Every child irrespective of the financial status, gender or religion has the right to quality education to grow, learn and realise his/her dreams and aspirations. Inclusive education not only provides a better quality of education for all children but also helps in addressing the existing discriminatory attitudes. The diverse and unique contributions each student brings into the classroom amplifies the overall experience of inclusive education. Social inclusion involves feeling accepted within your local community and being able to contribute to society in a meaningful way, through participation in mainstream activities and exercising basic rights.
The role of education in terms of reducing the risk of poverty and social vulnerability is invaluable. Education serves as the key to achieving social inclusion and breaking out of the poverty circle. We all know that ’change’ is the only constant. Much like everything around us, our society too is evolving at a rapid pace. In order to make this world a better place to reside in, it is important to ensure social acceptance and inclusion.
Inclusive Education as a key step towards ending learning poverty
Socially inclusive schools enable access to education for those children who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion. Schools serve as the stepping stone for a child’s first relationship with the world outside his family, enabling the development of social relationships and interactions. In a truly inclusive atmosphere, every child feels safe and has a sense of belonging. Respect and understanding grow when students from diverse backgrounds socialize and learn together. The concept of inclusion in education does not confine merely to classroom walls or school campuses but it brings about changes in the attitude of children and adults towards their life in general, helping them evolve into better versions of themselves. One learns to accept the strengths and weaknesses of others and get along with each other. This ability to adjust and adapt is a valuable trait needed in every individual so that they develop excellent interpersonal skills and live in harmony. An inclusive education enables development of concepts like civic participation, employment, and community life which are quite significant to co-exist in a society.
Inclusive education helps children to understand their rights, and encourages their participation in nation building. Giving them the opportunity to be a part of mainstream education with other children will make them realise that they are valued members of society and instil in them a sense of belonging. Moreover, inclusive education in schools helps them to participate more actively in general community building activities throughout their lives and will also promote social acceptance.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 mandates free and compulsory elementary education to all children. This act provides a legal framework that entitles all children between the ages of 6-14 years free and compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education.The primary challenge that schools and educational institutions face is to identify best practices that not only preserve and maintain dignity and self-worth but also value diversity. This may require schools to adapt and change attitudes, values and language if social inclusion is to be achieved.
Some ways in which an educational institution can facilitate social inclusion:
- Using inclusive language- This is an essential element to create an atmosphere of respect. Use language that is appropriate and culturally responsive.
- Highlighting individual student’s strengths and interests- Celebrate each student. Encourage each student to showcase his/her strength and interests and demonstrate his expertise through various co-curricular activities.
- Find a common ground- Class games and activities have often proven important in bringing students together. These activities give students a chance to realise and bond in a fun and informal manner in areas of common interest.
- Offer structured recreational activities- Unstructured recess time can be very difficult for some students. It can be lonely, awkward, or even chaotic. Therefore, organise structured recreational activities that include all students and give them a sense of belonging.
Making education inclusive is not always easy and requires substantial resources and reforms like training teachers, school leaders and staff, improving infrastructure, learning materials and revising curriculum. In order to make this world an inclusive, positive and safe place to live for future generations, we must now lay the foundation by promoting socially inclusive education for all.