7. Inclusion in Classrooms – School Without Walls



The inclusion movement is yet to come out of the special education perspective, though the Salamanca Statement called for the improvement of the general education systems ‘to enable them to include all children regardless of individual differences and difficulties’ (UNESCO, 1994). The Framework for Action has elaborated both terms—‘all’ and ‘special educational needs’:

…Schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote and nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ‘ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas or groups…the term ‘special educational needs’ refers to all those children and youth whose needs arise from disabilities or learning difficulties…. There is an emerging consensus that children and youth with special educational needs should be included in the educational arrangements made for the majority of children. This has led to the concept of inclusive school (UNESCO, 1994, p. 6).

Experience, including in the developed countries, is that the inclusion concept has not been owned by mainstream educationalists, and it is being perceived as ‘an external process to provide support to students with disabilities’ rather than an integral approach of general school restructuring and systemic reform (Berres, 1996). In India, too, those who have been involved in special education and welfare of the disabled are perusing the movement. It is yet to catch the imagination of the agencies and individuals working for street and working children, scheduled castes and tribes and children from other disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

The reason could be attributed to the theory of ‘needs’ and the history of special education. The development of special education over hundred years has focused on the handicap and needs of children. It has tried to arrange additional provisions and techniques for these children outside mainstream schools in segregated or special settings. While the need theory is being challenged by rights activists and is being replaced by the theory of entitlement and equal opportunity, it has not been able to de-link itself from the syndrome of provisions and specialist services. Many people believe in redefining special education by relocating it from segregation to regular schools and calling it inclusion. The potential of curricular, pedagogical and school reforms is being overlooked, which could take care of education for all children, including those with disabilities. The consequence is that inclusion efforts are going on in isolation under the concept of regulatory, supply, provision and technological framework devoid of appreciation for the basic notions that guide learning in a classroom.

Fulcher (1999) notes two basic postulates that guide classroom teaching. First, it is believed that some children have handicaps and, second, it is believed that ‘children are pupils first’. The first notion divides the school population into those with or without handicaps, and the second unites it. The first calls for strategies in terms based largely on provisions and locations, an approach that divides children between ‘we’ here and ‘they’ elsewhere. On the other hand, the second notion focuses on pedagogy and addresses the needs of all children. It uses the ‘abilities’ of children. Fulcher (ibid.) calls the first discourse as ‘divisive’ in nature, while the second one is ‘inclusive’.

Similarly, Clark and Easen (1993) explain learning processes in classrooms on the basis of two assumptions: behaviourist and constructivist. In the first case, they say, learning is an individual process, a cognitive activity, emerging from the teacher, and knowledge is sequential and hierarchical. In the second case, learning is both an individual and a social process. It results from the activity of the learner and his/her interactions with his/her own experiences and with others, and not only with teachers. The ‘cognitive and knowledge structures are more like complex networks than simple ladders’. In the first approach, children work more as individuals. There is more one-to-one teaching. Mostly qualified teachers mediate children's access to curriculum. Learning activities remain de-contextual and curriculum is restricted in a highly structured learning environment. The second approach leads to children working collectively and on their own. They are engaged with their experiences. Learning activities are embedded in a context that is meaningful to the learners.

In the background of these contrasting notions, three major factors that influence the inclusion strategy in classrooms are being examined. They are child-centred pedagogy, multiple intelligence theory and approach to curriculum.


Child-centred education has a long history in Europe and the USA. It is generally credited to the French philosopher Rousseau who in the 1700s devised a curriculum for a mythical pupil Emile. The curriculum was to start from what the child understood at that time. Under this approach, the first task is to find out what a child currently knows and understands. The teaching of new knowledge starts from there. Contrast this to an assumption that a child is like an empty bucket into which knowledge could be poured, ‘which often leads to rote learning’. John Dewy and Jerome Bruner developed child-centred learning in America, while Swiss educator Jean Piaget developed a child-centred theory of learning. In the UK, primary schools began to work on the principles of child-centred education in the 1960s when the Plowden Committee in a report on ‘Children and their Primary Schools’ recognised the child in the ‘heart of the educational process’.1

The [Salamanca] Framework for Action has been eloquent on the use of child-centred pedagogy for the education of children with disabilities and disadvantages.

The challenge confronting the inclusive school is that of a child-centred pedagogy capable of successfully educating all children, including those who have serious disadvantages and disabilities…A child-centred pedagogy is beneficial to all students and, as a consequence, to society as a whole…A child-centred pedagogy can help to avoid the waste of resources and shattering of hopes that is all too frequently a consequence of poor quality instruction and a ‘one size fits all’ mentality towards education. Child-centred schools are, moreover, the training ground for a people-oriented society that respects both the differences and the dignity of all human beings (UNESCO, 1994, pp 6-7, emphasis mine).

Under the section on ‘school factors’, the framework states ‘the World Declaration on Education for All underscores the need for a child-centred approach aimed at ensuring the schooling of all children’ (ibid., p. 21).

