New tools for Inclusive Education
Inclusive Education fosters a learning environment where diversity is celebrated and students learn to respect and support one another. It is about how we develop and design our schools, universities, classrooms, programs and activities so that all students learn and participate together. Teaching people with disabilities and those without in the same classroom helps them all to fulfil their potential and socialise naturally.
Learning institutes, communities and governments should look to move forward with a social model of disability, whereby people with disabilities are held back by barriers in society rather than any intrinsic problem. This model causes a shift away from a harmful narrative that disabilities are a negative thing to be conquered or hidden, being instead another part of neuro-diversity to be celebrated and included. Educational inclusion is the rival to segregated (students housed in separate institutions) or integrated (students in the same building but different classroom for example), by maintaining the right for everyone to have an equal education. Following the principles of inclusive education, students are encouraged to develop individual strengths and work towards appropriate goals, whilst growing in a diverse milieu. When there exists a high value on diversity, everybody experiences the associated benefits such as larger opportunities for personal growth, inspired creativity and additional educational support. In the bigger picture, society profits from increased engagement in civic participation, employment, and community life.
Across the world nearly 50 per cent of children with disabilities are not in school, compared to only 13 per cent of their peers without disabilities1. The barriers that students with disabilities face are highly prevalent and work must be done to secure educational rights. Excluding people based on their perceived disabilities is deeply unjust, and comes at the cost of a loss of potential of the individual and society. Standing in the way of inclusive education is often a lack of consensus and general inertia, and progress can be slow in achieving equality and inclusion. At the school level, teachers must be trained, buildings must be refurbished and students must receive accessible learning materials. At the community level, stigma and discrimination must be tackled and individuals need to be educated on the benefit of inclusive education. At the national level, Governments must align laws and policies with said aims, and regularly collect and analyse data to ensure students are reached with effective services. These steps are vital in changing attitudes that inclusion is vital to a healthy community and everyone has a valuable role to play in society.
The project ‘Tools for Inclusive Education’ (ToFIE) aims to equip schools and teachers with the necessary skills to bring students in especially higher education with special learning needs into class. It moves away from traditional teaching methods which do not recognise, or lack the capacity to cater for, the differing needs of students and seeks to create a diverse learning environment built on excellent teacher competences. ToFIE will enhance knowledge and competences of educators of any discipline in the fields of Learning Disorders, promote their professional development and supply them with tools they can use in an educational context. Together, the partners (Laurea University, Vantaa, Finland; Creative Learning Programmes Ltd., Edinburgh, UK; European Education and Learning Institute, Crete, Greece; Logopsycom, Mons, Belgium; University of Pitesti, Romania; INCOMA, Seville, Spain) will also create a course, which will enhance educators’ skills, improve the support they provide to their students and promote the social inclusion of students with learning disorders.
Research that the partners conducted indicated a high frequency of students with disabilities, but only limited coverage of policies and adjustments available to them. ToFIE’s objective is to change this, and bring inclusive, modern and dynamic learning processes into a multitude of educational settings, shifting the culture towards one of inclusion and respect. To better improve the competences of educators the course created will contain inspiration, new methods, best practices and other weapons for a truly inclusive arsenal. The results will be shared to a wide range of partners to maximise the impact and support as many as possible.
Inclusive education is not a fully accepted part of the mainstream and too often students with disability are sidelined and treated unjustly. However, the improved outcomes for all arising from inclusion are hard to ignore for long. By raising the level of competences that educators possess, tools such as ToFIE hope to bring about an inclusive future, based on excellence and fairness.