Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland
about the conference
Richard Rose, Centre for Special Needs Education and Research, University College Northampton, UK (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jayashree Amarnath, Special Educator at Brindavan Special Education
Special Education Counsellor at St. Pauls English School, Bangalore, India.
Suchitra Narayan, Srishti College of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore, India
Bela Raja, Independent Special Educational Needs Consultant, Mumbai, India.
The promotion of inclusive schooling can be seen to be high on the agenda of many countries (Sharma 1998, Ballard 1999, Lomofsky and Lazarus 2001, Ahuja 2002, Vislie 2003). It may therefore be assumed that a sharing of the collective experiences and ideas of education professionals working across these countries could be helpful in informing further development. However, as with all comparative programmes in which a common theme is addressed across differing cultures, there is a need to exercise some caution. It is clear that whilst some countries have been pursuing policies to promote increased inclusion for many years, others are only just beginning to consider how inclusion may impact upon their existing education systems. Furthermore, the interpretation of the term ‘inclusion’ is fraught with linguistic and cultural difficulties, which need to be acknowledged by anyone conducting research in this area (Florian 1998, Singal and Rouse 2003). Interpretations of inclusion within the educational literature of different countries indicate that it is not possible to be assured of a common epistemology, which might have led to a shared concept of inclusive practice. Indeed the reconstruction of meaning with regards to the term inclusion is a largely hermeneutic process. Researchers may legitimately use the term inclusion to describe some common features of educational practice, which aims to increase participation by learners who have previously been marginalised. In many instances this may be an important starting point for addressing inadequacies and inequity within current educational policy and practice. However, to begin on such a pathway without taking account of the socio-political, economic, historical and cultural influences, which have pervaded an educational system, is unacceptable for researchers who are concerned to provide an accurate representation of development (Crossley and Watson 2004). Those who choose to make direct comparisons of educational policy or practices across countries must exercise a responsibility to avoid generalisation and should further endeavour to bring attention to local factors and variables, which have influenced the current state of development within those countries. It is, indeed unfortunate, that in some instances judgements regarding the progress made by countries towards increased inclusion have been based upon established models which have been perceived as successful for the most part in Europe or the United States of America. An imposition of such standards by which to measure inclusive practice may be perceived as a form of cultural imperialism, which is sometimes imposed by academics, and researchers who should know better.
In order to legitimise the study of inclusive schooling within an international context we would argue for the establishment of close working partnerships between colleagues who are directly involved in the educational processes of these countries. In addition to ensuring that first hand information is provided, this also allows for clarification of detail and the establishment of common definitions and understanding. The promotion of debate between educators whose experiences are shaped by differing cultural and socio-political factors may provide new understanding and ensure that whilst a critical approach to analysing systems is maintained this is afforded the accuracy of interpretation which enables sound conclusions to be gained. There are undoubtedly opportunities to learn from different experiences related to similar issues, such as the means through which marginalised learners may gain effective access to learning. In the case of investigations into inclusion there are common issues of human rights and equality of opportunity, which can provide the foundations upon which a comparative study may begin. These are global issues, which nevertheless need to be discussed in respect of the context of the countries within the study. A greater challenge begins when considering the efficacy of inclusion or those approaches used to encourage inclusive practice. The perameters whereby terms such as efficacy and effectiveness can be applied need to be carefully defined and consistently applied.
Efficacy is inevitably related to desired outcomes. We can only begin to measure the effectiveness of inclusive schooling when we are clear about its intentions and have an understanding of those factors, which may support its achievement. These desirable outcomes may, of course, differ according to context. In the study reported in this paper it is important to realise that whilst the UK education system has largely been driven by targets associated with academic outcomes pre-determined through structures such as a national curriculum and expectations in respect of age-related performance levels reported after regular assessment, this equates only in the loosest terms to the education system provided for the majority of students in Indian schools. Similarly, whilst there is a growing body of literature related to pedagogical practices or the management structures adopted in schools in order to support inclusion in a UK and European context (Scruggs, and Mastopieri 1996, Avissar 2003, Rose 2003), the transferability of identified successful practices from one location to another remains an area in need of further research. It cannot be assumed that those approaches, which have seemingly proven effective within one education system, can be transported to another with similar results. However, an understanding of practices from one situation can provide a valid starting point for inquiry and may lead to fruitful discussion about what is known about the conditions which may be supportive of increased inclusion.
