My experience of working as a pupil teacher in one of the private schools of North Delhi helped me develop a perspective regarding the much hyped ‘Inclusive Education’. I taught Psychology at the senior secondary level and social science at secondary level. The 9th standard classroom was typically an inclusive one where students from diverse geographical and linguistic backgrounds, and with hearing disability were enrolled. On my first day of teaching practice, I was aghast to see the insensitive and inconsiderate attitude of their peers towards them. The peers used to call them names, bullied them, considered them as ‘different’ and alienated them. This made me reflect upon the effectiveness of the inclusive model. Does the inclusive model genuinely serve its purpose? Does it incorporate the deeper concerns like recognizing the individuality of each student and celebrating their diversity in addition to giving them a common platform? This article purely depicts the ways I adopted to struggle with my trepidations regarding inclusive education.
What is Inclusion?
Philosophically speaking, inclusion is a paradigmatic shift from segregation through mainstreaming and integration to inclusion. Inclusive education seeks to address the needs of everyone, including children, youth and adults with a special emphasis on those who are vulnerable to marginalization. It not only means to include children with disability but also those with diverse abilities and backgrounds like geographical location, language, socioeconomic status, caste, gender, ethnicity, color etc. The major issue underlying inclusion is the acceptance of diversity, and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within an individual.
The inclusive approach suggested by the Salamanca Statement and Framework of Action (UNESCO, 1994), NCF (2005) and RTE (2009) ensures the right to education for all, regardless of individual differences. There is an effort to modify the teaching learning process in accordance with the individual needs, their personal learning styles, and environmental consequences of the learners in order to enrich their lives and draw out the full potential of every individual. However, the problem lies in the gaping chasm between the suggested measures and their implementation. Introducing innovative methods in the classroom can not only bridge the gap but also address the inadequacies of the conventional system of education. However, before employing innovations, it is fundamental for the school and teachers to realize that inclusion is not a compulsive burden which they have to abide by but the right of every child.
Preparing teachers for Inclusion
“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti
Teachers must psychologically free themselves from the traditional ways of education which implied a one way flow of information from the “know-it-all” teachers to the “know-nothing-at-all” students, and make a shift towards an interactive teaching learning process where the teacher and the learners collaboratively construct knowledge. Inclusion is a challenge for the teachers as it demands personalized pedagogical approaches in order to address the varying needs of all the learners in a classroom. However, with innovative classroom modifications, patience and sensitivity a teacher can successfully engage all the leaners and give them a sense of meaningful existence in the classroom.
Sensitize the Peer Group: The peer group must be sensitized about the varied needs as well as the strengths of their classmates in order to develop an amiable and trustworthy relationship. They must be aware about the facts and myths surrounding special needs in order to develop empathy and compassionate thinking.
Create a Conducive Environment using Humor: There is nothing more contagious than a humorous teacher. Using humor in classroom not only fosters cordial relationship between the teacher and the learners but it also helps the teacher to create a conducive environment for learning and communication by reducing stress and relaxing the learners.
Altering the physical environment: Apart from the psychological wellbeing, appropriate accommodations in the school building and classroom for the children with physical disabilities and manipulation of classroom environment for children with mental impairment is very essential.
Innovative Practices in an Inclusive Classroom
Teachers are making efforts to put the innovative practices to use in the classroom. They recognize the potential of innovation in individualized instruction, exploratory opportunities, collaborative learning, developing social skills, individualized educational plans, and effective classroom management to include all the students in an inclusive classroom. Incorporating innovative practices is also contingent upon the attitudes, beliefs and experiences of the teachers which in turn influence the decisions and actions regarding teaching progresses and change.
Following are some of the innovative practices that I adopted in my classroom:
Peer Tutoring and Support: A peer (tutor) of the same status or higher provides assistance to the other peer (tutee) who has difficulty in learning. Apart from a rich educational experience to the tutor, it facilitates the experiences of the school life and enhance a sense of community among the participants.
Cooperative group learning: I designed appropriate group tasks and taught process skills to deal with problems. This strategy created a positive interdependence among the learners yet then remain individually accountable for their work. Teacher may provide scaffolding where necessary.
Individualized Education Program (IEP): It is an individualized adaptation of the curriculum for the learner who is not able to cope with the regular curriculum. After assessing the student in all the required areas, IEP is tailored according to the educational goals that correspond to the specific needs of the learner.
Learning styles: Children learn in diverse ways i.e. visual, auditory, tactile and/or kinesthetic, abstract conceptualization and/or concrete experience. Therefore, it was a challenge to assess the learning styles of the learners and choose the method which best fits each student’s learning style.
Make appropriate use of Context: I included contextual examples in the classroom to create an appreciation for diversity. For instance while teaching geography, a student from a different geographical location was asked to describe the weather and soil of his/her native place, thus fostering an acceptance of diversity.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT): Incorporating multimedia in education leads to better learning as students use multisensory modalities for receiving, processing and retention of information. ICT creates an adaptable and effective learning environment in an inclusive setup especially for learners with visual/hearing impairment and learning disabilities.
Other Strategies: Various other learning strategies were used including semantic mapping, cognitive strategy instructions, storytelling/drama, discussion webs, key word picture, alternative algorithm, scaffolding, analogy, acronym, music etc.
It is essential for the teacher to regularly assess the learners and provide explicit and timely feedback. Informing learners about their progress helps them identify areas of improvisation and enhance their performance.
The identity of inclusive education would be reduced to paper if we as teachers don’t intervene to end all forms of discrimination and foster social cohesion. We must realize the crucial role we can play for the welfare and sustained improvement in the quality of life of the children with special needs. Nothing gives more satisfaction than nurturing your learners in a way where they develop individual strengths and realize their maximum potential.
This is published in EducationMatters@ETMA in its September 2014 issue. You can also log on to www.etma-india.in for the e-magazine.