Realising Inclusive Education Through Child-Friendly Schools - Part 1/2
The UNESCO Institute of Statistics calculated that in 2006 31% of primary school-aged children in South and West Asia not in school were expected never to enrol in school and another 64% had dropped out - with nine million drop-outs in India and Pakistan alone, half of the world’s total.
The 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report indicates that girls make up 58% of out-of-school children (primary school age) in both Central Asia and South and West Asia and that there remains one grade difference in the school life expectancy in favour of boys in South Asia.
The gap between the richest and the poorest 20% of the population in terms of number of years in education is 6.5 years in Pakistan, 6.9 in India, and 4.4 in Bangladesh. In the Philippines “education poverty” rates among the poor are four times the national average.
In rural Pakistan, a recent survey found that only two-thirds of third grade students could subtract single-digit numbers. In rural India, just 28% of grade 3 students could subtract two-digit numbers and only a third could tell the time.
Cohort tracking in Pakistan, for example, indicates that for every 100 children of the official school entry age, only 43 will finish the last grade.
In terms of literacy, 60% of the illiterates in South and West Asia are women. Over half of the world’s total illiterates are found in just four countries of the region: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia. And the gaps are huge - in India, from almost 0% illiterate in Mizoram to 50% in Rajasthan; in Pakistan, with rural illiteracy rates twice that of urban rates; in Bangladesh, with the literacy rate for the richest 76% and for the poorest, 28%. The gap between speakers of the national (and therefore usually tested language) and those with different mother-tongues is especially large.
The 2010 Global Monitoring Report suggests that evidence from household surveys shows that official data may understate the number of out-of-school children by up to 30%!
I. Inclusive education - what is it?
“Inclusion is...seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity in the needs of all children, youth, and adults through increasing participation in learning, cultures, and communities, and reducing and eliminating exclusion within and from education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures, and strategies, with a common vision that covers all children of the appropriate age range and a conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children.”
Few issues in education have as many varied meanings as “inclusive education”; the range in definitions reflects, among other things, historical trends, educational philosophies, and development agency agendas. The original focus of inclusive education was on education for “special needs” - the needs of learners with disabilities. This focus, promoted particularly by a variety of disability interest groups concerned with specific impairments (of sight, hearing, mobility, emotional and cognitive functioning) and supported by a number of development agencies and international non-government organisations (INGOs), tried to ensure that the needs of such learners were recognised and responded to by the education system.
These needs, however, were usually neglected by “regular” schools of the official education system. Learners with special needs were considered too difficult to manage and too costly to support - and often parents of “normal” learners (and their teachers) did not want them disrupting the classroom. Such neglect usually led, where feasible, to the establishment of special institutions, often one set for each impairment. Many of these, in fact, were managed by ministries of health or social welfare rather than education (which led, in some countries, to the exclusion of these learners from official education statistics - both the numerator and denominator of the NER), were poorly funded and inadequately staffed, and had only weak links to the formal education system and curriculum.
Increasingly, however, the terms “mainstreaming” and “integration” became important mantras in the rhetoric about special needs. These approaches allowed children with disabilities into regular schools, sometimes with special assistance and/or separate classrooms for some subjects. These approaches became popular as a means to lower the perceived stigma, isolation, and expense of special institutions. But they also often led to children with disabilities being physically included in a classroom but pedagogically excluded from the learning which occurred within it; the children had to adapt to the school’s environment, curriculum, methods, values, and rules, or they failed.
But being in class is one thing and learning is another. This situation led to the concept of disability-focused “inclusive education” - ensuring that the education system and school adapted themselves to the learners rather than the other way around. This became the term of preference in regard to the fulfilment of the special needs of learners with disabilities.