Similar statements have been made in Indian policy documents in favour of child-centred pedagogy ‘at the primary stage’ in the 1986 national education policy and also for education of the disabled in the 1992 programme of action. Though a Western concept, the child-centred learning strategy has attracted Indian educationalist before independence. The Zakir Hussain Committee constituted to consider Gandhi's idea of Basic Education in 1937 supported it with the argument that it was organised around the principles of child-centred pedagogy (Fagg, 2001). However, there is very little clarity among practicing teachers on the concept and how to translate it into practice. Besides, the concept is not taking root in schools for two reasons. First, other factors, such as yearly grade or ‘class’, prescribed textbooks as the main source of learning and the yearly standardised tests that are meant to filter out and ‘fail’ children operating in schools run counter to the concept of child-centred pedagogy though the policy recommends ‘non-detention at the primary stage…making evaluation as disaggregated as feasible’ (MHRD, 1998). Second, Indian culture is dominated by a strong belief that the teacher is the prime source of knowledge and there is a deep respect for the teacher. On the other hand under the child-centred approach, teachers treat children as valued individuals who come to the classroom with some experiences and knowledge, which could be the basis of learning and teaching. Teachers need interpersonal skills to treat a child as an individual learner with areas of abilities that need to be explored. ‘The essence of a child-centred approach must be that of respect for children as individuals and a concern for their rights and welfare’ (Dessent, 1987).

Under child-centred pedagogy, teachers become facilitators, children learn by discovery in groups of mixed ability resulting in non-graded or mixed age schools, most appropriate for multi-grade situations in Indian schools. Standardised tests are inappropriate for child-centred education. Though there is limited literature and documentation of experiences of child-centred practices in schools in India, Jangira and Jangira (1995) have questioned the traditional belief that ‘pupils learn school curriculum only when a teacher teaches’.

Other resources of learning are always held in backstage. The shift in focus from teaching to learning assumes that pupils learn in many ways and from a variety of learning resources. The individual needs are met along with group needs. The pupil is a learning resource in its own right. The peer interaction and use of peers as learning resources are also highlighted in the emerging concept of effective teaching (ibid., p. 6).

Jangira and Jangira (1995) have also articulated a number of elements that constitute the child-centred approach such as active involvement, cooperative learning, expectations from children, responding to individual needs, praising and encouraging, and team teaching and collaborative effort. Wolfendalu (1987) has explained the ‘essence of a child-centred approach’.

The essence of a child-centred approach seems to have been the emphasis upon encouraging whole-child development within a ‘progressive’ frame…where a child was less coerced into learning than encouraged towards the learning opportunities made available. In short, it made the child the subject rather than the object, to be slotted into a predetermined curriculum (p. 8)

There are critiques of child-centred pedagogy in England and the USA where it is also known as progressive education and open learning or developmentally-oriented practices. There are suspicions about the effectiveness of such an approach, ‘laissez-faire at worst, random at best and less amenable to measurement’ (Wolfendalu, 1987, p. 8). However, the advocates of this approach argue that child-centred education does not mean ‘child-led’ education where children decide what they want to do. It means a realisation that each child is different and education needs to be designed in a different way taking into account children's experiences, interests and potential.

Wolfendalu (1987) has extended the principle of child-centred approach to ‘special needs education’.

What is proposed…is a re-definition of child-centred education to take account of each child's learning needs, and acknowledge the ‘special’ nature of these, in so far as it becomes the collective responsibility of all in the school to ensure these are met. That is, instead of children being perceived to ‘fail’ the curriculum…a given child is enabled to reach realistic and achievable learning goals devised for (and with) that child from a rich and diverse bank of educational experiences. So the notion of a ‘remedial’ approach for a particular child, where the provision…is uneasily appended to the child's other curriculum experiences, becomes superseded by a different conception (pp 8-9).

Wolfendalu (1987) has stressed on two more concepts which could distinguish child-centred education from the traditional approach particularly in the interest of special needs education. First, the assessment of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ as opposed to the assessment of weaknesses only as per the current practice which can provide for additional support, remedial teaching, provisions, etc.

A child's learning strength can be defined as: comprising those areas of the curriculum that the child enjoys, is motivated to attend, to participate and progress in, and to which he or she brings an appropriate learning style…. Second, the place of tests and examinations in the context of a child-centred approach. Reference to the norm (via tests, checklists and rating scales) is only applicable if it illuminates how to help a child. If it is not criterion-referenced, a test serves no function. An IQ test is a sterile measure that cannot provide indicators of the next teaching and learning goals…an assessment must work for and not against a child, i.e., an external yardstick should not be used as a measure of the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the child (ibid., pp 9-10).


The traditional school and its curriculum are designed around only two types of intelligences: linguistic and logical-mathematical. For long, the Western world has selected abilities only in these two areas as indicative of an intelligent person. The Wechsler and Stanford-Binet tests of assessing intelligence have been used to declare a child with learning difficulty and needing special education. Gardner (1983) questions the traditional understanding of intellect and abilities and has identified seven intelligences—linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intra-personal. He derived his theory following observations and studies of the capabilities of children with disabilities and upon the meaning of intelligence in different cultures. Such a broad-based approach to intelligence questions the current practice of labelling children with special needs, which is based upon one or two aspects of abilities only (Kugelmass, 1996; Udvari-Solner, 1996). The test design could also be one of the factors for students coming from ‘a relatively well off, albeit rural background’ in the Indian Navodaya School System (DRS, 2001), which has been developed to capture ‘rural talented children’ into fully funded government boarding schools. Gardner (1993) has also formulated a definition of intelligence. ‘Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings—a definition that says nothing about either the sources of these abilities or the proper means of “testing” them’ (ibid., p. xiv).

Appropriate and broad-based identification methods taking into account multiple intelligences have proved that children identified with ‘learning difficulties’ may be ‘gifted and talented’ with exceptional interest and special abilities in some other areas. Behavioural characteristics of some gifted and talented children closely resemble those identified with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and there are concerns in many countries that many gifted and talented students are being misdiagnosed as have ADHD. ‘Separating the two is not an easy task’ (Anderson, 2000). Similar problems are faced in identifying ‘gifted and talented’ children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds as standardised tests modelled on two intelligences do not take into account cultural situations and potential in other categories of intelligences.

