Frequently Asked Questions: Questions You Have About Inclusive Education But Didn’t Know Whom To Ask
Inclusion International is often asked what we mean by “inclusive education”. Here are the most common questions from our members together with our responses. The responses are based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and General Comment 4 issued by the UN CRPD committee, which outlines the implications of the CRPD for inclusive education. The CRPD Committee is the highest legal authority on interpreting the obligations of States which have ratified the Convention. Please let us know if you have questions to add to our list.
- What is inclusive education?
- What are the differences between exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion
- What are the key ingredients of an inclusive education system?
- What are some of the steps toward achieving inclusive education?
- What is the difference between an inclusive education system, an inclusive school and inclusive classroom/practices?
- What is meant by the “twin–track” approach to funding inclusive education?
- What is the difference between accessibility and reasonable accommodation?
- How can teachers provide equal opportunities for all students within their allocated classrooms?
- Is transforming special schools into resource centres a good strategy for moving towards an inclusive system?
- What is sometimes called “inclusive education” but is not?
- What are the benefits of inclusive education for students with disabilities?
- Is inclusive education good only for students with disabilities?
- Is inclusive education more expensive than segregation?
1. What is inclusive education?
UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children provides this description: “Inclusive education entails providing meaningful learning opportunities to all students within the regular school system. It allows children with and without disabilities to attend the same age-appropriate classes at the local school, with additional, individually tailored support as needed. It requires physical accommodation – ramps instead of stairs and doorways wide enough for wheelchair users, for example – as well as a new, child-centred curriculum that includes representations of the full spectrum of people found in society (not just persons with disabilities) and reflects the needs of all children. In an inclusive school, students are taught in small classes in which they collaborate and support one another rather than compete. Children with disabilities are not segregated in the classroom, at lunchtime or on the playground.”
2. What are the differences between exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion?
Exclusion occurs when students are denied access to education.
Exclusion happens when students with disabilities are not permitted to register to attend a school, or when they register but are told not to come to school or when there are conditions placed on their attendance. Sometimes, students are registered but told they will receive their education from a teacher who will visit them at home – so effectively they are still excluded from school.
Segregation occurs when students with disabilities are educated in separate environments (classes or schools) designed for students with impairments or with a particular impairment.
Segregation is most blatant when students with disabilities are forced to go to a school only for students with disabilities, but it also happens when students are educated in separate classes in a regular school. These are sometimes called resource classes.
Integration is placing persons with disabilities in existing mainstream education without changing the system of education delivery.
Integration involves placing a student with a disability in a regular class but without any individualised supports and with a teacher who is unwilling or unable to meet the learning, social, or disability support needs of the child. Many people mistakenly call this “inclusion” but unless the student receives the support needed, it is not.
Inclusion involves a transformation of the education system with changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures, strategies, and review mechanisms in place.
In an inclusive system teachers are trained in initial/preservice education and ongoing professional development to respond to different learning styles and present lessons in different ways so that all students can learn. Resources are available to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities, such as modified curricula and adapted materials.
3. What are the key ingredients of an inclusive education system?
- One ministry is responsible for all students of the same age and level of ‘ education (for example the ministry responsible for early childhood education of children without disabilities is responsible for early childhood education of children with disabilities; the ministry responsible for primary education of children without disabilities is responsible for educating children with disabilities, etc.);
- Students go to the same school they would have attended if they did not have a disability, are educated alongside their non-disabled peers and receive the supports they need to participate and learn;
- Teachers are trained and supported on how to individualize their teaching using different methods for different learning styles;
- School culture values diversity;
- Schools have access to the financial and human resources to support inclusion.
4. What are some of the stepts towards achieving inclusive education?
The steps toward implementation of inclusive education may be different depending on the specific country, and may also occur in a different order. Not all the steps below are necessary in all countries, but are some of the most commonly taken
a) Eliminate laws, policies, and/or practices which exclude children from school based on disability.
- This is sometimes called a “zero rejection policy”. That means that schools cannot deny access to students based on disability and there are clear consequences or accountabilities in place if they do so.
b) Ensure that one ministry is responsible for educating all students of the same age and level of education.
- In many countries, a social ministry rather than an education ministry is responsible for educating children with disabilities. This needs to change.
c) Re-allocate or re-distribute resources currently supporting segregation or integration to strengthen the mainstream system.
d) Train educators – teachers, school administrators, ministry officials – to respond to diversity.
This means adopting new teaching practices which foster cooperative learning and peer tutoring; recognizing different learning styles which call for differentiated instruction; fostering a respect for diversity and a culture of inclusion; and encouraging collaborative approaches between teachers.
e)Address teaching conditions so that teachers are well and reliably paid and are given time for professional development and planning.
e) Invest in inclusive early childhood education (ECCE) that is supported by a variety of professionals knowledgeable about early identification of children at risk of delay or disability.
f)Provide training to parents of children with disabilities.
g) Engage organizations of parents, persons with disabilities, and other allies in policy development and implementation.
5. What is the difference between an inclusive education system, an inclusive school and inclusive classroom/practices?
Examples of inclusive classrooms/practices exist almost everywhere in the world. Every time a teacher ensures all students in the class are participating equally in a given activity they are engaging in an inclusive practice.
Inclusive schools are those in which all teachers ensure that all of their students are participating equally, all of the time.
