Inclusive Education-What’s in it for me?

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What’s in it for Me?

By Padma Shastry

Director – Samam Vidya

Why is inclusive education a desirable pedagogical model? And, before that, what is inclusive education?

Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighborhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school, in a common learning environment. The demographics of the classroom looks like a demographic of society. This means every minority group should be visible in schools. Rich and poor, both genders, religious groups, language groups, and students with disabilities would be a part of every class.

However, this is not always the case, is it? When was the last time you saw a wheelchair user at the cinema or the local restaurant? Have you seen a blind or deaf student at your school?

But why is this important?

Why should a student in a wheelchair attend my school? Shouldn’t there be a separate school for people with disabilities? Can students with disabilities attend school? Are they even capable of learning?

This brings us to the definition of the word ‘education’. What is education? Is it the same as academics? Is academic knowledge the only thing you learn at school?

Ponder this:

If a genie from a bottle allowed you one boon – a choice between academics and social soft skills – which would you pick? You are allowed all of one and none of the other. Which would serve you better in life? And where would you learn this?

Consider this thought experiment.

  • What would happen if I didn’t have an education?
    • This is reasonably easy to answer as we all have strong reasons to become educated. List a few of them.
  • Now turn to the person next to you, and tell him or her, how it would matter to you if s/he or his/her child was not educated.
    • This is a relatively harder question to answer, yet you’ll be able to come up with a few reasons for it. List them out.
  • Now discuss in a small group how it would affect you if the vendor’s child, the maid’s child, the construction worker’s child and everybody else in society was not educated. Essentially the question boils down to, why is education for all important?
    • This is quite a difficult question, and you may have to think hard about it. Were you able to justify the need for universal education?

Ponder this: Why does every government in the world invest in universal free education?

Your answers to the last question might have involved altruistic responses – like the good of the world, the right thing to do, and such other moralistic reasons.

Educating the marginalized has been viewed from a charity model point of view. Accepting the marginalized, such as the poorer sections of society, the girl students (in some cases), various minorities, and people with disabilities is viewed as a noble gesture from the mainstream community towards the marginalized. As long as such a mindset is in place, the mainstream community loses out on a lot of potential benefit.

The Folly of the Charity Mindset:

Ponder this: How can interacting with the disabled population benefit the mainstream population?

Discuss with your friends and list out your reasons.

Our education can get us a lot of wealth and material goods. It also confers upon us the resulting happiness of acquiring such wealth, such as privileged status and connections. But can the richest person in the city breathe better air than the poorest person? Can the rich drive on better roads than the poor?

Personal wealth is rarely useful to create public wealth (clean air, clean water, crime-free cities, bridges and roads, etc.) To develop public wealth, the resources of society have to be developed, and there is no greater resource than the people of the country.

Every single person’s potential needs to be developed fully in order for ALL of us to enjoy a high standard of living. We have to grow public wealth by educating every single person in society, and not just in academics.

OK, but why does such education have to happen at my school?

Why does my school have to be inclusive?

Since many people think from a charity mindset, the answer might seem counterintuitive.

Inclusive education benefits the mainstream demographic as much as it benefits the rest of the population. Nothing develops understanding, character and people skills like interacting with the minority sections of our society. When that marginalized student is your neighbor in class, your own potential is further realized.

Imagine a potential Stephen Hawking, Beethoven or Sudha Chandran as your classmate…

What might you have gained from being their classmate?

Ponder this: Have you heard of the zero-sum game? It states that for one to win, another has to lose. Is education a zero-sum game? Why is this question germane to our topic?

This poignant verse from German pastor Martin Niemöller written after the gruesome 2nd World War underscores the tragedy of exclusionary policies.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


What if the poem ran like this?

First they came for the wheelchair users, and I did not speak out-because I was not a wheelchair user.

Then they came for the intellectually disabled, and I did not speak out-because I was not intellectually disabled.

Then they came for the economically depressed students, and I did not speak out-because I was not economically depressed.

Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.

Lastly, is this practical?

Inclusive education is not new. It has been practiced in the past, and is currently the law in many countries. I have taught in an inclusive setting my entire career. Speaking as a person who’s been there and done that, it’s eminently possible!!

Ask me how!

Contact Samam Vidya to learn more about inclusive education or to enroll in an Inclusive Teaching course for teachers.

Spread the word on inclusive education! Live in an enlightened world!