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From Classroom Realities To Working with Parents and the Community: What Do Inclusion and Diversity Really Mean To Educators?

Vijaya Mahadevan

- April 23, 2020

After having worked as a teacher in mainstream schools for over 20 years, I started teaching in Spastics Society of Karnataka, from 2006 onwards. Popularly known as SSK, this NGO provides diagnostic and rehabilitation services for children with neuromuscular and developmental disabilities with special focus on cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism spectrum disorders, multiple disabilities, and learning disabilities and above all the confidence to face the world.

When I entered the classroom on the first day, I realised that behind each classroom door, lies a world of diversity. When students with special needs are also members of the class, the range of diversity increases, their learning needs may be more compelling, possessing a great challenge to the teacher. Inclusion appears to be a grand and elusive concept. The fact that a single accepted definition has yet to gain popularity reflects its complex and contested nature. Ideally inclusive education should look at both the rights of students and how education systems can be transformed to respond to diverse group of learners.

Although we believe that all students should be participants in the general education process, no programme or placement meets the needs of all students. When we hear the term disability, many people think of physical problems. However, physical, visual and hearing impairments are the least common types of disabilities. Most frequent are learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, behavioural disorders and mental retardation [a term still used in India along with Intellectual Disability]. We believe that inclusion benefits students with and those without disabilities. Inclusion in a classroom can help teach tolerance, patience and to value diversity thus preparing all students for adult life in an inclusive society.

 Over the years I have seen many brilliant students becoming Brand Ambassadors of disability awareness in our society. Yes, we are trying to maximize the potential of the children with special needs by working constantly, consciously and conscientiously towards the “Inclusiveness” in all aspects of daily life.

All through the years, at SSK, I have realised that the key to the development of inclusive classroom practices and effective instruction lies in teachers’ understandings of the differences. It largely depends on their skills in mediating the curriculum for individual pupil.

The changes that take place as a school moves towards becoming more inclusive also involve overcoming some potential obstacles. These include existing attitudes and values, lack of understanding, lack of necessary skills, and limited resources. Teachers need systematic and intensive training and access to ongoing education. 

Families know certain aspects of their children better than anyone else and have the greatest vested interest in seeing their children learn, so, the family should be continuously involved with the child’s education programme throughout his or her entire school career. There can be situations where the parents’ and the child’s wishes are not always compatible. For example, parents may prefer a mainstream class, while students for whom interaction with peers who understand their issues are important, so, may prefer segregated settings. The students may not wish to be the only ones in the school who have a particular condition or difficulty. Conflicts may arise as we attempt to balance these rights. It has to be seen as a never-ending search to find better ways of responding to diversity. It is about learning how to live with difference and learning how to learn from difference. 

Clear role relationships among professionals, effective use of support staff and meaningful Individual Education Plans (IEPs) procedures for evaluating effectiveness are the order of the day. Using assistive technology as a tool for curriculum access is a relatively recent and rapidly evolving approach to education. The continuous advancements in technology will only help to expand its application in the inclusive classroom. 

Lastly, the role of society cannot be undermined when talking about inclusive education. True inclusion begins when a child understands that the world is a better place because there are so many different kinds of people.


About the Author

Vijaya Mahadevan is a graduate in Home science with an additional diploma in teachers training with specialization in child psychology. After working in mainstream schools for over 20 years, she started teaching in Spastics society of Karnataka (SSK) from 2006 onwards as a special educator and continues to volunteer there. 

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