At the thought of an inclusive education, what came to my mind were schools that are specialised for students with special needs. An example being Singapore’s first autism-focused school, Pathlight School. However, the more I researched about inclusive education, I realised I had misunderstood the meaning of an inclusive education. On UNICEF’s website, an inclusive education means all children (including those with disabilities) in the same classrooms, in the same schools. So what’s the difference between special education and inclusive education? The main difference is that special education is a separate system of education that serves the needs of children with disabilities not included in mainstream education. Whereas integrated education and inclusive education happen within a setting where students with disabilities learn alongside peers without disabilities. Thus, this made me curious about how do some countries around the world implement inclusive schools and what are some lessons we can learn from them?
In Canada, British Columbia, they gradually phased out public special education school. They also redeployed special education staff to help schools transition to a more inclusive education system. Schools could accommodate students with special needs as they had trained teachers. In the past, untrained teachers were unsure of how to help children with autism. Now, more schools have special education teachers who were trained to handle triggers and meltdowns. They were trained in other special needs such as dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which were often previously overlooked.
“Children at this age of four to six, they already have so many problems communicating with each other because of their lack of vocabulary and social skills. What more for children with added needs?”
Teachers are the bridge for communication between students with special needs and those without. As seen in the video about Kindle Garden (Singapore’s first inclusive preschool), the teacher acts as a channel of communication for a child with special needs. He explains to her how to ask politely for a book, while explaining to another girl that the former is still learning to ask for things.
In Jokiniemi School in Finland, students with and without special needs learn side by side each other. During school, you may be seated next to someone with autism, in a wheelchair or without special needs. However, all are given the same education in the same classroom. Unsegregated school systems allow children without special needs to interact and be exposed to those with special needs. This is vital to making society more inclusive as children grow up being exposed to diverse people with different needs, not just those who are like them. Children will grow up seeing it as a normal thing in society. The classes allow the children to interact and work together and can teach them more empathy. Many realise that children with special needs are just like them such as sharing common interests and having fun together. It allows children to learn to be more inclusive through friendship and schoolwork.
Imagine you are someone with a disability, such as having mobility difficulties. You have to juggle the stress of school work on top of navigating an environment that may not accommodate to your needs. This will make school environments unconducive places of studying and may not provide a quality level of education for disabled students. Thankfully, over the years, there have been much more inclusive planning and discussions. Many schools have implemented more inclusive structures such as wheelchair ramps and elevators.
Facilities and support systems are an important part that makes up the school. Sometimes, it is easy to overlook how much of a difference they can make to a disabled student’s life. Facilities could be those that are a necessity to everyday life. Examples include wheelchair ramps and elevators for getting into buildings, handicapped toilets, large-print and braille worksheets for learning. Another facility that rarely comes to mind would be inclusive school playgrounds. This could include sensory elements, wheelchair friendly swings and merry-go-rounds that prevent disabled students from being excluded during playtime. Support systems are also very vital to an inclusive education. Some of the aforementioned schools have therapists and assistants who help counsel the children and supporting the teacher. There are many different disabilities and it is important that the correct facilities and support systems are able to tackle the unique needs of each disability instead of a blanket solution.
Here at the Patatas, we are also concerned about tackling educational issues, more specifically educational inequality in Southeast Asia. We are a social enterprise that has worked with schools in the Philippines such as our CaseStudy project with Tiwala Kids and Communities and have several exciting upcoming projects! To us, an inclusive education means including children from different socio-economic backgrounds. We are currently exploring innovative ways to give opportunities to the communities without power or internet to make education accessible and affordable to them through technology. If you are interested in working with us, reach out to us!