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UNESCO Global Action Week 2008 focused on quality education to end exclusion.


The mission statement of the week was:

"Efforts to expand enrolment must be accompanied by policies to enhance educational quality at all levels, in formal and non-formal settings. Education is a fundamental right for all children, youth and adults, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, language, religion, opinion, disability, or social and economic status."

To stimulate discussion UNESCO published the following:

Every learner counts: 10 questions on inclusive quality education

One of the questions is: Is inclusive quality education affordable?

    "It is inefficient to have school systems where children are not learning because of poor quality. Schools with high repetition rates often fail to work in preventive ways. The expenditure incurred by schools when students repeat a grade would be better used to provide additional support to those who encounter difficulties.

    Several cost-effective measures to promote inclusive quality education have been developed in countries with scarce resources. These include training-of-trainer models for professional development, linking students in pre-service teacher training with schools and converting special needs schools into resource centres that provide expertise and support to clusters of regular schools.

    The more relevant question to ask is about the cost of not providing education of good quality for all children. More resources are clearly needed. Official development assistance to education remains well below the $US9 billion required just to reach universal primary education. But governments and donors must develop and support national policies that foster inclusion, both in terms of access and of quality education."
The South African Government has made a commitment to this approach by making additional funds available for the expansion of inclusive education in 2009 - 2011 as one of the national sector priorities. For this to work each programme manager at every level must ensure that the needs of all learners are being addressed and that no programmes are inadvertently contributing to the exclusion of some learners. 

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"Promoting inclusion is about reforming the education system.  Inclusive education is much more cost effective than a segregated system, not only in terms of the running costs but also the long-term costs on the society." Roger Slee (2005) UNESCO.

One of the ongoing debates centres around the cost of inclusive education. Is it more cost-effective and cheaper than sustaining parallel systems of ordinary and special education? Furthermore does the inclusion of a learner with a disability into an ordinary class result in a lowering of standards and does it compromise the teacher's time?

In their success story published recently in this Learning Space, Laerskool Baanbreker listed some of the following challenges:

  1.  Parents of non-disabled children fear that education lessons will be diluted or watered down if children with exceptionalities are placed in regular classrooms. 
  2. They fear that classrooms will be disrupted because they mistakenly believe that all children with disabilities always have behavioural problems. 
  3. They fear that fair division of teaching time will be a problem and that teacher effectiveness will be influenced negatively. 

However, most theoreticians about Inclusive Education, feel strongly that "the conditions that promote equity in education, are those that also promote quality" (Scrtic).

Many schools that are effectively introducing inclusive education are finding that the strategies that teachers have to acquire to address barriers to learning in their classrooms also help them to become better teachers, They are more reflective and tend to problem solve and come up with their own solutions to problems rather than having a knee jerk reaction of always referring problems to outside specialists to come with tests and diagnoses. .

Changing of attitudes is the most important first step towards inclusive education and this costs nothing. Can we truly move from our old stereotypical ideas about what it would cost to make adjustments to our teaching strategies?

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