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Perception of Inclusive Education: A few Relevant Issues

Inclusive education; Image source: Needpix

Inclusive education; Image source: Needpix

Abstract: Inclusive Education has received serious policy attention in Bangladesh and become one of the major focuses of the policies of governments across many parts of the world. Undoubtedly inclusive education is vital issue and if we really want to achieve the goal of EFA of ensuring quality primary education for all by 2015 and want to establish equitable educational system, inclusion of all children in education should be guaranteed. However, the concerns are assessing actual needs for practicing inclusive education basing on Bangladesh country context and to see this approach through our teachers, students and parents’ perspective. Since there is hardly any research that focus contextual demands to implement inclusive education perception in Bangladesh, writer’s concern is whether we are adopting this approach as a trend without having any need assessment.  In addition to, throughout the paper it has been tried to be argued for a uniformed position on inclusive education perception in our country. The writer has considered secondary to establish her argument, also existing international perspective of inclusive education has been compared with the perception of inclusive education in Bangladesh. Finally, some concerned questions have been raised in relation with inclusive education in Bangladesh.

Education reform specifically inclusive education is being seen as a key driver for achieving social integration and cohesion. The idea of inclusive education is to be found not just in the developed countries of North America, Europe and Australasia also in the developing world too. Worldwide considerable interest has been shown in the idea of ‘inclusive education’ and Bangladesh is one of the countries which are 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 influential advocate 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). Since the purpose, goal, target group of inclusive education in our country is not clearly articulated and to some extent ambiguously elucidated some issues need to be brought into light, such as;

•    Nationally uniformed position on inclusive education;
•    Contextual need assessment to practice inclusive education;
•    Need assessment of teachers, parents and students;
•    Preparedness to implement inclusive education;

Throughout the paper the need for above issues have been argued and basing on relevant national and international document analysis some recommendations have been drawn-out to solve the issues.


It is a purposeful literature review written in descriptive manner and the writer has considered secondary data (international and national policy, peer reviewed journal, acts, organizational report) from various sources (online journal, organizational documents/reports) of last 20 years (specifically from the year 1994 to 2010) to establish her argument and the study materials have been selected purposefully. Basing on relevant literature review and also from professional experience, writer tends to articulate some recommendation.

Background and definition of Inclusive education

There are a number of definitions of inclusive education stated in different documents but the most appropriate definition or concept of inclusive education from social perspective, the writer has found from an website of Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2009) – ‘Inclusive education is a combination of philosophy and pedagogical practices that allow each student to feel respected, confident and safe so he or she can learn and develop to his or her full potential’. According to this definition inclusion is not only bringing the excluded or marginalized group of children in mainstreaming school rather it is based on a system of values and beliefs centered on the best interests of the student, which intends to promote social cohesion, belonging and active participation in learning, a complete school experience, and positive interactions with peers and others in the school community. So, inclusion is not an isolate perception that focuses students only, it is an approach for the whole community including school where the student belongs because these values and beliefs should be shared by schools and communities.

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 programme in a community setting. 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. Therefore to achieve EFA objective inclusion of all children in education system is prerequisite.

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).

Perception of Inclusive education in Bangladesh: Who are being focused?

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. 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 go through the document 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. For example, it is estimated that 100,000 people are involved in sex work (Sabet & Sate, 2012) while more than 20,000 children were born and are living in the 18 registered red-light areas of Bangladesh Result shows that children of sex workers’ has a limited access to formal education (Alam & Ballestr, 2013); those who rarely get chance to be admitted by roaming enormous humiliation from every sphere of the admission and lesson learning process, are also ended up as dropout after a short period of time. A massive ignorance and reluctance is also found from the education provider’s end (Billah & Baroi, 2012). Another example should be Dalit community (there are 10 types of Dalit community such as; bahera, Hajam, Muchi) and only 4% of entire school age children of this communities are in education. So, the question “do policies address the differences in concepts of ‘special needs’ education and inclusive education” – should be answered as it has been stated in Policy guidelines on inclusion in Education (UNESCO, 2009) to ensure unformed position on inclusive education through country’s respective education policy. In this backdrop 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. 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.