The multiple-intelligence theory is being used in an inclusive class setting, first to understand and appreciate the strength of a child in other types of intelligences and, second, to design learning and teaching strategies after taking into account the variety of materials and methodologies linked with these intelligences. An illustration (adapted from Kugelmass, 1996 and Inclusion International, 1996) follows.

Linguistic or verbal: Children with strengths in this area think in terms of words and use language to express and communicate. They like reading poetry, word games, making up poetry and stories. They could be taught by seeing and saying words. Books and other printed materials, including tape recorders and typewriters, could be used as tools for their learning.

Logical-mathematical: It helps children think conceptually, see and explore patterns and relationships. These children like to experiment and solve puzzles. The teaching tools and methods could include logic games, investigations and understanding patterns.

Spatial or visual: It instils thinking in three-dimensional terms. May be seen in sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters and architects. These children think in images and are aware of their environments. They like to draw, do jigsaw puzzles, read maps and daydream. They could be taught through drawing, verbal and physical imagery, art materials and building blocks.

Musical: These children love music and are also sensitive to sounds in their environments. They may study better with music in the background. They could be taught by turning lessons into lyrics, speaking rhythmically, and using radio and musical instruments.

Kinaesthetic: These children have a keen sense of body awareness. They like moving, hugging and making things. They communicate well through body language. They could be taught through physical activity, hands-on learning, dramatics, sports equipment, craft materials, etc.

Interpersonal: It is an ability to understand and communicate effectively with others. It is found in successful teachers, social workers, actors and politicians. These children learn through group interactions. They have lots of friends, empathy for others and are street smart. They may be taught through group activities, seminars, dialogue, personal attention, letter writing, etc.

Intra-personal: It is the ability to perceive an accurate model of oneself and to use such knowledge in planning and directing one's life. These children are intuitive and introspective. They may like independent study, may use diaries and journals, and materials and activities that allow for creative expression and privacy.

It is believed that most children are capable of using all these methods of learning, but not always and not with the same degree of acceptability. Some are stronger in some areas than in others. The multiple intelligences approach recognises the individual differences between children and takes them into consideration while organising curriculum. The suggested teaching methods and materials based on the exploitation of the multiple intelligences cannot be used in isolation from each other. They may even overlap. An inclusive school provides opportunity for expression of these intelligences. Students are engaged in the activities based on the areas of their strength to understand the areas that are difficult for them to comprehend. Thus, the Multiple Intelligences approach could be made central for assessing the strength or ability of students, and then could be made central to the curriculum to give expression to their abilities. Finally, these strengths could be used as teaching tools and methodologies for addressing different areas of the curriculum.


Understanding and the approach to curriculum would make a difference in respect of movement of a school towards inclusion. In India, curriculum has become almost synonymous with syllabus and textbooks, which are prescribed. The literature on curriculum in developed countries neither refers to syllabus nor to textbooks as a part of the curriculum. There are, however, references to and debate on national curriculum, school level curriculum and group or individual curricula. The traditional approach to curriculum has to change for inclusion to take place in classrooms. Under such an approach students are expected to know a set of things written in a document called the ‘official’ or ‘standard’ curriculum. In recent years, realisation is growing among most educators that the official curriculum does not have ‘much bearing on the competence with which students will conduct their lives’. Students bring different abilities, interests, family styles, linguistic backgrounds and socioeconomic status into schools. Teachers must use them in developing a curriculum at the school and class levels. Learning through such curriculum is likely to influence students’ lives outside school (Ferguson, 1996). The development of curriculum in this manner brings in personalised learning and facilitates inclusion. At the classroom level the primary focus should be on organising the transaction of curriculum in the manner that recognizes pupils different learning styles. Integration does not have a chance to succeed if the teaching approach is ‘didactic’ (Dens, 1997).

The debate on inclusion revolves around whether children with special needs should access the same curriculum as available to non-disabled children or should it be modified, curtailed or adapted for disabled children. Kugelmass (1996) has listed three assumptions that operate in the traditional school system: first, that the content of the curriculum should be fixed and uniform; second, that there is one best way for all children to learn; and third, that all children need to learn the same things at the same time.

Many special education teachers define curriculum quite narrowly, thinking only in terms of the content of learning that is required by the school system, that is, curriculum related to the ‘ends’ of the educational process rather than the process itself, or the needs, interests, and the abilities of the child. This definition is not correct, only incomplete (ibid., p. 40).

Curriculum may be defined in many ways.

The many definitions of curriculum reflect the philosophical, theoretical, political, and social positions of the definer, as well as the context in which they are being used. The lack of clarity about the meaning of the term ‘curriculum’ has created a good deal of confusion between general and special educators and has been identified as one of many barriers to systemic inclusion (Kugelmass, 1996, p. 41).

From the viewpoint of systemic inclusion, Kugelmass (1996) gives the broadened definition of curriculum:

[Curriculum] encompasses everything that a child learns within school, including extracurricular activities and social and interpersonal relationships. The definition (of curriculum) has been expanded further to include what is known as the ‘hidden curriculum’ or the ‘tacit teaching to students of the norms, values, and dispositions…’ (p. 40, emphasis in original).

‘For the child the curriculum is what the teachers enable to happen in the classroom’.2 While the national curriculum could lay down the broad aims of education and address the national concerns that should apply to all children irrespective of their abilities, needs and the schools they attend, school level curriculum should recognise the differences of abilities, aptitudes and needs of individual pupils.

The effective curriculum will be the one which not only allows for the differences, but which also enables each pupil to reach his or her potential through a process of collaborative learning, within a school which celebrates the whole range of its pupils' needs. Schools, which endeavour to create a climate suitable for inclusion, will need to achieve a curriculum balance (Rose, 1998, p. 29).

There could be two broad approaches to curriculum design: content or topic-based approach and the outcome-based approach. The topic-based approach lists the topics or themes of the subject areas, which includes the aims and objectives of the subject areas. The outcome-based approach defines the outcomes, ‘usually as abilities or skills, that students are expected to achieve’ (NIER, 1999). The process outcomes may include students' abilities to work in groups, communicate effectively, solve problems and produce creative and high quality work.

Focusing on what students learn and how they use their learning rather than whether or not they can recall information is a major shift in thinking [in inclusive education curriculum]…. An important aspect of this curriculum shift is that all students will not need to learn exactly the same things [and in the same time], so that teachers must have the flexibility to design curricula in collaboration with their students rather than in constraint of a rigid scope and sequence lesson plan (Ferguson, 1996, p. 28).

There are four components of curriculum: content clusters, instructional methods, learning activities and assessment tools. In the outcome-based approach, each component would be selected keeping in view its role in achieving the curriculum goals which they could use both inside and outside school (e.g., life skills) (Brophy, 2000).

In India, while continuing practice is to work on the topic or subject-based approach, efforts have been made to move towards the outcome-based approach, at least at the primary level, and on the initiatives of voluntary organisation in education. In the latter case, the processes become important and the focus shifts to the child-centred approach and a variety of teaching strategies that foster creative thinking, problem solving and encourage self-directed learning. Because of the limited, fixed or static approach to curriculum, associated terms used in India among educators are curriculum transactions, delivery or implementation. Due to such an artificial dichotomy, an impression has been created that while there is nothing wrong with the curriculum, the problem lies in its implementation or transactions, and so with teachers or even with students. To say the least, the approach is inconsistent with the outcome-based approach being followed in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, though in many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region a combination of approaches is being used.

In an outcome-based approach, the debate on curriculum modification and adaptation in content for children with disabilities and learning difficulties no longer remains relevant, all get entitlement to participate in schooling and achieve their potential as well as the broader objectives of the curriculum. The debate in that situation would shift to the appropriateness of curriculum itself. In such a discourse children with special needs would need good teaching that takes individual needs into account (see Mittler, 2000).

The following section examines some teaching practices that would make teaching ‘good’ and take a school forward towards inclusion.


Inclusion strategies in classrooms would be a combination of teaching practices. Some generic practices based on the works by educationalists in this field are examined here under six broad heads:

  1. Whole class inclusive teaching.
  2. Group/cooperative/collaborative learning.
  3. Peer tutoring/child-to-child learning.
  4. Activity-based learning.
  5. Team approach/problem-solving.
  6. Equity in assessment/examinations.

Whole class direct teaching is the oldest mode of traditional teaching prevalent. It is the most familiar style of teaching which parents and students expect. It is difficult to withdraw teachers from this. However, it is possible to make whole class teaching interesting, involving and inclusive. Most direct teaching in whole class is either too repetitive or easy for a small section of students, or too advanced for majority of learners. In a typical Indian school classroom, teachers read out textbooks with occasional explanation of its contents, or one of the students is asked to read out for the rest of the class. At times, teachers write themes from the textbooks on the blackboard and students are expected to take notes. These notes then replace the textbooks; students memorise the notes and write answers in examinations from these notes. A teacher is typified with ‘walk, chalk and talk’. Such classroom teaching does not ‘include’ even the non-disabled; children with special needs and learning difficulties mentally drop out.

Some classroom observations done by me in Oxfordshire present a different picture. Teachers were mostly in dialogue mode, asking questions from students and proceeding on the basis of their responses. The atmosphere was relaxed. After the dialogue teaching children went into groups, did the assignments and reassembled to report back. Whole class teaching was generally recommended for introducing a new topic, story telling, group singing or reporting the assigned group work.

Whole class teaching can be made inclusive by carefully using the interactive dialogue mode or brainstorming. Questioning is an important teaching tool in whole class. It can be targeted at the whole class or at an individual child, particularly with learning difficulties, when the question-pause-prompt-praise technique works well and includes the child in the classroom learning process. Research indicates that majority of questions are asked only to recall data or elicit information from children. It is important that a positive environment is created for dialogue and question-answer sessions in a class.

Targeting specific questions at individual pupils, whilst being sensitive to pupil confidence, is another way of ensuring everyone feels included in the session. This may involve teaching the whole class to respect the opinion of classmates and providing rules to prevent the interruption or derision of contributors. The creation of a climate of trust is essential if learning is to take place in a large forum (Marvin, 1998).

Teachers may ask open-ended question that encourage children to think. Teachers should show patience and should not expect immediate and quick answers. They should pause and allow children to think. This is especially required when a child with difficulty has been asked a question. Teachers may also give a small clue to the child or the class in general about how to find an answer. They should encourage and support the child to work out the right answer. On getting an answer the teacher must praise and be positive. Even if no answer comes or the answer is wrong, a teacher should not ridicule and should be positively sympathetic and analyse why the child could not give the answer. The teacher may give another simpler question to keep the morale high. Such a question-pause-prompt-praise technique could be used for developing children to evaluate what they do, see and hear.

