• 1 Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Malaysia
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In 2014, when I started my post-doctoral journey at the University of Waikato with Lise, I audited a course entitled “Inclusive Education” that gave me a new constructive vision of inclusiveness and education. Though I come from a nation (Malaysia) where every part of life from cradle to grave is compartmentalised to conform to societal norms, I decided that I wanted to explore together with others what it means to be included in a society or community, given all the diversity out there across continents.

The United Nations’ Global Education 2030 Agenda (UNESCO, 2015) is part of a global movement to eradicate poverty over the next decade through 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This book is dedicated to Goal 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Working with colleagues in inclusive education at the University of Waikato encouraged me to bring together scholars from all over the globe, especially those keen to make a difference in the world of inclusive education. I realised that many might presume that inclusive education focusses on individuals outside what is considered ‘normal’ for appearance or behaviour in their countries. The word ‘normal’, used freely in ‘Eastern’ cultures, was itself a problematic term. Coming from a society in which there was expected conformity to any and every rule laid down by authorities, whether from religion, law, constitution, governmental policies or societal norms, I found it disquieting to see in New Zealand a culture that encouraged and provided space for individual expression where people could voice their disagreement through many sanctioned channels. In my experience, this is not the case in many nations around the globe where you need to have recognised authority to voice opinions. You needed to be ‘someone’ to be heard, not like New Zealand where each one, straight or otherwise, has the freedom to express their needs, aspirations and displeasure regarding what they undergo in life every day.

After much discussion with my co-editor and others, and self-reflection, I started communicating with scholar friends from different continents. Surprisingly, they too shared the same concerns. It seems that everyone knows that Goal 4 (UNESCO, n.d.) took initial shape in 1994. More than 300 participants representing 92 governments and 25 international organisations met in Salamanca, Spain, from seven to 10 June 1994 to discuss the objectives of education by considering the basic policy shifts required to promote the approach of inclusive education, especially to serve children, particularly those with special needs. As a result, the conference adopted the Salamanca Statement on principles, policies and practice in special education. It’s almost two and a half decades since the document was written and accepted by most nations around the globe. However, the reality of inclusive education and ‘schools for all’ needs timely research and proactive measures to ensure that policies and treaties translate to practice.

The Salamanca statement read that all delegates affirmed that:

  1. Every child has a fundamental right to education, and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning.
  2. Every child has unique characteristics, interest, abilities and learning needs.
  3. Education systems should be designed and educational programmes implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs.
  4. Those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools, which should accommodate them with child-centred-pedagogy capable of meeting these needs.
  5. Regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system. (UNESCO, 1994)

When the different interested scholars were contacted, they showed great enthusiasm to share cases from their own countries to show how inclusive education is experienced in their country compared to the 1994 Salamanca Statement. It was indeed a large responsibility getting scholars from different cultural backgrounds to communicate their regional genealogies of inclusive education based on their expertise. That process itself is inclusive in nature. My suggestion that all writings from different countries should maintain their specific cultural content to allow their voices to be heard was agreed to. The project kept progressing with challenges in time, culture and different styles of written expression. This final piece of work is the commitment of each scholar and their team members to make a difference in the lives of children and the narratives of how they became part of that transformation.

After the initial agreement between the editors and the chapter contributors, further guidelines were provided and the drafts were written. The chapters underwent several rounds of editing which strengthened every chapter. The unique aspect of these chapters was the space to allow writing to be as natural as possible and encourage the voice of the different nations to be heard. It was not an easy task but the results were satisfying. Allowing every contributor to write based on their own cultural and national background is the unique feature of this book.

References

  • UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization). (1994, June 7–10). The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education: Adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education; Access and Quality. Salamanca, Spain: Author.

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  • UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization). (n.d.). Leading SDG 4-Education 2030. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/themes/education2030-sdg4

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Moving towards Inclusive Education

Diverse National Engagements with Paradoxes of Policy and Practice

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