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Inclusion in Education: Reconsidering Limits, Identifying Possibilities

by Pavel Zgaga (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 270 Pages

Summary

This book seeks to offer a contribution to the ongoing discussion on inclusion in education. The initiative was born in a research group from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Three researchers from Italy, Serbia and the United Kingdom joined the group later. The authors believe that the book offers relatively fresh perspectives on the topic. Firstly, the authors provide an interdisciplinary perspective by approaching the concept of inclusion on three horizons, which they understand as mutually compatible and co-dependent: pedagogical approaches, social contexts and theoretical reflections. Secondly, they offer a specific geographical perspective. The authors’ desire is to highlight specific perspectives that are not common in the ‘mainstream’ literature: perspectives from Central and Southern Europe.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Inclusion in Education: Between Opportunities and Limits
  • Part I Inclusive Pedagogy
  • Conceptualising Inclusive Pedagogy
  • Defining the Boundaries of Inclusion within Compulsory Education and Teacher Education
  • University Teaching Staff about the Inclusiveness: Are Their Beliefs Barriers in the Process of Implementation of Inclusiveness in Slovenia?
  • A Comparative Analysis of Inclusion in Slovenia and Italy
  • Part II Inclusive Society
  • Intersectionality as a Tool for Overcoming the Barriers of Inclusion
  • Limits to Housing Inclusion
  • Integration of Refugees in Slovenia: Limits and Possibilities
  • Part III Reconsidering Inclusion
  • Shifting Rationalities: Exclusion, Integration, and Inclusion in Education
  • Inclusion and Empirical Research – an Uneasy Relationship
  • Inclusion as Subjective Inclusion
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Contributors
  • Index

Pavel Zgaga

Inclusion in Education: Between Opportunities and Limits

Introduction to the Theme

Inclusion as the Core of the Modern Paradigm of Education

The concept of inclusion has become one of the central concepts in education in the past few decades, not only in professional discourse, but also among the general public; as well as being on the lips of policymakers, researchers, teachers and so on, it is especially familiar to parents. We could say that the modern paradigm of education is very well reflected in the concept of inclusion. It can be understood as the key point in which the modern conceptualisation of education differs from the past: education has been established as public and universal, thus as a right – and a duty – of each member of the community, of each citizen. The difficulty of this task became clear only later, in questioning the possibilities and limits of compulsory education.

Within the framework of the nationally regulated systems that began to appear in the nineteenth century, education has always been understood as a lever of economic and cultural progress and a guarantor of the strength of the nation state. The enlightened enthusiasm for the unimaginable possibilities of universal education slowed down relatively early, on the discovery and recognition of school failure. In short, the idea of a universal school for all was faced with its first limitation: students do not all learn the same and achieve the same results. From today’s perspective, it seems that it was possible to insist on the principle of compulsory education – one of the assumptions of a modern democratic society – only by recognising this experience as a ‘fact’ and by recognising exclusion – educational segregation – along with it. Thus we entered the period of ‘universal special schools’ and special education. In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice and experiences of these schools, and above all their critical analysis, began to dictate a more thorough reconceptualisation, which was first marked by the concept of integration and somewhat later by the concept of inclusion.

This process cannot be observed only in the narrow perspective of the education profession and debates within it; it must be placed in the broader context of the societal developments that were typical of the time. At the end of the ←7 | 8→twentieth century, Thomas M. Skrtic, for example, summarised this context and these trends as follows:

when industrialization and compulsory school attendance converged to produce large numbers of students who were difficult to teach in traditional classrooms, the problem of school failure was reframed as two interrelated problems – inefficient organizations and defective students. [The result was, on the one hand,] the developing field of educational administration, which, in the interest of maximizing organizational efficiency, was compelled to rationalize its orientation according to the precepts of scientific management, [and on the other,] the new field of special education, which emerged as a means to remove and contain the most recalcitrant students in the interest of maintaining order in the rationalized school plant. […] The paradox in all of this is that, when read critically, special education provides the structural and cultural insights that are necessary to begin reconstructing public education for the historical conditions of the twenty-first century and, ultimately, for reconciling it with its democratic ideals. (Skrtic 1991: 152–154)

The birth of special education should be viewed as much more than a mere theoretical justification of the ideology of educational segregation. On the contrary, especially as a research field and academic discipline, it assumed the complex tasks of critical analysis of reality and (self)critique. In this perspective, special education is the field that gradually allowed a renewed and more thorough conceptualisation of ‘school failure’, including a reconceptualisation of the idea of universal school for all. “The origins of inclusive education are rooted in special education research that questioned the efficacy of separate special education classes in the 1960s” (Florian 2014: 286). The shift, which occurs in the second half of the twentieth century, is a shift from a ‘failed’ individual to everyone: everyone can – and should – participate in learning and teaching, while recognising and respecting the diversity of both classrooms and communities. In its most contemporary and developed form, in the words of established researchers of this field, it is

a shift in pedagogical thinking from an approach that works for most learners existing alongside something ‘additional’ or ‘different’ for those (some) who experience difficulties, towards one that involves providing rich learning opportunities that are sufficiently made available for everyone, so that all learners are able to participate in classroom life. This new approach to individual differences is distinguished from earlier notions about inclusive education and inclusive practice, which are based on the process of providing for all by differentiating for some. By focusing on what is to be learned by the community of learners in a classroom, the inclusive pedagogical approach aims to avoid the problems and stigma associated with marking some learners as different. (Florian and Black-Hawkins 2011: 826)

This entails a shift from the provision of extra help to some supposedly defective students to the development and dissemination of hidden resources normally available ←8 | 9→in the educational environment, inside and outside of school, to promote education for all children. (Dovigo 2017: vii)

