By Godfrey Orji
I have a problem with how inclusive education is often explained. For long, it has been defined as a way of making the ‘disabled’ part of the system feel less rejected. That this definition is thought to be correct is worrisome. Whose idea was it, that disabled people should be made part of the system? Why did we first create a system that exists for just ‘able’ people?
Inequality exists in the world because of such reasoning. I like how the UNESCO Office in Bangkok puts it here; “inclusive education should be viewed in terms of including traditionally excluded or marginalized groups…” The keywords being marginalized and traditionally excluded. One way to look at this definition is to see it as an atonement for sins; we trying to apologize to others for acting like they didn’t deserve this. But I think it should be our way of appreciating the difference in learning styles and the right of every child to education that meets their specific need.
At GTBank’s Annual Autism Conference which ended on the 22nd of July, 2017, speech therapist, Dr. Grace Bamigboye spoke extensively on how some parents avoid alternative communication strategies because they believe communication must be vocal (tell that to Nigerian men who have had to study the female body language to determine who likes them or not). During her lecture on Communication Development and Inclusion, she clearly stated that communication is about function and intent and rarely about the ability to coin words. Worthy of note is the fact that the number one sign parents use in identifying their children’s possibility of being on the autism spectrum is their delayed speech.
So why am I really all for inclusive education?
An Inclusive Classroom Is A Good Model For A Truly Better World – As kids, we grow up being told who to talk to and who not to talk, and may the odds be in your favor if you were caught playing with those ‘blacklisted’ ones. The biggest worry is, the blacklisting happens for things we shouldn’t be blacklisting people for. Why shouldn’t I talk to someone with Down Syndrome? Does someone being deaf make them evil? Should schools listen when parents say, that child shouldn’t be in same class as my child? Yes, it happens. If we keep creating this kind of scenarios, the struggle to curb stigma would be made more difficult. A classroom is more than just a place to learn about numbers and words, it is where acceptance should be taught too.
I Think Inclusive Education Helps Children With Special Needs More – At special schools, real life situations are modeled for children and repeated over time until the child masters what it is like to be in that real life situation. This is tried out say five times with people he or she is comfortable with. Then they transit to mainstream schools. I may not have experienced it but I often picture the shock when they discover everyone isn’t as pleasant as their therapist. I laud mainstream schools that allow parents bring in their special kids along with their therapist. I believe these children will be gaining the full learning experience of how the world functions. Thereby, picking the skills they need to navigate life with.
Everyone Learns More – Imagine learning sign language at the same time when you learn English, French, Mandarin and other languages; not limiting kids with special needs because we feel their learning velocity is less. It’s a world of opportunities out here but we often follow patterns that limit what we can do. This is why I find the popular definition of inclusive education worrisome. It is not just a way to help disabled people learn, it is an opportunity for everyone to get a better education.
Every child deserves an education that meets their specific needs, and the most specific need I can think of is the ability to live in a diverse world. Maybe I have described this a little bit more about a classroom, but the world is one gigantic classroom and we are all learning from each other. So, it is our job to make the experience as inclusive as possible; even if it means learning a skill to get across to someone else. Rita Pierson puts it in a much better way – “every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”
Be that champion!