Overview



Inclusion in the context of education refers to integrating children with diverse needs into mainstream schools. Children with disabilities experience barriers to learning due to the social, emotional, and academic problems they face. Therefore, inclusion is much more than the mere enrolment of children with special needs and mental health concerns in regular classrooms, and it acknowledges that a child’s academic potential cannot be developed separately from her/his social, emotional, and physical potential, as these are interdependent aspects of a child’s development.

With the intention of building awareness about the need to include children with disabilities in mainstream education, we have put together a document of inclusive practices (covering both the academic and social aspect of inclusion) at different levels within the system from schools across India.

Our aim is that this compilation will inspire and encourage various stakeholders working within the ambit of education to take back ideas to make their own school an inclusive and safe space for all children, but especially for children with disabilities who are the most vulnerable.

For ease of reference, we have shared the Executive Summary of our report below. The full document can be downloaded here.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY



The State of the Education Report for India 2019: Children with Disabilities (UNESCO,2019) states that nearly 8 million children of school-going age in India have disabilities. As we know, school years are critical years in a child’s development and the school environment plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s growth and outcomes. Yet, three-fourths of children with disabilities at the age of 5 years and one-fourth between 5-19 years do not go to any educational institution. The number of children enrolled in school drops significantly with each successive level of schooling. Children with disabilities are overrepresented in the population of children who are out of school and not in the education system.

Inclusive Education


Inclusive Education

Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of life at school.

Inclusive education is both a process and an outcome. The process involves creating school policy, building staff capacity and creating a culture that makes it possible for every student to learn. The outcome is students with disabilities being able to learn academically and enjoy social aspects of life at school.

In low- and middle-income countries like India, investing in inclusive education is an essential pathway to improving outcomes for children with disabilities. Research shows that most students, both with and without disabilities, learn and perform better when they are in an inclusive school.

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Ummeed Child Development Center


Ummeed, meaning ‘hope’, was founded in 2001 as a not-for-profit organization, with the vision of helping children with developmental disabilities reach their full potential and be included in society. Ummeed works directly with children and their families through therapy and one-to-one sessions and has expanded its work into areas of training, and advocacy.

The School Outreach Team (SOT) at Ummeed has been working to bring the critical issue of inclusive education from the relatively narrow disability rights space to the mainstream education space. The team works on spreading awareness, building sensitivity and resources to bridge the gap, and creating inclusive ideas and practices which are more accepting of diversity (more specifically for children with special needs) so as to create safe spaces for children to reach their maximum learning potential in both academic and social arenas.

The team has trained teachers and professionals from more than 350 schools across India through long-term engagements, sensitization and skill-building workshops and have worked in depth with around 20 education-related NGOs to influence and reach out to a larger number of stakeholders.

Purpose of the document


Ummeed’s intention of working on this document is to build awareness about the need to include children with disability in a large number of schools . We hope to encourage schools to proactively give admission to children with disabilities, make a beginning in addressing gaps in how they are included academically and socially, and improve the quality of education they receive.

Various inclusive practices observed by us in a range of schools (government schools, private schools and public private partnerships) across India have been included in this document. We hope that reading about the best practices in schools that are similar in context to their own will inspire all stakeholders including the school management, principal, teachers, policy makers, other educators, parents and students, to match it to their needs and implement such practices.

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Inclusive Education

METHODOLOGY


Our team visited around 20 inclusive schools from across India to gather information about their inclusive practices. Additionally, we included practices from 5 schools that we have been working with closely. Our approach was to gather as many concrete examples of practices as possible, thus making their access and implementation available to all stakeholders.

KEY FINDINGS


The Indian education system is fraught with systemic issues that make it challenging to practice inclusion. Yet we found many schools in India that have tried to create an inclusive culture and follow inclusive policies and practices. While there is no one ‘perfect school’, we have described a range of practices in the schools we observed, that speak of the strengths of these schools. We understand that this is by no means a complete list, and hope that this will be a living document, with additions over time.


Inclusive practices in this document have been divided into four broad domains

Each domain includes relevant practices with examples from schools which can be used by specific stakeholders.


