Remediana Rodrigues e Dias
As a special educator, I find it inspiring to see what happens when we don’t divide people. Recently, I went to a birthday party of a 6-year-old and was overwhelmed to see how all kinds of children (differently-abled and normal) mixed with each other. They seemed to be telling each other, whether you can talk (and how you talk) or not has nothing to do with whether you’re my friend. They accepted their friends for who they were and seemed to share incredible relationships.
As adults and caretakers, what can we do to further such behaviour? The dice should start rolling with the administrators, who have to provide the impetus and support to make inclusive education happen. Along with their staff and parents, administrators need to plan and have a vision to provide equal educational opportunities to all students. As a first step, they can facilitate cross-disciplinary collaboration. Staff training, continuing education, and ongoing professional development opportunities are the next step. Administrators can support teachers in inclusive schools by providing in- service training that addresses teacher-identified needs, employing competent personnel to deliver the training, offering incentives to educators to participate, using diverse methods, and coordinating the training with other districts or institutions.
Parent education is key to helping parents realise the value of inclusive education. Parents whose children are normal may question the academic validity of inclusive education. They may feel that their children will not make the same academic gains in an inclusive setting as in a rigorous academic class. Research, however, shows the opposite is true. While many parents may not like an active classroom and may think their children are not able to learn in such an environment, studies show that few students consider an inclusive setting disruptive.
On the other hand, parents of students with disabilities are most concerned that their child will be teased or harmed and not be safe in an ordinary school. In almost every instance, after two years of integrated education, this is not a problem or is a minor one.
Parents may support inclusive education once they understand one of its goals is to keep students in their neighborhood school, a school where siblings may attend. This makes it easier for parents who may be more comfortable becoming part of a school community that they already know.
How can schools work with parents toward inclusive settings? Schools need to involve parents actively in their child’s education and future. Both parents and teachers need to understand that children with special needs have to be able to practise what they learn at home in school and vice versa. For instance, a child who has learnt to do something independently at school must be given an opportunity to do it at home as well. We need to be sure, too, that students work on vocational skills for after-school years along with academic skills. There is research and evidence for us to know what works and what doesn’t. Educators need to share that information with parents.
We need to turn schools into communities that support children. Once we create good schools, inclusion will happen.
The author is Special Educator at the British Institute of Learning Development, Dubai. She can be reached at [email protected].