Inclusive Education is an educational practice that enables students with and without disabilities to learn in the same classroom. Inclusive education is based on the philosophy that all students, regardless of ability level, should learn alongside their non-disabled peers. The idea is that all students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education.
For many decades, children with disabilities were segregated into special classrooms and schools. This system was known as “special education.” Special education programs were often housed in separate buildings away from the mainstream school building. While many educators and parents believed this approach would benefit children with disabilities, research has shown that these programs have not been effective or successful in helping these students achieve their educational goals. In fact, many students with disabilities who were placed in segregated classrooms have not graduated from high school, pursued postsecondary education, or obtained employment.
The concept of inclusive education is not new. The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ruled that segregation for Black students in public schools was unconstitutional. In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA was created to protect the educational rights of children with disabilities, and while it has been revised over time, it remains the law of the land in regards to special education.
IDEA requires schools to provide students with disabilities a “free and appropriate public education” that meets their individual needs as outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). But, as is often the case with laws, they are only as good as their enforcement. Students with disabilities often have vastly different school experiences than their non-disabled peers.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that students with disabilities spend 40 percent more time in special education classes and 42 percent less time in general education classes than peers without disabilities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). The vast majority of students with disabilities also receive fewer services under IDEA than what is listed on their IEPs (Cortiella & Horowitz, 2017).
In order to create an inclusive classroom, educators must first understand the concept of inclusion. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), “inclusion is a process that involves changes and modifications in programs or practices to enable individuals with disabilities to participate fully.” In other words, when a classroom is inclusive, it is not only welcoming to special-needs children but also equipped to support them as they learn.
To accomplish this, an inclusive classroom must be designed around major factors: accessibility, accommodation, assistive technology, and collaboration. The first factor, accessibility, refers to whether or not children are able to use the materials and resources provided by their teacher. For example, if the class uses overhead projectors or interactive whiteboards in their lessons, these devices should be accessible for all students no matter how they learn best.
The second factor is accommodation—does the teacher provide individualized instruction tailored specifically towards each child’s needs? This can include making accommodations such as giving extra time on tests or providing alternative seating arrangements so that every student feels comfortable in their environment while learning new things every day.
The process of including students with disabilities in general education classes has been met with some challenges, however. One primary challenge is that teachers often lack training on how to accommodate students with special needs in the classroom. If a teacher is not trained on how to accommodate students with special needs, they may not be able to meet the needs of those students adequately. This can result in poor academic performance and a sense of isolation within the classroom environment.
The general education classroom is where inclusive education takes place. The teacher must incorporate different learning styles and methods for each student to receive proper instruction. This may require a more flexible curriculum that addresses and supports each student’s diverse interests, abilities and learning styles. All students can benefit from inclusive education because it promotes respect for differences within the classroom.
When everyone feels welcome in their school environment they are more likely to succeed academically and personally. Teachers understand the importance of diversity in their classroom because it helps students become more aware of others’ experiences, backgrounds and cultures. This allows them to build relationships with one another while also learning important life skills such as empathy and kindness at a young age.
Inclusive education is the practice of including students who have a wide range of learning needs in the same classes as their peers. The goal of inclusive education is to enable all students to participate in their schools and communities and to prepare them to become independent and productive citizens. This ideal is contrasted by the reality of many of today’s schools, where students with disabilities are often segregated in “special” classes or schools. Inclusion has been adopted by educators around the world as a way for schools to provide better educational opportunities for these students and to promote an environment that values diversity, fosters social relationships among peers, and develops an understanding of individual differences.