We think of inclusion as a philosophical commitment that recognizes a right to a sense of welcome and belonging in the education of all students. This commitment is shared by a collaborative adult community that is active and efficacious in its own learning and in its openness to ideas and to change. An inclusive orientation is not a system or a program in and of itself, nor is it a rigid dogma; it provides a framework for a flexible system that will generate many forms to fit specific needs as they arise. Inclusion provides a caring, respectful and supportive community of learners involved in the construction and creation of knowledge (Ferguson, 1995; Wiig & Kusuma-Powell, 1999), and is based on the following six assumptions as stated earlier:
1. All children can, do and will learn.
2. Effective teachers can teach most children.
3. The teacher is the most important architect in the child's learning environment.
4. Diversity enriches.
5. Strategies that define and comprise good teaching are applicable to all
children (and adults).
6. A professional partnership is exponentially more effective (and more
satisfying) than the sum of its parts.
Ferguson (1995) defines inclusion as "a process of meshing general and special education reform initiatives and strategies in order to achieve a unified system of . . . education that incorporates all children and youths as active, fully participating members of the school community; that views diversity as the norm; and that ensures a high-quality education for each student by providing meaningful curriculum, effective teaching and necessary supports for each student (p.286)."
Our view is similar to Ferguson's, except that our focus is on international schools rather than US public education; secondly, and more importantly, we include teachers as members of the learning community.
The inclusion of teachers may appear superficially self-evident, but we would argue that as such it has not been the case in most schools. For the most part teachers have worked in isolation (Lortie, 1975; Rosenholtz, 1989), have been excluded from knowledge production and subjugated to external quality control (Sagor, 1997). They have been mistrusted by politicians and bureaucrats, under-valued by parents and alternatively criticized and ridiculed by the media. Is it really any wonder that teacher self-confidence and self-esteem have suffered? The inclusive school includes teachers. It provides them with a sense of membership and mission and treats them with respect and dignity.
Inclusion is learning membership.
When we talk about inclusion, we do not mean to describe a situation in which all children, at all times, are served in the regular classroom. Although we do see the regular classroom as a rich, stimulating and vibrant environment in which all children have something to gain, we consider it to be one of the many resources for serving students with special needs. We see inclusion as an attitudinal shift in which schools and teachers accept responsibility for educating all students, and empowering schools so they know they can. And inherent in our concept of inclusion is the possibility of a continuum of services that starts in the regular classroom but has the flexibility of invoking small group work clustered by ability, or even one-to-one, intensive withdrawal work as necessary, e.g. in a continuum of services (Zigmond, Jenkins, Fuchs, Deno & Fuchs, 1995).
"Neither special nor general education alone has either the capacity or the vision to challenge and change the deep-rooted assumptions that separate and track children and youths according to presumptions about ability, achievement, and eventual social contribution. Meaningful change will require nothing less than a joint effort to reinvent schools to be more accommodating to all dimensions of human diversity. It will also require that the purposes and processes of these reinvented schools be organized not so much to make sure that students learn and develop on the basis of their own abilities and talents, but rather to make sure that all children are prepared to participate in the benefits of their communities so that others in that community care enough about what happens to them to value them as members."
'The Real Challenge of Inclusion'
In our international schools in Africa which are geographically isolated and in many cases without the financial resources to launch fully specialized programs for special education students, it seems almost self-evident to say that we would do well to strengthen our own inclusive capabilities for providing services to a broader range of students.