Inclusive Education: International Policy & Practice

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Ann Cheryl Armstrong, Derrick Armstrong & Ilektra Spandagou

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    About the Authors

    Dr Ann Cheryl Armstrong is Director, Division of Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Ann Cheryl has worked in inclusive education and professional development at an international level for 23 years and has extensive experience as a teacher, teacher educator, research manager, project manager and programme leader. She has worked in countries throughout the Caribbean, the UK, Australia and Asia. Before emigrating to Sydney in February 2005, she was employed with the University of Sheffield, UK, in the School of Education as Director of the Caribbean Distance Education Programme. Ann Cheryl has held senior positions in two national World Bank projects and has acquired extensive experience in networking with government and non-government agencies for the provision of educational and social services and training. She has presented at numerous national and international conferences and contributed on various committees and panels. At present she is on the University of Sydney Indigenous Education Advisory Committee as well as on the Sydney Region (Schools) Planning Group for Aboriginal Education and Training.

    Professor Derrick Armstrong was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Registrar in December 2008. His responsibilities at the University of Sydney include all aspects of the Student Experience: Learning and Teaching, Student Administration and Support, Indigenous Education, Student Recruitment and Social Inclusion. Prior to this he was Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. His research has focused on issues of social inclusion and exclusion in education and the ways in which disadvantage and ‘deviance’ are identified and managed by professionals, social agencies and institutions working with children and young people. Derrick is author, co-author and editor of eight books and more than a hundred journal articles, book chapters and international conference papers.

    Dr Ilektra Spandagou is a lecturer in inclusive education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She worked as a special teacher in inclusive settings before completing her PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK. She has been involved in pre-service and postgraduate teacher education and teacher training, retraining and specialization programmes in the area of inclusive and special education in Greece and Australia. Her research interests include inclusive education, disability studies and classroom diversity and pedagogy. Her work currently focuses on teacher education for inclusion and the role of teachers' attitudes.

    Preface

    Inclusive education has become fashionable. Like all fashions its origins lie in the haute couture imagination, and from there has spread out, first into mass production for the high street and, thereafter, rapidly into the world of cheap replicas and reproductions. The world of high fashion is a strange world of creativity and abstraction, a world of extreme self-confidence and banal triviality. Unwearable and unaffordable for most people, it nonetheless, through translation and adaptation, finds its way into wardrobes across the world, often without us knowing anything about the history of the garments we have bought: neither the fashion houses that have created them nor the sweatshops that produced them. What we do know is that clothes are functional and for many of us looking smart or chic or simply sharing a common identity with those with whom we want to belong is a way of giving individual or group expression to that functionality.

    Inclusive education has its origins in debates between academics and in the emerging politics of disability which questioned the construction of ‘normality’ through the everyday interactions of cultural, social, economic and institutional life. In the face of an increasingly monolithic special education sector that primarily served the needs of twentieth-century mass education by isolating and removing from the mainstream those children who disrupted the assembly line, the early developers and advocates of inclusive education challenged the fundamentals of modern education. The critiques that underpinned inclusive education were focused not on children with special educational needs but on the mainstream education system. It was argued that mainstream systems of education established ‘norms’ that served to reinforce conformity in the modern world. Systems for the demarcation and institutionalization of ‘failure’, ‘inadequacy’ and ‘disaffection’ are products of nineteenth and twentieth-century systems of mass production. The ‘inclusive’ critique of special education has essentially been a critique of education as mass production.

    The irony of the inclusive education critique is that it has been unable to build a socio-political base from which to challenge seriously the social interests that underpin modern systems of educational production, especially in the developed world. For this reason the analogy with fashion is correct. The success of haute couture depends upon translation into production, not upon a radical rethinking of the processes of production themselves. Indeed the sweatshops are its lifeblood. They feed the industry that makes haute couture not only possible but meaningful. In other words ideas operate within a context that makes their realization possible only within certain parameters. Ideas can challenge those parameters, and such challenges can contribute to change but they do not make change except on those rare occasions when they align with broader social upheavals. Thus, in the developed world at least, we have seen the haute couture of inclusion translated into the high street of policy and practice where they continue to keep the wheels of the existing system turning smoothly. At their crudest, they are copied in ways that dress up the existing systems of segregation and exclusion with the rhetoric of reform. At their best they disrupt and challenge everyday practices and suggest possibilities for new forms of social relations, new ways of understanding difference, new ways of valuing humanity. But fundamental change in the way in which education is organized and the purposes it serves has always been at the core of the inclusive education movement, and with respect to this we will argue that in the developed world the inclusive movement has been distorted, colonized and reinscribed by the traditional purpose of special education as a system for managing potential disruptions to the smooth flow of educational production.