An inclusive education system is more than a collection of inclusive schools and practices. It is a long-term, national or regional commitment to upholding the rights of all students by ensuring that all school-aged children are in school and that the system responds to the strengths and needs of every child without discrimination. This means that schools welcome all children and respond to their individual needs, and administrators, teachers, and support staff receive the assistance they need to help every child succeed in school.
6. What is meant by the “twin–track” approach to funding inclusive education?
Often the term “twin-track” is misused to describe special education running parallel to the regular system. Operating a segregated program as an alternative to inclusion is NOT a twin-track approach. It is segregation.
Successful inclusion requires investment in transforming the existing education system PLUS investing in individualized supports. A true twin-track approach includes investment in building accessibility, teacher training and development, modifying curriculum, etc. (systemic) plus making resources available for personalized supports such as specialized computer program, materials, etc. (individual supports).
7. What is the difference between accessibility and reasonable accommodation?
Accessibility means ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to spaces, to information and to communications that are available to or provided to the public. Accessibility benefits groups of people and is based on a set of standards.
Accommodation means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, where needed in a particular case, to ensure that persons with disabilities can enjoy or exercise all their human rights.
The right to accessibility means that students have the right to attend schools available to others, without discrimination. “Reasonable accommodation” as defined in the CRPD means that schools have the resourcing to provide the individual supports a student may require in order to fully participate, without placing a disproportionate or undue burden on the school, and is complimentary to accessibility. Examples are a modified curriculum, additional assistance for the classroom teacher, additional time for taking tests, or moving a class from the second story to the ground floor for a student with a mobility impairment.
8. How can teachers provide equal opportunities for all students within their allocated classrooms?
Inclusive education teachers use principles of individualized instruction to address the strengths and needs of their students. All students need, at some point in their lives and to various extents, individualized support. This support can be a one-time accommodation, or an intensive and long-term intervention for the majority of the time. Inclusive education teachers aim to equalize the playing field and provide all students with equitable (not equal) learning opportunities.
9. Is transforming special schools into resource centres a good strategy for moving towards an inclusive system?
There is not a lot of research on the effectiveness of transforming special schools into resource centres which can provide support to inclusion. However, reports from our members warn that specialists who have worked in segregated settings may not have the skills to offer support for inclusion since their methods usually focus on particular impairments rather than on how to deliver inclusive practice to meet the needs of all students. Sometimes the use of special schools as resource centres is a way to reduce criticism of inclusion by special education teachers. If special schools are used as resource centres it is important that the commitment to inclusion is clear, that the teachers who have been teaching in the special schools are well trained in inclusive practices (transform their practices) and that the resource centre is not used as a place for teaching groups of students with disabilities but rather a ‘library’ of material and human resources that support regular education teachers’ work toward ensuring the participation of all children in the learning process.
10. What is sometimes called “inclusive education” but is not?
Placing students with disabilities in regular classes without supports in NOT inclusion.
Grouping students with disabilities in a resource room in a regular school is NOT inclusion.
Providing all of a child’s education at home is NOT inclusion.
Focusing on life skills instead of academic outcomes is NOT inclusion.
Guiding secondary students with disabilities into vocational/professional programs is NOT inclusion.
11. What are the benefits of inclusive education for students with disabilities?
Students with disabilities who have been included in school:
- Are healthier (as inclusion increases so does health);
- Perform better in highly inclusive settings;
- Are more likely to look forward to going to school;
- Are more likely to be included and participate in their communities after graduation;
- Are more likely to have employment and access to recreational activities.
Students with disabilities who have been in the least inclusive settings are more likely to perform worse than those in inclusive settings.
12. Is inclusive education good only for students with disabilities?
NO!! The UN CRPD Committee says “Inclusive education is central to achieving high-quality education for all learners, including those with disabilities, and for the development of inclusive, peaceful and fair societies.” Research evidence is clear that when teachers learn to teach students who learn in different ways and promote cooperation between students everyone benefits.
Inclusive education is a strategy to strengthen the education system, and ensures all children are able to live, learn, and play together. It provides all children with opportunities to learn and accept one another’s abilities, talents, personalities, and needs.
13. Is inclusive education more expensive than segregation?
Inclusive education is NOT more expensive. In fact, an inclusive system is economically effective and efficient because instead of taking resources out of the regular system to educate groups of students with particular needs, all of the resources stay in the system. The UN CRPD Committee asserts that “no country can afford a dual system of regular and segregated education delivery.”
In countries where most students with disabilities are currently in school, transferring the resources currently supporting segregation and moving those resources to support inclusion helps to strengthen the system for all students by creating a culture of inclusion and training teachers to better meet the needs of all students.
In countries where many young people with disabilities are not in school, more investment is needed in order to provide them with an education. But as of 2017, half of the world’s 93 million school-age children with disabilities are out of school. That means that new resources are needed in order to provide an education to the 32.5 million children with disabilities currently completely excluded from education.
 For more information see UNICEF Inclusive Education Booklet 1, at: http://www.ded4inclusion.com/inclusive-education-resources-free
 For a comprehensive matrix that users can use to self-evaluate inclusive education systems, please see the UNICEF (2015) Legislation and Policies for Inclusive Education Webinar 3 Companion Booklet, pages 10&11. The resource can be accessed online at: http://www.inclusive-education.org/basic-page/inclusive-education-booklets-and-webinars
 See http://www.inclusive-education.org/sites/default/files/uploads/booklets/IE_Webinar_Booklet_12.pdf for more information.
 Duhaime’s Law Dictionary defines undue burden as “an obligation which is not in proportion to the reciprocal cost or benefit.”