9. In Conclusion – School Without Walls



In writing this conclusion on a theme, which has been generating so much interest and literature across countries, but still remains a vision, I confine myself to the questions I had raised during the research.

Is there uniformity in perspectives on inclusive education at the international level?

There is a wide difference in perspectives between the government at the policy level and academics writing on this subject in Britain. Government documents indicate that they are moving towards inclusion by closing down special schools and bringing in more and more disabled children into mainstream schools. They accept the inclusion principle at the policy level without indicating substantial changes in practice at the school and classroom levels. As a result, what is actually happening is the result of policy initiatives taken twenty years ago.

Another level where perception differs is whether inclusive education should refer to the education of the disabled in mainstream schools only, or whether it should cover all children. In fact, this question is more relevant in the case of developing countries than the developed ones, since in the latter nearly all children are in schools, albeit at different levels of achievements. Therefore, most of the literature on inclusive education gives higher attention to the education of the disabled. Of late, however, attention is shifting to disadvantaged groups and their inclusion in mainstream schools, generally in American literature and in the literature with reference to developing countries.

The third level of differences in perception is approaches to inclusion, particularly for those of the disabled. While discourses in regard to humanitarian, and rights and social justice approaches remain inconclusive, there is a general understanding that inclusion should be approached keeping children at the centre. Unfortunately, no system has developed to take into account children's perceptions on the whole issue, and so anybody deciding on their behalf, claiming to safeguard their best interests, expects to be heard and trusted. In such a situation, differences in perceptions will remain unavoidable, and groups of policymakers, parents, teachers, professionals and specialists will continue to claim that they are taking the decision that is most appropriate to the child.

Do the existing policies and practices in the West, particularly in England, meet the emerging expectations of children and parents for inclusive education?

The immediate answer to this question would be ‘No’. However, that would mean undermining the efforts of teachers and educational practitioners who are trying to evolve inclusion practices under the existing policy. Booth et al. (2000) have developed an ‘index for inclusion’, which gives a step-by-step approach for creating inclusive schools. The effort is on collaboration with the government departments of education and employment. But the increasing percentage of children with SEN and statements, despite declared policy to control them, reflects the inadequacy of the government approach towards inclusion. ‘Government has its own political agenda and ignores any research findings that are inconvenient.’1 Under the circumstances, without changing the 1978 policy, there would be some extent of inclusion in Britain's schools, but it may not achieve the ultimate goal of inclusive education. There is no uniformity in policies and practices towards inclusion in other developed countries. However, there is a trend towards closing down special schools and increasing finances and resources to general schools once children with disabilities from the neighbourhood are admitted.

Could the existing policies and practices in respect of children with ‘special educational needs’ be extended to countries like India, and would that be consistent with the principles and philosophy of inclusive education?

The definition and concept of ‘special educational needs’ have emerged in the background of physical and mental disabilities in children. Learning difficulties arising largely due to emotional and behavioural factors are also covered. The agenda for inclusion in the West is mainly concentrated on these groups of children. On the other hand, in India, as in many other developing countries, focus is required not only on children with disabilities and learning difficulties, but also on many other groups who are educationally deprived due to social and economic reasons. These would include child labour, street children, children belonging to SC and ST communities, girls in rural areas, and minorities and groups belonging to diverse social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. All these children would have ‘special needs’. In fact, what is called ‘special needs’ in Britain would be the ‘normal needs’ of a large majority of children in India. Hence, the terminology, which has its origin in the medical world of diagnosing the disabled in the West, cannot explain the educational deprivation of large numbers of children in developing countries. The deprivation of these children is more on account of social, economic and historical factors; so the concept and context of SEN, introduced in Britain by Warnock, cannot meet inclusion expectations in India and other developing countries.