Brainstorming is yet another technique that can be tried in whole class teaching, particularly when introducing a new theme. A teacher can write down the ideas or the replies given by children. At times children could be allowed to take the lead and exchange information themselves. In that case, teachers need not use the questioning technique but one of commenting (Marvin, 1998). In all these situations children with learning difficulties would need to be included, maybe with peer support or in a way that may not be a replica of other children's responses.

Two illustrations of how whole class teaching can ‘include’ a child with special needs is presented here. In the first example, in a year 7 geography class in an urban comprehensive school in the north of England, the teacher was introducing a lesson on the USA. He asked the students to state what they already knew about that country. Many students raised their hands. The blackboard was soon filled with a lot of information. Notably, none of these students had been out of the UK. Regular viewing of films and television had given them the knowledge about the American way of life. James, a child with Down's syndrome, raised his hand. When called to respond, he said, ‘They have yellow taxis’. The practice used by the teacher was not ‘special education’ (Ainscow, 1997).

Here the teacher was using a familiar tactic to ‘warm up’ his class; that of using questioning to draw on existing knowledge, prior to introducing new material…. Certainly it is not ‘special education’, but, nevertheless, it proved to be a means of facilitating the participation of members of the class, including the one who is seen as needing a permanent adult helper (ibid., p. 54).

In the second example, the teacher announced to the whole class that it was time to read their journals out loud. Students had written a page about something of interest to them. Most of the writing reflected their excitement about the winter holidays, a week away. The teacher commented on each reading. Andy did not raise his hand. The teacher asked him if he would like to read his journal. He stood up and walked to the place from where others had read their journals. He began to read, holding his journal up in front of his face. ‘There were no words on his page, only lines of little circles. His picture was of five members of his family.’ He paused and ‘read’ in a manner similar to the other children who had read earlier. When the ‘reading’ was done, he showed his journal that had no words, only lines of little circles, around the class. The teacher praised Andy and said, ‘Wow, Andy had a lot to write today, didn't he?’ A couple of kids said, ‘Yeah!’ and ‘He really did.’ This is how Andy, a special child, was included into the general classroom (Ferguson, 1996). Andy's diverse way of communicating in this case was accepted and indeed appreciated by the whole class, making him a part of the class.


There is limited evidence of children working in groups in the Indian school system, though at the primary level initiatives have been taken in recent years by voluntary agencies to organise activity-based and group learning. In schools in Oxfordshire, children invariably went into groups after teachers introduced the subject or explained a theme in whole class.

The groups were mostly predetermined ‘ability groups’, though teachers maintained that formation was flexible and they shifted students from one group to another following assessment and tests. The British school authority has been debating whether to have similar ability grouping or mixed ability grouping. India has the natural advantage of heterogeneous multi-grade and multi-age groupings in rural elementary schools.

Berres (1996) argues the benefits of multi-age classrooms and heterogeneous working groups. He refers to research evidences that show that multi-age classrooms show the same degree of academic efficacy as the single grade classrooms, but they ‘appear to be more beneficial in the areas of self-esteem, affective development, and attainment of social skills’. He has further observed the advantages of heterogeneous groups that are recommended strongly by the advocates of inclusion, which facilitates cooperative learning and ‘helps students understand and appreciate that each of them has different skills and abilities in different subject areas.’ Such research evidences are relevant to the Indian situation, where multi-age and heterogeneous classrooms are very common.

Children with disabilities and learning difficulties have traditionally been given individual, one-to-one lessons. While the need for individual tutoring can't be eliminated altogether, it has been proved by research that working in small groups is ‘beneficial to learning and a highly effective way of promoting inclusive classrooms’ (Marvin, 1998). The various types of small groups that can be formed include (ibid., p. 143):

Seating groups: Where pupils sit together but are engaged in separate tasks and produce separate and often quite different outcomes.

Working groups: Where pupils tackle similar tasks resulting in similar outcomes but their work is independent.

Cooperative groups: Where pupils have separate but related tasks resulting in a joint outcome.

Collaborative groups: Where pupils have the same task and work together towards a joint outcome.

Most of the literature on group work refers to cooperative groups. Jangira and Jangira (1995), Marvin (1998), and Walberg and Paik (2000) see many advantages of children working in cooperative groups. It helps in creating opportunities for children to formulate and share their ideas, it encourages mutual respect and raises self-esteem. It promises emotional integration in a democratic environment. Organised carefully, cooperative group working could be self-sustaining, giving teachers time to address needs of individual children. Moreover, the emerging work environment and workplaces require interdependence, negotiating skills, working in teams and sharing of skills. Cooperative and collaborative learning is integral to the delivery of Britain's national curriculum.

Advantages of cooperative group learning may be lost if attention is not paid to certain essentials. Sometimes, though children go into groups for some tasks, they work individually except for occasional consultations among them, which is permitted. For cooperative group learning, however, they should not just work in groups, but should be encouraged to work as groups.3

Westwood (1993) has observed that teachers may keep the following points in view while organising cooperative group learning:

  • Group members should be explained the behaviours that encourage and enable cooperation, such as listening to the views of others, sharing, praising, offering to help.
  • The size and composition of the group should be planned carefully to avoid incompatibility.
  • The ways in which individual tasks are allotted should be planned carefully, and the way in which each child can assist another may also be made explicit.
  • Tasks for the group work should be such that it requires collaboration.

