EDUCATION IN THE NAME OF DIFFERENCE

Over the last week, I’ve tried to apply many angles to my thoughts on the concept of inclusion. It’s a tough one because the more I think about it, the more I dwell upon the many difficulties, problems and frustrations we all have faced in gaining social acceptance and understanding. As well as recognising the problems that we face, it’s extremely important that we identify the many positive things that are done and can be achieved by what we are more than able to do.

There is no underplaying this but education is such an important stage for any persons development; both skill/knowledge wise but also socially.

In my day (okay here comes the all our yesterdays bit), the question of education was dealt with through special provision. There was no question, we had to attend either a school for the visually impaired. This, in my case, meant travelling miles away from home to attend a school on a half termly basis as a border, to gain a supported and specialised education. Whereas the teaching was good and the ability to gain as many skills as possible was encouraged, the fact was that I lived away from home for large periods of time and that there was very little opportunity to mix with sighted peers. This type of education was seen as promoting difference and not right in the sense it didn’t expose us to the the ‘normality’ of life and to work along sighted people of our age.

From the late 70’s onwards, the trend towards brining visually impaired children into mainstream education grew thanks to the publishing of the Warnock report on special education in 1978. The emphasis was then on what they termed integration and what eventually metamorphasised into inclusion (the former term having more of an experimental tone, with the latter being more of a natural progression).

The ideals of having non specialised educational provision within mainstream schools is good because the end result of all being educated together in a setting where any differences are accepted, celebrated and embraced are wonderful. Educational authorities up and down the country have over interpreted this in their own way and the results have been mixed to say the least. Whereas the idea of inclusion has been seen as desirable, the concepts of making it work have been completely different because many have misunderstood that by simply placing a visually impaired person within a mainstream school does not means that they are instantly included and accepted. Yes, there are many examples of good practice, excellent support units and highly dedicated staff in schools trying to make inclusion work, but inclusivity will ultimately succeed when society in general stops categorising and accepts difference.

Many of us who started our education in special educational provision will have a mixed number of reflections and experiences to share. I can honestly say that my experience was one of gaining skills, knowledge and not being seen as different and treated as such. However, what it did mean was leaving home at 5 years old and living away from my home area.

These are just a few reflections and next time, I’ll continue looking at education and the part it can positively play in defining our expectations of each other for life.

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