By Duggirala Sesi
Come World Disabled Day and one hears the shrill chorus of academicians and activists engaged in the field of disability shouting themselves hoarse on the need for Inclusive Education. The cue is perhaps taken from the razzmatazz of globalisation, which despite its detractors and dismissive criticisms has contributed to a paradigmatic change in various disciplines. The idea of a global village notwithstanding its idealist semantics has questioned the status quo of an era of ‘exclusives’ replacing it with daunting inclusives. Much to the delight of Special Educators and Disability Activists and as a result of their painstaking efforts, education has lost the tag of being an ‘exclusive’ enterprise and is now seen moving towards acquiring a more enabling ‘inclusive’ avatar, aimed at creating an equal opportunity for all. While there can be no argument on that count about the need for inclusive education and its intended benefits, a nagging question still haunts the mind — what of its teachers?
A change to inclusive education from special schooling has put the onus on the teacher. It is apparent that providing equal opportunities to raise standards of education for all pupils require a change of attitude on the part of the teacher initiated by comprehensive teacher development or training process that would move away from teacher-led to pupil-centred learning.
Teachers being the interlocutors of knowledge and skills have to break free of two conventional clichés — the way they think and the way they teach. If this is not done then excellent principles would remain empty rhetoric.
For an inclusive curriculum to move beyond its reclusive nature, a shared platform to critically engage with varied modes of teaching is a must, lest with each school pursuing its own curriculum, it remains a subjective exercise with no uniform guidelines to cater to.
Teachers must shed their oracular role and choose to be mediators to enable students’ access to the same subject content but with different levels of response from the teacher. This approach is much more effectively applied if the students are in control of their own learning.
Rather than try and move the entire class at one pace, teachers will do well to appreciate and empathise with individual differences. Hence the need to seek to explore the challenges on Teacher Education for Inclusion, emphasising on the knowledge, skills and attitudes for inclusive teachers with development on inclusive vision, inclusive practices and inclusive language keeping in mind the interdisciplinary concept of inclusive education.
If providing a quality education for all students in inclusive settings is identified as perhaps the most challenging, yet the most important issue in education, there is little doubt, however, that inclusivity, rather than exclusivity, will characterise the schools of the next century. To be ready for that future we must prepare teachers who can teach in settings that are inclusive, meeting the needs of all students. This will require a different model of teacher education, one that incorporates what we know about inclusive educational practices into the pre-service preparation of special and general education teachers.
There have been a lot of changes that have been seen in our schools today, one of the greatest is in the amount of diversity in our classrooms. Teachers are being called upon to teach students with a wide range of abilities and needs. Perhaps the factor that has had the greatest impact on diversity is the movement toward the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Many writers have identified this as one of the most challenging, controversial and confusing issues in education today.
Even the term “inclusion” itself is perplexing with much debate and discussion regarding its meaning. To some, inclusion is another word for mainstreaming, a familiar word that has been around for decades.
But while inclusion means different things to different people, it is fairly well established that it is fundamentally and philosophically different from mainstreaming. Under the concept of mainstreaming students with disabilities were taught in pull-out programs until their academic skills increased to the same, or very nearly the same, level as their same-age peers in the regular (general) classroom.
The student with disabilities would then be “mainstreamed” back into the general education setting. Thus, the emphasis was on changing the child to better fit the “regular” system of education.
The concept of inclusion places the emphasis on changing the system rather than the child. Proponents of inclusion insist that it isn’t necessary for a student with disabilities to be “at grade level” in order to receive instruction in the general education setting. The argument is that our educational system, structure and practices need to shift and become more flexible, more inclusive, and more collaborative in order to better accommodate students with learning differences.
Inclusive schooling is often thought of as the inclusion of all students, regardless of ability, into the same schools and classrooms with peers who are not considered to have disabilities. Inclusive schooling, however, extends far beyond mere physical proximity to providing students and adults the support required to belong and achieve in classroom and school communities. Inclusion is both a process for and outcome of understanding, acceptance, and valuing of differences among today’s school children and youth. It is potentially both a process and an outcome for achieving social justice and equity in our society.
Inclusion requires a large vision and specific competencies for all teachers. Now the teachers need to know that diversity is present in the classroom, and that they should attend to learners with a range of diverse needs. In this frame, it is imperative to prepare teachers for inclusion in all curricular plans for pre-service teachers, also for teachers in services, with professional aptitudes like research, strategic, resilient.
