Inclusive Education has become one of the major focuses of the policies of governments across many parts of the world. Education reform is seen as a key driver for achieving social integration and cohesion. These ideas are to be found not just in the developed countries of North America, Europe and Australasia. In the developing world too, considerable interest has been shown in the idea of ‘inclusive education’ and Bangladesh is one of the countries which is also paying ample attention towards it. International agencies such as the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development have been powerful advocates of ‘inclusion’ as a core principle of schooling and education systems.
It has been observed through various international educational researches that the growth of ‘inclusive education’ in the developing world in part reflects the attempt of these countries to promote the social and educational advantages of access to schooling and educational resources and in part the export of first-world thinking to countries which reinforces dependency (Armstrong, Armstrong, Spandagou, 2011).
The Salamanca Declaration 1994 describes inclusive education in this way: that all children regardless of their diversity in gender, race, class, religion, ethnicity, economic and social position and special need or disability should be included in the regular education programmes in a community setting.
UNESCO (2009) give the following definition: ‘Inclusive education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners … As an overall principle, it should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society’.
According to Ainscow et al. (2006), narrow definitions of inclusion refer to the promotion of the inclusion of specific group of students, mainly, but not exclusively, disabled students and/or students with special education needs in ‘mainstream’ or ‘regular’ education. ‘Broad’ definitions of inclusion, on the other hand, do not focus on specific groups of students, rather values diversity and emphasizes on how schools respond to the diversity of all students (and even every other member of the school community). So, we need to think what is our stand in regards of inclusive education, are we focusing only the children with disabilities to include in mainstream schools or we want inclusion in broader sense where social inclusion is the major concern.
In reality, when we are talking about Government Education, we are probably in the phase of integrating children with disabilities in mainstream schools as education for other marginal groups are yet to be taken into consideration. One of the major objectives of Education For All is to bring all primary school-age children, particularly girls, the disabled, those in difficult circumstances and belonging to ethnic minorities, and enable them to complete primary education (already free and compulsory) of good quality.
In Bangladesh, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education in its Primary Education Development Project (PEDP)-II had included a component of inclusive education for children with disabilities from 2004. At The end of the year 2005 Ministry of Primary and Mass Education circulated an order to all Primary Schools for enrolling Children with Mild Degrees of Disabilities. To achieve the EFA objective in PEDP3, it is stated that inclusive primary education will enable primary school-age children to complete good quality primary education. The access portion will focus on reaching the unreached, particularly disabled, working children, children in difficult circumstances, and children belonging to ethnic minorities or living in remote areas. Tribal children are encouraged to learn in their mother tongue.
If we keenly observe the focus of PEDP3, we would see that there are more other marginalized groups like sex workers children, children of Dalit community, children of Urdu speaking community, child domestic workers are invisible here and to some extent ignored. In addition to we do not have an uniformed understanding of inclusion throughout different sectors of education. So, here the question is “do policies address the differences in concepts of ‘special needs’ education and inclusive education”(UNESCO, 2009).
Considering Education as human right, Bangladesh government is responsible to ensure education for all the marginalized groups of peoples of the country as they are recognized citizens of our country. Therefore as per Ainscow’s (2006) definition it can be said that we are not focusing on the broader concept of inclusion rather than have restricted our vision within children with special needs and ethnic minority only. On the other hand, three elements of the policy regime are – (i) the policy formulation process; (ii) contents of policies; and (iii) monitoring of implementation (Mujeri, 2010). Mujeri (2010) also emphasized that these three components of human rights should be participatory especially to reflect the voices of the population groups who are affected, directly or indirectly, by such policies. Therefore stakeholders’ direct participation in all three processes is immensely important and here may we ask that are there any evident participation in any of these elements? If yes, then citizen’s have the right to know the response of the stakeholders.
Furthermore, Promoting inclusion means stimulating discussion, encouraging positive attitudes and improving educational and social frameworks to cope with new demands in education structures and governance (UNESCO, 2009). In Education system teachers, students and parents are the direct beneficiaries and there are questions, whether we have done these ground work? Did we really assess the demands in education structure according to our country context while adopting inclusive education? Are we really prepared for implementing the concept of inclusion in regular school?
