Prof. Peter Thomas Farrell, expert in Special Needs and Educational Psychology, talks about making classrooms inclusive for both special and non-disabled children
Is it only challenged kids who need inclusive education? Well actually, it has been proven worldwide that inclusive education benefits not just the ‘included’ challenged kids, but also the mainstream kids, as well as society at large. “Inclusive education actually helps mainstream children develop better social, emotional and communication skills and a balanced sense of life, and it does not take away from the mainstream kids’ academic achievements either,” says Prof. Peter Thomas Farrell, Professor Emeritus of Special Needs and Educational Psychology at Manchester University’s Institute of Education, Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a former president of the International School Psychology Association.
Prof. Farrell, who was in the city recently, was part of the research team from Manchester University which conducted an epochal study (between 2004-2006) on two million British school children aged 5 to 18, the results of which propelled inclusive education there, in a big way. For instance, besides the social-emotional benefits that Prof. Farrell mentions above, the study also discovered that whatever be the number of pupils with special needs in the class, it had no bearing on the academic achievements of the entire school. And children who volunteered to be peer teachers actually benefitted even more, as they got to plan teaching and got to understand concepts better, because, when we teach, we understand concepts thoroughly. “And there is no single instance of a ‘normal kid’ picking up a disruptive habit/behaviour from any special child. I think it is enriching for a mainstream school to have a range of children. It is reflective of an inclusive society, which ideally starts at school,” surmises Prof. Farrell.
“Of course, if the degree of disability is severe, inclusion may not be feasible. But with the majority of challenged kids, inclusive education works very well”, says Prof. Farrell, who has researched and written several books on various aspects of inclusion methodology.
Obviously, India, with its crowded classrooms faces a bigger challenge in switching over to inclusive education, which is now the prevalent system of school education in the developed world. But there are solutions we can draw upon. For instance, the British administration employs school psychologists who assess challenged kids, place them in local schools, and coordinate in establishing support systems for challenged kids, while visiting language/speech/behaviour therapists give periodic consultations at schools. Prof. Farrell opines that a legal–governmental framework is needed for inclusive education to become the norm.
But what really makes inclusive education work in developed countries is the employment of teaching assistants (TAs) at schools. Every classroom in England has a TA in addition to a teacher. TAs assist not just challenged kids, but also the slow learners in the classroom, who would otherwise get left behind as ‘dull’ students. TAs are trained on the job and are paid about a third of the salary of the teacher. “TAs are appreciated both by kids and teachers, as they provide a lot of support in the classroom. I have noticed that stay-at-home moms who drop their kids at school take to this job especially well, finding it a convenient and meaningful part-time job. The TA system could work well in India too,” he says. In addition to TAs, technical resources such as laptops/iPads in the classroom may be used to provide supporting curriculum material for challenged kids.
Prof. Farrell will be back in the city to address the workshop ‘Promoting best practices in inclusive education for children with autism’ organised IRIS Commandur Foundation’s to be held on January 4 and 5 at Sishya Auditorium, Chennai. This experiential workshop will include video illustrations, lectures and discussions and will cover: learning needs and inclusive education for children on the autism spectrum and its best practices, training and school policies, and overcoming challenges in inclusive education like bullying of challenged pupils by the non-disabled pupils. Other resource persons for the workshop include Dr. Gregory Valcante, director, Center For Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), Florida, Susan Farrell, Dr. P. Jeyachandran, Jaya Krishnaswamy, Mythily Chari, Sulata Ajit, Sarva Mangala Jeyachandran, Sridevi, and Shri Raja, director SSA, Kerala. Call 9445190888 to register for the workshop. For more details, log on to www.commandurfoundation.org or www.autismindia.com