The knowledge, skills and attitudes for all inclusion teachers must emphasize that the purpose of all teacher interventions is the students’ learning. They also need to have high expectations for all (inclusive vision), develop inclusive projects including diverse teaching strategies and support systems (inclusive practices) and participate in a collective work (inclusive language).
For these three important educational aspects have been identified that every teacher needs to be ‘inclusive’ — equality, quality and equity. Every inclusive teacher needs to move among these three realities in his/her classroom. It also allows co-teaching or concurrent participation.
Inclusion promotes co-operation in the classroom. In inclusive education, the school and classrooms are very dynamic and have a lot of interactions and roles. The exchange and experience enrich individuality.
Diverse contexts indicate diverse relationship and interactions which include a team sharing knowledge, making decisions, solving problems together and generating actions in order to improve the school and increase learning for all. In consequence, the collaborative work is a source of dialogue, co-teaching and updating.
Hence we can infer that all this can be possible if empowerment of teachers happen through curriculum empowerment, the concept of which sees teachers as intellectuals, who work out a process towards a critical pedagogy of learning, bring about teacher effectiveness through actual classroom research.
If schools, colleges and universities are to prepare teachers to teach in inclusive settings, they must mirror inclusive practices in their teacher preparation programmes. That is not easy to do because higher education has traditionally been very discipline-driven and inflexible in its approach to teaching.
Most school and college professors enjoy a great deal of autonomy and are not used to teaching collaboratively or accommodating for students with differences. In addition, the environment of the institutes, being very competitive, does not lend itself well to collaborative and inclusive practices. However, inclusionary practices are commonly utilised by using the following team-teaching models:
One teach, one support: In this model, the content teacher will deliver the lesson and the special education teacher will assist students individual needs and enforce classroom management as needed.
One teach, one observe: In this model, the teacher with the most experience in the content will deliver the lesson and the other teacher will float or observe. This model is commonly used for data retrieval during IEP observations or Functional Behavior Analysis.
Station teaching (rotational teaching): In this model, the room is divided into stations in which the students will visit with their small groups. Generally, the content teacher will deliver the lesson in his/her group, and the special education teacher will complete a review or adapted version of the lesson with the students.
Parallel teaching: In this model, one half of the class is taught by the content teacher and one half is taught by the special education teacher. Both groups are being taught the same lesson, just in a smaller group.
Alternative teaching: In this method, the content teacher will teach the lesson to the class, while the special education teacher will teach a small group of students an alternative lesson.
Team teaching: Both teachers share the planning, teaching, and supporting equally. This is the traditional method, and often the most successful co-teaching model.
The profile for the inclusive teacher should be as follows:
The inclusive teacher is a professional educator committed to his/her community, that recognizes individual differences and considers them in his/her educational intervention actions. S/he participates in collective teaching because it is essential for collaboration and dialogue and is also creative in implementing education by facing the challenges of diversity in specific educational project interventions.
The inclusive teacher by their multi-tiered formation has a holistic educational view with strong skills and experience in order to participate in diverse contexts. In our teacher programs, we are promoting each one of the seven essential components; combining the federal program (by mandate) with our complementary program.
While it is usual to advocate for ‘disability awareness’ as part of the efforts towards inclusion, this tends to be interpreted as awareness of characteristics associated with disability labels. A critical aspect of working towards inclusion does in fact involve ‘disability awareness’ – that is, resisting dominant normative narratives or understandings of disability. Supporting children and teachers to genuinely develop disability awareness opens possibilities for actively reducing the barriers that result in the experience of disability for many children.
Hence the development of a culture of inclusion, in which diversity is valued, is crucial, rather than a clichéd implementation of an inclusive curriculum. This requires support for children, families and educators to develop a positive understanding of inclusive education.
It has been demonstrated that prejudice can be reduced by engaging in inclusive education and participating in education about disability awareness focussed on dismantling ‘ablest’ views. Issues like lack of teacher confidence and preparedness may be countered by compulsory modules in training programmes in both inclusive education and critical disabilty studies.
However, the transformation to inclusion is not an easy one as the path is fraught with arguments and counter –arguments. While conceptually ‘Inclusion’ is increasingly being seen as having made inroads into the paradigm called Education one still needs to recognize the fundamental role of teachers in the advancement of social justice, human rights, and opportunities for welfare thereby making Education for All an exercise in ‘unity in diversity’
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)