'Not just a nice idea': The importance of inclusion in and beyond the classroom
Advocate says inclusive schools create inclusive province
The topic of inclusion — where one classroom services all students with varying degrees of needs and capabilities — stirs up varying opinions.
While some teachers support the system, many say they are frustrated with a lack of resources to support it.
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Pam Anstey, the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living, says she believes strongly in the benefits of an inclusive classroom.
"Inclusive education works. It's been proven over and over and over again," she said.
"It is the best system to create and foster diversity and belonging."
Anstey said she hears and understands the concerns of teachers, but argues it is not just schools that play a part in making inclusion work.
"I think one of the most important things that people are kind of skipping is more collaboration," she said.
"To understand that not just the education system has a role to play, but families have a role to play, that community groups have a role to play. And we can all work together to see how we can make inclusive education work in this province better than it is now."
Inclusion inside and outside the classroom
With so much diversity and so many different learning styles, there isn't a "typical student," Anstey said.
"Inclusion is not just for persons with disabilities. Inclusion takes in everyone."
By implementing inclusion in our schools, the idea can transcend the classroom and affect other aspects of society, she said.
There are so many different things that people could achieve if we give them the chance to do so.- Pam Anstey
"Inclusive education creates a community where it's not just an inclusive school, but it is the inclusive province. So you're fostering communities where everybody belongs and where everyone is welcomed and has a voice," she said.
"When students go into the same classroom as their peers, they develop this sense of everyone being able to be included, and that builds on itself, and what we see long-term is that we have communities where people are not isolated, people are not segregated, people have a voice within their community."
Inclusion can help other students too, Anstey said. When children are exposed to diversity at a young age, they become used to seeing disabilities and then understand them as a part of life, not something that is odd, unusual or strange, she added.
Not just an idea
For Anstey, inclusion isn't a concept or a theory, it's a right.
"Inclusive education is not just a nice idea, it's something that has been signed off on under the United Nations charter," she said.
"Under that convention it says that every student — regardless of disability, regardless of ability — is entitled to a quality and inclusive education in an environment with their peers."
Anstey offered the example of one student she knows who flourished once he switched to an inclusive environment. She said he was never expected to be outside of a segregated classroom, but his family fought for him to be included.
"And as a result of that inclusion and that fight … he graduated with a full high school diploma. [He is] now working, is now a contributing member of the province," she said.
"There are so many different things that people could achieve if we give them the chance to do so."