Worlds of Education

Credits: World Bank Photo Collection
Credits: World Bank Photo Collection

"Inclusion, school integration and the question of differences", by Professor Néstor Carasa

published 3 December 2017 updated 15 March 2018
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Inclusion and school integration are two concepts that have been conflated — whether deliberately or not — and assigned various directionalities and meanings at every given historical moment based on the current political context. Examining these meanings is crucial to going beyond mere discussions of political correctness to instead develop experiences that ensure inclusion and school integration for students with disabilities. Everyone — disabled or not — has the right to an inclusive education; pedagogical projects aimed at ensuring school integration are an educational strategy needed by some disabled students to sustain their inclusion.

Our differences and how we use them — both in what we do and what we undo — affect people's lives and help to shape relationships, practices within the social sphere, educational experiences, and the organisational forms of schools. What we do, the decisions we make —as well as those we do not — define relationships, how positions of either equality or inequality are established, the democratic practices used by institutions and the educational experiences that enable every individual to construct and consolidate themselves as a subject of rights. We must discuss the ideas, meanings and practices that draw our attention and define the relationships necessary to advance inclusive education. We need to consider representations, and we must break away from educational, pedagogical and institutional practices of the past; these steps are absolutely necessary to constructing a school open to everyone that promotes accepting our differences, equality and rights, in which every student can find their place.

We have to question the understanding of inclusion as simply meaning “to be inside”. In the current political climate, in which euphemisms are often employed in an attempt to mask reality, we might also consider whether the link between inclusion and exclusion is perhaps a substitute for the idea of the oppressor versus the oppressed; in this sense, the top/bottom dichotomy is replaced by one of inside/outside.

Being inside a school is not enough; you can be in a school without learning anything. The problem is this: how do we move from this concept of being inside something to “making up or being a part of” education and learning.

To further this analysis, I propose we rethink the following questions:

What role do our Differences play?

In order to adequately understand all of the meanings and connotations involved, we must suspend, inexorably debate and break away from the two historical principles that marked the birth and development of education and that still exist today: homogenisation and normalisation.

What exactly is the concept of educational equality underpinning these educational practices?

We must challenge our former understanding of the aforementioned principles, which is that “equality means that everyone learns the same thing” and make way for a different idea that recognises differences: “equality means that no one learns less than they are capable of learning”.

What does “ Subject of Rights mean?

If Equality guarantees everyone the right to Speech (among others), naturally we must ask ourselves: “What role should the voices of students play when it comes to making decisions regarding their education and schooling?”

How can schools best be organised?

We must decide: to what extent do the organisational forms of schools promote differences, equal relations and the exercise of rights? It is time we choose which historical legacies to dismantle.

What of the material conditions of teaching?

Finally, we must bring our attention to the material conditions that constitute teaching: workload, number of students, physical area, collective working time, quality and relevance of teacher training, teaching resources, technological resources, etc. It would be naive to assume that everything that occurs or ceases to occur within schools depends only on decisions actors make of their own volition, and on the effort they put into their work. Without disregarding the importance of will -key to any activity-, working conditions, resources, and workplace organisation are fundamental aspects behind the development of teaching and learning methods. Governments have an express obligation to protect and guarantee these conditions.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.