No one likes to be excluded from a group. Think back on your own experiences from childhood or adolescence. Perhaps you weren’t invited to a party you wanted to go to or were rejected by members of a social group that you admired and wanted to be part of. Did you feel excluded? Did you like being excluded from the annual school concert where 75% children were included and you and a few others were excluded? To be excluded from a social group can bring up feelings of isolation, anxiety, doubt, confusion, humiliation, loneliness, and sadness, among many other painful emotions.
Every person is born with a purpose and the ability to give to society in one way or another. It is inevitable that some may have more needs than others. Inclusion of children with special needs into mainstream schools, unarguably, promotes a more inclusive society. Being said that, inclusion brings with it the situations that need to be addressed.
Inclusive education is where children with special needs are placed in the same classroom environment as their peers who do not have special needs. It means students with special needs are placed in age appropriate class in their neighbourhood school.
As per Census 2011 of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, in India, out of the 121 Cr population, about 2.68 Cr persons are ‘disabled’ which is 2.21% of the total population.
Research has proven the benefits of inclusion for all involved in the process. All children grow when schools include special needs children in a mainstream environment. Students with special needs add to the diversity of the classroom. Mainstream students learn empathy and patience to improve their social skills and students with special needs learn that they are not a burden for society. Students with special needs have more opportunities for academic growth because they have greater access to the mainstream curriculum. With greater exposure to the challenges of learning, they have better chances to take bigger steps forward. It brings new strengths into the classroom.
Inclusion helps to have:
Children with special needs face reading difficulties and it is seen that they benefit greatly from inclusion in the mainstream. The reading levels of their mainstream peers also increase. Before entering a mainstream environment, a child who had impaired hearing and difficulties with speech, did not have good diction when pronouncing some words. It is amazing to see a few months later, the same child is speaking with increased fluency and better pronunciation. The child claims that he learnt to say certain words from listening to his friend sitting next to him.
Integration into the mainstream for the child with special needs means the chance to interact with peers from mainstream environments. Such play is a way of developing proper socialization skills for any child, and is indispensable. The role modelling helps to nurture social skills.
The mainstream curriculum presents the special needs child with more chances to acquire the skills that are not necessarily included in a special needs curriculum. For instance, more mathematical concepts would be included in a mainstream curriculum than in one targeted at children with more needs.
Parents whose children have special needs are often motivated to volunteer in their child’s school community and their child’s needs. The mother of the autistic boy in class was always present for Parent Teacher Conferences and volunteered to help in school based activities. This was beneficial for both her and her child, as she had greater awareness of how the school operated. She is better able to help her child at home as well.
Being in a mainstream environment affords more opportunity for children to be able to socialize. This creates a higher chance of acceptance into the community. Many children with special needs in the mainstream school where I taught made many friends and were widely accepted by them. More often than not, children in the mainstream environment accept them once their needs are explained.
Being in a mainstream environment creates more self-respect and confidence for a child with special needs. Their self-esteem is given a great boost when they are around their peers in the mainstream environment.
Having the same experiences as their peers in a mainstream environment, the children with special needs are prepared for the rigors of adult life. They are armed with the sets of social and emotional skills necessary for coping with adult life
If children with special needs have the same sets of skills developed as their peers in mainstream schools, they are also better prepared to be contributing members of the workforce.
Managements and Principals
Including children with special needs in regular classrooms is important not simply because the legal policies says so, nor because it seems morally right to do so. Rather, there are some fundamental reasons why integrating students with special needs into the mainstream of education improves the learning outcomes for all children. There are issues that need to be addressed. Awareness of these issues enables management and principals of schools successful integration. Students with special needs challenge us to provide better ways to educate all kids. To create an effective inclusive classroom, policy makers, management and principals need to build a learning environment that provides a variety of ways in which learning content is represented, engaged with, and assessed. This process benefits all learners, not just those with special needs, since research reveals that all children have different ways of learning.
- Always or to too often, we focus on what children with special needs lack. We should be paying attention to what they do well. New research is emerging regarding the many strengths of those with special needs including high spatial ability for many kids with Dyslexia, creative thinking in students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), systemic capabilities (such as excellence with computers) among those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and personal charm and human warmth in many students with intellectual abilities such as Down syndrome.
- Inclusion of children with special needs makes the other children less selfish. Children are competitive, impatient and irritable in normal classes but inclusion helps. They acquire a more giving attitude towards each other as well as the especially-able. Similarly, students with special needs can humanize any educational environment by sending a message to students that we all need to pitch in to help each other out in life.
One of the difficulties of including special needs children in mainstream classes is that the teacher in charge of the class might not have formal training in special education. To enable her or him to empathize with and handle its difficulties, the teachers’ training by special educators is necessary. Refresher session/training need to be conducted at regular intervals too.
When a regular classroom teacher perceives the child with special needs coming into her classroom as an asset, the teacher’s willingness to work hard to help her succeed will be greater than if she perceives that student as a liability who will only add to her burdens in the classroom. Training helps to change in the positive direction.
Mainstream schools should have available support staff to help a special needs child with any difficulties she/he may have. It is a challenging task for a teacher, who is addressing the problems that come with mainstream teaching and to balance this with the demands of teaching a child with special needs. Schools which have decided to include children with special needs into their environment must have properly trained support staff.
How can the child’s readiness be assessed? It is not wise to integrate/include a child into a mainstream classroom when he is not developmentally ready. This applies academically, emotionally and mentally. There are physical difficulties involved in integration, so school should do so only after it has assessed the child’s readiness level. Children with special needs have a higher tendency to find themselves in difficult situations during recess breaks, when they are not supervised. They may get lost or get into unintended altercations with other children. Children who display traces of Autism may also find it difficult to stop lunch time noises. The best way to counter these problems is to occupy them during these breaks. A boy with Autism may be asked to work in the art room during recess breaks. He keeps himself gainfully busy and also avoids the noise created during recess breaks. Physical accessibility in the school building is also important such as ramps, railings, washroom accessibility and so on.
This is the time when a child with special needs might become lost. It may happen when he is first introduced to a new environment. A way of countering this potential problem is to assign a buddy who can help to guide the child to the correct room.
Children with special needs will need more time to complete written assignments/tests. This is especially true of long assignments or during tests. Students with special needs in the mainstream school should be given additional time to complete their assignments or tests. You may be surprised to know that some actually surpassed their mainstream peers in terms of academic performance.
Reprimands should be replaced by reinforcement. Teachers need to develop alternative ways to manage special needs students who are a little restless in the classroom. They need to know how to react when these students lose control of their emotions. What can be done with special needs children in a classroom is to constantly reinforce those certain behaviors which is not socially acceptable. Being said that, it is important not to punish children for behaviors that they cannot control. An example of this is talking too loudly. To ease these difficulties, parents should communicate them to teachers.
Including special needs children in a mainstream classroom benefits all students socially, emotionally and academically. It comes with challenges, but patience and effort makes it a fulfilling process.