The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are all about inclusion and countless benefits of inclusion are evident in every sector of progressive societies. When we talk about tracking the outcomes of inclusion in education, studies demonstrated that students with or without disabilities could benefit more in a variety of ways than a teacher can think.
The more we evaluated the information gathered from schools and families about inclusion, the more we realize that one of the biggest barriers to inclusion is the lack of training in teachers’ education programs. It is no fault of their own as new teachers have limited information about inclusion? They are not given the knowledge, skills or resources to teach in inclusive classrooms.
In Pakistan, we are in a situation where we ought to implement inclusion to meet the sustainable development goals and prepare new teachers for inclusive classrooms but we are not quite there yet. For preparing the novice teachers, here are a few things that they should know about inclusive classrooms.
One of the best things about inclusive teaching is that a teacher is not expected to work alone. Inclusive teaching is always a collaborative effort and requires the input and support of a school-based team. The team, generally, comprises of the classroom teacher, special education teacher/ learning specialist, the student’s family, school administrator, and community support workers. The teacher, with the assistance of the school team, will plan and deliver services to the students with disabilities in an inclusive classroom.
When we analyse the schools’ situation in Pakistan or around the world, no general school education can be observed, because it is a universal fact that no two brains are alike. Human beings develop and learn at different degrees and in different ways. It has been a fact that no teacher can hold a class of students who learn at the same pace and in the same way. Every teacher has to deal with a group of students with a wide range of ability levels that need to reach and teach. We have students from a wide variety of backgrounds who read at different levels, can do diverse creative writings, calculate math at different speeds, would rather draw than writing, or prefer physical education to IT.
In most developed societies, it has been recognized that a good and effective teacher believes in inclusive teaching. The truth is that quality teaching is inclusive teaching. Effective teachers practice to value students’ diversity and focus on student’s strengths rather than shortfalls. These educators use an inclusive approach to engage students in learning, provide positive educational experiences, and set realistic learning outcomes. Expert teachers use highly effective teaching strategies, possess strong classroom management skills, are responsive and reflective in their teaching practice, and provide support to their students, having result-based plans. Additionally, good teachers use research-based methods such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to provide students with different ways to connect and succeed with the curriculum. So, if a teacher is already executing most of the approaches, then they are already an inclusive teacher and just need to stay regulated on the same inclusive strategies.
Modifying curriculum for students, who do not yet have an understanding of grade-level content, has long been the sole responsibility of the special education teachers. However, since the goal of inclusion is to include the students in as much of the general education environment and curriculum as possible and the educationists need to make modifications as frequently as possible across all areas of the educational programs. Therefore, if we want to see full, reliable inclusion exists in the Pakistani school system, then modifications should be the responsibility of every teacher and extensive training should be conducted on designing effective IEPs. When general education teachers take ownership of the development and delivery of lessons for their students, then we can truly begin to move towards more inclusive classrooms where students have the opportunity to experience, access, and achieve the curriculum.
Unfortunately, general education teachers are very rarely trained on how to modify and design a lesson for a student who does not, yet, work at grade level. So, we need to train each teacher and particularly the new teachers on how to plan an effective and efficient individual education plan.
Three easy steps are suggested to modify a curriculum at any grade level: Identify the curriculum standard(s) that need to be taught for students with and without an individual education plan. Align the grade-level goals and modified goals to the possible extent. Plan a lesson that will teach both grade-level and modified goals. A teacher can begin with planning the grade-level lessons and then incorporate the modified goals. This will, probably, require some changes to the lesson.
Numeracy and literacy rates improve when students are placed in an inclusive classroom under inclusive instructions. There are improved outcomes for students with disabilities in the areas of employment and independent living after high schooling. Inclusive classrooms also give students so many opportunities to not only learn academics but also develop their social and emotional intelligence. Students practice pro-social skills such as acceptance, patience, and empathy on a daily basis. Pro-social behaviours help children to interact with others in effective ways. Every day children have to deal with peers, events and problems. While practising sharing, helping, cooperating, and empathy help children to deal with day-to-day events in ways that are helpful, not harmful.
Our education sector needs to be well equipped as per the requirements of inclusion where inclusive education facilitates the social and emotional growth and development of persons with disabilities and proves that inclusion always yielded positive results on human societies.