Leadership and Policy

School leadership and management are central and instrumental in bringing in a systemic change to the attitudes and practices of different stakeholders in the school system. School leaders need to be engaged and involved to both initiate as well as sustain any changes. Three key changes for inclusion implemented by school leaders include:

  1. The creation of an ‘Inclusion Committee’ that has ownership and accountability for inclusion in the school. The committee comprises board representatives, teachers and student and parent representatives. Ongoing discussion, implementation and monitoring of inclusive practices has led to a continuous commitment towards making the school an inclusive space.

  2. Many schools have clearly articulated admission policies which focus on the fact that there will be no screening tests or interviews for the admission of a child. Admissions are made by zip code or by lottery. This is an important step towards making the school more inclusive.

  3. Recruitment of specialised staff like special educators, counsellors and occupational therapists to support children with disabilities is an important step towards making the school an inclusive space.

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INCLUSIVE SCHOOL CULTURE

When inclusive practices and policies are adopted and reinforced at every level and in every aspect of being in a school (whether it’s inside the classroom or outside it), it can lead to a shift in behaviour and habits which will ultimately help nurture truly inclusive communities.


  1. Schools that aspire to be inclusive start with the ‘Vision’ for their school which articulates that the school’s focus and core value is inclusion. This helps to create short-term goals, programs and more values around inclusion.

  2. Many inclusive schools have created inclusive spaces not just for students but for teachers and support staff as well. If inclusion has to become an integral part of the classroom, then it has to first be an integral part of the entire school and at the level of each stakeholder. We found multiple examples at each of these levels that encourage inclusion as part of school culture.

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MULTI-TIERED SUPPORT

Schools provided academic as well as social support to students at every level – school, classroom and individual – to ensure that every level of the students’ functioning is aligned to the bigger goal of being inclusive.


  1. Academically at the school level, designing a curriculum which is inclusive in nature has been a priority for many schools. Music, sports, art, dance are not considered as extra-curricular subjects but as much a part of the main curriculum as any other subject which is considered mainstream. The purpose has been to provide opportunities to children to experience success and practice leadership in different areas, amongst their peers.

  2. At the classroom level, many schools have opted for planning the lessons jointly with special educators, for students who need additional support. Moreover, creation of differentiated lesson plans and assessments to meet the diverse needs of learners has been a priority.

  3. Creating spaces for students to work in smaller groups to encourage peer learning and peer support has been the highlight both at the academic and social level for many schools who want to encourage and promote inclusion. Students with diverse needs get opportunities to take on different responsibilities as well as learn from their peers (which has been found to be an effective way to learn for both students with and without disabilities).

  4. Schools have been conducting demystification sessions about disability to sensitize students by making them more aware and supportive of differences amongst each other.

  5. Circle time has been successful for a lot of inclusive schools. It creates a safe space for children to be themselves, to express their feelings and share their thoughts. A range of educators have shared their observations that circle time develops mutual respect as well as social and emotional skills in students with diverse needs.

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FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Schools understand the value of involving and sharing responsibility with families and communities to sustain inclusion within and outside schools. Many schools have collaborated with families to create an environment of inclusion for students.


  1. Some schools have created platforms like spending a day at school for families to understand and engage in the process of inclusive education within the school. These opportunities give them a chance to observe, share their thoughts, and get a better understanding of the school’s philosophy and culture. It helps families understand how they and their child are a part of this system.

  2. Some schools have formed support groups for the families of students with disabilities. This offers a safe space for these families. Often they invite families of students without disabilities to this group which creates a sense of community and belonging.

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Conclusion


We hope that different stakeholders in mainstream schools will be able to identify, contextualize and implement some inclusive practices from this document, to make their own school and classroom a safe space and more inclusive for all children, but especially for children with disabilities who are the most vulnerable.

This document is meant to be the starting point of a process which can lead to positive systemic change in the long run. In the short term, we hope that by instituting and adopting some of these practices many students with disabilities and their families (and their educators) will gain a sense of confidence, and feel empowered to make a change in their educational experience.

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