I have been asked this question many times. Sometimes by people who were well meaning and, a lot of times by those who were not. People have asked me this under the guise of concern and, curiosity, but I was always able to gauge what they really wanted to know? My fellow teachers in my school were extremely unhappy when the ‘Right to Education’ made it mandatory for them to have children with special needs in their classrooms. They used to complain about the extra burden, lack of facilities and infrastructure and, for not being trained to handle children with special needs. I used to tell them to forget about all that and, to just accept and, try! Acceptance paves a way for a lot of problems and, many solutions can be found within its realm. It was not just fellow teachers; there were parents of typical children too who thought having children with special needs in the class would affect their own children’s behaviour and ‘these kids’ should go and study in ‘those kind of schools.’
One of the most common misconceptions was and, still is that children with special needs are not educable and, it is a time wasting exercise to put effort into teaching them. I believe this is a very dangerous thought for teachers to have, because if you are not convinced yourself, then the chances are you’d never be able to fully support the inclusion.
before venturing out more into details, let’s quickly read these few important lines on What is and, what is not ‘Inclusion’
As stated by Loreman and Deppeler (2001), “Educators are misinformed and confused about inclusion… We believe that inclusion, by its very nature, cannot exist in environments where some children are educated separately or substantively differently to their peers. It is perhaps easier to provide examples of what is not inclusion. educating children part time in special schools and part time in regular schools is not inclusion. Educating children in special, mostly segregated, environments in regular schools is not inclusion. Educating children in regular classes, but requiring them to follow substantially different courses of study in terms of content and learning environment to their peers, is also not inclusion (unless all children in a class follow individual programmes). Inclusion means full inclusion of children with diverse abilities in all aspects of schooling that other children are able to access and enjoy. It involves regular schools and classrooms genuinely adapting and changing to meet the needs of all children, as, well as celebrating and valuing differences. This definition of inclusion does not imply that children with diverse abilities will not receive specialised assistance or teaching outside of the classroom when required, but rather that this is just one of many options that are available to, and in fact required of, all children.
Now back to the question, why do parents want to put their special needs children into mainstream schools? The answer is not one dimensional and frankly not many parents of children with special needs, have had the best experience with inclusion. Many of them home-school their children based on their unpleasant experiences with the school system. But there are a few other optimistic parents who still send or want to send their kids to school. And let me be clear, academics is the last thing we have in our mind. So what exactly do we want? What makes us want to send our little special angels to a mainstream school which might not be very welcoming or kind to them?
It is our ‘RIGHT’
Inclusive education means education of all students, where all students are equal participants in the learning process. Provision of inclusive education involving students with disabilities is based on the belief that those with disabilities should not have to depend on specialised services alone, to benefit from educational resources, activities and practices that are otherwise available to all. Time and again, researchers and studies have shown the advantages of inclusion for the non-disabled and for the society at large.
Yes, the children with special needs are as much a part of the society as other children are. It is their RIGHT to be treated in the same way! Just like all the children going to the school are not alike and have varied abilities and skills, the same applies to our little special brigade as well. They all come with their own skills, strengths and challenges and, it is their right to get the same treatment that their ‘neuro-typical’ counterparts do.
You can also read: Is ‘INCLUSION’ Really The Answer For Children With Special Needs?
Research suggests it is for the best
‘Inclusion‘ is a natural extension of the philosophy that embraces diversity and celebrates individual differences. The advantages of inclusion in the classroom by mixing in students with special needs, regardless of the severity of a student’s disability or socio-economic status, have been well documented, whereas special needs kids who remain in segregated classes fall academically and socially further behind.
One area in which children who enjoy inclusive education shows long-term benefits is in their social-emotional development. The bottom line is that ‘regular, sustained interaction’ in inclusive classrooms offers children with disabilities opportunities to observe, develop, expand, and generalize their social skills (Strain, McGee, & Kohler, 2001, p. 357). One research study concluded that children with social and communication delays show ‘marked developmental progress on intellectual and language measures’ in comparison to their counterparts segregated from typically developing peers (Strain & Bovey, 2011,p. 134).
