The ABC of Inclusive Schools

UNESCO encapsulates the meaning of inclusive education as the ‘recognition of the need to work towards ‘ schools for all institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs’.

http:// www.unicef.org/ ceecis/ education_18613.html

Inclusiveness in education is the most common illustration of this philosophy.

Inclusive education, if planned and executed well, can introduce the child to elements of the ‘real’ world – for example, the world of competition. Such an education exposes the child to the same learning objectives (including most of the curriculum) that are set for other children. An environment of inclusiveness can help improve self-esteem, and strengthen social behaviour in children with special needs. Another advantage of inclusive education is that it generates sensitivity towards individual differences among the majority of children.

In the long run, the aim of inclusiveness is to integrate your child into society, and arm him or her with the skills to cope with real-life challenges.

Are there inclusive schools in India?

Be warned! All schools that advocate inclusiveness in their mission statement may not be practicing the philosophy exactly as you would imagine. To run a successful inclusive school is a complex and ongoing task, so your search could be long and hard.

Here are some features that you should look for (in concept, and ideally in practice), if you’re looking for an inclusive school for your child. We’ve also included some questions that you might want to get answers to, before you take the big step of enrolling your child in a school.

Faculty strength and skills

The first factor to consider is the actual number of teachers enrolled in the school. To get a bit more specific, how many teachers have the qualification and professional experience of teaching special children? Does the school have counsellors and special educators, either on the rolls or as consultants?

  • What is the number of years of experience of such faculty members?

Teaching strategies and methods

What apparatus does the school have to adapt to different strategies of teaching? That is, can a teacher mix a lecture-intensive part with small interactive sessions?

Specifically,

  • Will the school ‘respectfully’ allow more time for your child to learn at her or his own pace?
  • What is the level of preparation of the teacher to take all the students through the journey of a chapter, to draw out different types of questions from each corner of the class?
  • What strategies and methods does the school use to let a child with a slower learning pace interact with other children in the class?

Learning styles

Every child has a favoured learning mode, or a way in which he or she learns best. For instance, some understand the written word best, some respond to images, while still others learn best by doing and touching. These are called the Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic (VAK) styles.

Needless to say, an inclusive school must not only appreciate the importance of the VAK, but also have sufficient tools /resources for enabling such types of learning.

  • Are there concrete evidences of VAK being implemented?
  • Are there numerous learning aids such as white boards, science models, practical work sheets and work books, visual aids, writing assignments and video clips in every class?

The time factor

Usually, a teaching philosophy is difficult to translate into practice in the class room. The teacher has the pressure of completing the syllabus. However much she may want to, she may not have that extra time for your child.

  • So, it would be wise to verify if the school can offer a tailor-made curriculum for your child’s needs. Do they have the authority to do so ?

The pace factor

Every child learns at a different speed and it is important for your child to be in an environment that allows the space and time to learn and internalise new learning.

  • Does the school facilitate differential learning pace?

That ‘essential’ extra mile

An inclusive school has to be sensitive (or at least, fully aware) to each child’s need. Children with certain learning disorders commonly have a ‘sensory overload’ and have to be educated with that aspect in mind.

While most children would not be distracted by a bell ringing or children shouting in another class, such distractive sounds may cause your child serious distress.

The school will win a few points if they have measures in place to protect such children from the trauma of excessive stimulus.

  • Does the school have sound-proof, or at least quiet class-rooms?
    If teaching can take place without disturbance, especially during the introduction of a new topic /concept/ new chapter, learning objectives would get off to a good start. If teaching strategies with diverse methods can be held in ‘safe and quiet’ environments, there is a better chance of all children to be on an equal platform.
  • Are there special worksheets /exercises for your child?
    Your child may need a little more effort to retain, recall and put on paper the explanation of a concept, such as a rule in English grammar.
  • Would the teacher take a preparatory session when children with learning difficulties are ready to join the rest of the class, for joint discussions/ homework / film watching?
    Children with learning disorders need to be made aware of a change or modification in activity, to manage their stress levels better and help the learning process.
  • To keep distractions at bay, would these children have separate recess breaks and washroom breaks between school periods ?
    Your child would often take much longer to settle in to a new learning experience, if he has to deal with outside noises, clanging of plates, quarrels, etc.

A Resource Room

The government, under it various agencies and the NCERT, has recommended a resource room in schools, to facilitate students with learning disabilities to have a positive and helpful environment.

As per the recommendations, it is important to check out the availability of such apparatus as special assessment tools, kits developed based on those of Montessori or by NCERT.

You may like to visit the following sites before asking the school the relevant questions.

http:// rehabcouncil.nic.in/ writereaddata/ SAFA.pdf , especially sections 6 and 7;

http:// nimhindia.gov.in/ Functional Assessment Checklist For Prog.pdfhttp:// nimhindia.gov.in/ Grade Level Assessment Device For Children.pdf

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