage in overcoming the exclusion from education of learners. It may not be the most difficult step, even though there are many examples where the presence of a previously excluded learner acts as a catalyst for the improvement of teaching and learning for all students. The crucial stages involve a shift of perspective and values from the denial to the celebration of diversity and then the systematic fostering of high quality teaching and learning opportunities for all learners.
 
6.2. Learning from experience
 
  There is a growing experience in many countries of how barriers to learning and participation can be identified and reduced. This experience is a rich resource to support inclusive development. However many people find it difficult to learn from the experience of others. They can see experience as invalid if it is gained in different circumstances, in different countries, or in different areas of the same country. Enabling educators to adopt a critical, reflective view of their own practice so that they can absorb lessons from the instructive practice of others, remains a major challenge for those initiating change in education systems and learning centres.
 
6.3. Ending policy fragmentation
 
  Inclusive education is not a new initiative with an associated set of policies that are additional to existing educational activities. It is not a form of special needs education but an alternative to it. It is concerned with the appropriate response to all aspects of diversity within the mainstream, in which learners with impairments are one important element. The continuation of separate special needs education policies represents one of the challenges to the development of inclusive approaches to teaching and learning.
 
   In all countries there is a tendency for new labels to be given to educational initiatives associated with particular government departments or non-governmental organisations rather than to connect them with existing policies. Non-Governmental Organisations may find themselves in competition with each other to provide services and these services can be poorly integrated with State provision. In some areas despite an overall shortage of resources there are more interventions than the system can effectively absorb. While policy fragmentation and overlapping interventions are wasteful of resources in countries of the North, they have particularly serious consequences for economically poorer nations. There is a need to bring together educational policies under the label such as 'community based rehabilitation', 'social inclusion and exclusion', 'special needs education', 'health promoting schools', child-friendly schools' within the Education for All framework so that education for all is truly concerned with providing a high quality education for ALL learners within their local communities.
 
6.4 Inclusion and sustainable development
 
  Involvement in education is an expression of hope for future generations. The Education for All movement recognises that the exclusion from full participation in education, experienced by any individual, is a global responsibility. In every region of the world, there are examples of practice inspired by inclusive values, at all levels of the system. Yet, for people uprooted by environmental change, in the middle of violent conflict or recovering from its effects, living in continuing poverty, or in regions suffering rapid economic decline, inclusive educational development can seem remote. In many respects, education is less inclusive, globally, than it was at the time of the Jomtien conference. In such circumstances, educational interventions have to be carefully directed.
 
  Removing exclusion in and from education is only part of the process of reducing exclusion in society. It cannot be separated from policies for economic development and employment. Sustainable inclusive educational development has to be linked to the building of sustainable working opportunities in sustainable environments.
 
  The need to think inclusively in education, as in other areas of society, has never been more important. The mobility of people within and between countries has made human diversity more widely apparent. There have been many painful reminders in the last decade of the threat to peace and stability that occurs when diversity ceases to be valued. As argued by the UNESCO Delors Commission, in adopting 'a regard for diversity' as a fundamental principle and in 'combatting all forms of exclusion' from education, we can restore education to its 'central place as a melting-pot' contributing to social harmony.
 
  Inclusive thinking is a reminder that education must be as concerned with the sustenance of communities, as with personal achievement and national economic performance. It allows us to recognise the undermining effects on social cohesion and the consequent economic costs of a narrow technical focus in education, where the sole concern is with 'what works' to increase average school attainment, narrowly conceived in terms of academic results. Inclusive education provides a route to educational development that is morally and hence technically sustainable because it provides a reasoned basis for action in international organisations, governments, NGOs, communities, and learning centres.
 
A comment on terms:

Disability - a barrier to participation of people with impairments or chronic illness arising from an interaction of the impairment or illness with discriminatory attitudes, actions, cultures, policies or institutional practices.

Impairment - a limitation of physical, intellectual or sensory function.

Inclusive cultures - are the shared practices and values within a community that support and sustain the widening of membership of that community.

Learner - this is the term used in the report for children and young people eligible for primary and secondary education, who may or may not be in a school.

Learning centre - a place where learners are educated together, including schools and less formal arrangements.

Participation - the shared engagement in learning and social activities with others in such a way as to foster a sense of belonging to the group.

 
 
 
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