Education is one of the most important developmental requirements in early childhood. Quality education helps in the development of knowledge as well as the mental and cognitive faculties that helps children to grow and learn and in later life secure employment and independence. Inclusive Education is an approach towards education where all the students are welcomed by the schools to attend classes appropriate of their age on a regular basis and supports the participation and inclusion of all the students in every activity and aspects of school life. Inclusive education is an education model that welcomes students with or without disabilities within the same setup and environment and helps children with disabilities or special needs to learn with children without disabilities or special needs. This approach helps the children with special needs or disabilities to develop a mixed experience in the learning process in order to help them to be more successful in life (Bhardwaj, 2016; Meltzer, 2018).
Studies show the inclusive practice in early childhood education can improve self esteem, confidence and understanding of diversity among children with or without disabilities. Also, for children with disabilities, inclusive practice can have a positive cognitive as well as social skill development thereby benefiting all children. High quality inclusive programs therefore needs to be supported by a high quality education delivery system that can meet the needs of the children (with or without disabilities) (Ware, 2018; Carrington, 2017).
The aim of this study is analyze the main legislations and theories that inform early childhood education, importance of family perspectives and community networks on the pedagogical practice in early childhood education and the role of the educator to provide inclusive early childhood education.
Racial Discrimination Act 1975: The act was passed on 1975 by the Parliament of Australia which makes racial discrimination an unlawful act, and it can override the state and territorial legislations in case of any inconsistencies. The act is managed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and any complaints on racial discrimination are investigated by the president of AHRC with the support of the Federal Circuit Court or Federal Court (legislation.gov.au, 2018a).
According to the act, discrimination, exclusion, distinction, or preference of individuals on the basis of skin color, race, ethnicity, descent, nationality which can lead to the nullification, impairment the enjoyment, recognition or exercise of equal rights and opportunities for human rights, fundamental freedom in the context of social, political, cultural or educational aspects. The act supports the AHRC to develop, educational programs what helps to fight against racial discrimination; developing understanding, tolerance, and respect of ethnic and racial groups; and maintain the principles of inclusiveness in education. The act is also influenced by the Convention against Discrimination in Education that was adopted by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 1960. Article 5 of the act upholds the right of every child to training and education. The article 7 implies that the state agencies should be involved in measures that can combat prejudice and racial discrimination in education (legislation.gov.au, 2018a).
This policy therefore provides a legal framework and set of obligation for educational agencies and educators to ensure that children are not prejudiced for their racial backgrounds and schools and classrooms should make children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds feel welcome to participate and attend the classes regularly (legislation.gov.au, 2018a).
Disability Discrimination Act 1992: This act was passed by the Parliament of Australia on 1992 which prohibits discriminatory practices against individuals with disabilities in the sectors of education, employment as well as in public places and towards the access to services, accommodation, recreation or goods. The act also considers the failure to make provisions and adjustments to the environment to suit the needs of the disabled people as an act of discrimination. Discrimination in this context implies towards a less than favorable treatment of individuals with disabilities (aggrieved person) by the discriminator compared to the treatment given to individuals without any disabilities or any form of indirect discrimination in which the aggrieved person (individual with disability) are required to comply to conditions and requirements that cannot be complied by the majority of individuals without any disabilities, and does not give proper regard to the circumstance and condition of the aggrieved person. The act implies that any such form of discrimination against people with disabilities is a criminal act under Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code (legislation.gov.au, 2018b).
Under section 22 of the Act, it is unlawful for educational institutes and educators to refuse the application of a disabled person to be a student; implement terms and conditions to admit students with disability; denying or limiting the access of disabled students to any facilities or benefits provided to them for every student; expelling students on the bases of disabilities; subjecting students with disabilities to detrimental behavior; developing curriculum or activities that can exclude students with disabilities to participate in it or cause detriment to them or even accreditation of such curriculum of activities. Additionally, Section 23 also implies that it is unlawful to limit access to premises (such as play or recreational areas) on the basis of disabilities. Section 31, subsection IB also implies that providers of education should take strategies and programs that can prevent victimization or harassment of people with disabilities on the ground of their disabilities, regardless of any unjustifiable hardship faced by them (legislation.gov.au, 2018b).
