I recently sat in a presentation, delivered by Richard Gaskell, from the International School Consultancy Group (ISC), about a growing number of schools “embracing the opportunities and challenges of inclusion”. I later read the report regarding the research ISC jointly conducted with Next frontier Inclusion, which can be found from this link: http://www.iscresearch.com/information/isc-news.aspx
I personally feel Inclusion is a buzz word for the International School community that fortunately is being amplified by curricular requirements pushing schools to churn out more globally minded students. Many educators I speak to feel International Schools have for far too long been too insular and campuses are in fact bubbles. The push for inclusion is probably born of this frustration by International School administrators that feel their schools talk about meeting the needs of all learners, but aren’t really delivering.
Having been educated in the US public school system, I experienced what I feel is true inclusion. Inclusion, as I experienced it, included a number of different paths for students to follow, based on their specific learning needs. To be more specific, the purpose of inclusion was to ensure everyone progressed through the compulsory years of schooling. To achieve this, schools would have classes for severely disabled, as well as academically advanced students. My campus was a true melting pot of every type of student you could imagine. My school was well integrated into the community and had very active participation from parents and other care givers.
Being truly inclusive meant that my school employed a variety of professionals with a varied array of skills to meet the needs of all learners. The school had to ensure space, learning resources and different curricula to ensure all students stayed on track. Not only schools like mine, which had a good tax base to fund all of this, were inclusive to this level, but also schools with half if not less of the funding which my school had. Schools were required to be inclusive, and to ensure they met the needs of all learners, administrators and teachers were incredibly resilient and resourceful.
I have only seen this measure of inclusion in a couple International Schools across Asia. The International Schools that make this effort are not merely trying to emulate inclusion as I have experienced it, but do this for the purpose of exposing students to something more than just the curriculum. International Schools that choose to be inclusive, as I have defined, are choosing it as a strategy to instill in students a better understanding and appreciation of diversity. These International Schools have a vision to meet the needs of all learners, as well as staff and programs commensurate with that vision. When you visit the campus you immediately get lost in a flurry of students constantly moving through the school. These schools, more importantly, don’t define themselves by test scores and which universities their students were accepted to, but by their engagement with the community.
Now, that is just one strategy for inclusion, based on my definition. The more prevalent inclusion strategy I see in International Schools, promotes less diversity and is much more difficult to distinguish from schools that are exclusive. The reason being, is that inclusion is introduced on a case-by-case basis, in terms of admissions and hiring. Its more organic, as opposed to planned and deliberate. It is something administrators feel they need to do, but don’t have a vision for what inclusion will be.
The move towards inclusion is more a reflection of the market the school is in and the profile of the students that school seeks to admit. I don’t mean schools are profiling, for the sake of targeting more affluent or intelligent kids. I mean they are profiling to try and create a more diverse campus. But diversity comes at a cost, which very few schools are willing to pay. Very few International Schools, that I am ware of, award scholarships to ensure children from lower socio-economic backgraounds can attend their school. Even fewer schools hire Occupational, Speech and other therapists to support learning for severly disabled children.
Unfortunately, to achieve inclusion, International Schools surveyed in this study, would either need to rebuild their school from the ground up, or endure a very long change management process. There would need to be new funding sources identified, large turn-over in staff and greater accountability, in the form of observation, appraisal and feedback. The latter two requiring significant changes in Management and Human Resource practices.
Inclusion, though, is more than a strategy. It is a philosophy, as well as a set of beliefs. For inclusion to work, the philosophy has to be understood and the beliefs shared across the community. When Next Frontier Inclusion’s task force is launched, and guidelines and standards are drafted to help International Schools move towards inclusion, I hope they define a scale from which we can see to what degree an International School is inclusive.