The research reported in this paper took the issue of transferability as a starting point for an enquiry into inclusion in UK and Indian contexts. A central focus for the researchers was to attain a shared understanding of the nature of inclusive education for students with special educational needs and to conduct an inquiry into what each participant could learn about approaches to inclusion in the two countries. Whilst much has been written about the development of practices to support inclusive schooling in the UK, there is, as yet, a more limited literature available from India. Indian researchers such as Mishra (1999) and Pandit (2003) have emphasised the importance of contextualising educational research in a way, which takes account of the political, philosophical, social and economic climate of the country. If this is to be achieved there must be a recognition that simplistic approaches to extracting models or theories from one country and implementing them in another is likely to have either a limited or a negative impact. In conducting research, which was wholly based upon the available literature, the researchers identified a central question - what may be applicable in an Indian context in relation to that, which is known about practices which support inclusion in the UK? Such a question pre-supposes that it may be possible, with adaptation, to transfer some of the ideas and approaches into the Indian education system. However, the researchers, intent on avoiding simplistic assumptions, were determined to engage in a discourse of the approaches under review and to reach conclusions only when these had been critiqued in direct relation to an Indian context. A second element of the research was to review literature about inclusion from India in order to both clarify the complexities of introducing educational change into a diverse society, and to ascertain what educators in the UK might learn from an Indian perspective of special education.
A team of researchers who had a broad understanding of special education provision in both the UK and India was established. This comprised one researcher from the UK and three from different locations in India all of whom had previously worked together and had engaged in discussions about inclusion over a period of four years. The research was conducted over a period of approximately eighteen months and throughout this time the research partners maintained communication through e-mail. Various meetings between individual members of the research team took place in both India and the UK during the course of the project. This allowed for a more intense dialogue around the issues identified and encouraged greater contextual understanding.
The difficulties, as well as the benefits, of collaborative research have been well documented (Grimmett and Dockendorf 1999, Stronach and McNamara 2002) and many of these applied to this project. Working at a distance meant that communication was often subject to individual interpretation which might (and at times did) detract from original meaning. The variety of experiences brought to the project by various members of the team may be seen as a distinct advantage, and were indeed important in terms of gaining a clearer understanding of the contexts being investigated. However, the need to be assured that these experiences were having a positive impact upon a collective understanding of issues was not always easily achieved. The various clues in terms of tone of voice, body language and assertion which characterise face to face conversation and aid both interpretation and reaction are inevitably absent when working in this way. Occasional face-to-face meetings were important in enabling more detailed discussions to be held, these often overcoming difficulties of perception or interpretation and providing opportunities for clarification of both methods and purpose. Such meetings also played an important role in the maintenance of motivation, which is more difficult when partners are working at a distance and often feel isolated.
Data was collected through an analysis of research papers, which had been subject to peer review and published in UK and Indian education journals. It was decided to restrict the investigation to papers from the UK rather than including those from other European countries or the USA in order to eliminate the obvious variables of dealing with too many differing education systems. Davies (2004) has emphasised that a systematic review of literature is dependent upon the avoidance of selectivity and opportunism and is dependent upon a thorough search for all of the available literature. In the project here described, an effort to ensure that work was systematic was achieved through two specific processes. Firstly, the field of research was narrowed through a focus upon one aspect of inclusive schooling, that concerned with the classroom conditions which had been reported as aiding inclusive practice. Secondly through the use of a series of databases and educational research engines which identified relevant papers through a series of key words. Whilst it is not possible to say that all of the literature related to classroom practice and inclusion in the UK was reviewed, it is legitimate to say that the approach to gathering papers was conducted through a systematic approach.