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 is kept within inverted comma as it becomes trendy concept now a day and is flourishing in Bangladesh even from policy players’ end and attention for Autism is seemed unusually higher than the other groups of children with special needs which is questionable. Surprisingly autism issue has been included in our national curriculum from this year. There is no doubt that it is an important global disability issue, but why only this type of disability is  specially included, are there any recognized national statistics that provide fact based evidence to do so, or it is just a result of interest of particular authority. However, the concern is, in many cases children are being labeled even without adopting any standard assessment scale to determine their degree of autism or to some extent without having a little knowledge about different category or degree of Autism, which is more dangerous (Loba & Alam, 2012). As a result, a group of people are trying to take immoral opportunities of making money just by keeping the term of ‘Autism’ in their programme or activities without having any commitment or knowledge.

If we argue that inclusive education is prerequisite for Bangladesh then there should have some strong evidence or research based results which strongly support this argument with necessary facts and figures. Unfortunately, research is a much ignored sector of the education budget in Bangladesh, if we go through the last year budget (FY 2012-2013), we would see that only 0.03% of total education budget is allocated for educational research. So, it can be easily calculated that how little could be allocated for inclusive education researches in particular. Through education budget analysis by ActionAid Bangladesh and Institute of Informatics and Development (2012) it has been observed that educational research and capacity building appears to be the least emphasized (p, 08).

Inclusive education should be ‘go-local’, flexible, balanced and relevant to each context and individual–It should address and incorporate national, local and learners’ diversities. –It needs to achieve a balance between the global, national and local expectations, realities and needs (Opertti, 2010). So, the needs for assessing local and contextual needs are must to practice inclusive education. But there are a very small number of researches that investigated the local educational needs and addresses contextual demands by valuing inclusive education philosophy.

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 lenses of teachers, students as well as parents.  But in Bangladesh, there is hardly any study which tended to explore the perception of the teachers/ students/ parents of our country towards inclusion (Loba & Alam, 2012). In addition to, more researches on inclusive education from different aspects are needed for proper implementation and to achieve the goal of inclusive education. Not only that, the kind of research in teaching and learning related to inclusive education is also need to be identified.

Inclusive Education: from Right based Perspective

Since the essence inclusive education can be directly matched with the 4A framework of education adopted by the UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999 developed by Katarina Tomesovski (former Special Raaportier of UN) sets out State obligations in ensuring that education is Available, Accessible, Acceptable, and Adaptable to the needs and circumstances of all children (Global Campaign for Education, 2012). This framework has shaped how education rights are viewed and understood and gives the direction of both the obligations of duty-bearers and the entitlements of rights-holders. Subsequently, the 4As have been central to the work of right to Education (Rishmawi and Keable-Elliott, 2012). It actually suggests seeing education through the lenses of right perspective education and simultaneously explains what spirit and nature of inclusive education should be. So, it would not be so critical to state that right based perspective of education is constructed as well as inspired by inclusive education and tends to influence the perception of inclusion in broader perspective.

UNESCO (2009) gave 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’. 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.

One very crucial issue is, since Bangladesh is the signatory country of Child Rights Convention (CRC), EFA, MDG and number of convention and declarations and committed to ensure quality primary education, state is responsible to secure right to education for all of its citizens. Education Rights Reference Handbook (AAB, 2012) mentioned the issue of constitutional recognition of education as fundamental right and stated that “Education is not recognized as fundamental rights as per Bangladesh Constitution, rather it is fundamental need, as a result citizens of Bangladesh cannot legally claim if their right of education is violated”. Because education is included in the 2nd part of Bangladesh constitution where the basic policies are declared but this issues cannot be legally obtained if policy breaches, conversely the fundamental rights those are legally obligated are mentioned in the 3rd part (from section 27 to 44) of the constitution where education right is not mentioned (AAB, 2012). Therefore peoples should demand the state to include education as fundamental right of citizen in constitution thus they can make the state accountable and obliged as well. In addition to we still do not have an education act (it is still in draft phase) which can clarify our state’s stand or vision of inclusive education. If we can be have an act and education included in constitution as fundamental human right, Government will be bound to provide quality primary education for all and that would be the most sustainable way of ensuring inclusive education. Because definitely inclusion does not only focus the children with disabilities or ethnic minority, it is for all the children who live within the periphery of a state.  

In this perspective allocation of budget for education and proper utilization of it is another vital concern which need to be addressed. National budget should be demand driven and evidence based demand should come up to allocate reasonable amount in national budget. Here also people’s awareness and understanding of budget is necessary and grass root level campaign and link with national level advocacy can play a productive role in this regard.

