* It is about acknowledging that all children and youth can learn and that all children and youth need support. * It is accepting and respecting the fact that all learners are different in some way and have different learning needs which are equally valued and an ordinary part of our human experience. * It is about enabling education structures, systems and learning methodologies to meet the needs of all learners. * Acknowledging and respecting differences in learners, whether due to age, gender, ethnicity, language, class, and disability or HIV status. * It is broader than formal schooling and acknowledging that learning also occurs in the home and community, and within formal and informal modes and structures. * It is about changing attitudes, behaviour, teaching methodologies, curricula and the environment to meet the needs of all learners. * It is about maximising the participation of all learners in the culture and the curricula of educational institutions and uncovering and minimising barriers to learning. * It is about empowering learners by developing their individual strengths and enabling them to participate critically in the process of learning. * Inclusion is about recognising and respecting the differences among all learners and building on the similarities. * Inclusion is about supporting all learners, educators and the system as a whole so that the full range of learning needs can be met. The focus is on teaching and learning actors, with the emphasis on the development of good teaching strategies that will be of benefit to all learners. * Inclusion focuses on overcoming barriers in the system that prevent it from meeting the full range of learning needs. The focus is on the adaptation of and support systems available in the class- room.
It is clear that some learners may require more intensive and specialised forms of support to be able to develop to their full potential.
Building an Inclusive Education system in Preschool
A broad range of learning needs exists among the learner population at any point in time, and where these are not met, learners may fail to learn effectively or be excluded from the learning system. In this regard, different learning needs arise from a range of factors, including physical, mental, sensory, neurological and developmental impairments, psycho-social disturbances, and differences in intellectual ability, particular life experiences or socio-economic deprivation. Different learning needs may also arise because of:
* Negative attitudes to and stereotyping of differences.
* An inflexible curriculum.
* Inappropriate languages or language of learning and teaching. * Inappropriate communication.
* Inaccessible and unsafe built environments.
* Inappropriate and inadequate support services.
* Inadequate policies and legislation.
* The non-recognition and non-involvement of parents.
* Inadequately and inappropriately trained educators.
Studies indicate that inclusion prepares children with disabilities for the real world, results in higher developmental outcomes, develops improved communication and social skills, and promotes relationships with peers. Research also indicates that when implemented properly, inclusion does not inhibit the development of children who do not have disabilities, and that it helps them to be more accepting of diversity.
If a school suspects that a child in the program may have a disability, school personnel should discuss their concerns with the child’s parent(s) and inform them of the availability of special education services for children who are found eligible. If the parents share these concerns, the child should be referred for an individual evaluation.
There is a great deal to be gained from parents and teachers communicating and collaborating. Over the years, teachers and service providers change, while the family will remain a constant influence in the child’s life. Parents can identify strengths and needs of their child and family and provide insights into the child’s abilities in a variety of environments. Parents have worked with their child for years and have learned a great deal which can benefit the teacher. They know what tends to work for their child and what does not better than anyone else. They are a resource not to be ignored. Parents can make an important contribution to program decision making. They can also assist in developing policy, organizing social and fundraising events, and evaluating and reviewing program activities. Schools should invite them in, ask for their ideas, and give them opportunities to be involved. Not all will respond, but many will, and schools will have strengthened the program while demonstrating the flexibility and openness needed in inclusive education.
Family Partnerships: An inclusive preschool program must foster a collaborative relationship between teachers and family members to ensure high quality care for children and support parents as contributors to the program. It must: * Ensure ongoing two-way communication to establish trust and respect between the program and families while remembering that parents are, and should be, the principal influence on their children. * Facilitate a streamlined process for entry into and access to a coordinated delivery system. * Obtain express consent from parents, in a language accessible to them, for all services, assessments, and testing. * Educate parents and other family members regarding their choices and their right to access high quality programs. * Link with and integrate ongoing support and services beyond preschool services (e.g., occupational and physical therapy). * Link with existing parent-to-parent organizations.
* Ensure that family members have access to and knowledge of relevant laws and regulations in a language they understand. * Have the cultural and language capacity to take advantage of family members’ expertise and knowledge about their children.