For the sake of argument, if the term were to be used only for the physically and mentally disabled in developing countries, should the concept and strategy be extended in these countries? SEN in Britain was introduced in 1978, when education for all, including children with disabilities, had nearly been achieved. These children were either in mainstream schools or in special schools following the 1944 Education Act. Tomlinson (2001) notes:

Before the 1944 Act, nearly 90 per cent of young people left school at 14, having largely attended all-age 5-14 schools, only 10 per cent achieved passes in public examination and less than 5 per cent went into higher education. Forty years later 100 per cent of young people were in school until 16, 70 per cent until 17, and 80 per cent achieved passes in public examinations, and 33 per cent were into higher education (p. 9).

Warnock made a departure by abolishing the medical categorisation of the disabled, but created a new category on the basis of requirement for educational provisions and services for enabling the disabled to access the same or similar curricular goals. Consequently, it also projected significant increase in the numbers entitled for special provisions from 2 per cent to 20 per cent. As per a WHO estimate, less than 2 per cent of disabled children are in schools in developing countries (Watkins, K., 2000) However, this estimate does not match the Indian NSSO report which estimated that around 50 per cent of the disabled in the age group 5-14 were enrolled in schools (NSSO, 1994). Since there is a remarkable situational difference between disability education in Britain in 1978 and in India today, the immediate conclusion would be that the concept cannot be replicated, if for no other reason than the simple fact that SEN in England is highly resource linked. Can India afford to provide one support staff to each child with ‘statement’ of special educational needs and the IEP, if we were to follow the Western model and terminology of special educational needs? And a related question would be: is it required?

Further, inclusion philosophy and practices were not conceived when Warnock was writing her report. The Third World has the advantage of developments that took place in the 1980s and 1990s which gives it an opportunity to evolve its own inclusion policy without replicating the West. India, in particular, has the advantage of many micro initiatives which are highly engaging, participatory and inclusive in nature. Most educational practitioners in India think that education of the disabled is the job of specialists and professionals specially trained for that. On a personal level, when I discuss the principles and practices of inclusion and inclusive education with quite a few educational practitioners, they discover that they can do it themselves!

Hence, my conclusion is that the context, timeframe, quantum and nature of expectations, and the available resources are different. Therefore, India should not replicate the SEN policies and practices that were developed in the West during the pre-inclusive education era.

Are the challenges of inclusion in India the same or similar as in England and other developed countries?

The challenges of inclusion in India are at three levels. First, inclusion of children with disabilities. Second, inclusion of children from socially and economically disadvantaged groups who either are not coming to schools or drop out after a few years. Also, children belonging to diverse social, cultural and linguistic groups could be incorporated in this category. Third, inclusion of children who are in classrooms but feel alienated due to non-relevant curriculum and teacher-centred pedagogy.

In the first situation, there is no policy restriction of the kind teachers and schools find in England. Regular teachers in India's mainstream schools are free to use inclusive pedagogy and involve all children in learning processes. Absence of a policy on the pattern of SEN gives an opportunity to teachers for creating an inclusive environment for all, including children with disabilities. There is no compulsion on the part of a school and the teacher to launch the process of identification and assessment, which ultimately results in labelling children leading to their segregation in and outside classrooms, as in England. The nature of challenges in England's schools and their teachers is far more complex as they have to create an inclusive classroom within the segregating SEN policy of the central government.

On the second level, England's teachers and schools do not have to face the situation of non-enrolment and drop outs on the scale experienced in India and the multi-track system of schools getting created here. In England, there are some problems relating to the education of ethnic minorities, refugees, and asylum seekers, and also for travelers’ children, but the extent and dimensions are limited. For such children, schools were encouraged to move to a curriculum ‘appropriate for the modern interdependent world’ (Tomlinson, 1990).

In India, the issues of non-schooling (despite the availability of facilities, at times) and drop outs have not been examined or researched from the angle of inclusion. But, the pattern of school structures and participation of different groups of children in different sets of schools point to the fact that challenges of inclusion in India are entirely different from what is being perceived in the West. As someone observed, on knowing the surname of a child, parentage and address one can reasonably predict the type of school that child would be going to—public/private school, central/state government run or aided schools, municipal schools or primary learning centres run by NGOs or the communities. Hence, unless there is a paradigm shift in the approach to inclusion in the Indian context, inclusion of the disabled would remain a far cry.

Inclusion in classrooms at the level of curriculum and pedagogy remains an issue in England as well as in India, though the degree may vary. Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in England, there is a feeling that schools’ initiative for the development of curriculum has been curtailed. The problem of pedagogy in England is more in respect of SEN children. Generally, teaching is interactive and a variety of learning materials is used to make the development of understanding participatory and interesting. However, the problem arises when pedagogy has to relate to children with or without SEN ‘statements’. The policy, prescribed practices, involvement of support staff and the SENCO create a non-inclusive environment for such children. Classrooms in India, even in schools that may have resources, are organised entirely differently. Majority of students in all types of schools do not feel involved or ‘included’ in the learning process. It is said, ‘the EFA ends where it is supposed to begin—in the classroom’.2

To sum up this question, there is a limited challenge in England for participation of the disadvantaged, while it is enormous in India. Inclusion of the disabled gets complicated due to the SEN policy prevalent in England, while there are no such policy impediments in India. Classrooms have more inclusionary practices in England, at least for non-SEN children, while it is completely missing in Indian schools.

What is the role of curriculum and pedagogy towards the development of inclusive education, particularly in the Indian context?

Daniels and Garner (2000) have listed six challenges of the ‘new’ pedagogy for inclusive education. Three of them relate to the SEN policy and are not relevant for the Indian context. The other three relate to the National Curriculum, teachers' training and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) being used in education. India is in an advantageous situation with regard to at least the first two. Though there is a ‘national curriculum framework’, theoretically speaking states have the freedom to design their own curriculum. In practice, however, no such freedom is exercised due to a traditional perception about the curriculum as something that has to be prescribed from above, either at the national or the state level. There is no concept for a school to develop its own curriculum. The attitude and understanding towards curriculum has to change. Its development has to be planned at local and contextual levels to make it more inclusive and responsive to meet the requirements of child-centred pedagogy. The principles and approaches of inclusive pedagogy can be addressed in regular teacher training programmes so that teachers do not need to wait for specialists to take care of minimum educational needs for children with disabilities. According to one estimate, less than 1 per cent children with severe disabilities might need special schooling facilities; a regular teacher can take care of the rest with suitable orientation in inclusive technology. In India, where pedagogy is still very traditional, the first attempt has to be to make learning participatory for the non-disabled. The process will set in motion the inclusion of a large number of disadvantaged children and the disabled who might require some additional support and services. But supply of these provisions without changing the basic pedagogy and perception towards curriculum will not take us far on the path of inclusion. Changes in curriculum and pedagogy have to play a far more critical role in achieving inclusion in India and other developing countries than in the West.

Some commentators have expressed doubts over the efficacy of the institution of the school created for mass education to meet the requirements of an industrial society. Can the institution meet the challenges of the information age? The answer is in the negative. Competition has to give way to cooperation; basic education for the masses and selection of elites have to be replaced by lifelong learning opportunity for all; pedagogy based on knowledge transmission has to change to knowledge-building; and collaborative learning should replace individual targeted mode of learning. It has also been argued that true collaborative learning cannot take place in a homogeneous classroom. Hence, children whose classrooms are not diverse and heterogeneous will be denied the opportunity of collaborative learning so as to prepare them to work in non-hierarchical organisations in the future. The experience of importing the nineteenth century model school from the developed world to the developing world has not been encouraging. A large number of children are not able to cope with the formal school set up. A larger number is still out of school and not able to complete minimum schooling. Studies have shown that rigidity of the system, nature of curriculum and teaching methodologies are some of the important factors for inefficient use of resources for schooling. As a result, the country has been experimenting with many forms of schooling, such as non-formal, alternative schools and open schools. Hence, there lies an opportunity for teachers and educational practitioners to make their schools increasingly inclusive as there are no major policy impediments in India.

Whether a school is in a developed or developing country, inclusive education is a growing concept and an evolving practice. It is a means, not an end; a journey, not a destination; a process, not a product. It may start without waiting for discourses to close and policy to change, for children of today cannot wait, and their education cannot stop.