Inclusive education has been around for many decades- The Salamaca Statement really solidified its place on the global stage back in 1994. However, many local and international events and movements took place that led to the ratification of This Statement in Salamanca, Spain - almost 100 countries signed on. It is safe to say, most people agree with the conceptualization of all students being included in the education system.
Many education systems continue to promote themselves as inclusive education systems- no matter how different each system might look from one another. Despite having its roots in the special education movement, inclusive education has come a long way- at least in research, literature, and hope. It is easy to understand why each system interprets inclusive education practices differently. Each system is somewhere different on the inclusive education journey. Some systems continue to promote inclusive education as a part of special education, while other systems promote education for all individuals through choices, options, and variety.
I will be honest, the first example (inclusive education as part of special education) is a very primitive interpretation of inclusive education. This example highlights the thinking that inclusive education is about including some students into the regular school. In fact, one example I can share from my doctoral research is when an elementary principal referred to some students in her school as 'the students who fall under the inclusive umbrella'. I am still not sure if I should cry or laugh- here we are in 2019, well at that point it was 2016, still thinking of inclusive education as a way in integrate our most vulnerable kiddos.
The second example is the ideal situation- revamping our current systems to build one system that offers enough choice, variety, and options that all our students can receive a high-quality education. Many people would refer to this example as full inclusion. The debate is our there about whether full inclusion works or not..... it works....BUT.......The challenge is not in the practice or the conceptualization, rather, the challenge is in the commitment to change. It is costly, there are time commitments, and there is a steep learning curve. Full inclusion is going to be a huge challenge for many people, especially when the only change made to school systems was putting all kiddos together without appropriate systems and structures.
These are just two examples, there are many more interpretations and approaches to setting up inclusive education systems. The point is- despite being around for many decades, inclusive education is still only at the beginning of its journey for so many people.
It is a journey, the inclusive education journey, that will never end. Just when we get it figured out and the everyone is on the same page, we will learn something new or something will change, and we will have to continue to adapt and grow. That is great- that is life! Rather than viewing education with a 'traditional' lens, flexibility would be applied to how we approach our school community- flexibility would not be something special or different, it would just be rolling with the needs of all the students.
However, because it is a journey, it is important that all educational stakeholders continue to feel a commitment to building a system that is fully inclusive. In other words, our school systems need to be centred around practices that allow for all students to participate in their learning & the community, all students need to be able to be present in the learning process & the community, and all kiddos need to grow & succeed.
One of the biggest barriers to this happening is that most systems continue to believe that inclusive education is a component of education. It is not. An education system that is inclusive, is simply an education system. We need to get to the point that schools & school systems no longer need to advertise that they are inclusive because the word inclusive would not be necessary. In other words, schools would be set up to reflect their community through practices, infrastructure, and culture- what happens in the school would be education that is appropriate for all learners and not just some learners... with other students getting something special or different (because they don't fit the 'common' practice).
My plea to everyone is to stop waiting for the right policy or the right initiative to change the face of inclusive education in your system. This will never happen- in fact, policy is often referred to as a low lever for change. In other words, changing the policy will not have a significant impact on changing the how. In this case, changing school policies will do very little to change our inclusive education systems. Things will look different, but little else will change. What will change our systems is by increasing the capacity of the mainstream or neighbourhood schools to support the learning and participation of an increasingly diverse range of learners (Ainscow, 2004). Rather than waiting for the right policy to be released, our energy needs to be focused on the development of schools- it is about developing practices that can reach all learners. This notion is aligned with the Salamanca Statement in that it is about school development and increasing our capacity to support & to teach to all learners.
Ainscow, M. (2004) Developing Inclusive Education Systems: What are the levers for change? Journal of Educational Change, 6(2), p109-124.