Encouraging Understanding

Children do not progress in solitude. They need the encouragement of their
parents, teachers and peers to progress both socially and academically. All
youngsters have the right to quality education. Each pupil has his/her own
individual make-up, aptitude, and learning styles. The learner will have a good
chance to adjust emotionally where his/her temperamental traits fit in with the
values of society.

Students with social maladjustments or special needs require specialized
support services to help them through difficult learning experiences that could
otherwise lead them to lots of frustration and failure. Unfortunately, many of
today’s youth who have learning disabilities abandon their studies because they
experience countless hardships coping both socially and academically.

The proponents of inclusive education encourage integrating children with
special needs into a regular class setting so that they can learn together with
their peers. The idea is that when each child is given the opportunity to be
educated in a normal environment he/she will have the best chance to realize
his/her potential. Placement into a special class or a special school will only
be reserved for those whose needs cannot at all be met in a regular educational
context even with specialized services.

Norman Kunc, who wrote The Need to Belong: Rediscovering Maslow’s Hierarchy of
Needs, declares that integrating students with disabilities into regular
classes can be an important catalyst in designing the educational milieu where
all participants feel they have the right to belong. This would have a positive
effect on the entire student body.

According to Maslow’s psychological paradigm belonging is a vital human need
that must be fulfilled before one could achieve a feeling self-esteem. The most
fundamental physiological requirements are: food, water and shelter. When those
have been gratified, a person can focus on his/her needs for safety and
stability. Once the individual feels safe and secure, belonging or love emerge
as the next priority. Family, friendships, participation in community
organizations, etc. help one to achieve a sense of belonging. Once he/she feels
rooted within the community, he/she will yearn for acceptance from his/her
peers and will strive to establish friendships.

Inclusive education aims to provide opportunities for socially maladjusted
pupils to acquire the proper behaviour so that they can cultivate amicable
relationships with their fellow classmates. A child who cultivates friendly
relationships with his/her fellow classmates derives feelings of stability,
security, and belonging. The respect or recognition gained from these
friendships give rise to the unfolding of the learner’s self-esteem or feelings
of self-worth as a person. A student who has confidence feels motivated to
realize his/her potential.

Special needs children require lots of positive reinforcement to reinforce
their sense of belonging and to bolster their self-esteem. Integrating special
needs children into a regular classroom environment also allows them to benefit
from the influence of their more socially competent peers so that they would
eventually strive to emulate them. In the words of René Girard in his discourse
on mimetic desire, “We learn because we want to be like those from whom we
learn”.

Individualized workshops are provided for pupils who are being mainstreamed to
provide them with the knowledge that they require to learn friendship-making
skills, skill alternatives to aggression such as how to stay out of fights,
ways to deal with stress, failure, group pressure, anger management, etc. Role
models, mentors, child care workers, the school psychologist, resource teacher,
etc. all play a significant part in fostering these students’ well-being and
development. All of the children learn in a manner in which the emphasis is on
team work and collaboration and which is mutually pleasing to all of the
participants.

Special needs children often harbour feelings of personal unworthiness and
hopelessness. Many quit school, where they feel uncomfortable, inferior and
inadequate. It is a tragedy when they no longer wish to attend classes because
they do not believe they have the potential to cope with the academic and
social pressures. The disaster occurs when they join gangs to feel more valued
and turn to a life of drugs and violence. Inclusive education aims to instil a
positive self-image into these youngsters and to provide programs for them
which are designed to help them ameliorate their behaviour and their academic
standing. Solutions to conflicts and to interpersonal problems are sought by
using empathy, cooperation, role-playing, group activities, etc. in a setting
where each pupil feels valued.

The regular classroom teacher who instructs in inclusive schools needs to
understand and believe in the reasoning behind mainstreaming. Although the
school psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, resource teacher, etc.
all have their own specialized duties to perform, the regular teacher must also
be conversant with the pedagogical approaches and techniques which are suitable
for the requirements of learners who exhibit emotional and/or behaviour
problems. He/She needs to be well versed in ways to tailor curriculum and
instruction for pupils with diverse levels of ability, learning modes and
exceptional requirements. It is essential that he/she be available to work
together with the families, other professionals, etc. in the educational
process.

Inclusive education is not the answer for everyone but it should be available
to all pupils for whom it could be their window of opportunity for success.

B.S.O.

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