Papers from the UK were distributed to each of the project partners in India. Each partner read the paper and considered the relevance of the findings to the Indian school context. An analysis grid was used to enter information in order that this could be shared with all members of the research team. At the same time, papers pertaining to the development of inclusion in India were sent to the team member resident in the UK. These were read and annotated and used to inform judgements about what could be learned about wider connotations of inclusion to the benefit of colleagues in the UK, as well as providing useful background information. It is, of course, important to remember that research published within UK journals is generally intended for a UK readership. It is therefore to be expected that reported findings, whilst directly applicable within a UK context may need considerable adaptation before their introduction elsewhere becomes viable. There are also inevitable difficulties of interpretation of information from papers, which relate specifically to national procedures such as the national curriculum in the UK or Community Based Rehabilitation programmes (CBR) in India. However, with inclusion being perceived as an international issue it is to be expected that researchers, teachers and policy makers will turn their attention to research from those countries who claim to have been addressing the issue for some time. Indeed, any close perusal of the literature on the development of inclusion in Europe inevitably reveals influences from the USA. This is potentially a valuable opportunity for the sharing of information but is dependent upon interpretation which takes full account of local context – a factor which, we would suggest, has not always been heeded when attempts have been made to introduce inclusive practices from some of the wealthier nations of the world into those where resourcing is less favourable. Indeed, attempts to superimpose approaches from one country upon the established structures of another without due attention being given to the cultural, socio-economic and political climate of the recipient is likely to hinder rather than accelerate progress towards the intended outcomes (Said 1994).
The limitations of this methodology are clear. The researchers were attempting to complete a process of evaluation in order to ascertain approaches to including pupils with special educational needs, which might prove beneficial in an Indian context. This may be interpreted as an evaluative process linked to innovation designed to improve educational provision for a specific group of pupils (Bennett 2003). Stake (1986) in a critique of educational evaluation suggests that ‘case particular-generalisation’ requires particular care on the part of the researcher to ensure that they undertake a descriptive process, which enables them to fully understand the contexts under consideration. In respect of the research reported here, the researchers are conscious not only of the considerable differences which exist between the education systems in the UK and India, but also of the diversity of responses to education which are to be found across India. It is therefore of particular importance to recognise that the work reported in this paper cannot be generalised beyond the experiences of the individual researchers involved in the project. However, the researchers maintains that the value of a study of this nature comes from a greater understanding of how the findings from published research in one area might influence the practices of individuals working in another. This is achieved by encouraging the researchers in India to base their interpretation of the UK research upon their personal professional experience. This can only be achieved through working with researchers who are directly involved in teaching students in the classroom. This day to day contact enables them to consider the theoretical constructs put forward in research papers in relation to their own working practices, and to test ideas in a ‘real world’ situation. Whilst this, and the small scale of the study will inevitably limit the ability to generalise beyond the specific situations in which the researchers are working, it is possible to generate and test ideas which may lead to hypothesis generation and could then be investigated through more substantial research (Bassey 1995).
The conditions required to promote inclusive practice have been thoroughly discussed in the UK (Tilstone, Florian and Rose 1998, Hart and Travers 2003, Skidmore 2004). Much of the literature in this area has focused upon managerial approaches designed to create an inclusive ‘ethos’ and an accepting school community. Technocratic approaches such as that offered by the Index for Inclusion (Booth et al 2000) or the Inclusion Quality Mark (Coles and Hancock 2002) have concentrated their attention upon whole school efforts to produce the conditions conducive to inclusion. In the study reported here, the researchers were more concerned to examine classroom practice and the approaches adopted by individual teachers in order to foster greater inclusive practice.
Jayashree Iyanar (2000) emphasises the need to examine pedagogy and approaches to inclusion in an Indian context. She suggests that in some schools pupils are located in classrooms but do not play a full part in learning. Teachers lack the experience or expertise to provide an appropriate curriculum or teaching approaches, which will address the difficulties, which some pupils experience in learning. Her concerns are echoed by Myreddi and Narayan (1999) who believe that for the majority of teachers working in Indian schools, an inadequate approach to training in respect of special educational needs issues has inhibited progress towards inclusion. Research conducted by Jangira and Srinivasan (1991) indicated that a further obstacle towards inclusion resided in the differing attitudes, which they observed in professional groups in positions of influence in schools. Special educators, who had a direct responsibility for students with special educational needs were generally seen to have a positive attitude towards inclusion and believed that the majority of these pupils, with the correct support and teaching approaches could succeed in mainstream schools. This contrasted with the views of educational administrators and head teachers of mainstream schools who believed that a high level of inclusion could not be achieved and that segregated provision was more desirable. Singal (2004) takes up this issue of attitudes, suggesting that this is a critical factor in moving the inclusion agenda in India forward. However, she also recognises that whilst the development of positive attitudes is an essential first stage in the promotion of inclusion, translating this into the implementation of teaching approaches sympathetic to the needs of a more diverse group of learners remains as a critical challenge.
