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Discuss about the:-

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

International Journal of Disability, Development and Education.

Criticism on moral development theories of Piaget.

Inclusive Education in Context

Every child is unique in its own way, and has similar requirements for daily living as others. However, some children tend to have physical, mental, or social disabilities, which require them to have varied needs. These varied needs, termed as special needs, tend to be diverse to each child, depending on their level of disability. Every such child has the right to special care and support, and all the rights of a child considered “normal”, such as healthcare, education, social security, right of expression, right to non-discrimination, etc. In order to enable children with special needs have complete access to education, inclusive education was implemented. Inclusion, in education, means that all children irrespective of their abilities shall be pooled together and be provided the same level of education, albeit by an individualized education plan (IEP) for those children who need special children.

This essay discusses the legislations, policies, and practices of inclusive education, and the ways in which they are implemented in Australia’s schools. Reviewing relevant literatures, the needs of a child with special needs are listed, and the strength based model of inclusive education is discussed. A reflective log of the broad ranges of inclusive teaching methods and their individual impact of is also made.

Special Education is not easy to be implemented, for it needs to have dedicated trainers and an individualized plan for every child, according to their needs, making it expensive, thus denying many special children of education. This issue has been handled by the UNESCO, the Melbourne Declaration, and the Salamanca statement and framework, by bringing forth anti-discriminatory conventions, which state the education must be made available to all, depriving any person of education under any reason is considered a crime. Exclusion of any child from mainstream education, on any grounds, has been considered discrimination (UNESCO, 1990). This would ensure that all children, irrespective of their abilities, are provided basic education.

In Australian schools, inclusive education has been followed abiding by the conventions of the United Nations. There are lot of aspects that need to be covered in making inclusive education effective, such as clear definition and policy guidelines for inclusion, a supportive leadership that is effective, and that takes ownership of the challenges faced in implementing inclusive education, proper training administered to teachers, special educators, and parents or caretakers of the children, a holistic pattern of inclusion involving parents, teachers, educators, and the child itself in its learning, a curriculum that is flexible to adapt to the needs of the children, and ongoing assessments and a dynamic pattern of learning (Forlin, Chambers, Deppeler, & Sharma, 2013).

Legislations and Policies of Inclusive Education

Inclusive education has been discussed by many researchers, since its inception in the 1970’s. Before the concept of inclusion is brought up, one needs to understand the various needs of a child, regardless of its abilities. By this, the child develops independence and autonomy early in age, and is able to assess his/her needs and seek education accordingly (Honey & Mumford, 2010). Learner needs are those which the every child needs to be enabled to learn, as opposed to be taught. (Minderhout, 2008), in his section, states that learner needs can be broadly classified into four domains – Cognitive, that include acquisition of knowledge, the ability to recognize questions, problem solving, the ability to think independently, etc, Affective, that include the understanding of feedback, self-analysis and reflection, motivation, etc, Social, that include communication with teachers and peers, interaction, external motivations, building of relationship with friends, etc, and Psychomotor, that include possessing a sound childcare, a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, adequate exercise, and a good night’s sleep, etc.


The identification of learning needs among all children in a particular class is essential, so that each child can be catered to individually (Florian, 2008). The focus of the needs of children with or without special needs must be on their abilities, and not on their limitations, so that a positive outlook towards education is possible (Caffarella & Merriam, 2009). Traditionally, educating a child with special needs meant that his/her limitations, or disabilities were focused on, and education or training was provided to combat that limitation. This type of learning was known as “deficit based” inclusive learning (Savery, Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions, 2015). There are a lot of issues with this model, the basic one being that the child with special needs loses its opportunity to holistic education because of his/her disability (Michigan State University, 2018). This is known as the “strength based” model, which is a path-breaker in inclusive education. In this method, the principle is to educate the child based on “what is present and not what is absent” (State of Victoria, 2012).

Example 1 – A child with special needs processes new information while acquiring knowledge in its own way, and the output might be different from other children with or without special needs. The child might either be able to co-relate the information with another input, and thus store it in its memory, or it might not be able to process anything when given verbal cues, but grasp the concept well when given visual or auditory cues. Strength based learning in the cognitive domain of learner needs works via reinforcing audio-visual cues upon the verbal cues, thus obtaining the output by assessing and utilizing the child’s strength.

Australian Schools and Inclusive Education

Example 2 –The sound body of a child is essential to a sound mind. If a child is unable to do his regular physical education drill due to physical issues with his/her body, there might be a resultant lethargy, or fatigue as a result of rigorous physical therapy. In such cases, strength based training in the psychomotor domain of learner needs works by providing the child active stimulation, both physical and mental, so that the missed physical exercise is compensated.

Even though strength based education showcases the positive side of the child, it does not mean that it ignores the limitation; strength based learning enables the learners perform to their maximal capacity within their limits. This model provides autonomy to the child in choosing its learner needs, and enables him/her to obtain holistic education (Paechter, 2009).

