Inclusion is the process through which students who were previously pursuing their education in segregated special institutions, due to the various barriers to accessing education, are later integrated into regular schools that have a modified curriculum to accommodate for their special needs (Walton, Nel, Hugo, & Muller, 2009). Inclusion is a trend that has been adopted by many countries in the world. It has been given the go-ahead by the United Nations as a form of implementing the rights of the disabled and children with special needs.
For many years, many schools in Western Australia have been facing a lot of problems concerning the quality of education offered to students with special needs (Dempsey, Foreman, & Jenkinson, 2002). Children who were considered to be significantly disabled or untrained were not allowed to join any academic institution whatsoever. Student eligibility was entirely based on their IQ scores. Due to this fact, therefore, many students with disabilities found it difficult to join good schools. It was unfortunate that the children’s abilities and skills were not considered. At the time, the education of the child was left to the parents. This was provided for by the Education Act of Australia and the parents were to provide proper education to the children as required by the Education Department (Jackson, 2007).
Those children who were considered teachable due to having a relatively low level of disability after an IQ test were enrolled to separate special schools or taught in separate classrooms in local schools. Furthermore, there were special schools developed for each disability. For example, there were schools for the deaf, the blind and other disabilities. However, as time went by, there has been a great transformation in the education system to the current one (Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, & Harniss, 2001).
Inclusion and the recent trends in Australia
At the moment, education in Western Australia readily accepts children with disabilities. The children are now being integrated within the local schools. Two factors have been identified as being the cause of the transformation of the system. One of the causative agents was attributed to the parent group that advocated for the issue of education and pleaded for equal opportunities of education for all children. Their plea, together with those from other similar groups was considered and they were satisfied after they saw to it that the law changed to accommodate the children with disabilities within the education system. The other reason was that Western Australia stood at an advantage because it has local schools.
At that moment, the only schools that had succeeded in including children with disabilities into the regular education system are the schools in Queensland and Wales. However, with the success rate experienced in Australia, it is right to say that success in inclusion had been achieved. After the changes that occurred in the legislation, more children were taken into segregated institutions. Five years later, children with more than one disability got access to any education they desired. Inclusion was, however, not practiced in the whole of Australia apart from the regional and local schools. In some schools, the principals allowed a few special-cases students into their schools following a request from the parents (Davidson, & Gooden, 2001).
Two acts were passed between 1986 and 1992 and both set out their main objective of integrating people with disabilities. One of the acts was the Disability Discrimination Act that made the act of denying a disabled child an opportunity to access regular education illegal. This Act tried to spread the notion that disability is not inability. Furthermore, it was required by law that all possible interventions to make this a success were to be provided for with no attempts to deny the right. The other Act was the Commonwealth Disability Service Act that also advocated for equal opportunities for both the people with and without disabilities.
With time, as the Acts became effective, parents started forwarding complaints of denial of rights to the Disability Discrimination Tribunal and other relevant authorities but they were constantly discouraged by the outcome, as there was a limited success. The process took very long to conclude. With over two years of waiting before their cases could be addressed, the parents were very discouraged. What made things worse was the fact that even after their cases took all that time to conclude, success was not guaranteed. In the few cases when there was success, it was realized that the education of the child had suffered greatly.
The complaints from the parents were not decreasing and it became clear to the authority that this condition was not going to change and this led to the development of a pilot project that was meant to check on the effects of inclusion. The Inclusion International Conference was held and a famous journal printed out articles that touched on issues of inclusion (DiPaola, & Walther-Thomas, 2003).
The legislation was one of the strategies that were adopted in Australia to handle the issue of inclusion but that was not enough to change the attitudes and perceptions of the public on the same. The state’s decision to integrate the disabled children into the regular classes had a greater impact than the introduction of special education into the curriculum of the regular education system. The practices of inclusion have an impact on every child and it may allow every child to be accepted within their schools just like any other child. The initiative was a difficult one since not many were pleased with the proposed system. Even those who were expected to support it fully did not do so since the parents of the children with disabilities were just as afraid of the new system as the parents with the normal children were (Brooke, & Hesketh, 2007).