It is, of course, essential to recognise that in a country as diverse as India, there are considerable differences in the ways in which schools are managed according to their location and economic situation. In ancient India, which had a very well developed education system, each child was placed in a particular level or kind of schooling depending on his or her ability. Today, in many small towns and villages, due to lack of infrastructure, funds, or simply a shortage of teachers many of whom are reluctant to go into villages to teach, classrooms where pupils have a vast range of needs and abilities are the norm. Differences in abilities are more readily accepted here and the onus is on participating in the learning process rather than merely achieving high academic excellence. The schools in the big towns and cities have a different story to tell. Ranging from crowded and cramped schools literally overflowing with children [often even 80-90 in a class], to huge sprawling ‘international’ schools with huge grounds and the best of infrastructure, the scenario is entirely different. Here, teachers have to deal with students of differing ability, with an overloaded curriculum, and more recently books or programmes directly borrowed from western countries without any kind of adaptation in content, language or structure to suit the Indian context. A further contradiction comes from the fact that most school managers expect all the students to perform at high levels of academic excellence. Many schools are not accessible in so many ways to those referred to as ‘normal’ children, and it is therefore common for those with special educational needs to be marginalised.
Inclusion literature from the UK and examined by the research team, which has attempted to examine classroom conditions and teaching approaches have identified a number of factors which writers tend to agree are commonly perceived as important. These emerge from several of the studies reviewed and will be considered here in respect of their significance and their applicability within an Indian context.
Many writers from the UK (Florian and Rouse 2001, Rose 2001, Roaf 2003) have identified the provision of classroom support as an important feature of inclusive classrooms. Indeed, the recognition of this factor in the UK has led to a significant increase in the provision of teaching assistants to a point where in primary schools it is becoming unusual to find classrooms where additional support is not provided for at least part of the week. These additional professional colleagues often spend a considerable amount of time working alongside pupils with special educational needs enabling them to access learning materials and assisting with the interpretation of information and keeping pupils on task. Many teachers report that without this additional support it would be impossible to maintain pupils with the most complex needs in mainstream classes (Groom and Rose 2005). The effective management of additional classroom support is not easily achieved, and recent scrutiny of this process would suggest that where poorly managed it could in fact have a deleterious effect upon inclusion through the creation of pupil dependency. Collaboration between teachers and teaching assistants is a key component in enabling successful inclusion to take place and to avoid the creation of over dependence on this support from the pupil (Fox, Farrell and Davis 2004).
In India the concept of effective classroom support with the objective of inclusive education in mind, is a welcome idea to most teachers who are left to deal with classrooms of children with a diverse range of abilities. In a situation where class sizes are large and expectations of academic performance are high, effective classroom support is a badly needed element in schools. Otherwise it could mean that a teacher is forced into neglecting the child with special educational needs. It may be perceived that if the teacher caters to the needs of a pupil with special educational needs, he would have to ignore or marginalise the remaining children, which would in effect make it a non-inclusive learning situation. In principle it should definitely be possible to provide sufficient support for the pupil with special educational needs through the application of well-differentiated teaching approaches. However, the reality of the situation is such that without additional help teachers are just as likely to lower their expectations of less able pupils and resort to containment as opposed to education. Many schools are currently giving additional attention to pupils, though they are often catering to the most able in order to gain positive academic outcomes. If it is possible to focus support in this way, with the will, it would be possible to provide a similar input for pupils who are challenged by learning.
In an Indian context effective classroom support would imply a radical review of how classroom roles are perceived. Initially one would have to examine the experiences and qualifications of those being used to provide classroom support. Though some schools are known to employ parents and other volunteers the benefit has not always been reported in the most positive of terms. At times, where the volunteer has insufficient education or understanding themselves there is a lot more confusion and difficulty created for the child. What may be needed is another teacher, [preferably a special educator] who is in a position of providing advice and support for less experienced colleagues. If not a special educator, it should be mandatory for the adult engaged in classroom support to undergo an intensive training programme in working in a classroom with pupils with special educational needs. Adults in this situation, particularly those working in classrooms with large numbers of pupils, would need to learn the most effective skills of working in a team. The class teacher would have to consciously make an effort not to leave the special needs children entirely to the classroom support. With smaller classes, the presence of a non-teaching member of staff who would help with management aspects in the classroom other than teaching would also be regarded by many teachers as helpful.