    This may seem to be a pretty depressing picture. Not entirely so we will argue. But for the inclusive ambition to be recaptured it is necessary to reassert its critique of mainstream education. In this respect there are real possibilities, not least because in the developed world the purpose of education is being rethought in so many fora. Traditional forms of schooling are themselves questionable in terms of the more fluid, globally interactive world in which we live. Opportunities for learning are to be found well beyond the traditional classroom. Also the mass production of human skills is no longer relevant in the same way as it once was, or at the very least the nature of the skills, attributes and identities which are valued (and the social mechanisms through which such valuing takes place). Education has the potential to be transformed through the enhanced opportunities for interaction that now exist. The closed social systems of class, gender and ethnicity which have been reproduced and reinforced by educational policy and practice in the service of nineteenth and twentieth-century modes of industrial production are increasingly outdated and irrelevant in today's world. Yet in saying this we should not forget that for many millions of children in the world there are no accessible educational services at all, and the sharp contrast between universal but outdated systems in the richer parts of the world and the complete absence of education in the most impoverished parts of the world is just as striking and as horrifying as the extreme differences in wealth and poverty that characterize our human community.

    If we turn to the developing world we see an even more complex picture in relation to ideas of social inclusion and inclusive education. First, it needs to be recognized that the everyday experiences of people in the developing world are marked by the history of colonialism. The end of the colonial period towards the end of the twentieth century certainly did not eradicate the impact of that domination. In the post-colonial world those countries start from a position of economic disadvantage. They frequently lack the resources, the infrastructure and, as their educated children leave for highly paid jobs in the North, they so often also lack the skills base and leadership to challenge the new world order. Global power remains firmly in the hands of the former colonial powers. Even countries such as China, who clearly are driving forward on to the world stage through their economic revolution, have some way to go before they will match the advantages of the developed countries of the world.

    Education as a commodity for export is nothing new. Colonial education systems have largely been built upon models taken from the colonial powers, and little has changed in the post-colonial world. The yoke of colonialism has perhaps been replaced by the ‘aid’ dollar, but a yoke it so often remains. Debt, the distortion of national educational priorities and the imposition of neo-liberal educational fads, each have characterized educational development in the post-colonial era. The transfer of ideas from the North to the South has been commonplace. Sometimes this transfer is based upon an intellectual colonialism which sees innovation and reform grounded in the schools systems of the North translated into the schools of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Often this has been promoted by funding agencies in the North who use educational reform as a vehicle for driving broader social and economic reconstruction, in recent times in particular around the decentralization and marketization of education. At other times we see a more benevolent intervention from educators from the developed world, as is the case with the use of the Index for Inclusion developed in the UK by Mel Ainscow and Tony Booth and widely used as a tool for supporting whole-school change in both the developed and developing worlds. The latter may bring some improvements in educational practice but such approaches hardly challenge the balance of power in respect of education and its outcomes between the North and the South. More home-grown initiatives, such as that developed in inclusive education by local special educators together with the teachers union in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1990s, described in Chapter 9 of this book, suggest more empowering processes of change and could provide the political impetus from which interventions around the Index for Inclusion could have more scope to contribute towards system-level changes.

    The countries of the developing world have also been far more radical in their conceptualization of inclusive education than is generally found among the countries of the North. Operating through the agencies of the United Nations, educators from the South have led a movement to expand understanding of inclusion. They have, in particular, conceptualized inclusion in terms of the role of education in relation to poverty reduction, gender equality and social and economic development. There are many challenges facing these educators, not least that of confronting the continuing dependency on the North that these policy changes require if they are to have successful outcomes. Mass education systems in the South now produce workers in the developing world with the basic skills necessary to support cheap mass production for the North. But educational opportunity also creates new spaces for developing countries and, in particular, local educators' and teachers' organizations, to take ownership of the development agenda for their own countries.

    In this book we set out to challenge some of the directions that inclusive education has taken, both in policy and practice. Our critique examines inclusive education in the developed world and in the developing world. A lot of what has been written, and the great majority of the research in this area, has focused on the developed countries of the North. Our view is that one of the outcomes of globalization over the past 50 or so years is that education systems across the world are interconnected and that to fully understand the development of education and its relation to the broader society, international interconnectedness needs also to be understood. Yet this is not a relationship of equals. Power, both political and economic, is not distributed evenly across the world. Educational policy and practice in developing countries continue in many ways to be framed by the broader relations between countries in the geopolitical world. So often educational policy is ‘grown’ in the developed world and exported in due course to developing countries. But in each case the local context of policy and practice allows us to examine the particular pressures for change within national education systems and the tensions that they can give rise to both nationally and internationally.

