Around the world, children are excluded from schools where they belong because of disability, race, language, religion, gender, and poverty.
But every child has the right to be supported by their parents and community to grow, learn, and develop in the early years, and, upon reaching school age, to go to school and be welcomed and included by teachers and peers alike. When all children, regardless of their differences, are educated together, everyone benefits—this is the cornerstone of inclusive education.
What is inclusive education?
Inclusive education means different and diverse students learning side by side in the same classroom. They enjoy field trips and after-school activities together. They participate in student government together. And they attend the same sports meets and plays.
Inclusive education values diversity and the unique contributions each student brings to the classroom. In a truly inclusive setting, every child feels safe and has a sense of belonging. Students and their parents participate in setting learning goals and take part in decisions that affect them. And school staff have the training, support, flexibility, and resources to nurture, encourage, and respond to the needs of all students.
Why is inclusive education important?
Inclusive systems provide a better quality education for all children and are instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes. Schools provide the context for a child’s first relationship with the world outside their families, enabling the development of social relationships and interactions. Respect and understanding grow when students of diverse abilities and backgrounds play, socialize, and learn together.
Education that excludes and segregates perpetuates discrimination against traditionally marginalized groups. When education is more inclusive, so are concepts of civic participation, employment, and community life.
Isn’t it better to separate children who need specialized attention?
Separate, special education provides no guarantee of success for children who need special attention; inclusive schools that provide supportive, context-appropriate conditions for learning demonstrate far better outcomes. Extracurricular activities, peer support, or more specialized interventions involve the entire school community working as a team.
What are the basic elements of inclusive education?
- Use of teaching assistants or specialists: These staffs have the potential to be inclusive or divisive. For instance, a specialist who helps teachers address the needs of all students is working inclusively. A specialist who pulls students out of class to work with them individually regularly is not.
- Inclusive curriculum: An inclusive curriculum includes locally relevant themes and contributions by marginalized and minority groups. It avoids binary narratives of good and bad and allows adapting the curriculum to the learning styles of children with special education needs.
- Parental involvement: Most schools strive for some level of parental involvement, but it is often limited to emails home and occasional parent-teacher conferences. In a diverse school system, inclusion means thinking about multiple ways to reach out to parents on their terms.