So, the research suggests it, experiments suggests it and our hearts suggest that our children belong to this world of education that is created for all children and not for only a few!
Though There Are Apprehensions….
Recently, My daughter’s teachers shared how they cannot give her all the attention she needs because there are other children in the class and it will be unfair to them. I understood and sat observing one of the class. There were children who were writing three pages on their own, immersed in their work. Absolutely brilliant kids! And, the assistant teacher was hovering over those kids, not helping my daughter, implying that every child needs equal attention. Which is an argument I didn’t really believe in. How can two children need equal attention? There is a difference between equality and being Fair. and the teachers should be fair. This picture says it the best.
It Is Not Just The Academics They Learn In School
In an ideal world where educators would be well trained and accepting, and resources would be plenty and where nobody would treat our children differently; no parent would home-school or send the children to the so-called special schools. But even in this less than ideal world I want my child to be a part of the society she has to live in all her life and I want to equip her to deal with the challenges rather than keeping her in a cocoon. Also, observing an age appropriate behaviour and, the happy feeling to be the part of a group can be quite a confidence booster for my daughter or for other children with special needs.
I, too want her to learn that people can be kind and not so kind and she has to have her defence mechanism in place. A school can help her learn all that. It does represent a mini-society! It cannot happen if all she ever has is only me and a few kind family members. Today my daughter, who has Down Syndrome goes to a mainstream school with her brother. To send them to a school together was a dream since the day I received her diagnosis. And I can’t begin to describe the feeling I have when I wave them both goodbye in the morning. I have always wanted them to feel equal and get equal opportunities, and inclusion seems a good way for doing that!
It helps ‘typical’ children
There is strong evidence of the positive effects of inclusive education on students who do not have disabilities. “Both research and anecdotal data have shown that typical learners have demonstrated a greater acceptance and valuing of individual differences, enhanced self-esteem, a genuine capacity for friendship, and the acquisition of new skills,” according to Long-Term Effects of Inclusion, from the ERIC Clearing House on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
In 1997 Criticising the segregation policies of the Indian government, Baquer and Sharma (1997) had pointed out that:
“…separate special education systems lead to social segregation and isolation of the disabled, thus creating separate worlds for them in adult life. Inclusive education has the potential to lay the foundation of a more inclusive society where being “different” is accepted, respected and valued. The school is the first opportunity to start this desirable and yet difficult process. It is difficult because it is wrought with fears and apprehensions on the part of parents, teachers, and other children.”
“Inclusion improves learning for both typical and special need students. When youngsters who have learning problems are included, students without disabilities often do better academically. A teacher is more apt to break instruction into finer parts or repeat directions if he or she has a youngster in the room who deals with deafness, blindness, or a developmental disability. Also when children are exposed to inclusion at an early age and consistently throughout their lives, they are more likely to approach children with disabilities with acceptance (Rafferty et al., 2001) and are less likely to view a disability as an impairment.” – Education World, ‘Special Education Inclusion’
It is the law
Yes, it is the law and not abiding by it is an offense. It is important for everybody to know that the RTE (Right to Education) Act was passed in 2009 and it is against the law to discriminate against special needs children and deny them admission. It is the responsibility of the schools to hire special educators and, have the necessary infrastructure for the inclusion. It is true that many schools still don’t care, but some do.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network says, “How children are treated in schools often mirrors how they will be treated in later life…A society that separates its children [during their school years] is likely to maintain those separations indefinitely, reinforcing attitudinal barriers to disability in all aspects of life.”
Inclusion is still a dream for many parents. We look forward to the day when it will not be a struggle or a fight to put or survive in a mainstream school. The day when a child will be treated with respect, dignity and care irrespective of his disability and when the school, parents and the teachers would promise to do the same – that is when the true inclusion will take place.
This article was published in the magazine ‘Parentedge’ with the title