One way forward for some schools in India might be the establishment of a Resource Centre in the school, with a special educator who would oversee the entire process and work with the school towards inclusion. Indeed this approach has been attempted with some success in Indian schools (John, George and Mampilli (2004). This person could not only work with advance planning, and the development of teaching strategies but could also double up as classroom support, conduct in house orientation and training workshops for the staff and sensitise students to the expectations of the school. This role, similar to that played by the special educational needs co-ordinator in the UK would have benefits in increasing the awareness of all staff in respect of working with pupils with special educational needs.
Accepting the need for caution in ensuring that classroom support is provided by individuals who have a clear understanding of how best to work with specific pupils and small groups, one way to meet this requirement might be to tap the potential of parents. There are clear advantages in recruiting a parent as a teaching assistant not least because of the natural concern which they are likely to have for the well being of their child, whether this be an individual with special educational needs or not. In the case where the parent of a pupil with special educational needs is involved, they are acutely aware of various aspects of the child’s needs or behaviours and they can put this knowledge to use both in informing the teacher and supporting the pupil. There are also opportunities here for increasing the parent’s own understanding of school expectations and for encouraging reinforcement in the home. In some instances pupils may view a teaching assistant as a barrier between themselves and the teacher. This may impact the dynamics between the child and the rest of the class. However a parent’s support may be much more acceptable thus circumventing this problem. As well as providing advantages for the teacher and for the supported pupils in working with their own child, a parent may gain knowledge of different aspects of how their child learns and be better able to offer reinforcement at home.
Teaching support in an Indian classroom, just as in some UK situations can be rendered through the students themselves. Peer support has become a feature of many UK classrooms and has traditionally been so in India. Teaching support through a classmate for specific tasks can be particularly effective though care has to be taken to see that the assisting student does not get distracted or such assistance does not hamper his own work. This scenario could work very well in rural schools where teaching is done through vertical groups in which children of different ages are taught together.
All of this would, of course have major financial implications for schools the management of which would have to be convinced about the efficacy of such an approach. The resourcing obstacles faced by most Indian schools are such that the utilisation of parents and volunteers is more likely to be feasible than the introduction of additional paid colleagues. However there would be constant apprehensions as regards the extent of commitment and accountability and regularity of the parents/volunteers. There is a perceptible positive shift in the attitude and policies of some institutions with regard to getting the services of a qualified professional despite the financial implications. The number of people going in for training in special education is also showing some increase, especially those who have already got a teacher’s training or Montessori qualification.
Differentiated planning and learning, and structured teaching approaches
As more pupils with special educational needs have entered mainstream schools in the UK, so have teachers needed to become more adept at providing a wider range of learning opportunities within each lesson. Teachers cannot assume that all pupils in the class before them have similar learning needs or that they will respond to one style of teaching. A pupil with special educational needs, whilst participating in the same lesson may well have a need for a learning outcome which differs greatly from that of his peers. O’Brien and Guiney (2001) consider effective differentiation as being a critical factor in the encouragement of pupil learning and the development of autonomous individuals. Their views are echoed by other writers including Bell (2002) who using the example of teaching science, emphasises the necessity for teachers to recognise pupil individuality in respect of their preferred learning styles, and to plan work accordingly. Teachers in the UK have become increasingly adept at providing a range of teaching approaches and devising work at different levels to meet the needs of a diverse classroom population (Garner, Hinchcliffe and Sandow 2001, Exley 2003, Howley and Preece 2003). However, in India, whilst teachers are increasingly recognising the need to adopt such approaches, the large size of classes and in some cases the limited available resources makes effective differentiation difficult. Reducing the number of children to a level, where it is possible for the teacher to know each child’s needs should be regarded as a high priority for the Indian education system. In the current situation where class numbers are large, it is only a handful of more able, or the few who stand out, whom the teacher will know to some extent. She may be able to cater for the able pupils, but not at all to those with even the less challenging special needs.
An evaluation of pupils with special educational needs, their current learning levels, placement and needs has to be in place before effective differentiation can be implemented. The Indian school has to be realistic and practical in deciding the degree of special educational needs they are able to handle, keeping in mind the resources available to them. In India, this is a very important issue as the sensitivity to anyone with any kind of difficulty, physical or mental is less than is desirable and in some instances appears non-existent. With respect to schools, the location of the school, the location of the classroom, the kind of writing material and other resources used in class, and most importantly the number in each class, all need to be reviewed.
