The key to unlocking the potential of our youth lies in non-selective education, argues Sir Christopher Stone, Chief Education Officer at GEMS Education
In 2017, Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) published its Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework, which defines the guidelines and standards for inclusivity. The report quotes His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai:
“Determination, strategy and vision for the future are our real resources in the quest for excellence and success.”
Dubai’s focus on inclusive education is part of its wider vision to become a fully inclusive city by 2020 and underlines the need for all schools to be non-selective. According to the United Nations, around 10 per cent of the world’s population live with either a medical impairment or disability, and it is up to regional education providers to take responsibility to ensure they effectively accept and allow students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) the same rights as their fellow students.
At GEMS Education, all our schools are non-selective and promote the spirit of all-inclusive education in letter and spirit. We see this not as an obligation, but as a reflection of the real world, which is not ‘one size fits all’. It is important through inclusive education to prepare our children for the future and for real jobs – the nature of which is transforming with every passing day.
An important advantage of inclusion is that students with disabilities can be integrated socially with their peers. This allows them to create long-lasting friendships that would not otherwise be possible and these friendships can give them the skills to navigate social relationships later in life. Their peers can act as role models for social skills through their interactions with each other, whereas in a homogeneous classroom, the only role models would be students with disabilities who may lack the same social skills.
Students should be well supported by a school to make them confident, independent learners, regardless of curriculum. When these students go on to higher education or into the job market, they are more prepared than selective school students who only interact with likeminded people. There has been debate around whether students at selective schools tend not to know how to cope on their own.
Students of determination can benefit academically in an inclusive setting. Many teachers and parents wonder whether students with challenges would fare better academically in a classroom that was geared specifically towards them. However, it has been proven that in a well-designed inclusion classroom, teachers can use strategies to help students succeed academically. Therefore, students encounter higher expectations – from both their peers and teachers – as well as the positive academic role models of their classmates.
The benefits of targeted resourcing to ensure effective support for inclusive education extend beyond the student who experiences SEND; inclusive education is necessary for active participation in an inclusive world. Education providers should invest in professional learning and training for teachers as well as support staff to ensure they are knowledgeable and effective in the use of evidence-based instructional strategies and adopt personalised planning techniques with the appropriate use of curriculum.
Friends & family benefits
It has been suggested that children learn more socially from each other than from adults. They also form bonds and flourish from building the foundations of young friendships and relationships. The differences between students are then acknowledged and respected within the group; diversity in team and community identity is accepted and even enjoyed. This is reflective of the real world and the vast range of people students will face beyond their educative experience.
By nature, schools should not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to facilitating families; it is essential that education providers remain adaptable and flexible, with a personalised approach to a diverse community. In general, the supporting family of the student of determination benefits by being integrated more easily into the school’s ecosystem. This is especially true when the student is an only child whose parents may be unable to ‘fit in’ to the school community unless the student is placed in an inclusive setting.
The development of learning pathways leading to employment and further or higher education for students who experience SEND, is essential to enable their active participation in the labour market and society. Securing sustainability is essential for the development of a truly inclusive system of education. Inclusive education is not a project; it is the progressive development of attitudes, behaviours, systems and beliefs that enable it to become the norm that underpins school culture and is further reflected in attitude, organisational and pedagogical decisions.