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?

Are we prepared to practice inclusive education?

Acedo (2011) mentioned “Inclusive education represents an area of teacher professional knowledge that is a legitimate area of concern for teacher education, regardless of national differences in form or structure….the reform of teacher education can become more than a matter of type or level of qualification, because inclusive education is for and about everyone”. Lack of training in the field of inclusive or special education may lead to less positive attitudes towards the inclusion of students with disabilities into mainstream settings (Clayton, 1996; Menlove, Hudson, & Suter, 2001 cited in Sharma and at all, 2004), while increased training has been associated with more positive attitudes in this regard (Briggs, Johnson, Shepherd, & Sedbrook, 2002; Harvey, 1985; Powers, 2002 cited in Sharma at all, 2004). Thus the pre-service training for the teachers helps to practice inclusive education and develop positive attitude towards the children with special needs and other marginalized groups is highly recognized worldwide.

Since 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. In addition there is no allocation for pre-recruitment training in the national education budget.

On the other hand there is barely any comprehensive report of assessment in regards whether we are prepared to practice inclusion in terms of capacity of teachers, school infrastructure, and curriculum flexibility. Therefore a huge number of unplanned infrastructural modifications are found in the schools of rural areas. For example, some schools have ramp for the wheel chair users but there is no “Pacca road” that will led the wheel chair user up to that ramp. Consequently question arises – this inclusion is for whom and why? It gives the impression either it’s solely government’s choice or simply the way of fulfilling the demand of funding organization to meet the EFA goal figuratively.

Another significant issue to implement inclusive education is effective curricula as it signifies a crucial tool for fostering a broadened concept of inclusive education and to implement education policy from a long-term perspective. Inclusive curriculum should accommodate the needs of all learners. An inclusive curriculum aims to successfully educate all learners while celebrating the resulting diversity (Opertti, 2010). It should be grounded on a wide and plural interpretations of the demands and interpretations of the society and should have a vision of creating an equitable, inclusive, plural and cohesive society. Inclusive curriculum development should be linked to the process of social inclusion. In Bangladesh the text books are not sensitive enough regarding inclusion and do not really help to promote positive attitude towards all groups’ people. Also in terms of using specific terms for children with special needs or people with disability text books are neither sensitive nor use uniformed terms. In addition to, our national curricula does not have any flexibility for children with special needs and do not have specific modification adaptation guideline for them. Since new curricula has just introduced from this year it is too early to comment on it however it is expected to be an effective inclusive curricula.

Limitation of the study

Since the writer has only considered secondary data to establish her argument therefore triangulation could not be done to validate the argument. On the other hand the secondary sources have been chosen purposefully and were limited within last 20 years document, therefore international historical background of inclusive education would be lacking.  Finally, as the recommendations are not based on any primary research or direct field level findings by the writer, generalization of the opinion should be taken into deep consideration.

Future scope of research

This paper might not be a purely research document but it has tried to bring out some emerging issues on inclusion on which number of action research can be conducted, such as;
•    Observing the attitudes towards inclusive education of the teachers, parents and students in Bangladesh;
•    Situation mapping of rights based school;
•    Situation mapping on existing school infrastructure;
•    Inclusive education: Philosophy or practice


The recommendations mentioned below are reflected from solely personal point of view and based on academic knowledge, professional experience and document analysis –

•    Common uniformed understanding of inclusive education

It is immensely important for all who are directly or indirectly linked with education system from the policy level to community people to have a common understanding of inclusive education. There should not have any obscurity in terms of perception about inclusion or inclusive education. Therefore first of all, the educationists and policy players should remove the ambiguity in regards whether we should assume inclusive education is for all or for certain marginal group of people. We may have a number of limitations to implement inclusive education and number of reasons for not reaching all groups of children but we should have a common perception nationwide, to be more specific what do we really mean while we are talking about inclusive education should be clear and reasonable.

•     Acting on root causes of exclusion and mainstreaming all marginal groups

To abolish the practice of exclusion, the policy players and educationists need to focus on the root cause of exclusion such as gender, disability, ethnicity, linguistic background, minority, status (migration/immigration), living in isolated or remote areas, conflict and post-conflict situations, natural disasters and so on. If inclusion cannot be executed in holistic approach and strike on the root causes of exclusion then the inclusive education will not work and sustain. Therefore our periphery of vision needs to be widened thus no child left behind from education.