Cooperative groups could be formed in a variety of ways: pairing, ability grouping, random grouping, mixed-ability grouping, etc. Group formation itself can be made playful and enjoyable. Children could be involved and consulted in the formation of the group, though the final decision should be with teachers who would keep in view the objective of the group formation and tasks to be accomplished. Pair grouping is generally done to take advantage of differences in knowledge, age and ability. But, there remains a possibility of the pupil with greater ability dominating over the less able pupil if the pairing is not introduced skillfully. Ability grouping has the danger of being formed as per certain patterns or streams, such as social and economic background, ethnicity, gender, etc., and thus losing the advantage of cooperative and collaborative working which requires a mix of heterogeneity among pupils. For the success of group work, Marvin (1998, p. 149) provides some more clues. Teachers should ensure that:

  • Every pupil is actively involved.
  • Their work is valued as an important part of the whole.
  • They are aware of the purpose of the activity and the intended outcome.

As per research reports, the ‘jigsaw’ approach of group activity has been successfully used for a range of children with learning difficulties. Under this approach a group activity is broken down into smaller interdependent parts. Each part of the work or activity could be assigned to individuals or subgroups of pupils who have to cooperate to achieve the whole. Thus, children are encouraged to select and be given tasks appropriate to their needs and abilities. In the process they develop socialisation skills and are benefitted by working cooperatively. The method has been successfully applied to the participation of children with different abilities, including those with multiple and profound learning difficulties (Marvin 1998).

Research on pairs and groups has shown that in order to encourage positive attitudes, to raise self-esteem and create effective learning, all pupils at some stage be encouraged to take on the role of ‘instructor’ or ‘organizer’…. For pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties this might mean being given the opportunity to take control by, for example, ‘signaling’ when to roll a car down a slope during an activity exploring friction (ibid., p. 149).

There is a slight difference between cooperative group work, where pupils have ‘separate but related tasks’ and collaborative group work, where pupils have ‘the same task and work together’. In both the cases, however, a group works for a joint outcome. Hart (1992a) makes a subtle distinction between children working as a group and children working ‘collaboratively’. She says, ‘collaboration in classroom should mean much more than group work.’ It should be used as a teaching-learning strategy.

Building a collaboratively learning environment is not whether or how often children are working individually or in groups. It is about creating an expectation that children will share ideas, help one another and make the most of one another's resources while the teacher is busy elsewhere. It is about helping them to recognize the resources that they have to offer one another to use them effectively in response to individual interests and learning needs…It means making the development of collaboration a priority, and giving it the same careful thought and planning as is given to other areas of children's development (ibid., p. 21).

On a teacher's role for creating a collaborative learning group activity, Hart (1992a) suggests two distinct ways:

A direct role… when the teacher sets the process example, by asking children to read and comment on one another's work, by setting a task structured in such a way that the children need to talk to one another and collaborate with one another in order to accomplish it. [Second], an indirect role where the teacher creates the conditions which will allow the children to initiate collaborative activities themselves in response to interests, purposes and needs arising from their activities (p. 13).


Peer tutoring or child-to-child learning is yet another mode of educational practice that could enhance the inclusion process in schools. The subject does not seem to have received much attention in India, either in literature or in practice, though it would be very relevant for Indian schools where teacher shortage is one of the major systemic issues that has been impeding the efforts for universalisation of elementary education. It has, however, been used by some voluntary agencies to promote primary education in rural areas and health education. In England, during the nineteenth century, the ‘monitorial system’ was introduced, when a student was used to teach a group of students. The system has been in practice there under various names such as mutual instruction, cross-age teaching/tutoring and reciprocal assistance. The principle of student teaching student became widely used and researched in England by 1960, and the literature on the subject has proliferated (Wagner, 1982).

The system can be used at two levels. First, a student teaches another student in a school setting under the overall supervision of a teacher. Second, students take it up as an out-of-class activity but integrated with the school curriculum and reach out to the community to teach out-of-school children. Organised systemically, both should be beneficial for Indian education. Wagner (1982) defines it ‘as the concept of students teaching other students in formal and/or informal school learning situations that are delegated, planned, and directed by the teacher.’ Wagner (ibid., p. 220) has listed several advantages of peer tutoring:

  1. Peer tutors are often effective in teaching children who do not respond well to adults.
  2. Peer tutoring can develop a deep bond of friendship between the tutor and the person being helped, the result of which is very important for integrating slow learners into the group.
  3. Peer tutoring takes pressure off the teacher by allowing her to teach a large group of students; at the same time, it allows the slow learners the individual attention they need.
  4. The tutors benefit by learning to teach, a general skill that can be very useful in an adult society.
  5. Peer tutoring happens spontaneously under cooperative conditions, so the teacher does not have to organize and manage it in a formal, continuing way.

He further refers to the ‘advantages of cooperation as compared to competition’.

Research has shown that classroom groups with supportive friendship patterns enhance academic learning, while more interpersonally tense class environments in which peer groups rejections are strong and frequent get in the way of learning…peers can make a difference in scholastic achievement, and peers can be utilized to aid in learning (ibid., p. 220).

Wagner (1982) has made an extensive review of literature on this subject, which includes certain established guidelines to establish peer tutoring.

  1. Teachers should create a mental set [among students] that we can learn from each other.
  2. Teachers should work out potential details.
  3. Skill in creative organization should be developed (ibid., p. 242).

Some more tips that may be kept in view while organising peer tutoring in an inclusive school setting are:4

  1. Don't undermine the tutor's efforts,
  2. Tutors should demonstrate certain skills, such as how to present the learning materials, support correct answers, respond to errors, give appropriate feedback, etc.
  3. A system of recognition of the tutor's work should also be developed.