Some aspects of the curriculum need to be adapted to suit the Indian context. For instance, many children with learning difficulties are not good readers and as a result have difficulties with their schoolwork. Such children who do not have a background of reading would find it very difficult to relate to the western scenes, pronounce the names, themes, seasons and so on which are in evidence in many of the books which are still commonly in use in Indian schools. Introducing a broad range of Indian literature into the study of English, seen as a critical subject, would help. One approach to differentiation, which is in evidence in some Indian schools, is in the teaching of phonetics. Some innovative educators have developed books in which the phonetic sounds are given/translated into an Indian language, which is usually the second language learnt by the child in school. This not only helps to make the sounds clearer to the child but also helps parents to help the child, as most parents are not aware of the phonetics of the English language.
Certainly one approach which can be transferred from the UK to India concerns the clarification of objectives, both, group and individual to be addressed through the teaching process. Once the objectives are laid down and split into intermediary levels, it would help to get an idea as to where the pupil with special educational needs is going and to have a clear focus upon intended learning outcomes. This form of differentiation by outcome would enable teachers to maintain a clearer focus upon planning, assessment and recording of progress. This would also help to pinpoint the nature, area and level of difficulty and to further develop structures to help. Along with this, periodic assessment for any pupil should be made compulsory in Indian schools. This change would also help teachers to change the pupil’s learning programme based upon accurate interpretation of the pupil’s progress.
A further form of differentiation must be inculcated into the examination system. With the Indian context in mind, the examination papers as they currently exist make no allowance for pupils who have difficulties with reading as a result of needs such as dyslexia unless the student has been assessed and recommended for accommodations by a an agency recognised by the particular board. Many schools do not even provide information regarding these accommodations to the parents or teachers for various reasons. The allocation of time allowances and accurate information related to providing support for pupils in an equitable manner, as advocated by Waine (2001) would provide a positive differentiated approach to accreditation.
Parents have a critical role to play in supporting the learning of their youngsters. Clear direction about intended learning outcomes would enable them to provide improved support for their own children. Parents should be encouraged to come into the school and equip themselves with hands on experience in order to understand how their children learn. better, The belief that some pupils with special educational needs are ineducable remains a misconception held by many people in India. It must be emphasised that a school with an inclusive policy would provide greater opportunities for all children. With the increased introduction of differentiated planning and learning and structured teaching approaches into Indian schools, the entire student community, including those with special educational needs, and the most able as well as the average student benefit. But the fact remains that this is at present an ideal, which has not been realised. The vastness of the task in this area is considerable, but one worth striving for.
Effective group work management
Further challenges for teachers working in large classes of varying age range and ability, such as is commonly the situation in India relate to the ways in which classroom groups are structured and managed. Several UK writers refer to the formation and management of classroom groups as being an essential tool in enabling pupils to become effective learners in inclusive classrooms (Howley and Rose 2003, Smith and Sutherland 2003). It is suggested that teachers need to give consideration to forming groups, which are fit for purpose. In some instances this may mean ability grouping, whilst in others forming groups of diverse need and ability may have benefits for both the most able and least able in the class. The importance of considering the use of friendship groups, or groups based upon the identified skills of individual pupils which will enhance the overall performance of a group working together, has been researched and debated (Marvin 1998) and appears to make a significant contribution to the efficacy of teaching in inclusive classrooms. In a UK classroom where a teacher may be managing a class of thirty pupils, often with the support of a teaching assistant, such ideals may be more easily realised than in many Indian classrooms.
A consideration of provision and management of group work in Indian schools is perhaps one approach which can be seen to be most readily and widely applied in a classroom setting where there are usually pupils of widely differing abilities. Working in carefully considered groups is one of the most readily available techniques to assure that inclusive education takes place. Group work management can be effective only when there is a thorough understanding of the common factor existing through the group based on which a delivery is to be made. It is this recognition of different abilities within the group that and ensures that group work is manageable and has an impact. Such grouping may take several forms. When children are grouped according to ability and needs, each child can receive the opportunity to contribute to the learning situation in accordance with his level of understanding and can also draw support from the others in the group in areas where this is needed. Because of the often very large class sizes in Indian schools, teachers have become particularly adept at employing group management approaches in order to ensure that all learners can participate.
