Making a case for Inclusive Education

Making a case for Inclusive Education
December 17, 2017, Sunday

Rieser (seated) with Dr Toh Teck Hock of Sibu Agape Centre (left) and Woodlands International School principal Aubrey Gloves.

CHILDREN who are born with or who develop disabilities should not be separated out but put together with normal children under a system of inclusive education in mainstream schools.
Children should not be denied the fundamental human right to an education just because they have congenital disabilties or are afflicted at a later stage.

For this reason, we need only one education system — INCLUSIVE — for everybody, not two — Special and Mainstream, according to Richard Rieser, founder and CEO of the company called World of Inclusion Ltd.
He said there are many reasons why special education needs to be changed to inclusive education.
“First and foremost, it’s for the benefit of all,” he stressed.
What is inclusive education?

Rieser said basically, it’s about educating all children together at one time and providing every child the right support and accommodation it needs.

“For instance, children with disabilities might need someone to write for them, take them to the toilet or get dressed. They can have friends — disabled and non-disabled. There are lots of different things they can do and the best way is to work as a team — by combining their skills to facilitate learning for all.”
Rieser, a former teacher, said there are two types of learningre weight and is more important than academic learning. Life skills should be taught in school, not just narrow academic skills. Inclusive learning is to encourage the teaching and learning of life skills.

“If we just create an examination factory, then children will learn nothing else and we will be denying them access to creativity, humanity, discussion as well as thinking,” he explained.
He stressed the need for holistic education whereby children learned together instead of separately.
Rieser was in Sibu recently as a speaker at the Fourth Annual SENIM Conference held at Woodlands International School.
More than 400 participants from across Asia took part in the two-day conference, including parents of children with special needs, medical and education professionals as well as teachers.

Rieser said many children throughout the world were denied the right to inclusive education.
“There are something like 250,000 million children who have not been to school or have dropped out before even completing basic elementary education. Most of them are disabled children,” he told thesundaypost.
In Malaysia, he noted, there are also many disabled children not attending school as there is no law to say you have to go to school.

“So, there has to be a law that mandates schooling for all children. Once such a law is passed, local schools can be given support to ensure every child has an education, especially those living near schools. The problem is particularly serious in rural or even semi-urban areas where many children still do not go to school.”

Richard Rieser sharing the benefits of inclusive education.
International treaties
Rieser said the reason why so many schools did not take in disabled children is that they did not know how to teach these children.
“If you try to enroll a disabled child in a mainstream school, more often than not he or she will not be accepted — and the school will say it cannot teach them.
“This is where we (from World of Inclusion Ltd) can come in to counsel the teachers. It’s about giving them the tools to teach in a different way.
“Also, school boards must think differently. How to support their teaching staff, what training do the teachers need, what changes can be made to the school environment — like using different colours to help the children recognise different shades and hues or letting them learn how to make tapestry, design things and do curriculum projects. This inclusive approach can help the children grow.”
Rieser said Malaysia showed it is serious about implementing inclusive education when it signed two international treaties on the topic.
The first is the Convention on the Rights Of The Person with Disabilities, signed in 2009. Under Article 24, all physically and mentally disabled children must have the right to receive mainstream education with appropriate support.
The second is the Sustainable Development Goals, signed in 2015, whereby Goal No 4 says all children should have an inclusive quality education — and Malaysia is working hard towards attaining this goal.
Rieser pointed out that it would take time to achieve Goal No. 4 as there is presently no law in Malaysia requiring all children to go to school.
“In the world, this is a big problem,” he added.
He sees a emerging ray of hope in Bangladesh where a record is kept on children going to school.
“About 95 per cent of Bangladeshi children go to school and the five per cent who do not are disabled childen. In Malaysia, we don’t count the number of schooling children, especially in the rural or even semi-urban areas where there are still many children who do not go to school.”
A passion
Rieser, who was born with polio, is passionate about inclusive education through his own experience. During his younger days, he went to school for the disabled as well as to special school and mainstream school.
“I studied the same curriculum as everybody else so that I would not be bullied. I know exactly the feelings of being a disable child and I hope each generation will not have the same problem.”
In 2009, after the UN Concention, Rieser set up World of Inclusion Limited based in London.
“I was at the UN Convention and wrote Article 24. I represented the disabled in UK. Later,I wrote two guidebooks on inclusive education for Commonwealth countries — one in 2008 and the other in 2012.”
In 1987, Rieser became interested in special education for disability. Later, he switched to inclusive education, formed the Disability and Quality In Education Centre with a network of trainers, and set up branches worldwide.
“We train about 15,000 teachers throughout the world to prepare them for inclusive education,” he said.
Rieser noted that although many countries are now very much into inclusive education, there are still many others who do not know what it is or what it is aiming at.
Canada’s province of New Brunswich is the first to develop inclusive education. Others include the US, Spain, Brazil, Portugal and the UK.
Rieser feels the government should take the lead in implementing inclusive education.
“If the government is serious, we can come up with a training programme for principals and teachers.
“We need to change the mindsets of the teachers before we change the schools. This is a world-changing initiative. Ultimately, it’s about changing everyone’s attitude.”
He said special education not only did not bring out the best of children but also deny them the same right to education.

Rieser (seated) with Dr Toh Teck Hock of Sibu Agape Centre (left) and Woodlands International School principal Aubrey Gloves.
Deficit and positive model
Rieser hopes the world will share his message and vision and can differentiate between the deficit model of special education and the positive model of inclusive education.
“My message to change special education to inclusive education is pretty clearcut. Special education which we are having all this while is a deficit model and ought to be changed to inclusive education which is a positive model.”
“However, we need to retain the teachers and train them so that they can continue to guide the children under the new inclusive education syallabus.”
He said it was very important to get the right support for the students and one approach was to change the way teachers think while the rest could be worked out accordingly.
“Malaysia can’t meet either of those goals at the moment.
So I’ve come here to help it achieve the implementation of inclusive education. I’m here to experience and raise everybody’s level to think about this in a different way. It’s important that children learn together otherwise you just leave some of them out,” he added.