The Department of Education and Training (DET) in New South Wales once reviewed the services rendered to the disabled learners within the government schools. The results were recorded in detail in a report dubbed, Pathways to the future. The report also outlined twenty strategies that could be useful in improving the chances of young people with disabilities accessing and participate in a competitive curriculum where they could pursue similar education with their counterparts in the local schools (Dixon, & Vernikina, 2007).
One of the objectives of the review was to build the Inclusive Schools strategy. This was meant to increase the level of awareness and make school leaders understand the concept of inclusive schools. The report, Pathways to the future, helped shape the strategy as it provided seven principles and demonstrated how the curriculum should be framed. The program offered support to the school leaders as they discussed the issue of inclusion and described their roles and responsibilities as provided for by the policies. It also provided the necessary materials support for leaders to empower them to develop a culture within the inclusive school environment (Dempsey, Foreman, & Jenkinson, 2002).
Since the educational leadership is ranked first as the key determinant of an effective school, the leaders should be well informed of the practices and the services to be offered within the special education program (Anderson, 1999). The staff members are to be made aware and the principal should be the overall head of all the programs within the institution, including those programs that offer services on special education.
One of the results of the initiative to provide education for all children including the disabled-as seen in some countries-is the construction of more special schools in the area and as a result, some students who had undergone inclusion previously might be assigned into segregated schools without the consent of their parents. This may be deemed to be unfair as the decision is not made by the children’s parents but by the institution. To make things worse, such decisions are exclusively made by the Department and this is provided for by law.
Another challenge that may be faced by institutions when trying to apply inclusive practices may be the challenge of providing an adequate number of teachers that are trained to handle the students with special needs. Such schools may have difficulty in providing support and accommodating diversity (Walton, et al., 2009). Training support personnel who include teachers trained to handle special needs and hiring therapists may be quite expensive and may not be readily be embraced by local schools that do not have access to funding from the government or any form of aid.
Another major challenge may arise in the implementation of some of the laws that are set out to govern inclusions in the education system. For example, the two Acts that were implemented in Australia were not very helpful in eradicating the issues that arose with the introduction of inclusions. Both the Disability Discrimination Act and the Commonwealth Disability Service Act were meant to integrate people with disabilities but at some point, complaints were heard from the parents as the Act failed to address the issue.
Another issue in trying to apply inclusion in schools maybe its integration into the current system of learning. There is the issue of the class size, learner to educator ratio and other parameters to consider before implementing the inclusion program in an institution. Also, the facilities of the school may limit some of the disabled persons to gain access to other important areas. For example, a person who is in a wheelchair may not be able to go up the stairs and that should be seriously considered (Gindis, 1999).
Another obstacle to the success of inclusion in the education system in some countries may be the government stability of the country. An unstable government may still practice racism in all aspects of life including education. A good example of a country that faced this was South Africa where people were educated according to race and a separate education system was developed to cater to those students who had various disabilities (Walton et al., 2009).
Suggestions to address the challenges
The issue of assigning the disabled students into segregated schools without the consent of their parents due to the availability of many special schools is a great challenge and is an issue that should be handled at the state level. Laws should be changed in such a way as to give the parents the exclusive right of deciding where to place their children. That is the right of the parents and when this is implemented, success in inclusions shall be realized.
On the challenge of having untrained personnel, the best way to combat this is simply to provide adequate training to the teachers and other support staff on how to handle the persons with disabilities. For those institutions that may not have enough funds to train some of the existing staff or getting other trained personnel may write proposals to NGOs or make special requests to the government to get funds to train their staff on the key issues on inclusion.
