What is the rationale for inclusive education? A search for an ethical justification in light of the capability approach.

Reindal, Solveig Magnus (2014). 'What is the rationale for inclusive education? A search for an ethical justification in light of the capability approach.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

I have argued previously that the rationale of inclusive education in contemporary writings within inclusive education at least can be divided into three areas: 1) Ethical and socio-political, 2) Ontological, and 3) Epistemological (Reindal 2010). These rationales can be seen on the background of a critique to the traditional enterprise of special education also labelled the orthodoxy of special education (Gallagher 2004). These critiques question the legitimate right of special education proficiency in an inclusive school in its traditional form. Earlier I have therefore argued that the enterprise of special education must be able to formulate a framework that takes into consideration all these three rationales and its critique. Such a framework implies an adequate understanding both of disability and difference and of inclusion that can address the purpose of inclusion without neglecting core educational values. In order to build such a framework I have suggested that it is beneficial to pose Julie Allan's question again: What is the purpose of inclusion (2003,2005)? By doing so I have argued (Reindal 2010) that we have to see inclusion not just as a structural issue about how we organize or change the different aspects of the school – with reference to personnel, pedagogical methods, material and cultural structures – to fit the diversity of the pupils; it is also an ethical concept because it is for the purpose of something – that is, inclusion is for participating in something that is valuable. And it is here that I find that the rationale for inclusion also must be answered as an ethical concept.


Inclusive education has since The Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) been the overall political ideology within school systems both in countries of the North and of the South. In the research literature on inclusive education the concept of inclusion has multiple meanings but there are two major interpretations: as an educational concept and as a sociopolitical concept. As an educational concept inclusion is about participating in the educational enterprise of learning and the justification for inclusion is related to learning outcomes. However, empirical research shows that there is no clear endorsement for the positive effects of inclusion (Lindsay, 2007). Inclusion as a socio-political concept emphasizes solidarity, opportunity and becoming active participants in various aspect of social life and schools are often seen as a microcosm of society, seeing inclusion as a political and social struggle. However, as pointed out by Allan (2003, 2005) it is not clear what one is working towards. What shall inclusion bring about? For that reason one must also answer the question of the purpose of inclusion. I find that it is pertinent to investigate inclusion not just as a sosio-political and educational issue, but also as an ethical question because of the emerging ambivalence to inclusion as a value as pointed out by Norwich (2010).


In order to develop inclusion as an ethical concept I argue that the capability approach developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum is promising and I am building on works of Terzi (2005ab, 2008, 2010). I will also go into the critique that Norwich lately has developed to the capability approach within special education (2014). I think that the CA has the potential to establish inclusion as an ethical concept building on the understanding of difference as a specific variable. As an ethical concept values as dignity, interdependence etc. will be important concepts to elaborate and develop. Following these lines we can rethink the framework of pedagogical practices in an inclusive school. If we understand inclusion as an ethical concept the rationale will always be a scrutiny of the practices in school settings pointing to and avoiding discriminatory pedagogical practices and methods. If on the other hand the ethical valour of the concept vanishes we might repeat negative discriminating factors. It is also only under this perspective that special education can find its rationale within an inclusive school. It is this approach developing inclusion as an ethical concept in the light of the capability approach that this paper will investigate.


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