Inclusion is a debatable topic among the media as it has received mixed reviews. Recently, the Minister of Education Dominic Cardy has been travelling throughout New Brunswick to get feedback from educators and the public on how to improve the public education system. The Government of New Brunswick released a media statement to the public on the review of the inclusion policy.
Inclusion means that everyone is included, and no student is left behind; however, there are both positives and negatives concerning inclusion. Remember that every student includes students with exceptionalities in the New Brunswick classroom. Please note that this is an overall picture of inclusions within the classroom and not focused on one particular type of exceptionality.
Socio-economic status needs to be considered
Before discussing the positives and negatives of inclusion, it is important to consider the socio-economic status of each student. Some students may not understand how to self-regulate as they did not learn coping skills in their home environment. Living in an era where media technology continues to advance, not every student has access to the latest technologies, such as computers, gaming consoles or phones. This demonstrates how some students may feel left out in school as they cannot relate to their peers. Saint John is known to have a high poverty rate compared to other demographics in New Brunswick. There are many cases of students living through trauma and having to perform adult life skills, such as cooking and cleaning to provide for their families. Some students can feel a sense of safety at school compared to their home life situation.
The positives of inclusion
On a positive note, inclusion can help each student in the classroom by developing new relationships with a student with exceptionalities. Therefore, students can develop communication skills, which can be transferable to the real world. Consider the following: a student could have a peer buddy to eat with or attend assemblies, to do group work within the classroom, and to develop life skills such as turn-taking, manners, and respect. Social skills are essential as each of the students can learn from one another. Students are able to learn and appreciate that they can make their own choices independently, unlike a student who cannot express their needs through communication. All students are learning to become more understanding and open, which creates a diverse environment for all students within the classroom and community.
The barriers to inclusion
Despite how positive the inclusion policy sounds, there are some flaws in the policy, such as the lack of training, resources, and supports in place. Students with exceptionalities have sensory needs that are required to help them self-regulate and work at their best. The lack of assistive technology or using dated technology makes it more challenging to help a student with exceptionalities.
Safety within the classroom environment is sometimes a concern as well, as educators may have to do a mandatory classroom evacuation when a student with exceptionalities is causing physical violence to educators or other students. This takes away instruction time from the other students.
Lack of educational assistants an issue
Students with learning disabilities are also no longer getting additional assistance as an Educational Assistants role has evolved by doing hygienic needs, one-on-one support, medical and behavioural support. The teachers are left with no classroom support and it takes away from the other students who need help.
Several strategies can be used
Though resources may be limited, there are some strategies that can be used to facilitate inclusion. These include the zones of regulation, sensory room, picture exchange system (PECS), breaking down steps and social skills programs. The zones of regulation teach students strategies on what to do when they feel sad or frustrated. A sensory room helps a student calm down and bring them back to the green zone. The picture exchange system is used to help students communicate what they are saying through visual images. Many educators sometimes forget to break down curriculum outcomes to meet the needs of each student, which can be challenging. School intervention workers, guidance counsellors and educators help students with their social skills through multiple different types of programs such as Rainbows or group-based interventions.
No firm agreement on inclusion
Inclusion for students with exceptionalities is not agreed on by all, as some people are for it and others against it. Some parents may feel that the learning environment is compromised by constant disruptions within the classrooms. New Brunswick is faced with a huge deficit and the lack of funding in education is not in the best interest of New Brunswick’s classrooms. The best approach is to find solutions that work best for all the students, but when the resources and support are not in place, inclusion does not work. In order for New Brunswick to move forward, we need to meet the needs of the children’s best interests and realize that everyone learns differently. We should be striving so that each child can become the best they possibly be.