Chris Forlin is Professor of Special and Inclusive Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Her research and publications focus on change paradigms in special education; inclusive education policy and practice; along with curricula and pedagogy for teacher education, with innovative research in working with systems and schools to establish sustainable inclusive education. She currently advises to the Hong Kong government task force on developing a New Senior Secondary School Curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities and is a consultant to the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training on developing curricula for preparing teachers for inclusion.
When asked to blog I initially thought I would talk about teacher education for inclusion which is one of my specific areas of interest. We have been actively promoting inclusion and ‘education for all’ for nearly four decades now but has teacher education for inclusion really kept up with this change? Can we claim as teacher educators that we are meeting the needs of adequately preparing teachers for inclusion? I have taught pre-service (or pre-surface as one of my undergraduates wrote about it in her assignment – Freudian slip or a simple spelling error? – not sure which is worse!) and in-service teachers for the past 18 years so it seemed a natural topic to select. Then I read the posting on this website from May 13, 2009, when President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to the 2009 graduates of Arizona State University (You can access the full speech via http://www.niusileadscape.org/wk/). During this speech he asked the following questions:
“Did you study education? Teach in a high-need school? Give a chance to kids we can’t afford to give up on – prepare them to compete for any job anywhere in the world?”
I began to think more closely about the second question: Did you teach in a high-need school? So my focus changed as I started to tease out the idea of inclusion and whether this is really possible in an ever increasing bureaucratic society. I would suggest that in today’s multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-ability schools there would be very few schools that would consider that they do not have ‘high needs’ in at least some areas. Indeed, to consider that only some schools have high needs would seem rather naive in today’s multifaceted society. To become inclusive requires educators to identify what these needs are within each school community and subsequently develop contextually appropriate authentic strategies for helping to remove the potential barriers that they pose. In this way new opportunities for supporting students can be developed from within distinctive school communities rather than being imposed from without.
As Phyllis Jones said in her August blog “meaningful inclusion is complex”. Thus, meaningful responses to inclusion by necessity will be different and invariably challenging across schools. This led me to reflect upon the ever increasing bureaucracy that has developed in response to the ‘education for all’ movement and whether this actually supports or hinders inclusion. While governments can mandate legal requirements for schools, in a lot of instances bureaucracy that tries to control the details of the application of such laws prevents schools from being able to implement different ideas that would better meet their needs. It is interesting to note that many education systems are now actively promoting less external monitoring of student achievement by minimizing the legal requirements for students to sit in on essential external examinations. Such opportunities allow teachers to develop their professionalism by taking a more proactive role in monitoring their own students’ learning. At the same time, though, it places considerably greater accountability on school leaders to oversee the suitability of the curriculum and pedagogy being applied and provide internal quality control mechanisms within their schools.
When talking with principals, I wonder how they have any time for education matters nowadays. When considering the number of new reforms they have to address, the increased devolution of administrative responsibilities to a school level, and the paperwork that is necessary to receive any additional support for children with special education needs, there seems no time left for them to lead the curriculum and pedagogy within their schools. Yet surely this should be the major focus of their leadership. A freeing up of the overwhelming administrative requirements of school leaders is, therefore, I believe essential to enable them to take a more educational role within their schools. Otherwise without either external or internal monitoring, this latest move to enhance teaching and learning by reducing external moderation may fail those nontraditional students for whom the curriculum needs significant adaptation if they are to succeed to their potential. You may wish to discuss the following questions with your staff and brainstorm some novel and innovative ideas to support the specific needs of students within your school. It will be interesting if you can share some of them here.
Of course if you want to read more about teacher education for inclusion you can do so by checking out my book on Teacher Education for Inclusion: Changing Paradigms and Innovative Practices due out by Routledge in early 2010!