A meeting on child-to-child strategy for achieving the goal of education for all discussed the potential of this methodology for bringing out-of-school children under the educational fold (NCERT, 1993).

  • Child-to-child deals with the active aspect of learning where a child asks questions and moves out of the classroom into the community, and learning moves from the school into the community and back to the school again. Formal and non-formal education merge together.
  • Child-to-child is effective in reaching out to girls, disabled children and other deprived groups.
  • Older children should be given the responsibility of escorting the younger ones (and the disabled children) to and from school; and this would encourage parents to send their wards to school.
  • The child-to-child approach should be integrated into classroom teaching and learning activities; this would make attending school more interesting and stimulating and therefore help in the retention of potential drop outs.

This pedagogical technique can become an effective way for breaking walls between schools and the community, and between children in and out of schools.


Of all the teaching methods discussed in this chapter, activity-based teaching cuts across each of them. This jargon is most common among primary school teachers in India, particularly if they have undergone training under some specific project or programme. This is also popular among non-formal teachers. The 1986 national policy refers to ‘child-centred and activity-based process of learning’ to be ‘adopted at the primary stage’, without explaining further what the term actually means. In fact, the subsequent policy statement—‘first generation learners should be allowed to set their own pace and be given supplementary remedial instruction’—has created a class among learners, denying the other children the opportunity of setting their own pace (MHRD, 1990). The subsequent statement that ‘the policy of non-detention at the primary stage will be retained, making evaluation as disaggregated as possible’ has also been presented in the ‘negative framework of detention versus non-detention’ and the policy should have clarified that ‘the concept of a terminal examination has no place in child-centred education’ (ibid.,p.156). The policy ambiguity continued in the 1992 Programme of Action, when it linked activity-based learning with ‘joyful’ (learning). ‘…The main steps by which MLLs (Minimum Levels of Learning) will be introduced in school will be:…Provision of competency based teaching-learning materials to make the educational process activity based and joyful’ (MHRD, 1992, p. 41).

Thus trainers and teachers have generally linked activity-based teaching with the prepartion and use of teaching-learning materials and play song, drama, story telling, etc. for making the activity ‘joyful’. A survey on teaching methods used in Class 1 reports that more than half the teachers used classroom teaching styles such as giving written exercises, reading from a textbook and writing on the blackboards. Written exercises generally meant copying from the blackboard or from textbooks, and in some cases from guide books. About one-fourth of the class teachers reported rote learning and telling students to read aloud by turn. However, 14 per cent teachers had asked a bright child to teach other pupils (peer tutoring) and 7 per cent were using games (PROBE Report, 1999).

Activity is not just a play or song or drama, and joyful should not refer only to the joys from games and play. It should have a larger focus on ‘the joy of learning, of achieving and of experiencing’, and the activity could be defined as ‘any learning process in which children feel intimately involved and the process is free from control.’

The basic elements in activities should be mental involvement and participation of children in the process. Physical processes such as moving hands and bodies could demonstrate participation, but such participation would remain meaningless if it does not facilitate ‘a mental investment by the learner into the content of the activity.’6 Such an approach and interpretation of activity-based learning emerging from ‘modern’ policy statements impels one to revisit Gandhi's Basic Education philosophy and practices, which attempted a unity of body and mind in the learning process. In fact, it addressed the third element, including the soul or spirit into it, to make education complete and to make a person complete.

How does one proceed with creating activity-based teaching?7 ‘I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand’ (Confucius, 450 BC).8 The key word in activity-based teaching is to do. Children love to do things. This instinct of a child can be converted into the pedagogical strategy of ‘activity-based teaching’. Activities need to be meaningful, interesting and, as stated earlier, would require an application of mind. Well-designed activities enhance the ‘involvement’ of a child. Some kinds of activity-based teaching would include: games, simulations and role-plays, problem-based learning, multi-sensory activities and community-linked learning. This is an illustrative list, but the activities can also be generated with the help of materials, market supplied or available in and around the environment.

‘Real world activities’ or activities linked with the community have significant educational value. Some examples of community-linked activities are learning to use local transport, shopping, banking, using the local library, observing the functioning of local public institutions, field trips, calculating distance from maps, etc., in urban areas. In rural areas similar activities would include visiting the local public health centre, functioning of village bodies, visiting local markets, etc. Such activities break barriers and bring the community closer to children and schools. The activities should be organised in a manner so that they are ‘meaningful, functional and have significance in the child's everyday life’.

Simulations and role-play introduce elements of real life into classrooms without taking children out to the community. Examples are role-playing the family, the election process, health services, etc. These activities help the development of communication and social skills. It is suggested by ‘experts’ that debriefing should follow such activities. The ‘happening’ should be discussed in a non-personal manner to avoid hurting individuals. While role-play may involve an individual or a group of students, simulation is generally regarded as extended role-plays involving the whole class simultaneously.

Educational games are a direct substitute of activities. It releases tension from children's minds and gives natural pleasure, but it may be organised in a manner so that it has linkage with the curriculum and lesson objectives.

Multisensory activities use multiple channels of learning, e.g., visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile. They are particularly useful for children experiencing learning difficulties and for children with disabilities.

