A global perspective on Inclusive Education from Maya Kalyanpur

Gargi Bansod   |   07 August 2018

We had a special guest make an appearance at Gati’s Core Group meeting in July who gave us an insight into inclusive education from a global point of view. A highly accomplished educator and researcher in the field of special education, Maya Kalyanpur is a Professor in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego, USA. Having received her PhD in Special Education from Syracuse University, she started her career as a teacher of children with intellectual disabilities in India, and was a Professor in the Department of Special Education at Towson University, Maryland, and Associate Professor in the Department of Inclusive and Special Education at the State University of New York at Potsdam. She has also worked as an international consultant in inclusive education with the national Ministry of Education in Cambodia, the World Bank and UNICEF Cambodia. From writing research papers and books on inclusivity, Maya has done it all. We were privileged to get some time to chat with her about inclusive education as a whole.Here are a few excerpts from the interview.

Q: Through your extensive study on inclusion, could you elaborate on the origins of the concept of inclusive education? How do the realities of conditions in developing countries make implementation of the universal standard of Inclusive Education difficult?

The concept of inclusive education emerged from a historical context of segregated schooling in the US, between the 1890s and 1960s, and other western countries. Although services existed, they existed in the form of large state-run institutions and hospitals where children received mainly custodial care or residential special schools. This parallel system resulted in the creation of a cadre of specialised professionals, special education teachers, therapists, rehabilitation service professionals, and a well-developed infrastructure of curricular and instructional resources.So when the push for inclusive education began in the US in the 1970s, for one, all children were going to school. Two, there was an existing body of human and material resources. This made it easier for students with disabilities to start attending mainstream or integrated schools, because their specialised teachers followed them there. The structure for inclusive education which developed at this point in the 1970s, first called mainstreaming, then integration and finally inclusion was this: Students with disabilities go to general education schools and receive support services there.

With the international policy framework on inclusive education, this concept and structure of inclusive education moved to other parts of the world in the 1990s. However, this becomes problematic when applied in different contexts, such as India. For one, not all children are going to school, and there are many other groups of marginalised or out-of-school children, like poor children or street children. There are very few trained professionals and even fewer material resources. Also, general education teachers already have very large class sizes. As a result, a 2011 World Bank study found, students with visible disabilities are the last and least likely to be included; in India, for instance, inclusive education has come to mean education for all historically out-of-school children, not just children with disabilities, and even special schools are seen as inclusive schooling.

Q: What are some of the most inspiring practices followed globally towards inclusion in education?

Recently, there are efforts to recognise the problematic nature of importing policies and practices without consideration of local realities, and instead to identify, develop and incorporate the local strengths. There is also an effort to blend special education and general education training more cohesively so that teachers can teach all children and reduce the stigmatisation and segregation of students who might need additional supports.

Q: In your book Cultural Reciprocity in Special Education, what do you mean by culture in this context?

In our book, the unit of analysis that Dr. Beth Harry, my co-author, and I are considering is the family. We argue that each family has a unique culture that must be taken into account when providing services. We also note that the special education system, particularly in the United States, has its own culture that tends to be based on mainstream values, or the values and beliefs of the majority population. For families of children with disability from minority backgrounds, such as culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, this difference in culture can be disconcerting. We can apply this analysis within the Indian context on two levels: One is the broader consequence of importing policies and practices from the west that may have less relevance in India; for example, it is more difficult to enforce parents’ rights in India because, in general, the societal milieu for rights-based advocacy is limited. On a micro-cultural level, Indian families from specific classes or castes might be restricted from or be reluctant to consider certain occupations as being below their status which can limit access to job opportunities for their young adult children with disabilities.

Q: In a culture of stigma prevailing in India, how can one approach the sensitive subject of identifying and labelling of children?

Here too, we have borrowed from the west the idea of labelling a child in order to provide services. There are problems with this structure even within the west, where, perhaps, there is somewhat less stigma involved in being labeled than there is in India. In India, the stigma is still strong and having to fight for services and prove the existence of a stigmatising condition can become a demeaning process. This is even more problematic with “invisible” disabilities like learning disabilities which may only emerge when the child goes to school. I understand that a disability certificate provides access to services, but perhaps we need to consider the possibility of providing services without tying it to the process of labeling or having to prove one’s limitations.Q: Do you think a program like Gati would benefit the inclusion movement in the Indian education system? Ofcourse! I admire Gati’s efforts to operationalise the concept of inclusive education within the Indian context, so that school systems can identify where they might stand along this process of moving towards inclusive schooling. I also think that providing professional development support to general education teachers to respond to their students who might be struggling academically is going to be very beneficial for inclusion in India.

Note: Inclusion in India requires a lot of research and piloting of ideas to understand what works best for our community and students’ needs. Gati ensures that we constantly keep the Indian context of inclusion in mind while developing out programme.

<   View All Case Studies