Sangeetha Rao, Special Education Teacher, Bethune-Bowman Middle/High School

Born in Hyderabad, India, Sangeetha Rao is Special Education Teacher for the Learning Disabled children. Starting her career as a fashion designer, she switched to the teaching field in 2007. Sangeetha has a diploma in Special Education and very passionate about her job. She has taught children in India, but her stint in the USA has helped her enhance her professional development skills in the stream of Multiple Disabilities. She strongly believes in spreading awareness about being helpful and bring happiness on the faces of the children giving them the support and care they need.

Inclusive Education (IE) is a new approach towards educating the children with disabilities and learning difficulties with that of normal ones within the same roof. It brings all students together in one classroom and community, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area, and seeks to maximize the potential of all students. It is one of the most effective ways in which to promote an inclusive and tolerant society. About Eighty percent of the Indian population lives in rural areas without provision for special schools. 

The principle of inclusive education was adopted at the “World Conference on Special Needs Education:  Access and Quality” (Salamanca Statement, Spain 1994) and was restated at the World Education Forum (Dakar, Senegal 2000). The Statement solicits governments to give the highest priority to making education systems inclusive and adopt the principle of inclusive Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for a person with Disability proclaiming participation and equality for all. Inclusive Education (IE) is defined as a process of addressing the diverse needs of all learners by reducing barriers to and within the learning environment. It supports (UNICEF 2007). Inclusive Education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners. 

Inclusive Education implies that all the children, belonging to the normal and disadvantaged sections of the society, study together in their age-appropriate in the neighborhood schools without any discrimination to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school. This education has now been included in the ambit of the ETR-2009 act. As per the Amendment in the RTE Act (2010), children with disabilities have been included in the definition of a child belonging to the disadvantaged group in Section 2(d) of the RTE Act. The orphans, HIV-affected children, transgender and children of scavengers have also been included in the list of disadvantaged children in some states. The landmark step mentioned in this Act that section 12(1/C) mandates for private unaided and specific category schools to admit at least 25% of its entry-level class from children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged groups. It shows that inclusive education has now become a reality. The beliefs and principles of Inclusive Education are:

  • All children can learn
  • All children attend age-appropriate regular classrooms in their local schools
  • All children receive appropriate educational programs
  • All children receive a curriculum relevant to their needs
  • All children participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities
  • All children benefit from cooperation, collaboration among home, among school, among the community.

Inclusive education means that all children are educated in regular classrooms. It does not, however, mean that individual children cannot leave the classroom for specific reasons. For example, a child may require one-on-one assistance in a particular subject. This may or may not be happening during regular class time. Once schools are inclusive, serious thought is given to how often a child may be out of the regular classroom and the reasons that this may be happening It does not mean that children with certain characteristics (for example, those who have disabilities) are grouped in separate classrooms for all or part of the school day.

Generally, inclusive education will be successful if these important features and practices are followed:

  • Accepting unconditionally all children into regular classes and the life of the school.
  • Providing as much support to children, teachers, and classrooms as necessary to ensure that all children can participate in their schools and classes.
  • Looking at all children at what they can do rather then what they cannot do.
  • Teachers and parents have high expectations for all children.
  • Developing education goals according to each child’s abilities. This means that children do not need to have the same education goals to learn together in regular classes.
  • Designing schools and classes in ways that help children learn and achieve to their fullest potential (for example, by developing class time tables for allowing more individual attention for all students).
  • Having strong leadership for inclusion from school principals and other administrators.
  • Having teachers who know different ways of teaching so that children with various abilities and strengths can learn together.
  • Having principals, teachers, parents, and others work together to determine the most effective ways of providing quality education in an inclusive environment.

Importance of Inclusive Education for the Special needs’ children:

Education for the children of special needs in India is quite a debatable topic. Though we have the presence of special schools, the numbers are far less than what we need. But it’s also a known fact that inclusive education is the right way of inculcating skills among special needs children. The acceptance of disabled children is more efficient when there is a presence of inclusive education. Most schools in India understand this aspect. However, the ground realities are much different than what we think.

Inclusive education is not only about education together. It’s a way of life where special needs children learn to grow with developing children. When education is different like studying in special schools, then it translates into the development difference. The developing children fail to understand special needs children and look upon them with a difference. Inclusive education tries to bridge this gap. Through this form of education, the children become more understanding towards each other. In the longer-term, this brings acceptance of special needs children in the society much simpler.

Over the years, the benefits of providing inclusive education to all children have been shown. Inclusive education (when practiced well) is very important because:

  • All children can be part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and become better prepared for life in the community as children and adults.
  • It provides better opportunities for learning. Children with varying abilities are often better motivated when they learn in classes surrounded by other children.
  • The expectations of all the children are higher. Successful inclusion attempts to develop an individual’s strengths and gifts.
  • It allows children to work on individual goals while being with other students their age.
  • It encourages the involvement of parents in the education of their children and the activities of their local schools.
  • It fosters a culture of respect and belonging. It also provides the opportunity to learn about and accept individual differences.
  • It provides all children with opportunities to develop friendships with one another. Friendships provide role models and opportunities for growth.

Inclusive education is not just for some children. Being included is not something that a child must strive for, their participation is not something that must be earned. Inclusive education is a way of thinking about how to be creative to make our schools a place where all children can participate. Creativity may mean teachers learning to first not brand the children of what they can’t do, their disbelief towards a child that he/she is useless but to teach those children in different ways or designing their lessons so that all children can be involved. As a value, inclusive education reflects the expectation that we want all of our children to be appreciated and accepted throughout life.

Every teacher ought to believe that – Strength lies in differences, not in Similarities!

 

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