Over time, however, another “re-definition” occurred: a wider range of “special needs” was identified as obstacles to participation and to learning. It became clear to governments and development agencies alike that the expansion in the number of schools - and even the improvement of the quality of education they offered - was not going to attract a certain percentage of children who remained stubbornly out of the system - or entered it and quickly left. Gender, health and nutrition status, language, geographic location, culture, religion, economic status - all, in different contexts, were clearly barriers to the achievement of Education for All. Broadening the definition of inclusion beyond disabilities to cover all barriers to education was therefore seen as a way to profoundly transform education systems and learning environments, to get them to welcome and respond to difference and diversity, and to genuinely achieve Education for All.
Thus, an inclusive system or school is not one which responds, separately, to the needs of discrete categories of learners (girls with one programme, children with disabilities with another) but rather one which responds, through its curriculum, pedagogical strategies, physical facilities, and special services, to the diverse, specific, and unique characteristics of each learner, especially those at risk of marginalisation and underachievement. In reality, of course, this is also a good general definition for education of good quality.
In summary, an inclusive approach to education:
- insists on getting all children and youth into regular, public schools/mainstream systems or private systems of (at least) equal quality - and all illiterate adults into literacy programmes;
- is concerned with not only initial enrolment, regular participation, and grade promotion but also longer-term achievement through the quality of education provided; access to education of poor quality is not access;
- requires both an analysis of the causes or drivers of exclusion and the proactive searching for, and targeted support to, those excluded;
- implies the re-structuring of school cultures, policies, and practices to meet the diversity of students; and, above all,
- is not an outcome, ever perfectly achieved, but rather a process, always “in process”.
II. Who are the “excluded”?
There is more than one kind of exclusion and more than one category of the excluded. In general, excluded learners, from early childhood education programmes through the formal school system to tertiary, adult, and continuing education, include the following:
- those completely excluded from school. These are the children who have never enrolled in primary school, because, inter alia, of where they are (in slums, remote areas, or refugee camps with no schools), of how they live (in poverty with the costs of schooling too high), and of who they are (their caste, disability, sex, or ethnicity disqualifies them, or their family, religion, or culture rejects schooling - e.g., no education for girls).
- those once in school but then dropped out or were “pushed out”. These participated in school; they enrolled but then dropped out or, more often, were pushed out by the nature of the school itself - a language they could not understand, irrelevant curricula, difficulties in gaining initial literacy, increasing fees, etc.
- those enrolled in school but not learning. These potential learners sit in the classroom (and are counted as enrolled) but do not learn, because of their own individual or group characteristics (girls not called on by the teacher, children with disabilities who are ignored, learners who do not understand the language of the teacher), because teachers cannot adequately respond to their more individual learning needs, or because of the low quality of education provided.
More specifically, of course, there are large categories of learners excluded from education. These include:
- Girls and women. Traditionally disadvantaged in most systems of education around the world - and despite progress over the last two decades since Jomtien - girls and women remain an important excluded group. The 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report indicates that girls make up 58% of out-of-school children (primary school age) in both Central Asia and South and West Asia and that there remains one grade difference in the school life expectancy in favour of boys in South Asia. Rates of youth illiteracy also show gender disparities in South and West Asia (10%) and of adult illiteracy in the same region (22%) and in East Asia (5%). Girls in school are also often excluded from learning - less is expected of them by their teachers, questions are directed to them less often, and they are counselled towards less professional futures.
- The poor. The poor (especially those in what is usually called “extreme poverty”) are both rural and, following internal migration patterns, increasingly urban. They live on less than $1 a day (and there are almost 650 million of them in Asia and the Pacific), are landless and unemployed or work as day labourers and small vendors, and have little access to adequate social services. They also often belong to low social castes, adding to the weight of their exclusion. And they are often getting poorer. In 2000, the poverty rate among non-Kinh ethnic minority groups in Viet Nam was two and a half times higher than that of the majority Kin; by 2006, it was five times higher.
As a result, the children of the poor suffer. In the Philippines, for example, “education poverty” rates among the poor are four times the national average. And in India, the richest 20% attain over 11 years of schooling and the poorest 20%, four.
A special and increasingly significant category of the poor are those who live in slums. One-third of all urban dwellers in the world now live in slums, and the absolute poverty of many slum residents is complicated by their frequent lack of formal residence status and birth certificates for their children; the children, in this sense, are invisible to the education system.
