Welcome back HeadStart for Life readers!
In my past blog entries, I’ve talked a lot more about evidence-based practices for parents and educators to help differently-abled children improve their communication skills. This time, I would like to introduce a much broader and perhaps a more debatable topic that has been the talk of every educator, parents and maybe even law makers – Inclusive Education.
In my years of experience as a speech therapist, one dilemma that almost all of my students and their families go through, is choosing the best pathway for their child’s formal education. Parents of children with special needs are often confronted with the discussion of what school is best for their child – mainstream, special school, home-school. But, don’t they have an equal opportunity to be enrolled in a school with typically developing children?
In a society where a multitude of information is accessible at the tip of everyone’s fingertips, do we clearly understand the meaning of “inclusion”? Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the first Early Intervention Conference in Singapore, and one of the most notable speakers, Dr. Ilene Schwartz, the director of the Haring Centre for Research and Training in Education in the US, define it as,
“Inclusion is not a set of strategies or a placement issue. Inclusion is about belonging to a community – a group of friends, a school community, or a neighborhood.”
Inclusion does not only mean physical placement of children with challenges in the general mainstream education system. It takes a complex process of overall coordination of leaders and law makers, the community and of course the implementation of effective instructional programmes by our educators. It is an education system that regards all children and families valuable members of the society.
But why the need for an inclusive education? To start the conversation, let’s examine its major benefits to the society.
One common concern of parents of children without disabilities is their children might be influenced in a negative way by possible display of inappropriate behaviours in class or by communication problems of differently-abled children. This may prevent them from enrolling their children in an inclusive school. However, specific studies have been carried out to examine this belief. Researchers have identified that there is no significant differences in the academic achievement of typically developing children who were educated with and without children with special needs. In fact, they reported that many teachers’ attitudes and experiences regarding inclusion improved significantly after including students with special educational needs.
One of the research studies describes inclusion as a system that believes in, recognizes, and values the contributions of every student. That “all students are entitled to high expectations and challenging curriculum that lead to the same broad educational outcomes regardless of their race, class, culture, ability, gender, language, or family circumstances.” (Ferguson, D.L., Desjarlais, A., Meyer, G.,2000).
This setup taps on maximising the school’s resources, encouraging more active participation from students, parents, educators, administrators, and the community.
Inclusive education requires the implementation of consistent behavioural support from peers, teachers and all other people in the school. It cultivates an atmosphere of understanding, empathy and acceptance towards other people, which are important learnings to prepare all students to function in the real world. Inclusive schools provide more opportunities for typically developing kids to learn and tolerate differences.
In today’s society, where everybody seem to be more occupied than ever, we could use a little bit of kindness towards one another. A little bit of help. A little bit of change in perspective. It is never a disadvantage to share, even just for a little bit.
One misconception from many is that families of children with special needs are in denial of their children’s challenges and that they should be educated somewhere else. This belief not only undermines the abilities of children with special educational needs but also sees them as a burden to the society. Let us all remember that children with special educational needs are children first.
As our society progresses, much emphasis has been given to education. More and more schools are empowering innovation and creativity to catch up with the advancement of technology and the evolution of the educational system. Inclusive education facilitates the general education system to be more accepting of students of different abilities, and having more emphasis on individualistic learning based from each child’s learning abilities, needs, styles, purposes, and preferences.
Children learn in different places and in lots of different ways. Inclusion requires a provision of an environment where all children and families with all abilities are valued and celebrated for who they are. Inclusive education provides such platform to have an open discussion about differences and respect for all people with different abilities and background.
Currently, schools in British Columbia, Canada were reported to actively encourage interaction among children with and without special needs, either through demystification sessions, or co-learning in the same classroom. In Singapore, the government has initiated an inclusive preschools, such as Kindle Garden and Sail Playhouse, which have started operating in recent years.
With the help of educators, planned and organised interactions between all children create more opportunities for them to be role models. A scenario of peer to peer tutoring is created. Such opportunities where observed to improve children’s self esteem and self efficacy.
While great steps has been made towards inclusive education, we as a community can contribute in our own little ways in embracing a fully inclusive society. Let’s not be afraid to offer help when we see a mother struggling to manage her son having massive tantrum in the supermarket. Let’s not be too quick to judge when that one girl is shouting some random numbers in the bus while she is being offered to play an iPad. We all have our own struggles and celebrations, it is a fact and we should respect that.
You’ve heard it several times before – it takes a village to raise a child. It may be a long journey to build an effective inclusive education but ultimately, I believe it is inevitable that this process will build stronger bonds between people in the community that will benefit every single child.
Giangreco, M. F., Dennis, R., Cloninger, C., Edelman, S., & Schattman, R. (1993). “I’ve counted Jon”: Transformational experiences of teachers educating students with disabilities. Exceptional Children.
(2007) Inclusion and achievement in mainstream schools, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 22:2, 131-145,
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1996). Inclusive practices for children and youths with communication disorders [Technical Report]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
Schwartz, I. (2018) Making Inclusive Education Happen: Turning Beliefs into Action.
Ferguson, D.L., Desjarlais, A., Meyer, G.(2000). Improving Education: The Promise of Inclusive Schooling. Guides – Non Classroom. 9-10.