However, this has not yet resulted in a ‘happy end’. Many authors draw attention to the dilemmas, open issues and even paradoxes that appear at this point, as well as to the fact that this position is not without opposition and that inclusive education is still a controversial subject. As in many similar earlier situations, it is therefore necessary to insist on further critical analysis of reality and (self)critique. New integrative and/or inclusive strategies bring not only relief, but also new complications, including new and subtle forms of exclusion. This is highlighted by Fabio Dovigo, who points out that

inclusive education is a complex undertaking, as many obstacles stand in the way of change. As soon as we succeed in tackling exclusion in some specific area, inclusion seems to move away as new barriers are created and new questions arise. Far from discouraging efforts towards educational justice, this should be assumed to be a reminder that exclusionary pressures in school and more generally in society are multifaceted and protean. Consequently, we need to work on preventing exclusion as well as on fighting it, knowing that any step forward in the right direction is not just a little addition to a never-ending task, but also a small change which can have large, systemic effects on the entire educational organization. To attain this goal, the rise of diversity in schools has to be seen not as an issue to be brought under control through increased standardization, but as a resource that helps us cope with the complex society we live in. (Dovigo 2017: ix)

The present book seeks to offer a modest contribution to the ongoing discussion. The initiative was born in the interdisciplinary research group entitled “Systemic Aspects of Educational Strategies and the Promotion of Social Inclusion in Education”, which operates at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and has been dealing with these issues for some time. When the decision was made to prepare a monograph, we also invited several colleagues from other countries – Italy, Serbia and the United Kingdom – to participate, and this led to the publication of the book that we now offer to readers for reflection and evaluation.

We believe that we offer a number of relatively fresh perspectives, two of which we mention here. Firstly, we provide an interdisciplinary perspective by approaching the concept of inclusion on three horizons, which we understand as mutually compatible and co-dependent: pedagogical approaches, social contexts and theoretical reflections. These three horizons are discussed in ten chapters, divided into the book’s three parts (see section IV below for details). Secondly, we offer a geographical perspective. Although the ongoing international research as well as policy debates on inclusion concern all regions of the world and all countries, the fact is that sources referring to the ‘world centres’ most commonly ←9 | 10→appear in the readily available literature – and as frequent references in this literature – while ‘peripheries’ either remain on the margins or are overlooked completely. Of course, the existence of a lingua franca – today’s language of research – also contributes to this. Our desire is to highlight specific perspectives that are not common in the ‘mainstream’ literature: perspectives of researchers working in small countries characterised by specific traditions, perspectives from Central and Southern Europe, perspectives that are nonetheless connected with other European and global perspectives.

From School Practice and Academic Research to Policy Development and Political Decision Making

The contemporary debate on inclusion is not only an academic debate, it is also a policy and political discussion. In fact, since the birth of the great enlightenment project two centuries ago, the entire field of education has been closely linked to the issues of society and democracy, and this is, of course, true of the issue of inclusion in the present period, as well. Gert Biesta noted that inclusion is “one of the core values, if not the core value of democracy”, yet we should not overlook his later remark that “inclusion is not only the main point and purpose of democracy; it is also one of its main problems” (Biesta 2009: 101).

A review of the literature reveals a number of points in which the concepts of education and inclusion touch upon and intertwine with academic research, pedagogical practice in the classroom, policy development and political decision making. These areas are mutually crossed by questions – forming a kind of connecting thread – such as whether the institutional practices of public education are consistent with democratic ideals (Skrtic 1991), how we can translate the vision of cultural and linguistic diversity into pedagogical practices that promote critical thinking and democratic education (Lin and Sequeira 2017), etc. Let us briefly summarise the wide-ranging debate on these issues in two relevant sources that have been in circulation for some time: “inclusive education is really about extending the comprehensive ideal in education”; it is about “developing an education system in which tolerance, diversity and equity are striven for” (Thomas and Loxley 2001: vii); “inclusion expresses a vision of the direction in which the political level wants to develop institutions of welfare state, such as public schools” (Hansen 2012: 89).

It becomes clear why the issue of inclusion – understood in its broadest sense – is one of the central issues in modern societies, and why there is so much interest in it not only in the responsible societal institutions, such as educational institutions, but also in the general political space. Janne Hedegaard Hansen ←10 | 11→(2012: 90) identified four main political reasons to develop inclusive pedagogical practices in Denmark, reasons that are highly relevant in other European countries, as well:

the existing special educational offerings do not seem to have the desired effect;

the steady increase in the number of children referred to special educational offerings;

the increase in demand has made it difficult to control spending on the provision of special education;

in today’s democratic societies, it has become important to try to minimise marginalising processes and the exclusion of pupils in public schools, as all individuals should have the right to participate in the established communities.

On the one hand, the political agenda that has, in recent decades, led to successive reforms in this area is dependent on and connected with new ideas about a preferred society, ideas that first mature slowly in smaller circles and then expand to gradually gain broad consensus. Over the last few decades, one such idea has been that of an ‘inclusive society’, a society and/or community of all equal and all different (this idea has not, however, come to the fore without resistance and opposition, as we can see particularly today). On the other hand, this agenda also depends on international agreements. Even in this area, new ideas – supported by the new ‘spirit of the time’ in general – occasionally contribute to comprehensive changes that do not remain limited only to the ‘developed world’. While there was no specific reference to education in the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen of 1789, it has a clear presence in the universally adopted modern version of this basic document.

Biographical notes

Pavel Zgaga (Volume editor)

Pavel Zgaga is a Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana. He has held several research grants and directed or contributed to a number of national and international research projects focused on various issues in contemporary higher education, education policy and reforms, as well as on teacher education in a comparative international perspective.

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Title: Inclusion in Education: Reconsidering Limits, Identifying Possibilities