Two decades ago, the UNESCO supported World Conference on Special Needs education led to the creation of the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. The key premise of the action plan was to encourage schools to “accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions.” The statement further states that children who are “disabled… and…from other disadvantaged or marginalised areas or groups” need to be catered to by the school system (Salamanca Framework, 1994). Inclusive education is thus an umbrella term that encompasses educational practices across institutions that are sensitive and responsive to diverse populations of children.
In the Indian context, policies on Education (NPE 1968, NPE 1986, POA-1992 etc) have spoken about how ‘integration’ can be a means to ensure inclusiveness in the school system. The challenge however remains in shifting the onus from the parents and the child to make her/him fit in to making an unchanging school system more dynamic. Creating a community of acceptance is perhaps of foremost relevance then when we talk of inclusiveness in education. The following paper therefore will present analyses and approaches to inclusive education using the following working definition - “Inclusive education is the pairing of philosophy and pedagogical practices that allow each student to feel respected, confident and safe so he or she can learn and develop to his or her full potential.” (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development-Canada 2014) The paper will also examine how education can be made more effective for students with disabilities especially in an English language classroom.
The evolution of the discourse on inclusive education in India has seen three major phases – segregated, integrated and inclusive. In the first phase, students with disabilities were taught separately from their peers. The separation was not just physical (classrooms, infrastructure etc) but also in terms of curriculum and syllabi. Many developing countries including India responded to children with special needs by setting up dedicated, albeit segregated, special schools and sections. This approach was detrimental to the idea of community participation and only seemed to perpetuate the divide that was existent in other spheres of life. In response, a more integrated approach was sought to be adopted. Herein, students with disabilities shared the same space and resources as their peers. However, this too was unfulfilling because it was the students who were expected to ‘fit in with pre-existing structures, attitudes and an unaltered environment.’ (AIE 2012) Curricular flexibility was below par and aids to learning limited or scarce. Though such functional integration was necessary, it had severe limitations because it could not achieve social integration which is the express aim of inclusive education.
Today, advocates of inclusive education have consciously and deliberately focus on a ‘social model’ of disability which does not focus on the limitations of the individual but looks at how the environment – social, physical and cultural can be made more accessible to the individual with disability. There are programmes and initiatives in so far as educating the girl child and mother tongue based education is concerned; but inclusion of children with special needs requires the attentions of all the stake holders. Using this as a founding ethic, contemporary initiatives in inclusive education look at the services that can be provided to the student with disability. A social constructivist approach to the needs of children with disability can help make a case for changing not just the infrastructure but also curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment processes, teacher orientation and co-curricular activities. In fact, studies have shown that “systems that are truly inclusive reduce drop-out rates and repetition of grades and have higher average levels of achievement, compared to systems that are not inclusive.” (Salamanca Framework 1994) Also, by adopting the ‘engagement model of inclusion’ in the teaching-learning process, the student will be ‘involved with social and academic aspects of learning..[with] a stronger emphasis on the interaction between social and psychological factors’ (Cooper & Jacobs 2011). In this context inclusive education also fosters “…a school culture of respect and belonging…. [and] provides opportunities to learn about and accept individual differences, lessening the impact of harassment and bullying” (Salamanca Framework 1994).
So, how can the educational system strive to be more inclusive? The foremost intervention would be in the teaching-learning processes. Adopting a socio-cognitive-constructivist perspective can help approach the curriculum from a more open position. This would also enable the teacher to revise and adjust it according to the needs of her students. Of course, the idea is not to “reduce the curriculum but to redefine it” (Borsani & Gallichio, 2008). A curriculum is the “culturally organized selection of skills, values, contents, methods, procedures to be learned and taught” (ibid.) and the teacher is the mediator who interprets and implements its contents. As a result, the teacher development programmes need to be initiated to help develop skills to handle inclusive classrooms. The narratives and experiences of teachers as well as the case studies of learners’ attitudes to peers with disability can also provide vital cues for reflection and appropriate tailoring of teaching modes and practices. Action researches on the same lines as well as extensive focus on social integration can be made part of pre-service and in-service training programmes. This will not only improve the confidence levels among the teachers but also empower them to cater to the specific needs of their students because ‘…teachers themselves are faced with a steep learning curve if they are to work effectively’. (Edwards & Easto, 2013)
According to the National Curriculum Framework-2005, “…it is important to recognize the inbuilt linguistic potential of children as well as to remember that languages get socio-culturally constructed and change in our day-to-day interactions” (NCERT 2005). The document further states that, “recognition of the linguistic abilities of learners would encourage them to believe in themselves and their cultural moorings.” (ibid.) The English Language teachers, therefore, need to take the initiative of investing in their own understanding of children’s varied abilities. They also need to develop a deeper understanding of “development disorders and impairments and their warning signs, so that they can recognize child’s special educational needs.” (Savic, 2007) What is important to note is that these may not just be sensory or intellectual disorders but could also be behavioral and emotional disorders. Teachers must evolve a strategy for early identification of learning issues and develop strategies accordingly. An “inclusive English Language classroom is the one where teacher creates the context in which all the learners feel valuable and have opportunities and confidence to try, where both linguistic and non-linguistic skills are valued and everyone can contribute even with the smallest contribution.” (ibid.) It is imperative that instruction does not presume sameness of experience. The teachers must also be open to providing remedial instruction if need be.
The English Language teachers can also empower their learners through curricular adaptation. They may choose to:
Supplement materials: By using teachers’ notes, pictorial support, audio-visual materials, physical activities to facilitate better comprehension, inviting specialists in the field to co-conduct some activities
Simplify materials: By varying the pace of the input, use of greater emphasis in instructions, allowing additional time in completing activities.
Alter materials: By going beyond the prescribed syllabus to incorporate materials more suited to the needs and abilities of the child by using more diverse sources like popular media, folklore, biographies of persons with disabilities etc.
Use group work / peer work as a strategy to create an environment of sharing and learning together.
Using role-play, drama, art activities to ensure participation. Voice and Speech exercises for voice articulation and expression; speech-related activities (loud reading with expressions) can be taken from the texts in English.
Inclusiveness can be made a part of the ongoing assessment by developing projects on ‘accessibility’. Asking the students to analyze the school premises in terms of design or even the syllabus in terms of comprehensibility will not only help develop language skills but also promote analytical thinking as well as provide valuable feedback towards improving the overall experience of education for every child.
As language teachers, one has to be conscious of the fact that the language that is used is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups and doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from being seen as part of a group. Inclusive education should ideally be regarded as a value-system or philosophy and not as a project or programme. Limiting it to a few schools or spaces will be counter-intuitive to the entire movement. Modifying education, so that inclusiveness cuts across all stages of education, is imperative. Further, since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 guarantees every child access to education including those from ‘disadvantaged groups,’ there is scope to highlight the fact that successful inclusion can only be the outcome of a collaboration between homes, schools and the state. Eventually, community support is essential to meet the needs of children to remove bias towards inclusion. “Parents of students learning English must be viewed as capable advocates for their children and as valuable resources in school improvement efforts” (Cummins, 1994). There must be a promotion of a culture that accepts differences and fosters reliance.
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* Article first published in FORTELL, July 2014