On issues of implementation of legislative changes, political leadership is a major ingredient to handle that. Political parties should lend a listening ear to the families that forward their complaints and instigate changes to make sure that inclusions are not only seen as a dream but a reality. They should not only approve the process but also back it up and recommend it to ensure that it becomes fully functional. Having this immense support would give the parents and other interested individuals great confidence that the achievement of inclusive education is a possibility for all children (Daniels, 2000).
For inclusion to be integrated into the education system successfully, it is important to provide facilities and interventions that will facilitate that. The size of the class is always determined and managed. Such schools should have a low teacher to learner ratio of 16.2: 1. Another intervention may be to adjust the timetables, the amount of work (load) and other responsibilities.
When it comes to school facilities, some may need adjustments on the buildings and building facilities to accommodate some form of disabilities such as those using the wheelchairs. They may not be able to go up the stairs and therefore, the building of facilities that would enable access to the top floors of the building may be essential. The building of such facilities may be quite costly and time-consuming and may require long-term considerations and therefore, may not be applicable as immediate interventions (Cole, 1999).
To address the issue of racism and the development of separate education systems for the disabled, it is important to make the educational practice to match with the international trends of inclusions. These inclusions involve the bringing in of those persons who have difficulty in learning due to some barriers to the normal system. For this is to be successful, it is important to enact legislation and come up with policies that would see to it that the inclusive system of education is established.
It is important to note that for change to occur in the present education system to include students with disabilities, it should be a joint venture and cannot be done single-handedly. The sacrifice of many individuals and families would be required to make inclusion a possibility and a success. Families of the disabled individuals, and especially parents may not necessarily be leaders but their actions may inspire many other families to believe in the practices of inclusion as being the correct thing to do and a very achievable goal to attain.
In schools where inclusions have not been previously practiced due to the lack of awareness or lack of the necessary facilities in the structures, it is important to build an Inclusive School strategy. This strategy is effective in increasing the level of awareness and a deeper understanding of the issue of inclusion among the school leadership team (Brook, & Hesketh, 2007). This strategy was initiated in Australia and was based on seven principles. This would ensure that more people especially staff would be made aware of the inclusion schools and the proper practices within such institutions.
Anderson, K. M. (1999). Examining principals’ special education knowledge and the inclusiveness of their schools. (Doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1999). Dissertation Abstracts International, 61(02A), 431.
Cole, P. (1999). The structure of arguments used to support or oppose inclusion policies for students with disabilities. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 24(3), 215-226.
Dempsey, I., Foreman, P. & Jenkinson, J. (2002) Education and enrolment of students with a disability in New South Wales and Victoria. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 49 (1), 31-46.
Daniels, H. (2000). Special education reformed: Beyond rhetoric? London & New York. Farmer Press.
DiPaola, M., & Walther-Thomas, C. (2003). Principals and special education: The critical role of school leaders (Doc. No. IB-7). Gainsville, FL: Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education, University of Florida.
Davidson, D., & Gooden, J. (2001). Are we preparing beginning principals for the special education challenges they will encounter? ERS Spectrum, 19, 42–49.
Dixon, M., & Vernikina, I. (2007). Towards inclusive schools: An examination of socio-cultural theory and inclusive practices and policy in New South Wales DET schools. Learning and Sociocultural Theory: Exploring Modern Vygotskian Perspectives International Workshop 2007, 1(1).
Gersten, R., Keating, T, Yovanoff, P., & Harniss, M. (2001). Working in special education: Factors that enhance special educators’ intent to stay. Exceptional Children, 67(4), 549–567.
Gindis, B. (1999). Reshaping the Practice of Special Education for the 21st Century. Remedial and Special Education, 20 (6), 32-64.
Jackson, R., (2007). Helping Systems to Change: The Example of Esperance. Special Inclusive Education Issue. 20,3.
Walton, E., Nel, N., Hugo, A., & Muller, H. (2009). The extent and practice of inclusion in independent schools in South Africa. South African Journal of Education. 29, 105-126.