Current Debates: Part 3
Exploring key arguments surrounding the purpose of education and the ways in which existing, exclusionary education systems can be resisted. Academic and ALLFIE trustee Dr Miro Griffiths MBE concludes his three part series for education students on some of the key issues around inclusive education.
Inclusive education is a complex issue, with considerable resistance emerging from political, economic, cultural, and social structures in society. There is substantial support for inclusive education with activists, scholars, policymakers, and public officials showing their commitment to developing, promoting, and implementing inclusive education practices. It is not possible to capture the entirety of the debate surrounding inclusive education; however, the aim here is to provide an overview of some of the central points. Please use this as an introduction, which, when combined with the list of suggested readings, provides you with substantial literature and points of reference to develop your own thinking on inclusive education.
Purpose of Education
It is impossible to imagine an inclusive education system without engaging with a complex, perhaps irresolvable, question: what is the purpose of education? The varied answers to this question provide insight of the issues affecting the realisation of a fair, accessible, and inclusive education system. Robinson (2014) argues the education system squanders children’s innovation and development of creativity. His analysis arrives at two pivotal conclusions: firstly, the education system is designed to prioritise subjects appropriate for engaging with the existing labour market, and secondly, the system establishes a link between academic performance and the notion of intelligence. This analysis is significant because it illustrates how the contemporary approach to educate is not reflective of the desires, interests, opportunities, and access needs of the diverse population engaged in the education system.
It is important that the link between the education system and the contemporary needs of the existing labour market become disrupted beyond repair. As Ball (2013) suggests, education is not to transmit information from one source to another, it is to support learners to engage critically with elements of discovery, innovation, analysis, and creativity. This is at the point where inclusive education emerges as a pivotal discourse to challenge the continuing practices of exclusion. Slee (2013) draws attention to the tolerance, indeed promotion, of exclusionary practices within contemporary social structures. The notion of exclusion is embedded within political, cultural, social, and economic contexts that it becomes unsurprising an education system would operate differently. Slee continues by suggesting disabled learners are considered surplus to the existing aims and objectives of the education system.
To resist the exclusionary approaches within the education system, there are two approaches available: firstly, there is the option to implement existing inclusive education policies and practices identified throughout the globe. Secondly, the collective action taken to realise inclusive education is focused on establishing alternative approaches – in other words, a different education system is possible and preferable.
How to Resist?
With the first option, there is extensive examples and literature to be explored. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides commentary on embedding inclusive principles within existing education settings (United Nations 2016). Such as: recognising every person has the capacity to learn and develop skills, supporting teachers to develop flexible curricula that accounts for different learning styles and requirements, and creating learning communities that respect diverse backgrounds and experiences. Doolittle Wilson (2017) points to the imagination of inclusive education through promoting Universal Design for Learning, which aims to create materials and curriculum activities that can be accessed by learners with varying access requirements. The attitudes of practitioners, including teachers, are analysed to determine their approaches towards integrative schooling environments (Avramidis and Norwich 2002). This is to be welcomed, and remains a useful point of investigation for activists, policymakers, students, and intelligentsia. The UNESCO Salamanca Statement and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities remain essential for praxis – taking conceptual ideas of inclusion and accessibility, and translating it into actions within the classroom, college, or lecture theatre.
However, focusing time and resources on advancing existing policy within the area of inclusive education requires a level of caution. There is concern with regard to the issue of policy transference. Defined by Dolowitz and Marsh (2000, p.5), policy transference is a process wherein “knowledge about policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in one political setting (past or present) is used in development of policies, administrative arrangements, institutions and ideas in another political setting.” Transferring policy, strategies, and specific practices from one location to another does not guarantee success. Can it be said, with conviction, that there remains an ideal example of inclusive education at a national, regional, or even local, context?
The justification for the reluctance to embrace existing inclusive education policy is to return to Slee’s (2013) analysis of exclusion. Slee argues that exclusion has become an ordinary, accepted aspect of society. An essential component that establishes the order of ideas and practices. The development of communities, services, enterprises, even the labour market, rest upon the ideals of exclusion. With this, there is a risk of furthering policy discourse that fails to identify and challenge the wider political, economic, cultural, and social practices of exclusion – practices that transcend the school environment. Is it possible to demand inclusive education when environments outside of the school accept exclusionary practices, ignore data and evidence of marginalisation, and remain indifferent to the demands for change?
Instead, activities and strategies to promote inclusive education rest upon questions posed by Garland-Thomson (2004): “What would happen if our society fully recognised and validated human variation? […] How would the public landscape change if the widest possible diversity of human forms, functions and behaviours were fully accommodated? […] What would be the political significance of such inclusion?”. The value of inclusive education debates comes from producing action, and preferable alternative futures, within the broad environments of human activity. Radically transforming ideas and expectations of learning requires new forms of discourse, which question why and how exclusion is accepted.
This completes Part Three of a three-part series on unpacking the current debates within inclusive education.
Robinson, K. (2014) Do Schools Kill Creativity?. [Online]. [Accessed 28 February 2020]. Available from: https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity/transcript?language=en
Ball, S.J. (2013) Education, Justice and Democracy: the struggle over ignorance and opportunity. London: Centre for Labour and Social Studies.
Slee, R. (2013) How do we make inclusive education happen when exclusion is a political predisposition?. International Journal of Inclusive Education. 17(8), 895-907.
United Nations. (2016) General Comment No 4 – Article 24: Right to inclusive education. Geneva: United Nations.
Dolittle Wilson, J. (2017) Reimagining Disability and Inclusive Education through Universal Design for Learning. Disability Studies Quarterly. 37(2). [Online]. [Accessed 11 February 2020]. Available from: https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/5417/4650
Avramidis, E. and Norwich, B. (2002) Teachers’ attitudes towards integration/inclusion: a review of the literature. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 17(2), 129-147.
Dolowitz, D.P. and Marsh, D. (2000) Learning from Abroad: The Role of Policy Transfer in Contemporary Policy-Making. Governance. 13(1), 5-23.
Garland-Thompson, R. (2004) First Person: Rosemarie Garland-Thompson. Emory Report. 56.[Online]. [Accessed 3 February 2020]. Available from: http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_REPORT/erarchive/2004/July/er%20july%206/7_6_04firstperson.html