- People living in rural and remote areas. A particularly difficult group to reach with social services of any kind are people living in rural and remote areas - small villages on mountain tops and in the deep jungle, people living on isolated islands, and nomadic desert tribes. Where schools exist, they are usually poorly resourced in terms of infrastructure, teachers, and learning materials - with predictable results. “In rural Pakistan, a recent survey found that only two-thirds of third grade students could subtract single-digit numbers. In rural India, just 28% of grade 3 students could subtract two-digit numbers and only a third could tell the time.”
- Ethnic and linguistic minorities. In the same study, 62.7% of school heads surveyed in the Philippines reported that the first language of all of their students was different from the language of instruction. This figure would not be unusual in a region with 3572 languages and only 50 official/national languages! The results are again not unexpected. Literacy rates between native speakers of the national language and those of other languages show great disparities. The great diversity of languages in many countries does present many educational problems, of course - the lack of orthographies, books and materials, teachers, etc. - but the underlying cultural and political issues surrounding language and ethnicity make these groups particularly difficult to “include”.
- People with disabilities. A commonly accepted figure is that there are approximately 150 million children with disabilities in the world; UNESCO estimated in 2006 that of the 77 million primary school-aged children out of school in the world, at least 25 million of them had a disability , and a UNICEF survey has shown that 26% of children 2-9 years old screened positive on at least one question related to disability in Mongolia, 21% in Bangladesh, and 15% in Thailand. But depending on the definition of, and criteria for, disability used, the percentage of a given population with some kind of disability (or multiple disabilities) varies widely from survey to survey - one problem being, of course, the invisibility of many people with disabilities from formal survey methods. Somewhat less problematic, however, are estimates of the percentage of children with disabilities who are in school - special or regular. The numbers are generally very low.
- Others. The categories of other excluded populations are almost endless - including people in prisons and orphans - but the most significant “other” excluded groups are child workers (13% of children aged 5-14 work in South Asia, 10% in Southeast/East Asia excluding China, and 45% in Cambodia ), street children, children of migrants and refugees, and children affected by natural disaster, conflict (14 million children aged 5-17 are displaced due to conflict ), and HIV and AIDS. The economic motivation for migration, the political causes of seeking refuge, and the incidence of natural and man-made disasters will likely only increase in the future. And the refusal of education systems, schools, and the communities which surround them to allow children infected with HIV or only affected, through their families, by the presence of AIDS does not go away.
There are two important issues in regard to these categories of exclusion. One is the problem of multiple exclusion. “Poverty, gender, ethnicity and other characteristics interact to create overlapping and self-reinforcing layers of disadvantage that limit opportunity and hamper social mobility.” A girl from a poor family, with a disability, from an ethnic minority, and living in a remote area will be much more difficult - and costly - to include in school than her opposite. Thus the need to get Ministers of Education to realise that their obligation to fulfil the right to education to both is equal.
A second important issue in any discussion of who is excluded is where the blame lies for such exclusion. Ask the average mid-level Ministry of Education official why children don’t enrol in - or drop out of - school and the first several answers will usually “blame the victim” - the children themselves (lazy, stupid, absent) or their parents (poor, ignorant, unaware of the value of education, using their children for house work or economic activities). Only when pushed, perhaps, will the official begin to consider how the system itself might be to blame - an irrelevant curriculum, a language the learners don’t understand, absent teachers, formal and informal school fees.
In summary, children are excluded from education - or exclude themselves - for many reasons. A study in Indonesia found these: “poverty combined with dysfunctional communities, dysfunctional families, and dysfunctional schools that threaten, abuse, and disable young people to the point where they decide that the most appropriate choice in all their complex circumstances is to leave school.” And the opportunities outside of education may seem better than those inside. Adopting a policy of inclusive education “requires a move away from explanations of educational failure that concentrate (only) on the characteristics of individual children and their families, towards an analysis of the barriers to participation and learning experiences by students with education systems.
To be continued in EENET Asia Newsletter 9.