Thus the Act both aim to prevent discriminatory practices against individuals with disability as well as supports the development of strategies that can prevent discriminatory behavior against them in an educational institute. Thus the act also supports the inclusion of students with disabilities to participate and attend classes along with students without disabilities, thus upholding the principles of inclusive education (legislation.gov.au, 2018b).
Lev Vygotsky : Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory or Social Constructivism implies that a child develops their cognitive skills and consciousness through the process of social interactions that is the result of socialization and social behavior (Stetsenko & Arievitch, 2014). This theory supports the epistemologies of the Theory of Dysontogenesis (TD) and Vygotsky’s Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) that informs the practice of inclusive education of early childhood (Marina & Andry, 2015; Greeno, 2016). This theory supports the view of learning process that is influenced by the environment and social interactions of the child and not as just a factor of the stages of development (as was proposed by Piaget) (Light, 2017). This point of view implies that social learning helps in the development of the child, providing them with template for understanding and contextualizing the behavior and actions of other and thus promotes interpsychological as well as intrapsychological development. The theory thus supports the concept of learning through reciprocal experience, which can be seen in case of classrooms and study groups. From the theory it can thus be supported that the process of socialization can help in the development of the cognitive and intellectual capacity of children with disabilities by promoting the interaction, learning and participation in classes with children without disabilities (Lotz-Sisitka et al., 2015).
Loris Malaguzzi :Malaguzzi developed the Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education that focused on the education of preschool and primary school children. This approach of education is described as student oriented and constructivist approach that uses self directed and experimental strategies within an environment that is driven by interpersonal relations. The Reggio Emilia approach or Reggio Children are based on the principles of community, responsibility and respect through the usage of self guided course to explore and discover the abilities and skills of children (Gardner & Jones, 2016). The main assumption of this approach is that the children has the inherent capacity to develop their own personalities during the early childhood years and has the ability to express themselves in several ways and thus the approach aims to support learning in the early childhood years to use symbolic languages (such as drawing, painting or acting) to express themselves in daily life. The theory implies that community support, involvement of the parents, the roles of the teachers and environment are essential for the cognitive and psychological development of the child. The concept of ‘hundred languages’ for children essentially supports the fact that different ways of thinking, constructing, revising, negotiating and expressing feelings and thoughts can be taught to a child to help them to understand each other in a better way (McNally & Slutsky, 2017).
Importance of Family perspectives: Perspectives of the families of individuals with disabilities are vital information that can help to influence the pedagogical practice of the early childhood educators. Experiences and views of the parents who enrolled their children with developmental disabilities in mainstream education in early childhood were studied by Blackmore et al. (2016). The authors interviewed fifteen families who had their children enrolled in mainstream educational services that practice inclusive education. The study had four key findings: 1) the parents mainly enrolled their children for mainstream early education system to help to increase the social interaction of their children with other kids with normal development or children without disabilities. 2) Even though there are policies that support inclusiveness in early childhood education, the parents still face significant challenges to find a place for their children in educational centers where their children’s special needs can be met. 3) The parents feel that the development of the child with respect to behavior and communication capacity was supported by the attendance of the child in a mainstream education system. 4) The parents also believed that the positive development of their children was mainly because of the quality of the educational service and also due to peer-to-peer interactions and imitations that occur in an inclusive learning environment.
These perspectives show that the parents significantly rely on the mainstream educational system to support the development and growth of their children through interacting with other children without disabilities. However¸ it also shows that challenges are still present to find a suitable place for education. Thus educators should strive more towards providing more support to the parents of children with developmental disabilities to find an appropriate place where the children can be involved in the mainstream education (Britto et al., 2017; Black et al., 2017).
