In today’s day and age, the terms Inclusive Education and Participation are used interchangeably in the education world and in today’s society. Budiyanto, Kaye, Rofiah and Sheehy (2017) has defined Inclusive Education as a widespread phenomenon that has been inspired by the Universal Declaration Rights of the Child. It gained importance to other nations as a movement for all education system to cater, support, welcome, address and respond to the diversity needs of all learners with varying capabilities. The International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (ICF) on the other hand has defined the term Participation as being “ involve in life situations”. (World Health Organisation, 2001 as cited in Chien, Copley & Rodger, 2017). The ICF has also stressed its preference to use the term “participation” rather than “inclusion”, as it is through participation that inclusion is promoted (World Health Organisation, 2001).
In the year 2005, the Australian Attorney General formulated the Disability Standards for Education under the Disability Act 1992 where the standard provides basis for the framework. This framework informs all educational system of their legislative obligations and responsibilities towards all children. Participation, being one of the main legislative requirements by the Disability Standards stresses that all children regardless of their capabilities have the right to actively participate and be guided in an Australian dignified Curriculum that promotes inclusive education and practice (Disability Standards for Education, 2005). The United Nations Conventions Rights of the Child, Article 2 and 23 also draw importance to Participation; Article 2, indicate that all children with disability has every right to a sense of belonging without being discriminated, while Article 23 indicate that all children regardless of capabilities should be given and provided access to a full and decent life that facilitates participation (UNICEF, 2006). These Laws are put into place not only to adapt the principle of “Education for All (EFA) (Fitriah & Imaniah, 2018), but also to ensure that the rights of all learners are respected and protected.
Participation has always been classified as an important aspect of children’s learning and development. This will allow all children including those with learning disability to have opportunities to participate in an active and healthy lifestyle. Participation benefits all children, as it enables them to achieve happiness and trusting relationships. When children are accommodated and supported by peers, teachers, parents and the surrounding communities, they are able to engage in meaningful and positive learning experiences. This way they learn the skills to express ideas and obtain information that optimizes their potential and enhances their own understanding of the world around them.
Although this is everyone’s ideal scenario, children with learning disabilities are unintentionally made to be at a disadvantage. This is due to teacher’s lack of knowledge, inadequate training and lack of understanding to one’s condition and specific needs. This becomes a problem, as teachers are unable to adequately support and facilitate children’s learning The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) note “While people with disability participate actively in all aspects of Australian Life, they are most likely to face challenges than people without disability”(AIHW, 2017). This lack of understanding may result in children having to experience participation limitation. Australia being a multicultural country with different cultural beliefs and traditions means that people will have different views and perspectives about disability and participation, therefore this can affect their attitude towards inclusion. Study Findings has shown that non-western teachers tend to have a more negative attitude towards inclusive education (Malinen & Savolainen, 2008 as cited in Savolainen & Yada, 2017), due to the fact that their understanding and knowledge are insufficient and inadequate to carry out inclusive practices.
This is where an adaptable teacher with an inclusive pedagogy comes in. An adaptable and inclusive teacher is someone that is not only capable of delivering quality teaching but one with a strong sense of efficacy. Teacher efficacy happens when the teacher believes that he or she can influence how well a child learns. One of the many roles of an adaptable teacher is to provide an inclusive classroom that supports and caters for children with differing learning styles, differing capabilities and intelligences. It is through this provision of an ideal learning environment that children’s can thrive and learn. Early Childhood Theorist, Lev Vygotsky emphasised the importance to strong relationships and positive interactions in children’s learning and development, where the less advance peer learned from the more advance peer in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)(McLeod, 2018). As adaptable and teacher myself, I have always strive for an active classroom full of eager children. One of the strategies that I have implemented in my classroom was the differentiated instruction strategy. I chose this strategy, as I believe that this is the most effective way to teach diverse students as it modifies the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2013 as cited in Watts-Taffe et.al, 2012). It also through this method that I have witness children regardless of their capabilities are able to contribute and participate in meaningful learning experiences. “Children are unique (UNICEF, 2006), competent and capable individuals”(Community Child Care, Victoria 2011) with differing learning styles, capabilities and intelligences. Renowned Theorist Loris Malaguzzi has supported this statement through his 100-language masterpiece, where he indicated that children have infinite ways of doing, being and expressing (Patte, 2017). It is through the careful and effective implementations of these strategies that teachers are able to avoid stereotyping children as belonging to a specific class with having either predicted or fixed learning. Some of the strategies that have worked for me to increase engagement and participation in children are as follows: Introduction of Interactive Communications in our curriculum for a fun and versatile experience, Visual aids, Flexible routines and the Implementation of support programs and plans such as Individualised Learning Plans.
