The call by the Ministry of Education and the Child Month Committee for ‘Inclusive Education for All’ is laudable and timely. May is Child Month, and the organizers of the activities have chosen “Stand up! Reach Tall! Inclusive Education for All!” as the theme, while the slogan is “Every Child is Special.”
We are encouraged by the Ministry’s embrace of this theme and the words of the Minister of Education , who in his message for Child Month said, “Our school systems are called upon to raise standards, develop social and personal skills, broaden curricula, pay greater attention to equal educational opportunities, and prepare young people for rapidly changing world.
Inclusive education means simply, embracing all these challenges, using an approach to education that supports and welcomes diversity amongst all learners.”
But for our educational system to be truly inclusive, we would need more than words from the Minister and the organizers of Child Month activities. There would have to be a cataclysmic shift in the attitudes and actions of parents, teachers, other children, the Ministry of Education, the Government and the wider community.
The problem is the gap between policy and the reality of implementation – namely, the support structures put in place to allow genuine opportunities for inclusion of children with special educational needs into all aspects of education.
Inclusive education as stated by the Minister may be the policy, but the experience of many points to a system which undermines and is decidedly hostile to such integration.
While we offer some semblance of special education within mainstream primary schools, such opportunities in the secondary schools, to allow for a smooth transition are rare, resulting in many children with disabilities ending their education at grade 6.
Inclusive education would also require parents to stop hiding or placing unwarranted limitations on their children because of a physical or intellectual disability.
They must be bold and insist that their children be provided with a quality education, where possible, within mainstream education, to allow them to achieve their potential.
Teachers must no longer view children with challenges as “more work”, a “hold up”, or a distraction and the Government must see beyond the expense associated with making school plants more user friendly to children with disabilities or the provision of special education teachers dispersed throughout the system.However, in all of this, the needs of the majority of children, those without disabilities included, must not be forgotten.
But inclusive education comes with social benefits for all children, with and without disabilities.