Outreach: An inclusive preschool system or program must reach out affirmatively to families and children that have not yet been identified as having special needs, children already receiving services, and programs providing those services. It must not place the burden on families to seek out the program. It must: * reach out to children who are at increased risk for under-identification, including those in foster care, homeless families, migrant and otherwise mobile families, in a linguistically and culturally appropriate manner without labeling these children as having special needs based only on these factors. * Address a wide range of needs for both the child and the family members. * Be knowledgeable about and have connections to relevant service organizations. * Make inclusion principles and practices and children with special needs part of all community outreach and media reports.
Screening: An inclusive preschool program must screen every child who enrolls to identify and understand the child’s overall individual needs as well as to identify disabilities and other special needs. It must: * identify any social, emotional, and behavioural development issues as early as possible. * use high quality screening tools that have adequate sensitivity. * use an integrated screening system that involves preschool providers, parents, pediatricians, and other service and physical and mental health professionals and leads to appropriate next steps.
Assessment: An inclusive preschool system must ensure that children need not “fail” before receiving services. It must: * undertake early assessment and appropriate intervention for all children who may be at risk. * engage families in proactive assessment of their child’s progress with existing supports in the current setting. * use multiple high quality assessment tools and measures that have adequate specificity, validity, reliability, and are aligned with curriculum goals; have been standardized on diverse populations, and are developmentally, linguistically, and culturally appropriate. * include ongoing methods of informal assessments
* ensure that accommodations are made available for children during assessments
Curriculum and Classroom Practices: An inclusive preschool curriculum must be effective for all children. It must: * be developmentally, culturally, linguistically, and age appropriate. * be flexible in using accommodations and adaptations that will allow integration of children of varying abilities. * embed inclusive practices.
* promote individualized and differentiated instruction. * create a caring community in the classroom.
* embed social skills training.
Facilities and Environments: An inclusive preschool facility and surrounding environment whether newly constructed or undergoing renovation, must: * make meeting inclusion goals a priority in allocating funding for facilities development and renovation. * be accessible to children with varied disabilities and other special needs. * facilitate the inclusion and promotion of imaginative, interactive, dramatic social play between children of all abilities and developmental stages. * provide children with diverse opportunities to be creative, to learn, and to grow with structures and supports to encourage collaboration that is safe, fun and educational and based on best practices and current research. * be sensory rich, diverse, and developmentally appropriate for children of varied abilities and include a variety of textures and tactile materials. * incorporate best practices for accessible facilities in all stages of planning and implementation, inasmuch as making facilities truly accessible is much more difficult and expensive once classrooms and playgrounds are constructed.
Programmes for early childhood intervention (ECI), special education and inclusive education should be an essential part of all national early childhood systems. Every society has many vulnerable children with special needs. These needs may be due to poor birth outcomes, war, poverty, famine, insufficient nurturing care, an impoverished learning environment, poorly formed early relationships, disease, chronic ill health, biological or chemical contamination, child neglect, family genetics, domestic abuse, or disabled children. Such vulnerable children require intensive ECI services that provide individualised attention to meet their special needs.
The benefits of such an inclusive education system is:
Children with disabilities| 1. They are spared the effects of separate, segregated education – including the negative effects of labelling and negative attitudes fostered by lack of contact with them. 2. They are provided with competent models that allow them to learn new adaptive skills and/or learn when and how to use their existing skills through imitation. 3. They are provided with competent peers with whom to interact and thereby learn new social and/or communicative skills. 4. They are provided with realistic life experiences that prepare them to live in the community. 5. They are provided with opportunities to develop friendships with typically developing peers.| Children without disabilities| 1. They are provided with opportunities to learn more realistic and accurate views about individuals with disabilities. 2. They are provided with opportunities to develop positive attitudes toward others who are different from themselves. 3. They are provided with opportunities to learn altruistic behaviours and when and how to use such behaviours. 4. They are provided with models of individuals who successfully achieve despite challenges.| Communities| 1. They can conserve their early childhood resources by limiting the need for segregated, specialized programs. 2. They can conserve educational resources if children with disabilities who are mainstreamed at the preschool level continue in regular as compared to special education placements during the elementary school years.| Families of children with disabilities| 1. They are able to learn about typical development. 2. They may feel less isolated from the remainder of their communities. 3. They may develop relationships with families of typically developing children who can provide them with meaningful support.| Families of children without disabilities| 1. They may develop relationships with families who have children with disabilities and thereby make a contribution to them and their communities. 2. They will have opportunities to teach their children about individual differences and about accepting individuals who are different|