In my several years in the Early Childhood Sector, I too have my fair share of experiences wherein I have supported and facilitated children with diverse needs in their learning. This is evident when I introduced to Hailey, a 4-year-old girl who suffers from a mild hearing impairment and a rare condition called diastrophic dysplasia, which is commonly known as “dwarfism”. I was able to provide for her curriculum needs by collaborating with her parents and relevant professionals and specialist involve in making appropriate reasonable adjustments and accommodations as well as putting in place Differentiated instruction and Individualised Learning Plans to maximise participation. The reasonable adjustments and accommodations put into place for Hailey are as follows; lowered shelf and hook for the locker, a lowered desk and chair so she can sit comfortably, Modifications in the room setting were made so she can move freely, participate and reach necessary materials needed for engagement and participation i.e. In class discussions she will be put at the front wherein she can hear better.
As an advocate for children, I see the importance and benefits of Inclusive practices, not only to promote engagement and participation but also equality. According to the National Quality Standards Professional Learning Program Inclusive Practice occurs when teachers make thoughtful and informed curriculum decisions and work in partnership with families, teachers and professionals (Early Childhood Australia, 2012). I have always seen Families and the communities as having a vital role in children’s positive growth and development, therefore I encourage and value their inputs and contributions in regards to the planning, development and implementation of a rich and dignified program. It is also through this meaningful and positive partnership and collaboration that teachers, families and relevant professionals are able to work towards common goals for the holistic wellbeing of the child where children’s interests, access, participation are prioritised and maximised.
Through my vigorous research and studies, I have concluded that being inclusive is not just about giving children right to be in your class but a philosophy of acceptance to any individual regardless of who and what they are. Being Inclusive is about giving someone a fair go to participate in rich opportunities from a dignified curriculum where mutual respect, positive attitudes are promoted and necessary adjustments are made so children can reach and optimize their potential. I have also come to an understanding that as our communities have become increasingly diverse and nations become globally open and connected, the awareness of the benefits of an open inclusive learning has spread like wild fire. Therefore the inclusion practice of participation has been regarded as the standard goal not only by all educational system but also in our society. I see the Differentiated instruction as a responsive and effective strategy for inclusion, as it enables teachers to proactively plan varied approaches to the differing needs of children hence, encourages participation. Tomlinson argued that “not’ one size fits all’ teaching”(Tomlinson, 2005 as cited in Strogilos, Tragoulia, Avramidis, Voulagka & Papanikolaou, 2017). I believe that one of my many key roles is to educate children and families about inclusive ways, so they in turn can acquire the skills to accept and embrace other individuals that are different and unique from their own. I have also realised that the promotion of inclusive practices such as participation is not a one-way streak but an ongoing process; a journey full of professional commitment and focused reflection. I think it is crucial that teachers critically reflect on their practices as well as upskilling current knowledge through professional development trainings; researches etc. in order to expand knowledge enhance existing skills or develop new. I have also learned that the children’s right to a dignified curriculum, right to participate and, right to be supported and sheltered make up an inclusive education system. “When all children, regardless of their differences, are educated together, everyone benefits----- this is the cornerstone of inclusive education” (Study International Staff, 2019). If one day, everyone understands the true meaning of being inclusive and take positive ways to promote active participation and equality, then our World will be a much better place.
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