Inclusion is an educational approach and philosophy. Its aim is to provide supports to educate and include as many students as possible in the regular classroom while still meeting their individual needs. Proponents of inclusive education argue that all students benefit from inclusive practices. Inclusion is not a single movement. There are theories that support full inclusion or partial inclusion. Inclusive practice requires governments to introduce policies and initiatives, educational institutions to develop curriculum and pedagogy and teachers to look critically at their practice to include all learners.
The First Proponents
American philosopher John Dewey believed that all students thrive in an environment in which they experience and interact with the curriculum and other students. His works made a significant contribution to theories of inclusive education. Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere's emphasis on a socially just model of education advocated equality of access to education and the transformation of educational settings to accommodate all students.
An integration approach is favoured by proponents of the mainstreaming theory. This argues for students with special educational needs to be placed in mainstream education only when they can meet traditional academic expectations with minimal assistance. Students all follow the same curriculum with few concessions to individual needs. The roots of this theory lie in French sociologist Emile Durkheim's view that education should help mould students to the norms of society.
Advocates of inclusive theories disagree with integration models. Len Barton, a professor of inclusive education at the University of London, explained the difference as "inclusion is not about assimilation or accommodation of individuals into an essentially unchanged system." Inclusion theorists argue that diverse learners -- those with disabilities, different languages and cultures, different homes and family lives, different interests and ways of learning -- should be exposed to appropriate individualised teaching strategies that reach them as individual learners.
The 1990 Jomtien Conference committed most countries to the inclusive theory of education for all. In 1994, UNESCO's Salamanca Statement endorsed the idea of inclusive education. The 2007 United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities emphasised its importance and the Lisbon Declaration concluded that the inclusive model is mutually beneficial to students with special needs and non-disabled students. The EU Education, Youth and Culture Council reaffirmed the need for inclusive education in its 2009 conclusions.
The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and Building the Legacy, IDEA 2004 specifically support inclusive thinking and practices. IDEA legislates for students with special needs to be involved in general education curricula, assessment practices and classrooms. The committee report asserts that inclusion is a philosophy of acceptance and flexibility. Proponents of the 2001 U.S. No Child Left Behind Act argue that it supports the philosophy that most students with special needs be moved out of segregated classrooms and given the appropriate strategies, accommodations and teaching styles to match their unique learning styles.