Inclusive Education – not a One-Way Street: How to Educate Everyone on Equal Terms

Not everyone understands the concept of inclusiveness. This is the process of including children with special needs into regular education and employment. Russian universities are now developing centers for inclusive education in accordance with the law. However, there is still a lack of common understanding on how to implement inclusiveness and what is needed for this, experts noted at the conference "Inclusive Education at the University: Constraints or New Opportunities", which was held at ITMO University on 12 and 13 April.

Vitaly Kantor, Director of the Resource Training and Methodological Center for the Education of People with Disabilities and Persons with Disabilities of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region, Director of the Institute of Defectology Education and Rehabilitation of the RSPU named after. AI Herzen.

In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues now facing universities that create centers for inclusiveness?

According to the regulations issued by the Ministry of Education and Science, a special service for accompanying students with disabilities must be established in each institution or it must employ a person responsible for carrying out this work. In each university this requirement is fulfilled in one way or another. But the question is not in the nominal availability or absence of such a service, but how effective its work is, whether it reaches every student and whether it responds to  specific needs. After all, not in every university, and especially in engineering universities, there are specialists who have the necessary professional training in the field of special pedagogy, psychology and rehabilitation, in order to realize the functionality that is implied by inclusive education.

There’s a significant danger in discrediting the idea of inclusion, which implies a proper level of qualification of both administrative staff and those who work with disabled people: teachers, library staff, canteens. Staff should be prepared to interact correctly with students. To provide such training, resource centers have been established in 16 universities across Russia to help upgrade the skills of faculty and staff. We can’t just offer a structural solution, such as a creation of these centers. We’ll get an imaginary inclusion, and this is more a step backward.

But also makes sense to not only to work with teachers, but also with student and public opinion, because inclusion is equalization, not special conditions for the disabled.

Obviously, inclusion is not a one-way street. Not only should people with disabilities integrate into society, but society must also integrate them. In higher education, inclusive education is not only the aspiration of a disabled student to the student community, but also the shift of the students and teaching staff to study together. That is why we expressed the idea that, within the framework of any university course, we should include the possibility of implementing a sociocultural course for students, which is devoted to the problems of interaction between society and disabled people.

Inclusion is hampered by inadequate social attitudes. The first is the avoidance setting. It can also be veiled when people try not to interact with people with disabilities at all. And the second inadequate installation is even more insidious - pseudo-positive, when excessive pity turns a disabled person into a kind of passive phenomenon, and this is not true. Sometimes this speculative position is even taken by the disabled students themselves. It can turn them into dependent who demands not  the special conditions, which he has the right to, but special qualification requirements: for example, to get an A where a non-disabled person would get a B. Inclusion is equal rights, both sides should realize it. After all, we award exactly the same diploma to a disabled person as to everyone else. It does not say that it was issued to a disabled person, which means that its owner must be the same as everyone else in all professional competencies. Otherwise, we will discredit inclusion.

Igor Makaryev, head of the Institute for the Development of Education of the St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Teacher Education.

What are the most important problems now facing inclusive education, society?

There are many questions, and especially about the mechanisms of inclusion and the attitude of society towards it. During a presentation by our American colleague it was immediately apparent that our countries have drastically different approaches to inclusion. The key problem we have is that we have not yet been able to properly understand the conceptual things in inclusion, but we are already doing some actions. For example, we have a law that requires that inclusive education to be for everyone. And we are discussing disabled people, but in the law it states for everyone. This is a key statement. Next: the law also states that it is necessary to train special-needs children, given their abilities and needs. In discussions, we focus on the restrictions these children have. Our pedagogical community should, first of all, pay closer attention to what has already been approved in the legislation, to form a common understanding of the issue, and then to build mechanisms of inclusive education. And we are trying to do something, not having agreed on the main parts.

But instructors are having a difficult time adapting, many were not trained for these conditions.

And here again the fundamental problem: both legislatively, and in the building of public opinion, we missed an important step. We could not yet comprehend and correctly formulate what inclusion means, so the teachers could not yet adapt to this idea.

Mikhail Mozgovoy, deputy director of the MSTU. N.E. Bauman Training, Research and Methodological Center for Vocational Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities.

Now many universities are only creating inclusion centers. What, in your opinion, are the difficulties in this area? Your colleague has already commented that we’ve taken the wrong approach, that is, from mechanical changes, not from the concept.

Yes, this is a problem: society is not ready for full inclusion. It’s somewhat easier at our university because people with disabilities have been studying here for over 80 years. We don’t have any employees who have haven’t worked with disabled people. Historically, the deaf people studied inclusively through adapted programs. Now it means that the first year they have to stretch for two years. This is necessary because we helping them bring their high school knowledge to the necessary level because many correctional schools are closing, so we feel a lack of quality of education. After that, they join in the regular program. If there are deaf people in the group, then the sign language interpreter works with the teacher. However, such specialists are rare, because not every translator can translate complex technical terms, quantum mechanics. Therefore, the experience that our translators accumulate, they pass on to other colleagues. We also try to use technical means in the process, for example, machine recognition of speech, remote translation.

Of course, there are problems with training the instructors.  Therefore, our center conducts trainings, refresher courses, which are also held annually throughout the country by order of the Ministry of Education and Science. For example, we train about 200-300 people every year. A network of resource centers has also been established in 16 universities of the country, which should broadcast the experience of inclusive education in their own and near regions.

It is necessary to change the students’ attitude towards inclusion who study together with special-needs students?

It’s not a big problem at a university level. We, for example, do not feel it at all, because, as already mentioned, historically we have always been educating students with disabilities. In addition, the university is already a more elite and tolerant environment, they evaluate knowledge, not appearance. In school, it’s a different story: children are often cruel. Students, sometimes, complain about the attitude of teachers. The task of teachers is to conduct courses, they are difficult to force to adapt to the features of inclusive education. But our task is to make education accessible to all. That's why we work with teachers, we try to stimulate them through extra bonuses, some more bonuses. It is especially important to find a common language with rare specialists, for example, teachers on the same quantum mechanics.

Irina Kuznetsova, representative of the Committee for Labor and Employment of the Government of St. Petersburg.

Is it possible to implement inclusiveness in hiring? Are people with disabilities now more often employed in St. Petersburg?

Official statistics for the past year from the pension fund indicate that the number of people employed in a city with a disability has grown by 3,150 people. These are quite good figures, in addition, there is a large percentage of people employed unofficially. The quota employs about 15,000. A quota is when employers with more than 150 employees are required to employ people with disabilities. Now the city has a quota of approximately 70%. Changes are also expected in the law on quotas, according to which employers who cannot find a quota employee can lease this quota from other employers, who, for example, may not even have enough quotas.

So we can say that the attitude of employers to the employment of people with disabilities is changing for the better, perhaps towards inclusiveness?

Yes, but, of course, there are employers are not very concerned with inclusiveness: they know that there will be monetary compensation, so they employ disabled people. But not all. For example, one well-known electronics company has even formed a unit to accompany employees with disabilities. There are non-profit organizations that help in this. Now the contest "Path to Career" for young professionals with disabilities is held, which is held by the Business Council on Disability. That is, the employers' pool organizes trainings for students with higher education to prepare a resume, self-presentation, students participate in a business game. In St. Petersburg there is also an internship program for disabled people: they get a job, and their chances of finding a job depend only on how they show themselves, so it all depends on them.

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