•    Extensive action research is highly needed

To assess contextual needs of Bangladesh in regards of practicing inclusive education significant number of qualitative researches on different aspects of inclusive education is highly needed. Research students from universities, development organization, and research based organization along with Government Education department can conduct these researches and the result of researches should be shared and disseminated in wider level thus the present situation, demands, perception towards inclusion can be known to all.

•    Pre-service teachers training is must

Inclusive education is one vital area that should be prioritize in teachers training module and pre-service training for teachers should be mandatory for all pre-primary and primary school teachers for effective practice of inclusive education and creating learning friendly environment for all students in school. This training is also assumed to develop perceptive and positive attitude towards inclusive education of school teachers.

•    Mainstreaming evidence based good practice

It is a process which requires developing solutions by learning from the experience of others. It basically refers to addressing, identifying and replicating a kind of model which is already set up, tested and practiced by local community to ensure quality education and also recognized by education thinkers and experts (AAB, 2012). These models have effectiveness and stimulate other school based community towards widespread dissemination and improvement of educational scenario of the locality. In short the whole idea of this intervention is to learn from the good practices of the most excellent schools of the country that practices inclusive education and consequently achieves the benchmark of quality education as well as replicate those good practices in the schools whose status need to be improved in terms of implementing inclusive education.

•    Representation of marginalized group in School Management Committee 

It has also been seen that representation of discriminated groups in school governance structures, is very low; in some cases it’s completely absent. As a result it departs adverse effect on education. Women participation in formation of SMC is inevitable, however even if they are selected, their voices remain unheard and they barely take decisions. Therefore School Management Committee and Parents Teachers Association need to be truly inclusive and representative so that they can speak on communities’ behalf and where decisions will be taken in a democratic and participatory process. Thus the actual situation and contextual issue will come up with effective solutions.

•    Local level education plan and voice of civil society

According to Dakar frame work of Action (2000) “decentralized micro-planning and delivery with people’s participation may be utilized on a wider scale for provision of basic education to unserved and underserved populations”. In addition to, ensuring the engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies for educational development is one of the strategy stated in Dakar Framework of Action (2000) to achieve the goal of EFA. Therefore, for proper implementation of inclusive education community people’s active participation and civil society voice is must. Traditionally one of the limitations of Bangladesh education system particularly, primary education is deficient contribution of civil society and nearly no involvement of Union Parishad (UP) in local education planning and monitoring process. In this backdrop one of the processes of executing people’s voice in education might be local education plan where school community and civil society group can contribute and give their need based input in order to establish inclusive education.

•    Formally initiating education monitoring group

A monitoring group consisting of community members, SMC member, students, civil Society representatives can be formed in each Upazila to oversee the implementation of education policy promises in terms of inclusive education. Since in National Education Policy (2010) there are a number of significant promises that address inclusive education issues and also mentioned about some innovative initiatives (mid day meal, flexible school calendar) to reach the most marginalized group of students. Therefore, this monitoring group can take part in the overseeing process of implementing policy promises and contribute in making local government more accountable and effective. Government’s praise-worthy  initiative of forming ‘Student council’ in each primary school can be one of the platforms that can play very important role in this regard but here also the issue is whether these groups are really active or not, therefore monitoring is needed to oversee their activities too.

These initiatives are mostly depend on decentralized education system and so far remained ignored due to highly centralized and acute bureaucracy. Consequently about six million children are out of school and engaged in income generating activities or supporting their families in household work. Therefore wide-ranging primary research is highly demanded which can provide valid strong evidence to establish decentralized education system and create absolute inclusive environment of education. 

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 ensuring quality education as well as sustainable growth of a country, however, to clarify the perception as well as proper implementation of inclusive education  the following questions need to be answered –

* Do we all have a common perception or understanding about inclusive education?
* Are there any strong evidence based findings to effectively practice inclusive education in our country context?
* Did we try to see inclusive education concept through our teachers’ lens? 
* Did we really try to know what our children want?

If we cannot answer these questions in near future, ‘Inclusive Education’ will be remained nothing but rhetoric and we will find ourselves in nowhere in the journey of ultimate inclusion.


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