Inclusive Education in Developing Countries
Inclusive education (IE), also known as mainstreaming, means putting special education students into regular classrooms instead of separating them through placement in special education classes. This practice has been gaining popularity in many developed countries, partially because most of the world's disabled people live in developing countries. IE offers many benefits to special needs and mainstream students; it allows special needs students to more fully assimilate into culture and promotes tolerance and acceptance among mainstream students. However, IE is a process that requires careful teacher training, monitoring, and education support. The great difficulty is that many school systems in developing countries do not have enough financial capita, resources, or teachers trained in special education to properly assimilate special needs students into mainstream classrooms. Many developing countries' school budgets cannot cover all the mainstream students that need to be taught, and therefore the education of special needs students is often seen as an unaffordable luxury. While IE offers many benefits and is likely to be the best or the only way special needs students in developing countries can be educated, it also has many significant barriers that prevent it from being implemented or used to its fullest extent.
Keywords Developing Countries; Disabled Students; Inclusive Education; Mainstream; Mainstreaming; Non-Government Organization (NGO); Primary Education; Special Education; Special Needs
Inclusive education (IE) happens when special education students are placed into a mainstream classroom rather than in a special education class and both special needs and regular classroom students learn together in the same setting. As cultures gradually become more tolerant of disabilities and as education researchers continue to evaluate and revise education practices and policies, IE has become an increasingly larger topic for discussion. Many school systems in developed countries such as the U.S. are practicing IE or implementing IE pilot programs in their classrooms, but IE is also becoming an important topic in the school systems of developing countries.
In fact, it could be argued that IE is of even more importance to developing countries because the greatest percentage of disabled people reside in developing countries. These individuals, struggling with physical and mental disabilities such as partial paralysis, Down syndrome, or blindness have two enormous obstacles in their lives: the vast majority of them are uneducated and therefore are unemployed and impoverished, and their disabilities greatly hinder them from becoming educated. Arguably, a lack of education is the greatest disability of all, and these disabled individuals must suffer the deprivations of educational disability along with physical or mental disability.
Because there are numerous disabled and special needs students living in countries where educational opportunities are scarce, IE is uplifted as a way of both giving these students access to an education and helping them become accepted into society as full, participating members. However, there are many issues plaguing IE in developing countries, and one of the two most prominent issues are money and resources.
Access to Basic Education
Access to education is becoming more common around the globe, thanks in part to UNESCO's Education for All (EFA) agenda, which calls for all people in the world to have access to a quality primary education by the year 2015. This means that many developing countries are faced with the need to dramatically increase and strengthen their school systems or create school systems entirely. Unfortunately, the education budgets for most developing countries are small and significantly strained, and these countries are often unable to provide the resources for properly educating students that do not have disabilities. Hallahan (1998) said that special needs education requires more financial expenditure and human involvement and as a result, many developing countries have regarded special education as non-crucial despite the high percentages of disabled citizens in these countries.
Even if a developing country has the financial resources to properly integrate special needs students into regular classrooms, IE is not the act of merely "dumping" special needs students into regular classrooms and hoping they can stay afloat (Charema, 2007). For IE to work properly and for both special needs and regular education students to function properly together in a classroom, teachers need careful training and the IE process itself needs to be closely monitored. A good percentage of teachers in developed countries lack the education, pedagogical training, and resources to properly instruct their regular students. Many teachers in developing countries do not have any special needs training and are significantly unprepared to successfully instruct the special needs students that are mainstreamed into their classrooms.
Physical issues such as school facilities and aids for special needs students are also a problem in developing countries. A school's building may not be wheelchair accessible, and physically disabled students may not even have wheelchairs. Hearing-disabled students may not have the hearing aid resources they need. In a classroom where there is one textbook for twenty regular students, sight-impaired students most likely will not have the special reading resources they need. Even a well-trained, dedicated teacher would have difficulty effectively teaching special needs and mainstream students in the same classroom without the resources these special students require. A lack of resources may mean that special needs students cannot learn effectively or a teacher spends so much time working with the special needs students that the other students are ignored.
Finally, cultural attitudes about disabilities also significantly impact IE's implementation and success. The cultures of some developing countries maintain that disabled people are cursed and should be avoided: this can create problems if the parents of regular students object strongly to special needs students being placed in the same classroom. Unless a culture accepts people with disabilities and wishes to see these individuals become fully assimilated members of society, IE will face much opposition in some areas.
It is clear that special needs education is a crucial concern in developing countries. IE holds many promises for special needs students in developing countries and can be a very effective way for these students to be both educated and accepted by the surrounding community. However, it is also rife with numerous issues and concerns that must be carefully judged, evaluated, and overcome.
By the Numbers
The number of people with special needs in developing countries is significant. Approximately 80% of disabled people reside in the developing countries of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and only 2% of all the disabled people receive special needs services and rehabilitation in those areas. Furthermore, approximately 150 million are children of school age (Charema, 2007). For example, Stough (2003) said that roughly 10% (7,500) of the students in Costa Rica's school system are severely disabled (p. 7).
Furthermore, Kristensen, Magor-Loican, and Onen (2003) said that "special needs" does not just mean students that have physical or developmental issues such as paralysis or mental retardation. Other students who have special education needs may include children who are heads of their households, former child-soldiers, street children, orphans, child prostitutes, and children of war and displacement. These tragic and life-shattering situations befall many children in developed countries and, as a result, education can be very challenging for these students.
These large numbers of special needs students in developing countries means that these countries have a high need for effective and innovative ways to properly educate these students. IE in developing countries can be a way for schools to serve the needs of disabled students. Furthermore, non government organizations and human rights organizations are putting increasing pressure on school systems and countries to make IE happen (Mushoriwa, 2001). Therefore, it is reasonable to say that IE will be an increasingly larger issue in the education systems of developing countries, and teachers in these countries will see increasing numbers of special needs students integrated into their classrooms.
One of the difficulties surrounding IE in developing countries is the fact that research about education in these countries is often significantly lacking. For example, Charema (2007) stated flatly, "There is no reliable information about types and incidence of special educational needs in developing countries" (p. 89). Furthermore, many of these IE programs in developing countries are more properly defined as "pilot programs" (Eleweke & Rodda,...
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