Deliberating on the objectives of inclusive education – from the viewpoint of intercultural and special education.
Brossard Børhaug, Frederique; Magnus Reindal, Solveig (2016). 'Deliberating on the objectives of inclusive education – from the viewpoint of intercultural and special education.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.
As part of the call for papers in preparation of the HDCA conference in Tokyo, the following statement is formulated: “Human diversity not only highlights the scope and versatility of the capability approach but poses many theoretical, conceptual, philosophical, and methodological challenges.” This paper is a theoretical presentation on diversity and inclusive education. We wish to focus on the notion of inclusivity in education and discuss more specifically how the capability approach can help counteract an accountability-oriented view on inclusion in special and intercultural education. More specifically, special education and intercultural education are increasingly limited to serve an understanding of inclusion enhancing economic competition and efficiency of the educational system. Inclusion understood as safeguarding human dignity is in danger of losing ground.
The purpose of inclusion is important to deliberate, as inclusive education is a main goal in UN declarations (UNESCO 1990, 1994, 2000, 2015). Thereby, education is given the fundamental mission to promote a sustainable development for all, and inclusion and equity are considered as cornerstones of a transformative education agenda (2015: 6-7). However, the notion of inclusion raises challenges for the further development of a justice-oriented education in a diverse society.
Firstly, the meaning of inclusion remains to be cleared. A diversity of interpretations provided by the UNESCO declarations, as well as discrepancies between international objectives and national educational systems have been recorded (Kiuppis 2011, 2014). Unclear definitions strongly challenge educational research. In a recent literary review, Göransson and Nilholm (2014) identify four main definitions and understandings of inclusive education; these definitions shed a critical light on the development of UNESCO’s understanding of inclusion and its diverging objectives within the educational field. Secondly, research on inclusion and achievement in mainstream schools investigating the efficacy of inclusion for various groups of pupils show a composite picture (Allan and Persson 2015; Ensig and Johnstone 2014; Farrell, Dyson, Polat, Hutcheson and Gallannaugh 2007; Lindsay, 2007; Persson, 2012). Research on equity also shows a tendency to conceptualize equity within a neoliberal frame of understanding. Lingard, Sellar and Savage (2014) argue, “Social justice and equity are being transformed through the national and global reworking of education into a field of measurement and comparison” (p. 711) and “[that there is] an empirical shift away from philosophical discourses about social justice to a reliance on more data-driven practices of equity” (p. 712). Inclusion may then become instrumental to efficacy and sustain a concept of inclusion based on accountability aligned with international quantifiable goals as result of the embracement of standard tests as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TIMSS, (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and other test programs that compare students achievements internationally.
Applying the capability approach onto a neoliberal view of education based on performativity and measurement is highly relevant (Robeyns 2006). As long as the fundamental aim of development remains the advancement of human freedoms, education should be given a wider purpose than the mere promotion of economic growth. Education’s main objective is human flourishing based on the individual’s substantive freedoms, seeking to overcome inequalities and enhance fair participation processes (Unterhalter 2009: 208, 214). Education should therefore promote critical thinking about the neoliberal view of education that is subordinated in practice to the economic interests of the more privileged, and it should counteract social injustice. Liberal education - with humanities and arts as core elements - should empower the individual fostering a plurality of aspirations toward a meaningful life (Nussbaum 2006, 2011; 2015; Walker 2009). Yet, how can this critical stance based on the capability approach contribute to our discussion on inclusion within special and intercultural education?
We argue that the capability approach is a valuable argument because it links inclusion with dignity and integrity of the individual. As a result, the objective of inclusion becomes an ethical concern (Reindal, 2009, 2010, 2015). Each human being is an end in itself and inclusion is not only about correcting the system’s lack of inclusive practices (although this focus is very important). It encompasses another purpose where inclusion is associated to the capability equality (Terzi 2014). Thus, choices are not only considered in terms of rights: inclusion is also about entitlement and a matter of valuable and meaningful choices for the self. Diversity is then to be understood in two distinct - although deeply related – ways, i.e. unique identity and responsibility. The individual is unique because he/she is fundamentally different from others. However, the individual is also unique because he/she makes a unique contribution to the community and acknowledging diversity implies this very recognition. Capabilities lists promoted by Nussbaum (2006, 2011, 2015) and others (Boni & Walker, 2013; Walker & Unteralter, 2007) can thus be considered as a set of ethical standards for the diverse society and a revival of the philosophical discourse on inclusion, as well as a critic of inclusion based on accountability and efficiency of achievement on international tests.
This statement also bears deep consequences on the definition of inclusion in special and intercultural education. Because inclusion becomes an ethical responsibility, the issue of inclusion for children with immigrant background and/or impairments and difficulties does not sum up to measurement, i.e. how the child performs toward predefined competency goals and how to compensate lack of capacities in different domains (e.g. language proficiency). Inclusion becomes an issue of helping the individual contribute in his/her own way to the community, while setting up structures that promote the individual's freedom to live a meaningful life. It entails an ethical recognition of diversity.
Thereby, we hope to initiate discussions on proficiency in special and intercultural education within the inclusive school from a capability point of view. We also hope that such discussions can be beneficial to the broader educational research field, beyond the scope of special and intercultural education as such.