Top: A photo of me on my first day at school...
Do you agree that disabled children should be included in mainstream schools? My guess is that many of you have answered “yes” to that question.
Of course, this is a good thing. It indicates that attitudes towards disabled people have changed since the time when a majority of disabled people were provided education in ‘special’ schools. Yet, do we really understand what ‘inclusive education’ actually means?
A common misconception about inclusive education is that it’s simply a matter of placing a disabled child in a mainstream class. However, while this may enable a few disabled children to get a proper education and develop the skills to function in an adult world, it expects the disabled child to fit in the educational system without taking into account the fact that the child has an impairment. In contrast, inclusion sets out to place the student at the centre of the educational process and thus enable children to attain their maximum educational potential.
As a young disabled boy attending a mainstream Church school, I felt part of the school. While I’m grateful for the teachers and staff who supported me during that time, things would have been different if it wasn’t for the fact that I could keep up with my peers, wasn’t disruptive to the class and my physical impairment permitted me to be more physically active than I am today.
On the other hand, if I had a more severe physical impairment, a profound intellectual impairment or exhibited challenging behaviour, I would have probably been sent off to a special school or denied an education to begin with. n my case, I survived an education based on the principle of integration where it was a matter of sink or swim. If I hadn’t adapted to the system, my future would have been very different.
On the contrary, a truly inclusive educational system would have taken my impairment into account and made it possible for me to be more included in school events that required, say, physical stamina and strength.
In this sense, inclusion is about providing a disabled student with the support he or she needs depending on the impairment. This may range from making sure the school is physically accessible, providing educational resources in alternative formats and supporting the student with a Learning Support Assistant – as well as providing adequate professional involvement if required.
Inclusive education is planning an education that responds to the child’s needs through the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which also involves the child.
Indeed, real inclusion requires that we rethink our approach to education and go beyond the old idea that education is simply a way to prepare children for the world of work.
While preparing our children to contribute to our society through work remains an important function of education, what we gain from the educational process is much greater than that.
We learn to make friends, learn about new people, solve problems and form relationships.
Indeed, education helps us to explore life beyond the confines of our family circle. As a disabled child myself, school helped me meet people whom I might never have met as my impairment often placed limits on how far from home I could go before I got tired.
Indeed, the goal of inclusion is also to provide children with an opportunity to learn about other children and how to live in a society where everyone is different. It provides an opportunity for disabled and non-disabled children to learn about each other and become aware of the fact that while there are differences, they have much in common.
Finally, inclusion helps reduce fear and stigma that existed in the past. It also helps all of us to become aware of our diversity and to appreciate the value of every human being and their right to belong in society.
Unfortunately, as adults, we tend to prefer to include those disabled children who are more easily included or when the support required is minimal, and exclude other disabled children who may need more support and who challenge us when it comes to their inclusion.
Unfortunately, one finds that children who may have a severe intellectual impairment or complex dependency needs and those with severe challenging behaviour are often left out when we discuss the issue of inclusion. These children remain the most excluded groups of children from mainstream education.
Granted, some of these children pose unique challenges when it comes to their inclusion. However, if a proper Individual Education Plan (IEP) is designed, proper support could be identified. And giving the child the right support in daily life can do a lot in addressing the particular challenges encountered. One cannot assume that just because a child appears to be getting nothing from the mainstream, s/he is a waste of time and resources.
In addition, proper inclusive educational planning engages with the child as a whole person, involving a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying the child’s needs and aspirations. In no way does inclusion expect teachers to provide an inclusive education on their own.
Rather, it encourages all the school staff to adopt an attitude based on inclusion, where every child is valued.
Inclusive education must be seen both as a project and as a process. While legislation offers us the direction to follow, inclusion is a process that society needs to support.
Indeed, a proper inclusive education can only be successful if there is investment that improves schools’ access to the environment, educational resources and flexibility.
Inclusion also invites us to rethink our approach to education from one focused exclusively on academic achievement to one that fosters social values.
However, crucial to the success of inclusion is the willingness of all key stakeholders to cooperate together in the realisation of inclusive education.
