Anne-Marie Callus is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Disability Studies at the University of Malta. She has been working with people with disabilities for over 25 years, particularly in inclusive research and as a support member of a self-advocacy group. Today, she shares with Inclusion Europe the importance for all children to receive a quality education.
What is your perspective on inclusive education?
Inclusion requires a radical re-thinking of how we look at education. Inclusive education is about changing the question that we ask about the education of students with disabilities. Rather than asking if a student is able to fit into a mainstream education setting, inclusion is about asking what we need to do to adapt that setting to enable educators to meet the individual educational needs of students with disabilities. Rather than discussing whether or not inclusion is possible, shouldn’t we focus on how to make it possible?
“Inclusion requires a radical re-thinking of how we look at education”
What are the long-terms effects of inclusion at school?
The school is often seen as a microcosm of society. If children with disabilities are sent to segregated schools, they will inevitably be socially excluded as adults. On the other hand, an inclusive mainstream education system reflects an aspiration for creating a more inclusive society. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. For example, the experience of many students with disabilities is that they are socially included at the primary education level but not so much in secondary schools. Then, when the years of compulsory education are over, only a few seem to manage to keep in touch with their non-disabled peers. However, one cannot doubt that having students with and without disabilities in the same classroom is a very important step towards achieving inclusion in society.
How can inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities be improved at university?
Universities need to collaborate with organisations that represent and work with people with intellectual disabilities, including self-advocacy organisations. One of the hallmarks of the disability rights movement is that it was led by disabled people and their representative organisations. When disabled people are listened to and when policy and practice takes their perspectives and priorities into account, progress is registered in safeguarding their rights and fostering social inclusion. It would therefore be great to see collaborations between universities, self-advocacy groups and other organisations that work with people with intellectual disabilities. Together, they can explore what the learning needs of prospective university students with intellectual disabilities are, what aspirations they have and what the university can offer to meet these needs and aspirations at the appropriate academic level, and how to design and deliver courses that attend to the students’ support needs.
What is the space allocated to the voice of students with intellectual disabilities in inclusion?
All students with disabilities should have a voice in the planning of their education. Students with intellectual disabilities are particularly at risk of being excluded from these processes since it is assumed that they cannot represent themselves. No one can learn how to make choices, express preferences and articulate their wishes and aspirations unless one is given opportunities to practise and develop these skills. When students with disabilities are not given these opportunities, they cannot easily develop the ability to represent themselves.
“All students with disabilities should have a voice in the planning of their education”
What could be the lessons from the COVID-19 in the field of education?
COVID-19 throws into relief social inequalities. Likewise, in the field of education, the closure of schools and the use of online platforms have highlighted how dependent children are on adequate support for them to be able to flourish educationally. Linked to this is the exacerbation of educational equalities with students who do not have adequate support at home, and those without an internet connection, being at risk of losing out on their education to a much greater extent than those who found the support they needed.
Do you think distance learning can be detrimental to the overall education experience of students with intellectual disabilities?
With schools, colleges and universities closed, the use of online platforms and other means of distance learning are very valuable resources. However, I do not think that they can wholly replace the experience of students being in the same class together with their educators. This applies for all students at all levels. It applies even more for students with intellectual disabilities who require one-to-one support and guidance for them to be able to maximise their potential for learning. It is difficult to provide this support through a computer screen, especially when there is no one sitting next to the student for guidance. Ensuring that there is someone guiding the student at home in turn puts additional pressure on the family. These students are likely to need more intensive support once they return to their classrooms to be able to catch up with their learning.
Find out more:
- Inclusion Europe is publishing a briefing on the lack of education for children with intellectual disabilities made worse in the Coronavirus emergency: link
- Lack of education for children with intellectual disabilities made worse in the Coronavirus emergency (.pdf)
- Экстренная ситуация с Коронавирусом усугубляет дефицит образовательных возможностей для детей с интеллектуальными нарушениями (.pdf)