Inclusive education is a team activity, where the teachers, learners, and the caregivers of the students are involved, with the major players being teachers and the students. It is essential for the teachers to understand how the students can be enabled to acquire education by implementing various learning concepts and frameworks (Mittler, 2012). .Learning theories are actually frameworks that give the teacher a vivid picture of how children acquire knowledge and utilize it. Discussed below are two learning theories, Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, and Albert Bandura’s theories about self-efficacy. In Piaget’s theory, the six stages of cognitive development and its related mental process associated with each stage is discussed (Piaget, 2013). Below, is a table describing the stages.

Stage

Age

Description

Role of Strength based learning

Sensori-motor Stage

0-2 years

Coordination of sensory and motor reflexes, language formation, habit formation, hand-eye co-ordination, symbolizations

To look out for developmental delays, persistent reflexes, communication and co-ordination issues

Pre-Operational

2-7 years

Development and use of grammar and syntax for communication, strong imagination, egocentric phase, development of intuition.

Encouragement of communication and understanding what the child has difficulty in communicating, providing opportunity for imagination, providing reinforcements

Concrete Operational

7-11 years

Maturity of thought process, concrete situation analysis, reduction in egocentric behaviour,

Providing problems for the child to solve, understanding the child’s IQ and working with it, encouraging social communications

Formal Operational

11+ years

Development of abstract, hypothetical thinking, Strategy planning, problem solving, development of meta-cognition.

Providing abstract and theoretical situations and encouraging the child to come up with multiple answers, enabling the child understand its limitations and work on its abilities

In Bandura’s theory, self efficacy is defined as the “belief in one’s ability to influence events that effect one’s life and control over the way these events are experienced” (Bandura, 2017). In his theory he postulates four ways in which self efficacy can be developed. Below, is a table describing the ways.

 Stage

Description

Role of Strength based learning

Enactive Mastery (Performance Mastery)

The experience of a particular achievement is essential in boosting self efficacy, as opposed to invalidated praise.

To enable the child learn from its experience of success and failures rather than simple false praises or discouragements.

Vicarious Experience

(Self Modeling)

Works on the principle of deriving motivation from a role model.

To be a positive role model for the child, s that the child derives motivation rather than de-motivation.

Verbal Persuasion (Verbal Engagement)

Derived from direct encouragement or discouragement from another person.

To encourage the child, but not let it succumb to peer pressures.

Physiological Arousal (Emotional State)

The implications of the experience of physical distress in stressful situations impact self efficacy

To identify the physical signs of stress, and to reassure the child to look beyond them for better self efficacy.

While Piaget’s theory focuses on the internal factors affecting learning, Bandura’s theory focuses on the external factors (Lotfabadi, 2008). In the strength based model of learning, both aspects are to be dealt with, while focusing on the abilities of a child with special needs.

A framework that is based on the dynamics of education both in the curriculum and in the individual learning pattern is the Universal Design for Learning, or UDL (National Centre on UDL, 2012). It is a popular framework accepted worldwide, which focuses on framing the curriculum based on three major principles, that are listed in the below table.

Principles

Description

Role of Strength based learning

Multiple Means of Representation

There are multiple options provided for perception, acquisition of skills, and comprehension.

To customize information, by providing varying cues such as auditory, visual, and verbal cues, to enable understanding of information, and to encourage information processing.

Multiple Means of Actions and Expressions

There are multiple options provided for physical actions, expressions, and communication.

To enhance communication and composition, to guide proper goal setting, to facilitate monitoring of processes.

Multiple Means of Engagement

There are multiple options provided for developing, sustaining, and regulating the interest.

To improve child’s autonomy, to minimize distractions, to improve concentration, to enable self assessment.

Strength Based Model of Inclusive Education

The factors that influence the Universal Design for Learning are the physical environment, health and safety practices, Socio-emotional environment, teaching environment, individual assessment, and family involvement (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2008).

Strength-based inclusive education is an important part of Special education, and in today’s world, the proper implementation of inclusive education is a necessity. It is essential that one tends to provide a proper training to the teachers and caregivers of children with special needs, and ensure that every stakeholder of inclusive education adheres to moral and ethical codes of conduct (Victorian Institute of Teaching, 2017), so that the motive behind inclusive education is fulfilled.

Researching about children with special needs and inclusive education has opened my eyes to another dimension in the world, which was taken by granted so far, as I have been sheltered in my cozy cocoon of mainstream education and a lifestyle where I have not encountered people with special needs. However, when I read up about this topic, I thought of a situation where I would be a teacher in a middle-school inclusive classroom. It would be a challenging experience for me no doubt, but it would also provide me a great opportunity to learn, and understand each child and what they need. I must not show my nervousness out, when I am set to assess the children. Initially, I would observe the children of my class, and understand what each ones activities mean, what every child expects from the education session, and how each child responds to stimulation.

In my class, I would provide multiple opportunities to every child to understand, grasp, and express his views. However, I understand that this will be time-consuming, and I must take care that I do not ignore the children undertaking mainstream education, in lieu of the children with special needs. I guess the reduced teacher-student ratio, and the flexible curriculum would help me achieve my task. However, I will be honest with my children, and inform the head of education and their parents about their progress without providing false hopes. I will work along with my children as opposed to taking the lead, and will ensure that the crux of providing inclusive education is maintained, and all children get access to education by their right.

Inclusive education was intended to stop the discriminatory climate amongst children, irrespective of their needs, and to provide the right of education to all. However, not all children with special needs can be a part of inclusive learning, as a child with serious issues might hamper the progress of the entire classroom. Even if a single child is unable to cope with his IEP, it would reflect poorly on the team that caters to his special needs. Time management of the educator and the students is also a factor to be considered, as children with special needs need a little more time compared to their peers. There is also a possibility of the children with special needs not being treated on par with other children, due to various reasons. The Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Ethics provides clear and adequate principles for professional conduct, personal conduct, and professional competence of teachers. The edicts of ethics and conduct must be strictly adhered to, in order to uphold the sanctity of the teaching profession.

Learning Theories in Inclusive Education

Teaching in an inclusive setup is a challenge by itself. If I were a teacher, I would enhance my skills, and try my best to be a role model for all the children in my class. Though difficult, I would try to empathize with the difficulties and challenges faced by the children with special needs, and encourage other children to help out the former, so that a healthy and non-discriminatory relationship is developed. I would not make the oft-repeated mistake of judging the entire class by the same scale. Quoting Albert Einstein, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. I also feel that this imbibed trait of mine will carry forward in my life too, where I will not tend to think of all people as a herd.

Teaching in an inclusive setup will change my outlook towards life, and I will be grateful if my approach as a strength based education trainer touches the life of my students in a positive way.

Conclusion

The term “inclusion” in education is not defined, as the generic term “normal” remains ambiguous (Acedo, Amadio, & Opertti, 2008). Inclusive education is the process of mainstreaming education to all children irrespective of their needs, by virtue of their right to education. However, inclusion works differently on all children, with both positive and negative feedbacks. One side of the debate is that children with special needs will be better accepted by their peers, who come under mainstream education. However, another side of the argument is that the children with special needs might not be able to cope with the speed of progress their peers are making, and would require much time and attention than a child with normal needs.

Inclusive education is different parts of the world follow different formats, according to their cultures. Even in the country of Australia, each state in has a different approach in the implementation of inclusive education, thus reducing its efficacy and output. For strength-based inclusive education to be followed worldwide with the same efficacy there is a need for standardization to a common framework.

Inclusive education might not be 100% perfect, but is definitely a breakthrough in special education, as nothing else can effectively adhere to the UNESCO convention, providing the rights to children with disability (Lancaster & Bain, 2009).

References

Acedo, C., Amadio, M., & Opertti, B. (2008). Defining an Inclusive Education Agenda. 48th Session of the International Conference on Education (pp. 1-115). Geneva: UNESCO.

Bandura, A. (2017). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents , 307-337.

Caffarella, R., & Merriam, S. (2009). Linking the Individual; Reader to the Context of Adult Learning. In A. Wilson, & E. Hayes, Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education (p. 55). John Wiley & Sons.

Conn-Powers, M., Cross, A., Traub, E., & Hutter-Pishgahi, L. (2008). The Universal Design of Early Education. Young Children , 1-9.

Florian, L. (2008). Inclusion: special or inclusive education: future trends. British Journal of Special Education , 202-208.

Forlin, C., Chambers, D., Deppeler, J., & Sharma, U. (2013). Inclusive Education for Students with Disability - A review of the best evidence in relation to theory and practice. Australia: The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth.

Honey, P., & Mumford, A. (2010). The learning styles helper's guide. Maidenhead: Peter Honey Publications.

Lancaster, J., & Bain, A. (2009). The design of inclusive education courses and the self?efficacy of preservice teacher education students. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education , 245-256.

Lotfabadi, H. (2008). Criticism on moral development theories of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Bandura and providing a new model for research in Iranian students’ moral development. Quarterly Journal of Educational Innovations , 31-46.

Michigan State University. (2018). Comparison Between Asset and Deficit Based Approaches. The University of Memphis.

Minderhout, V. (2008). Identifying Learner Needs. In Learner Development: Facilitating Learning (pp. 363-364). Seattle.

Mittler, P. (2012). Working towards inclusive education: Social contexts. David Fulton Publishers.

National Centre on UDL. (2012, April 14). The UDL Guidelines. Retrieved August 13, 2018, from National Centre on Universal Design for Learning: https://www.udlcenter.org/

Paechter, C. (2009). Knowledge, Power and Learning. SAGE.

Piaget, J. (2013). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. Routledge.

Savery, J. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Essential readings in problem-based learning: Exploring and extending the legacy of Howard S. Barrows , 25-29.

Savery, J. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Essential readings in problem-based learning: Exploring and extending the legacy of Howard S. Barrows , 5-15.

State of Victoria. (2012). Strength-based approach . Victoria: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

UNESCO. (1990). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Genvea: UNESCO.

Victorian Institute of Teaching. (2017). The Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Ethics. Victoria: Victorian Institute of Teaching.

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