An inclusive public school must be a space where everyone has a place. It is a right that must help strengthen all skills and abilities and encompass all the diversities in our society. It must also be a place of opportunity, reflection, debate, participatory action, invention, questions, research; a secular, collective, subversive, emancipatory, liberating, challenging, ever-changing and political education.
On the basis of this approach and vision of public education, the concept of inclusive education cannot and must not be reductionistic. Nor can it be understood solely as a disability or special needs issue (which are also valid and essential). For the purposes of this analysis, Inclusive Education is understood to mean the following:
That all students should be taught together, with the same standards and in the same educational institution whenever possible, regardless of gender, ethnicity, cultural or economic background or physical or intellectual ability .
This analysis of inclusive education is based on critical pedagogy. It is therefore necessary to consider what type of school we have, and what type of school we want to have, while at the same time undertaking a fundamental analysis of the current global and specific context, in which there are more complex and, sadly, more turbulent societies, which leads us to the conclusion that these things cannot be viewed in isolation.
Schools are part of a political, economic and social system, and in recent decades, liberal pedagogies have been imposed on public education derived from liberal, neoliberal and conservative policies, which promote basic curricula that are by no means comprehensive within the context of clear intentions to dismantle the state (budget cuts in education, discrediting public services, the acceleration and promotion of public-private alliances, the privatisation and discreditation of teachers' work). Under this right-wing education system, education will undoubtedly become a biased, normalising, homogenising system that seeks standardisation and disciplinary action. There is no room for diversity in this type of school, and in the words of Perrenoud (2007, p. 191), it will lead to “exclusion as a response to heterogeneity, indifference to differences”.
In keeping with this analysis, Giroux (2019) considers that:
“Over the last three decades, education has rapidly diminished in its capacity to educate young people and others as socially and critically engaged agents” “...Increasingly, public schools, which have the potential to promote social equality and sustain democracy, are falling prey to the toxic forces of privatisation and standardised, mechanistic curricula, while teachers are subject to intolerable working conditions...”.
In these schools, the student body is taught individuality, nihilism and isolation. They are taught using rote rather than meaningful learning methods, detached from their own historical-cultural processes, with disciplines separated from each other, and skills that may work in this particular context, but not in their own lives. Teachers in these schools face increasingly difficult working conditions including excessive workloads, salary cuts and endangered pension schemes, as well as union persecution. From a pedagogical standpoint, they are also left disconnected.
This analysis raises several questions: starting from the aforementioned liberal pedagogy, what can schools do in the face of these differences? How does pedagogical mediation respond to diversity?
The majority of Latin American countries have laws in favour of inclusive education; however, they lack optimal conditions and political will to implement these policies properly. Therefore, there continue to be obstacles (financial, pedagogical, curricular, support, didactic, infrastructure, teacher training, among others) preventing the creation and preservation of inclusive classrooms and processes.
In contrast, there is the inclusive school for which we fight, from a critical pedagogy perspective, from a vision for the democratisation of education, which would respond to policies of a social nature and which conceives of the public school as a critical and political-pedagogical space. In this school, students have access to education, and not only are they engaged, but there must also be adequate and appropriate conditions for them to remain in school. It is a space in which the context and realities of each individual and their social, economic, cultural and spiritual circumstances are considered. Here, education is based on problem solving, questioning, a collaborative construction, it solves vital and contextualised problems of daily life, it is lived, explored, debated, expressed through music, art, literature, science and through the critical collective.
In this school there is plenty of room for differences; diversities are important learning opportunities. In this school, teachers are participants in education and not simply the enforcers of imposed policies. According to Giroux, this concept of education and schools has a “sense of collective action, political opposition and committed participation”; that is, it promotes the school as a political space.
The final vision is an inclusive, political, collective and transformative school. This is the school we aspire to and for which we struggle.
Note: This text is based on a speech given at the International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education, organised by UNESCO in Cali, Colombia last September. Representing Education International was Gabriela Sancho Mena, Regional Coordinator for the organisation’s Latin American office.
Education International (2018). How much further do we have to go? Teachers' unions assess obstacles to inclusive education. Taken from: https://issuu.com/educationinternational/docs/2018_eiresearch_disability_sneakpre_5c012a82e20f61
Perrenoud, P. (2007). Pedagogía de las diferencias. De las intenciones a la acción. (Pedagogy of Differences. From Intentions to Action). Editorial Popular, Spain.
Giroux, H. (2019). Terrorismo pedagógico y esperanza en tiempos de políticas fascistas (Pedagogical Terrorism and Hope in Times of Fascist Politics). Taken from: http://otrasvoceseneducacion.org/archivos/312054