It would be difficult to generate meaningful activity-based teaching if the curriculum remains narrowly defined in terms of content and lessons through textbooks. If a broader approach to curriculum is taken and is made ‘outcome-based’, activity would become an integral and inevitable part of school learning. Organisation of activities should be broken into a clear statement of objectives, levels of learning or age/grade meant for, materials to be used, procedures to be followed (whether in groups, what types of groups or for the whole class). Variations should be possible (not to make it stereotyped), and there should be plan for follow-up, linkage with curriculum, both in subject areas as also outcome-based. Experience indicates that such activities create an inclusive learning environment. They have real time or in-time value, as they do not anticipate a learning theme; they respond to it.


‘Team teaching’ is a term very frequently used in British literature while referring to the engagement of the support teacher or the support staff in the process of making a school inclusive. The support teacher or staff is the one who has been hired for attending to or providing support to a child with disability, more often than not, on a one-to-one basis. The support staff shadows the child outside and inside the classroom, and has the unique responsibility of ‘supporting’ the child. In the process, many teachers feel that the child is not their responsibility and the child gets ‘excluded’ rather than ‘included’ in classroom learning processes. Hence, there are suggestions that support teachers should team up with regular teachers and ‘see the difficulties experienced by children with special needs as potentially highlighting problem areas of the curriculum which could be developed to the benefit of all’ (Hart, 1992b).

One may ask the relevance of such an inclusion strategy in the Indian context where a large number of primary schools have one or two teachers, and even where special teachers have been provided under support from a scheme such as IEDC, it is in the ratio of one teacher for every eight children with disabilities. Precisely because of this, this section clubs the team approach with problem solving.

Literature on inclusive education now refers to ‘technology’ of inclusion—the systemic issues, structures and practices that would include pedagogical and curricular issues and additional provisions and support—to enable teachers to teach a diverse range of children in the same classroom. It is believed that no predetermined technology or strategy would work as each child is unique and in case of the disabled child the degree of uniqueness would be far more than the non-disabled. Besides, ‘a simple transfer of techniques is unlikely to be successful’ (Dyson, 2000). Therefore many commentators disagree about the problem-solving capacity of a teacher.

Key to inclusiveness lies in the capacity of teachers within the school to solve for themselves the pedagogical problems that are presented by diversity. Teachers are likely to be more effective as problem solvers if they work in problem solving teams where they can pool ideas and expertise. The inclusive school, therefore, has to be organized around such teams rather than around the traditional model of the individual teacher isolated in his/her classroom (ibid., p. 87).

Similar teaming up of ‘mixed-ability’ groups of teachers has been suggested by Ferguson (1996). Characteristics of services of some specialists can be elaborated as: ‘Physical therapists work with legs and whole bodies; occupational therapists with hands and sometimes mouths; speech therapists with mouths, sounds, speech, and language. We [teachers] only do certain things with those students who “fit” our training’ (ibid., p. 29).

No teacher can provide all the services, nor can he or she anticipate the ‘problem’ associated with the learning of a child. No training can take care of all situations and contingencies. Hence the need for a team approach in teaching with the aim of solving a ‘problem’ as and when it arises. Such problems can be discussed at the now emerging block resource centres or teacher centres at the cluster level in the primary education sector in India. Wherever services of special teachers are available, the teaming could be a regular feature for certain hours at least. The present system of special teachers working in isolation could change if the new approach of team teaching and problem solving is accepted in principle and attempted in practice. Teachers could see resources even beyond schools, in the community, in parents and other skilled adults, if the school builds bridges with the local community.


Learning in Indian schools is primarily aimed at scoring marks in examinations. High stake examinations drive the learning process. In the absence of a right approach to examinations and its isolation from the curriculum, it becomes important that it be fair and not put children into disadvantages due to their disabilities. Some of the major factors that may create inequities include:

  • Excessive influences of private tuition.
  • Use of culturally inappropriate questions.
  • Examinations set in a language with which students are not comfortable.
  • Ranking or credibility of schools on the basis of students’ performance.
  • Inadequate provision for those with special needs. (Adapted from www.worldbank.org/exams.)

The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 asks for suitable modification in the examination system to eliminate purely mathematical questions for blind and low vision students, and provision of amanuensis to them. The Act does not make any references to facilities for other types of disabilities, such as the hearing impaired and those with cerebral palsy. However, some school boards have provided for facilities for other categories of disabilities also. While taking into account the equity aspects in examinations for children with special needs some principles can be kept in view:

  • Special arrangements should remove the impact of disability as far as possible.
  • Arrangements should not give undue advantage also.
  • Precise needs to be established in each case.
  • Different subjects and different methods of assessment would make different demands on candidates.
  • If a candidate is not in a position to participate in a particular mode of assessment, an alternative procedure should be specified.
  • Special provisions can relate to time and means of access to questions.
  • Means of presenting responses may include recording of answers on tape recorder, dictation to a scribe, etc.
  • Sometimes alternative accommodation or time arrangements may require to be made.
    (Adapted from www.worldbank.org/exams.)

The idea is that while examinations remain a high stake activity, its logistics should not create further barriers for children with disabilities. While no undue advantage would be accepted, disabilities should not put them in any disadvantage while taking the tests and being assessed.

Inclusion is happening in India, at some places, thanks to innovative practices by some non-governmental organisations, particularly at the primary level. There is an irony in the Indian inclusive education movement. While those in special education have been talking about inclusive education and have been doing a commendable job in this regard, many actors in general education are not conscious of the fact that what they have been doing makes a good ground for inclusion of children with disabilities in the mainstream education system. What is required is a constructive dialogue between the doers in the general system and the advocates for inclusion in the special school system. Close collaboration between the two would define a new role for special teachers to work with their colleagues in the mainstream school system for creating inclusive curriculum and pedagogy for all, including those children with disabilities.