Many schools in India have the ‘study-buddy system’ where a pupil with difficulty or special needs is teamed with a more able child. It works very successfully with most children. At times, when the pairing constructed by the teacher, does not work, the teacher can also ask the child to select another pupil with whom he feels comfortable working. This approach not only encourages group work, but also raises the esteem of pupils. Each group is given either one area of an activity or different forms of the same activity to work on. A leader is chosen for each group, though the delegation of work is quite democratic and everybody participates in work allocation. The class group considers the issues to be addressed and selects which they will deal with and a role for each individual pupil. In this way, all of the children are contributing at the level of their understanding. The teacher is also enabled to make an evaluation of the kind of learning that has happened with pupils on an individual basis.
In whatever kind of educational setting grouping is used, it promotes positive interdependence, and interaction, and fosters task completion within the given time. This is really particularly helpful for children who have difficulty in task completion.
However, as with any other techniques to be used with an entire class, a lot of preparation has to be put into how the activity is going to be structured, what are its goals and objectives. Study material may have to be prepared, or material for making aids needs to be available. With classroom support structured group work techniques can be used effectively, but as with several other issues relating to the promotion of inclusion, there is a need to provide training specifically related to the development of group teaching.
Traditionally, in UK special schools where pupils were grouped together according to their needs or disability, it was common to provide support from professional colleagues whose experience and expertise was in areas outside of education. The provision of therapists, social workers or counsellors to specific schools where pupils of similar need came together for their education was generally easier to manage than it has proven to be where these pupils are spread around many mainstream schools. The effectiveness of multi-agency working, where teachers are enabled to call upon the expertise of para-medical colleagues or those from other disciplines may well be a significant factor in encouraging the inclusion of those pupils who have the most complex needs. Lacey (2001, 2003) has identified those factors, which can support the provision of effective multi-agency partnerships. These include the provision of time for teachers to communicate and work alongside professionals from other disciplines, and the development of professional respect and understanding where professional colleagues learn to appreciate those skills specific to their discipline and to identify how these can be best used alongside those of their colleagues. In addition to providing essential skills and understanding which can allow pupils with, for example, a physical disability to be comfortably positioned for learning, therapists give teachers increased confidence in their day to day working practices with pupils with special needs of which they have had little previous experience.
Educating children, of various ages and abilities, is essentially a multi-agency collaboration. However, the ways in which we use the term multi-agency may be different in the UK and India. In India, at the most fundamental level, it is the parents, siblings and the child who need to be brought together in order to provide a supportive learning environment. In Indian society where the extended family/joint family system still exists, the extended family, and most importantly the grandparents constitute important members of the team supporting the pupil. As the child enters formal schooling, the team undergoes some changes and becomes one with the parents and the teachers. In the case of a child with special educational needs, it will include one or more professionals, depending on the kind of school the child is in and the economic background of the parents.
A focus upon multi-agency collaboration would definitely encourage a completeness to the whole concept of inclusive education. But the extent to which it can be implemented in an Indian context is not too clear at this stage where the concept of even identification of pupils with special educational needs and educating them in a mainstream set-up, is just becoming more acceptable to school management. Furthermore, this acceptance is more likely to be found in some states than in others, and within these states only in the more urban areas.
If increased access to other professionals could be increased it would give teachers more confidence to begin to address the management of more inclusive classrooms. Many teachers currently feel that they have an inadequate understanding or experience of working with pupils with special educational needs. The teacher would be able to draw on the resources of professional colleagues and plan with greater confidence how to go about including a wider range of pupils into the mainstream school. Once again here, the development of multi-agency working would be dependent upon the leadership of school managers. Whilst there is certainly a willingness on the part of many teachers in India, unless this is supported through a management which is committed to inclusion it will not be wholly achieved.
What have we learned though our study of developing concepts of inclusion in the UK and India?
At the commencement of this research the issue of transferability of approaches which have been seen as important for inclusion in UK schools was central to the way in which the investigation was constructed. The researchers were also keen to see what lessons the UK might learn from an examination of approaches commonly adopted in India. It is apparent from a review of the literature on inclusion in the UK that certain recurring themes related to the conditions which schools must create in order to achieve greater inclusion have been identified. The issues at the heart of the inclusion debate are the same whether viewed from a UK or Indian context. The promotion of positive attitudes and high expectations of pupils, coupled with the provision of good quality teacher training and a review of teaching approaches may be seen as essential elements of developing inclusive schools in both countries. However, the approaches, which are available to teachers in tackling these may be subject to a number of influential factors. It is clear from the research, which has been conducted in producing this paper that teachers in both India and the UK have a concern to support the development of a more equitable education system. There is a shared belief that those factors such as the management of group work, differentiated learning, multi-agency collaboration and the provision of classroom support, are critical in fostering more inclusive approaches to learning. It is equally apparent that approaches, which have been reported in the UK literature for addressing these factors, cannot be deployed without considerable modification and a more intensive debate about the purpose for which they are introduced.