If we dig deeper we would found that we are not even focusing on the whole group of children with disabilities rather we are considering the specific groups of children with physical disabilities, visual impairment, mild degree of hearing impairment and the children with “autism”. The term Autism has been kept within inverted coma as this issue is seemed trendier and we are labeling children without even adopting any standard assessment scale to determine their degree of disability or to some extent without having any preconception about Autism/ADHD/Asperger Syndrome, which is more dangerous.
Going back to the topic, it can be said that in our country the term “inclusion” is pursued more as trend as no extensive study or action research could be found which might support the concept to be practiced. Besides Bangladesh, in most of the countries who are practicing inclusive education, there are a significant number of educational researches found in this ground which observed the perception/attitude/sensitivity/opinion of the regular/non-formal/special education teachers and students about inclusive education (e.g., Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Ward et al, 1994; Scruggs, 1996; Sharma et al, 2003; Subban & Sharma, 2006) . In addition to huge number of studies are taking place to investigate the present status of inclusion through the lances of teachers, students as well as parents. But there is hardly any study which tended to explore the perception of the teachers/ students/ parents of our country towards inclusion.
On the contrary, as only 44% female teachers and 35% male teachers receive pre-service training on inclusive education in primary school level (ActionAid Bangladesh, 2011), it can be said that more than 50% teachers are practicing “inclusive education” in primary school without having any induction about it!! So what and why is this inclusion for?? In this backdrop it gives the impression either it’s solely government’s choice or the way of fulfilling the demand of funding organization to meet the EFA goal. On the other hand there was no assessment in regards of whether we are prepared to practice inclusion in terms of capacity of teachers, school infrastructure, and curriculum flexibility.
There is no doubt that inclusion is needed not only in education also in social, cultural and economic system to bring all people in the mainstream development for a sustainable growth of a country, however, writer’s simple questions towards education policymakers are –
– “Have we gone through any prior need or gaps analysis to practice inclusive education?”
– “Did we try to see inclusive education concept through our teachers’ lens?”
– Last but not the least “did we really try to know what our children want?”
AAB. 2012. Situation Mapping: Promoting Rights in School. Dhaka, ActionAid Bangladesh.
Ainscow, M. T., Booth, A., Dyson, P., Farrell, J., Frankham, F., Gallannaugh, A., Howes, R., & Smith. 2006. Improving schools, developing inclusion. London: Routledge.
Armstrong, D., Armstrong, A., & Spandagou, I. 2011. Inclusion: by choice or by chance? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15:1, 29-39.
Avramidis, E., & Norwich, B. 2002. Teachers’ attitudes towards integration / inclusion: a review of the literature. European Journal of Special NeedsEducation, 17:2, 129-147
CSIE (2002). Definition of inclusion in education. Retrieved in September 19, 2010, from http://www.csie.org.uk
DPE .2011. Primary Education Development Programme. Dhaka: Directorate of Primary Education, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
MoE. 2010. National Education Policy, 2010, Dhaka: Ministry of Education, Government of the people’s republic of Bangladesh.
Mujeri, M. 2010. The Rights-Based Approach to Education in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Development Studies, Vol. XXXIII, 140 -203.
Scruggs, T. E., & Mastropierii, M. A., 1996. Teacher perceptions of mainstreaming inclusion, 1958–1995:A research synthesis, Exceptional Children, 63, 59–74.
Sharma, U., Ee, J., & Desai, I. (2003). A Comparison of Australian and Singaporean Pre-Service Teachers’ Attitudes and Concerns about Inclusive Education. Teaching and Learning, 24(2), 207-217.
Subban, P., & Sharma, U. 2006.Primary School Teachers’ Perceptions of Inclusive Education in Victoria, Australia. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1). 42-52.
UNESCO. 2009. Policy guidelines on inclusion in Education. Retrieved from http://www.inclusion-in-action.org/iea/dokumente/upload/72074_177849e.pdf on October, 2011
Ward, J., Center, Y., & Bochner, S. 1994. A question of attitudes: integrating children with disabilities into regular classrooms. British Journal of Special Education, 21, 34–39.
FHARIA TILAT LOBA: Deputy Manager, Education, ActionAid Bangladesh and NORUL ALAM RAJU: Senior Programme Officer, Education, ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh