Inclusive education is the most effective way to give all children a fair chance to go to school, learn and develop the skills they need to thrive.
Inclusive education and real learning opportunities
There are an estimated 240 million children with special needs worldwide. Like all children, they have ambitions and dreams for their future. They need a quality education to develop their skills and reach their potential.
They often face persistent barriers to education, stemming from discrimination, stigma and the common failure of policy makers to accept disability in school services.
Inclusive education means real learning opportunities for groups that have traditionally been excluded - not only for children with disabilities, but also for speakers of minority languages.
Inclusive systems value the unique contributions that learners from all backgrounds bring to the classroom and allow diverse groups to thrive alongside each other to the benefit of all.
What is inclusive practice?
Inclusive practice can be defined as attitudes and methods that ensure access to mainstream education for all students. Everyone strives to ensure that all students feel welcome and valued and that they receive the right support to develop their skills and achieve their goals. When education is truly inclusive, it can benefit all pupils, not just those with disabilities.
Philosophy of inclusive education among students
The philosophy of inclusive education must permeate all dimensions of school life.
The cultural dimension - All members of the school must be guided by the common goal of inclusive schooling, and this can easily be seen in the approach at school level.
Strategic dimension - The epicentre of school culture and the development of future school strategies must be based on the philosophy of inclusive education. This can be achieved by adopting strategies that aim to involve all pupils in shared activities that aim to strengthen relationships between them.
The strategies are aimed at problem-solving skills in children's daily lives, based on a spirit of cooperation and solidarity.
The practical dimension is concerned with the application at class level and at school level as a whole of all strategies aimed at the inclusion of children regardless of their ethnic or social background, religion, nationality or disability.
5 key methods in building an inclusive classroom climate
1. Get to know your learners and let them get to know you
Connecting with students takes time, but we can start with the first days of school. Creating opportunities for students to share their interests, challenges and aspirations with you, and vice versa, creates a bond that can continue to grow. Think about what has worked for you in the past and what hasn't; what can you consistently do to connect with each student?
2. Create a safe space for learners to share key values in the inclusion process
Pupils also need explicit time to make connections with their peers. Regularly divide students into new small groups and use the "I see, I think, I wonder" strategy to digest something they've learned about or a current event that might be on their minds. By modeling how this should work and creating group norms, students can have fruitful conversations that develop empathy and share differing opinions in a respectful way. Strengthening social-emotional skills such as empathy, gratitude and compassion in the classroom encourages positive interactions between students.
3. Plan the teaching process in a variety of ways
There is growing evidence that gamified lessons positively influence student engagement. To appeal to different learning styles, reimagine existing lessons, especially those that feel lecture-heavy, with new videos, books and digital activities that encourage active learning. A study by the Canadian Journal of Action Research, which compared student engagement with gamified lessons versus traditional alternative lessons, found that students showed higher average classroom scores for both concentration and attention during digital game-based learning.
Varied learning content that appeals to students' different interests, methods and strategies
is just as essential as instructional style. Give students a chance to learn about societal challenges, history, equity and equality, as well as current events through different means and have the unit culminate in a team-based project.
4. Choose literature that highlights the importance of inclusion
Part of culturally sensitive teaching includes providing students with stories and literary works that highlight the human experience. Include stories about different cultures, ethnicities, refugees, as well as stories that include explanations of different disabilities.
5. Share stories with an inclusive theme or bring in an external guest to talk about it.
According to an article published in Economics of Education Review, when students can identify with the racial or ethnic background of a teacher or guest speaker, they are more likely to perform better and be more engaged because they see a potential role model or mentor in that person. By inviting a guest speaker, you give students access to an authentic learning experience they might otherwise never have.
Strategies that support inclusion in the classroom
allow the student with special needs
to participate in equitable learning experiences with their peers. This is achieved by making adjustments in the way assessment or learning is carried out.
Adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment should not impact on judgements made about student outcomes. Adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment can be grouped into five broad areas:
1. Timing - the amount of time allocated
2. Scheduling - the timing of assessment
3. Setting - where the assessment takes place
4. Presentation - how an assessment appears or is communicated transparently to all learners
5. Response - the way a learner responds to the assessment.
Note: More than one inclusive strategy can be used.
Inclusive schools are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all. Salamanca Declaration, UNESCO 1994
Developing inclusive strategies
- Provide more opportunities for learners to demonstrate what they know and can do.
- Plan ahead for any changes and talk to pupils about them.
- Select certain changes that are appropriate for each individual pupil.
- Involve the pupil in choosing the strategy.
- Make sure the pupil is familiar with the strategy to be used.
- Consider the pupil's learning strengths when planning activities.
- Regularly review and refine the strategies and methods used.
UNICEF - Policies supporting inclusion
To close the education gap
for children with special needs, UNICEF supports governments' efforts to promote and monitor inclusive education systems. Our work focuses on four key areas:
UNICEF promotes inclusive education through discussions, high-level events and other forms of outreach targeted at policy makers and the general public.
Awareness-raising: UNICEF raises awareness of the needs of children with special needs by conducting research and organising roundtables, workshops and other events for government partners.
Capacity building: UNICEF strengthens the capacity of education systems in partner countries by training teachers, administrators and communities and providing technical assistance to governments.
Implementation support: UNICEF provides monitoring and evaluation support in partner countries to bridge the implementation gap between policy and practice.
Thus, regardless of culture, ethnicity, religion or disability, school should become a place where all students feel safe, respected and listened to.