    The Structure of the Book

    In Chapter 1 we explore key issues that are framing current debates worldwide about inclusive education and, in particular, we introduce a developing world perspective on the study of inclusive education, a perspective that has commonly been disregarded in much that is written on inclusive education.

    In Chapter 2 we step back from current developments to consider the history of special education out of which the movement for inclusive education has arisen. We argue that a form of inclusion in the sense of assimilation to a common identity (the identity of a workforce for mass production) characterized the education systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the developed world. However, in the transition from industrial to post-industrial systems of education in the North a new space for thinking about inclusive education systems has arisen. This reflects and emphasizes the uncertainty with regard to purpose and outcomes expected from education in the North. Yet the traditional drivers of educational production clearly operate to contain fundamental change and to re-create inclusive forms of education within more traditional modes of operation.

    Chapter 3 brings us to reflect on the current state of inclusive education. We consider different definitions of inclusion and discuss the slippery nature of this concept in an attempt to move from the rhetoric to a deeper understanding of problems to which inclusive education is seen as being the answer. In the end it might be argued that inclusive education means all things to all people, but we argue that it can equally mean nothing and that this dilemma reflects both differences of perspective and intent among advocates of inclusion as well as tensions within education systems in the developed world where uncertainty of purpose in social and economic terms is causing loss of policy focus.

    Education systems in the developing world face challenges around inclusion that for developed countries have largely been overcome many years ago, namely, basic access and participation. The United Nations policy of Education for All (EFA) has been a major focus for thinking in the South about inclusive education. With over 100 million children lacking basic access to education the scale of the challenge is immense, but in facing this challenge the developing world faces also the dual burden of support and control that emanates from the funding prescriptions of the North, from where much of the investment resource is controlled. Chapter 4 describes the history of the EFA movement, its challenges and constraints in promoting inclusion through education.

    Chapter 5 examines case studies of sponsored interventions by United Nations policy agencies and international funding agencies into educational development in countries of the South. Chapter 6 looks at the European Union. Here we have seen significant rhetoric around inclusion as the nations of Europe have sought greater integration, founded upon the idea of the importance of social cohesion. However, in the educational sphere not only does there continue to be considerable difference and even fragmentation between national education systems, but also the idea of a common European identity struggles to find meaning within the new Europe. Chapter 7 takes us to England for a detailed critique of the absorption of inclusive educational rhetoric into national policy for special education. In England, we argue, we have seen a classic case of the reconstruction of a special education system in the clothes of an inclusive rhetoric. This is not to deny that there have been major steps towards inclusive schooling in some areas but the broader framework within which educational policy sits is one that by its nature exclusively emphasizes outcomes that inhibit the development of a truly inclusive school practice.

    We now turn to the question ‘what future does inclusion have?’. We consider the ways in which policy has been translated into practice and how this has impacted upon the ways in which schooling is experienced for students and for teachers. In Chapter 8 we argue that the inclusive potential of an approach to education depends on whether it represents an orchestrated attempt to make schools more inclusive or whether it is primarily a way of managing students by minimizing disruption in regular classrooms. The question of how schools can become more inclusive cannot be seen in isolation from the question of whether the educational systems in which they are located are becoming more inclusive. Chapter 9 looks at the ways in which models of inclusive educational practice have been ‘exported’ to the South and discusses both the consequences of this for the development of local educational practice and the ways in which resistance to educational colonialism can transform practice within school systems in the South. In Chapter 10 we draw together the conclusions from our examination of the inclusive education phenomenon. In an epilogue we also take the opportunity to reflect on the themes of this book from the personal experience each of us as had in dealing with these issues over our careers in education.

    Throughout the book we set out to engage the reader by identifying key discussion questions for each chapter and providing opportunities to explore case studies and guided reflection on our topic. At the end of each chapter are suggestions for specific reading for those who wish to follow up these issues with more in-depth study.

    The term ‘disabled people’ is used in this book. ‘Disabled people’ is the preferred term for the social model of disability since it acknowledges that people are disabled by the environment, attitudes and stereotypes. We recognize that for readers in some countries the ‘person first’ concept is considered more appropriate but in making our choice of language, we hope that the book will contribute to this debate on the language of disability and inclusion.

    A Note on Authorship

    This book is the product of a collaborative process. Each of the authors took a lead in developing the major themes of the book across the three sections and responsibility for drafting particular chapters. However, this book reflects a collective understanding and common position built upon our work together over the past 10 years.

    Acknowledgements

    We wish to acknowledge the importance of the work of the University of Sheffield's Inclusive Education group, which brought us together, the support of the University of Sydney, which has allowed us to continue our collaboration, and the contribution to our thinking of our students from across the world.

    We also wish to acknowledge the support of our parents for making any of this possible: Beryl and O'Hanley, Doris and Peter, and Katerina and Yiannis.

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