Importance of Community Networks:
Community Networks have a significant role to address the special needs of children with disabilities (Mackenzie et al., 2017). The significance of community was implied in the Reggio Emilia approach, as well as social learning theory of Vygotsky which implied a child develops though the process of interacting with others (Moss, 2015). Community network helps to enhance the process of socialization thereby supporting the special learning needs of these children. Studies have shown that community networks helps to increase the inclusion of the children with disabilities into the mainstream education of early childhood and thus help to overcome the challenges faced by them and their parents to find a suitable place for education. Thus educators should proactively support the development of community networks to support the children with special needs (Jackson, 2015; Justice et al., 2014).
Role of the educator in the provision of inclusive early year’s education :According to the National Quality Standard (NQS) Assessment and rating Instrument, reliability and quality are important indices of Early Childhood Education System. To maintain the quality and reliability of early childhood education and support an inclusive learning environment that supports participation and attendance of children with and without disabilities or special learning needs, the educators can play a significant role (acecqa.gov.au, 2018). These roles include:
Setting a proper learning environment: The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) implies the development of a positive learning environment that is developed on the principles of respect, security and reciprocity of the student-teacher relation. Also, standard 5.1 of National Quality Standards (NQS) implies the development of respectable and equitable relation of the educator with each child and Standard 5.2 implies the importance of supporting the children to develop a responsive and sensitive relation with their peers and other adults (Crane, 2014).
Developing educator-child relationship
Effective relation between the educator and the child can help children to feel more secure in their learning environment and encourage them to play, explore and learn in a more holistic manner. Good relations also help children to develop a sense of identity among them, give them the chance and scope to interact and socialize with others. This approach can also help them to understand the rights of other students, develop assertiveness, caring nature as well as skills to resolve or negotiate conflicts (Blewitt et al., 2018).
Implementing practices that develops the relation :Educators can improve the staffing capacities of schools, and also support teachers to take responsibility of more children, which can help them to know each child in a better way and develop a positive relationship with them. Increasing the staffing can also help to give more support to children with special learning needs and provide a more individualized attention when needed (Blewitt et al., 2018).
Involving the families of the children to help them to settle in the class, and also support the educators to form a relation with the child. Parents can thus help in the process of transition of the student from a home based to an institution based learning system, and can be an important strategy for children with developmental disabilities (O’Connor et al., 2017).
When a child moves from one educational center to another, the existing educators can also help the children to develop a relation with the new educator in the new center and thus support a smooth transition of the child (Blewitt et al., 2018).
Using Everyday ‘all the time’ practice: Practices that educators can use to promote a positive relation includes showing warmth to the child, respecting the uniqueness of each of the child and communicating that respect to them, identifying the strengths and appreciating appreciation of the child with them and their families, showing enthusiasm to know the child, taking time for one on one interactions whenever possible with the child, understanding both the verbal and non verbal communication of the child and responding accordingly, remembering the information shared by the child and mentioning it later, keeping promises with the child, being available and accessible for the child for any conversation, helping the child to develop relations with other educators and trying to identify the underlying cause of the behavior shown by the child (Van Manen, 2016).
Education is of vital importance for the development of the child, and an inclusive education system in early childhood education helps to include children from diverse backgrounds to participate and attend in the same educational setup. It especially helps children with disabilities and special learning needs as it promotes social interactions with other children (without disabilities). The inclusive principles of early childhood education are significantly influenced by two important acts passed by Australian government, namely the racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and Disability Discrimination Act of 1992. Both these acts prevent the discrimination of children based on their racial or ethnic backgrounds or due to the presence of disabilities, thereby supporting inclusiveness in the classrooms. Theories of early childhood such as the Social Development Theory of Vygotsky and Reggio Emilia approach by Malaguzzi also inform the inclusion principles through the implication of the importance of development through social interactions. Such views supports that children with developmental disabilities can grow and learn in an environment that is not discriminatory, involves social interactions with others and incorporates a positive relation between the student and teachers.
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