A recent article written by Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth the Director at Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies, Amritsar, India and published in the Eurasia Review (February 16th), raises a number of interesting issues related to the challenges of implementing the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). Whilst several of the points made in the article have received a fairly wide-spread airing in the media, a particular focus within Dr Singh Kainth’s piece has of yet received a great deal of attention within an Indian context.
Dr Singh Kainth discusses what he describes as two different dimensions of education, those of inclusivity and quality and proceeds to discuss some elements of the relationship between the two. Sadly, much of his article is focused upon other, well-rehearsed discussions about resourcing and teacher training, leaving only limited space to consider a potentially more interesting series of issues. It was Dr Singh Kainth’s assertion that:-
“it is important to understand the difference between quality education as well as (sic) inclusive education”.
that grasped my attention in this particular article. I was already familiar with some of his work published in academic journals and know that Dr Singh Kainth has demonstrated a commitment to investigating the implementation of inclusive practices in schools. I was therefore somewhat surprised to see the terms “quality education” and “inclusive education” separated in this manner.
The reasons for a slight rising of my eyebrows on this matter, relate to a concern that I have long felt that there are still significant numbers of teachers and education administrators who seem to believe that the creation of a school that is inclusive will result in a lessening of the quality of education provided. This, despite the fact that well managed inclusive schools achieve consistently good outcomes, both academic and social, and are able to demonstrate benefits for children of all needs and abilities. However, I am aware that many teachers and parents remain to be convinced by this argument, despite empirical evidence that shows the positive impact of more inclusive approaches to schooling.
When I listen to, and work with teachers in schools that have succeeded in creating an environment conducive to the learning of a diverse school population, there are a number of interesting points that they consistently make. Not least amongst these is the fact that having to address a broader range of learning needs in their students, has made them better teachers. In inclusive classrooms teachers have to think about the needs of their students on several levels, they adjust their teaching accordingly and ensure that lessons are well differentiated, based upon innovative assessment that informs teaching, and find range of means to afford access to learners. One of the most interesting observations that I often hear from such teachers is that in planning for children who are having difficulties with learning, they often devise approaches that they find benefits those students who do not experience such problems. One young teacher recently told me about how she spent quite a lot of time preparing work for a boy in her class who was struggling with long division in her maths lessons. As she was doing this she thought it was a lot of effort to make for one child. However, when she used the materials with him, she found that several other children were interested and wanted to use these resources. Their own performance improved and she realised that the ways in which she had thought about this lesson impacted upon more than the one boy for whom she had prepared the materials.
In the same school another teacher explained to me how she enjoys having the opportunity to encourage her most able learners to work with those who are struggling. Her reasoning was that the able pupils have to think differently about the work when they are explaining it to others, and that it makes them more reflective about their own learning. She also observed that their own understanding increases and they achieve more as learners.
Much is written about the social benefits of inclusion, but concerns are still voiced about the potential lowering of standards and dilution of quality in schools. The teachers with whom I have opportunities to work, and who are most thoughtful and perceptive about teaching children of diverse needs, demonstrate that in addition to social achievements, academic attainment can also be raised in these schools.
Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is doing much to promote the development of inclusive schools in his region of India. I do hope that he continues to write on this subject and that he may find an outlet which provides a greater opportunity to discuss the relationship between inclusion and quality, and to provide us with examples from an Indian context.