The socio-economic factors, which essentially impact upon the resourcing of schools, are considerably different in the UK and India. Furthermore, in a country of such size and diversity as is seen in India it is almost impossible to generalise towards one model of inclusive provision which could address the needs of all schools or the teachers and pupils within them. This is not to say that there is nothing to be learned from a dialogue between special educators from these two countries.
Beginning with the premise that there are common factors which influence inclusive classroom practice wherever pupils are being educated, the challenge may well be to find interpretations of approaches to these which are context specific. In our research we have recognised that concepts such as multi-agency working vary considerably between the two countries. Whilst in the UK teachers may be concerned at the lack of availability of therapists to support the education process, in India the strengths of extended families as a means of providing support raises a very different set of issues. In the UK teachers who have been concerned to draw upon the expertise provided by other professionals may well learn from the respect afforded to the knowledge and understanding which is recognised in the family structures within India. Sustainable inclusion is, in part dependent upon a recognition of the contributions which may be played by all interested parties, and the development of effective communications and the establishment of shared goals is likely to be influential in this area (Ranjan 2000). Similarly, the necessity to develop group management techniques in order to accommodate classes of very large numbers of pupils, often the norm in India, has led to sophisticated group work approaches which are worthy of further investigation and may have much to inform teachers working in the UK.
A general view has been expressed that further training for teachers in the area of special and inclusive education may be an essential factor in promoting inclusive practice. Increased training opportunities in the UK which has led to the development of considerable expertise in some teachers, such as special educational needs co-ordinators, and a more general awareness of all teachers can be seen to have had benefits (Skidmore 2004). Furthermore the training of a wider workforce in the form of teaching assistants has enabled classroom teams to be developed which are more clearly focused upon meeting individual pupil needs. The current lack of training opportunities for many teachers in India may well prove to be an obstacle to greater inclusion and can already be seen as a factor related to the varying economic situation and educational priorities in differing parts of the country. However, this is not to suggest that good practice in providing support for teachers does not exist. Innovative approaches to providing for pupils with complex learning needs are being increasingly reported (Nishanimutt and Prakash 2000, INTEL Report 2003) and this is often accompanied by intensive professional development to increase teacher skills and understanding.
Underpinning all of these factors is the necessity to encourage positive attitudes towards and high expectations of pupils with special educational needs. This condition is probably the most essential component of launching a more inclusive education system no matter where such a move is undertaken (Alur 2003). The move away from a care and rehabilitation model towards an expectation that all pupils are capable of learning and have an entitlement to education alongside their peers is making progress across the world. In the UK this has been central in driving the inclusion debate and has gradually moved from discussion about why inclusion may be important, towards an increase in investigations of the efficacy of classroom approaches. Whilst teachers and policy makers concerned for the development of inclusive education in India may be able to learn from the UK experience, there remains a necessity to focus upon those conditions which prevail in an Indian education context and to widen the debate about the necessity to promote a more inclusive system. As Karanth (2003) has indicated, issues surrounding the education of pupils with learning difficulties in India have received widespread attention only in the past decade. Sharing the experiences of teachers from the UK may enable a discussion of attitudes and beliefs to be advanced. However, this will only be achieved when the unique conditions which prevail in India are acknowledged and the diversity of needs and provision within the country are fully appreciated.
In reflecting on the work undertaken by the researchers reporting in this paper, it is possible to reach conclusions about the benefits of pursuing a project of this nature. A greater understanding of cross cultural issues and the ways in which collaboration across countries may promote a better appreciation of a key issue such as inclusion is apparent. A recognition that both parties, in this case researchers in the UK and India, work in situations where practices differ but may inform an emerging understanding of inclusion as a global issue, will enable the individuals involved to continue a working partnership on the basis of an increased appreciation of the challenges which need to be addressed by policy makers and teachers in the immediate future. Opening a dialogue which is based upon mutual respect and a desire to share professional understanding has enlightened each of the research partners and given cause for thought and reflection in respect of what each might learn from the working situation of the others.
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