As a disabled adult, I firmly believe this is the only way forward!
This article originally appeared on the Tuesday 22 edition of The Times of Malta newspaper. Full reference above.
Cardona, G. C. (21/5/2013) “Goals of Inclusive Education”, The Times of Malta. Allied Publications: Malta. Also available at: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130521/opinion/Goals-of-inclusive-education.470587(Accessed: 23 May, 2013)
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
The day celebrated as Worker’s Day (May 1) in this part of the world is coming to an end already. I find that I am now rested as I took it easy today. I needed to rest and this week was more intense than usual and the next two days promise to be as intense as the last two. Thus, I am enjoying the free hours I have left. I admit that I don’t always rest when I should do and while many may go home and forget about their job, the nature of my work as a disabled activist who works to raise awareness and educate people about disability issues can never really stop - even when I’m home. You see, I can't just hang my impairments on the coat hangar!
While I realise that my work in research, writing and activism is part of what I do today, I have long ceased to define myself by what I do - in spite of the positive value this work has to me. Unfortunately, I tended to self-identify with my work because I knew that having a job as a disabled person in a society where employment has become so precious for the general population and still so difficult for disabled people, I cannot take my job for granted or treat it capriciously or carelessly.
On the other hand, today I believe that while my work is part of what I do it does[t define who I am as a person. After all, I am a human being - and contrary to popular misconceptions, work is not another thing to ‘occupy my time’ but, in many times, a responsibility that provides purpose in my life and, in practical terms, provides me with a degree of financial autonomy.
Indeed, it’s insulting when people seem to suggest that work is good for me because it provides me a kind of 'therapy' much better than sitting In front of the TV getting fat - a thing that I was never tempted in doing. Of course, I enjoy it when I work at the office and meet my work mates and new people. But the fact I have an impairment doesn’t mean that this is the be it and end all of my work at the office. I work to contribute to the betterment of society and, hopefully, to make the world more inclusive to people with impairments , like me, who have been excluded from work because work was designed to exclude them.
Here, I will not talk about the reasons why the very organisation of work before the rise of the information society has been oppressive to disabled people and other groups in society, such as women. Suffice it to say, there has been greater efforts to create more inclusive work places with provisions which I’m benefiting from myself such as tele-working, flexible working hours and accessibility in the workplaces. Granted, there’s still much to be done and many still find themselves excluded from the open labour market - despite the fact that with some support and adaptation, many more disabled people (for instance)could be included.
On the other hand, it would be wrong to assume that all disabled people can be easily included in the open labour market, if at all. However, this doesn’t mean that they cannot contribute in a way to their society and perform work that could help them become more financially independent, or equally important, have an opportunity to contribute to society and develop a sense of worth not because they work as such but because they feel they are of value to those around them.
Unfortunately, we continue to perceive work using the old paradigm. Indeed, I firmly believe that our definition of work continues to oppress and exclude people who are engaged in unconventional work that is not necessarily performed within the open labour market. Especially when such work doesn't result in a material product but can, all the same, positively contribute to the world and to society. Indeed, much of what we understand as work in our information society doesn't always result in a material or concrete object. Information, services and work related to human relations don't seem to fit in any of the old definition of work.
I am myself benefitting from the legacy of the information revolution if I may use that term. In fact, if it wasn't for the invention of the computer, the Internet and the assistive technology that I'm currently using, work or any means of social; engagement beyond face-to-face or via telephone would be impossible. Not only would I be limited in the work I could do but my social life would be indeed limited.
However, I cannot forget the many disabled people around the world who have no access to any technology or even the basic resources to enjoy a decent level of living. I find it that we who live in the minority world appear to conveniently think of these people as being 'less fortunate' instead of acknowledging that much of this povertyy is caused by injustice and by the exploitation of the minority world or the Western world of other nationss.
I end this entry as I'm getting tired and tomorrow promises to be another busy day. I wish that you had a good day and that anyone who has contributed to the improvement of the world - even if it goes unrecognised - I hope you persist in your work and containue changing the world for the better!