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Creating an inclusive learning environment | Dr Bimali Indrarathne

Inclusivity in the classroom

Inclusive education is defined as “recognition of the need to work towards ‘schools for all’ – institutions which include everybody, celebrate differences, support learning, and respond to individual needs” (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2011, p. 3). When inclusive practices are introduced into a school system, usually teachers are trained and they are expected to make necessary changes in the teaching-learning process. However, teacher training itself cannot create an inclusive environment in the school. All relevant parties such as school administration, parents, and other social institutions should also play an active role. Therefore, it is important to understand how these different groups contribute to create an inclusive environment. 

Challenges in creating an inclusive environment

Negative attitudes and lack of awareness: One of the main challenges in introducing inclusive practices into an education system is the negative attitudes and/or misconceptions of teachers, school management, parents and society on issues such as disabilities. This is due to their lack of awareness of such issues. Research in different parts of the world has shown evidence of teachers’ (e.g. Alawadh, 2016) and parents’ (Scorgie, 2015) lack of awareness of learning difficulties such as dyslexia. A recent study (Indrarathne, in press) has shown that English language teachers find it difficult to implement inclusive practices to accommodate learners with dyslexia at classroom level due to lack of support from their colleagues, parents and school management (or the education system).

Poor collaboration: If educational changes are to be successfully implemented, there should be healthy and regular collaboration between professionals within the education system (Alur & Timmons, 2009). For example, when inclusive practices are introduced into a school system to accommodate learners with learning difficulties, there need to be changes introduced to the assessments as well. However, in certain contexts, assessments are designed by external bodies and teachers have minimal influence on the decisions taken by those who design assessments. On such occasions, teachers are in a dilemma as changes that they introduce may have negative consequences on learners when it comes to assessments. 

Lack of resources: Lack of physical resources (e.g. sufficient classroom space, facilities for preparing learning aids), lack of awareness-raising programmes aimed at teachers, principals, parents and society at large, lack of specific teaching-learning materials/resources and lack of administrative support within the school system can also be challenging when creating an inclusive environment.

Ways to overcome challenges

Awareness raising: One of the most important steps that need to be taken when creating an inclusive environment is awareness-raising. This should be aimed at:

  • Everybody in the education management system including teachers, principals, teacher educators, policy planners and administrators. This can be realised through either short-term or long-term programmes and by including components related to inclusion into existing CPD programmes.
  • Parents – both of learners with and without special needs. It is important that parents of learners without special needs understand the reasons for accommodating learners with special needs and parents of children with special needs understand which accommodations their children need. Involving the parents in creating an inclusive environment will bring more positive results. This can be done through regular discussions with parents, through parents’ meetings and through other means such as leaflets.
  • Society – as social institutions need to fully participate in creating an inclusive environment, it is important to design ways and means to reach them. Awareness- raising programmes such as newspaper articles, leaflets, short TV/radio programmes, public talks and seminars would be useful in this context. At school level, events such as school visits and open days can be arranged.
  • Learners – it is also vital to make learners aware that some of their peers need special accommodations in the learning process.

Agenda for creating an inclusive culture: The institution needs to identify the steps that need to be taken to create an inclusive environment and design a programme to realise it. This needs to include a clear vision, short-term and long-term goals and ways to make changes sustainable. This should be designed in collaboration with all parties (i.e. teachers, administrators, students and parents) and should also be communicated to all parties concerned.

Collaboration and communication: It is important to create an environment where all relevant parties within the school system (i.e. teachers, administrators, students and parents) engage in regular communication and collaborate in creating an inclusive environment.

Legislation: Eleweke and Rodda (2002) identify the absence of enabling legislation as a major problem in implementing inclusive education particularly in developing countries. Therefore, a country/education system needs some enabling legislation of inclusive practices, for example, giving extra time in exams for learners with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Resources: Providing teachers with necessary training and physical resources to implement inclusive practices and providing learners with special needs the resources that they need would make the school environment more inclusive.

I spoke about creating and Inclusive Classroom at ELTOC 2019, click here to watch the recording!


Dr Bimali Indrarathne is a lecturer in the Department of Education, University of York. She researches second language acquisition/pedagogy and teacher education. She has been involved in several teacher training projects on dyslexia and inclusive practices in South Asia. She is also an educator on the Lancaster University’s MOOC on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching.


References

Alawadh, A. S. (2016). Teachers perceptions of the challenges related to provision of services for learners with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia) in Kuwaiti government primary schools. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of York.

Alur, M., & Timmons, V. (Eds.). (2009). Inclusive education across cultures: Crossing boundaries, sharing ideas. India: SAGE Publications India.

Eleweke, C., & Rodda, M. (2002). The challenge of enhancing inclusive education in developing countries. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 6(2), 113-126.

Indrarathne, B. (In press). Accommodating learners with dyslexia in ELT in Sri Lanka: teachers’ knowledge, attitudes and challenges. TESOL Quarterly.

Scorgie, K. (2015). Ambiguous belonging and the challenge of inclusion: parent perspectives on school membership. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 20(1), 35-50.

United Nations Children’s Fund (2011) The right of children with disabilities to education: a rights-based approach to inclusive education. Geneva, Switzerland: UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS).