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Updated: May 4, 2010 00:16 IST

Inclusive education: policy & practice

P. K. Doraiswamy
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“Inclusive” is one of the most fashionable words in use especially in the context of governance and development. In education, initially, it referred to children with disabilities (the medical model) who could not join the mainstream because of the impairments and had to be taken care of separately, often in special schools, and given what is classified as ‘special education'. Later, the term was expanded to include all those children who were involuntarily excluded from the mainstream education for reasons that have to do with their economic, social, or cultural status or life-style.

This book argues that, though historically related to special education, the term ‘inclusive education' goes well beyond it in terms of social integration and that it should be understood in the context of social diversity that is the result of such developments as the end of World War II, the end of colonialism, and increased labour force mobility.

Contradictions

It says, there are continuing contradictions between policy and practice as education systems attempt to manage the social and economic complexities of the national and cultural identities in societies that are highly diversified internally and interconnected globally. Again, it makes the point that the growth of inclusive education in developing countries reflects two factors: one is the attempt of those countries to promote the access to schooling and educational resources, and the other is the export of first-world thinking which reinforces dependency and what Paulo Freire calls “the culture of silence.” Flowing from these are the questions: What is meant by inclusive education? For whom is it meant and why? What are the existing practices that it challenges? What are the common values it advocates? How to judge its success? The book seeks to answer these questions by looking into the policies and practices obtaining in the developed as well as the developing countries and analysing them in the context of various related documents such as Education for All and the Salamanca Statement of UNESCO, and the Millenium Development Goals Report, the World Declaration on Human rights,and the Rights of the Child of the United Nations.

In narrow sense

The survey finds that inclusive education is interpreted and implemented mostly in the narrow sense of individual disabilities of children and it does not cover sections of children who are disenfranchised on account of economic deprivation or social discrimination. The authors pitch strongly for a whole range of groups, besides the disabled, to be brought within the concept of ‘inclusive education'.

To cite some examples: those who are experiencing difficulty of a temporary or permanent nature or repeating their school years or are forced to work; those who live far away from school or on the streets; and those who suffer abuses or are victims of war or are out of school for whatever reason. As far as the developing countries are concerned, they are trying to bring into the education system a large percentage of the excluded children. But many of them are following a Western model either on their own or because they are being forced to do so by the Western funding agencies. Thus a kind of intellectual colonialism persists, although these countries have managed to throw out colonialism of the political variety. A case study from Trinidad provides an example of the teachers rejecting a West-imposed model and evolving one that is rooted in native wisdom and culture — a phenomenon not much in evidence in the developing countries.

In conclusion, the book spells out the real purpose of education as something that draws lessons from real-life experience of the people and aims at the liberation of the mind, the raising of the critical consciousness, thereconfiguring of the traditional teacher-learner relationship, and the transformation of the classroom into a place where creative, and actionable ideas are generated.

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