|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 2, 1995 (Issue 94) - Special Needs Education (UNESCO, 1995, 208 p.)|
Education for all also means education for everyone. If a nation cherishes all its citizens equally, it must ensure that all of them have effective access to its social goods, including education.
Yet we know today that national education systems fail millions of children. They do this either by making inappropriate educational provision for them or by excluding them from schooling entirely.
The year 1990 provided the first signs that the challenge of exclusion from education was being taken up by the world's leaders. This was at the World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs (Jomtien, Thailand) when the goal of 'education for all by the year 2000' was adopted.
It was in 1994 that one of the most significant international opportunities occurred to build on the Jomtien initiative and to examine with care the practical requirements that have to be satisfied to make inclusive education a reality. This was the purpose of the Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality, organized by the government of Spain in co-operation with UNESCO. The goal was nothing less than the inclusion of all the world's children in schools and the reform of the school system to make this possible. The conference provided a platform to affirm the principle and discuss the practice of ensuring that children with special educational needs be included in these initiatives enabling them to take their rightful place in a learning society.
In the past, special education was defined in terms of handicapped children with a range of physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional difficulties, who had to be educated in certain ways and in certain settings. There was a clear distinction in the education system between those who were handicapped and those who were not.
The ideology and concept of handicap came under severe scrutiny in the early 1960s, partly triggered by concerns over discrimination and the denial of rights, as well as the labelling of people, but more significantly by the understanding and acceptance of the ecological dimension to disability and learning difficulties and the interactive concept - that the child's learning difficulties were the result of the interaction of a multitude of factors: those within the child together with a variety of environmental factors, such as poverty or lack of stimulation, and a number of factors primarily related to the school, such as poor educational provision, inappropriate teaching and misguided assessment standards. Thus, it became plain that the concept of special education needs has to be widened to include all children who, for various reasons, are failing to benefit from school. In addition to children with impairments and disabilities who are prevented from attending their local school, there are millions more who experience difficulties - whether temporarily or permanently - or who are only able to complete one or two years of primary education, are forced to repeat grades and often drop out. And, of course, there are those who for various reasons are simply not attending school.
A concrete outcome of this debate is that special education is now an issue for mainstream agendas, referred to today as the 'one school for all' approach or inclusive education. Inclusion can be initially understood as a move towards extending the scope of the regular school so that it can respond to the greater diversity amongst children. Inclusive education is not the same education for all. It cannot be assumed that, because special educational needs must be met on a large scale, personalized attention is less necessary. Inclusive education should be part of an overall strategy for achieving education for all. It is not a new departure, but a revised means for supporting the efforts of governments to reach universal primary education (UPE) in an affordable and cost-effective way.
In this issue, Prospects publishes a selected number of papers on special education needs presented at the Salamanca meeting. Educational policy trends, linked with the work market, teacher training, school management and organization, the promotion of innovations, teaching methods, community participation, among others, are the main themes analysed by specialists, decision-makers and practitioners. A particular acknowledgment should be made to Lena Saleh, responsible for UNESCO's activities in the field of special educational needs, who contributed to the conception of this dossier, and to Karen Dust, for her editorial work.
This issue of Prospects is complemented by a provocative analysis of insecurity in the world today and its consequences for education by Luis Ratinoff, and an enlightening reflection about new challenges in the field of education and work by Hermann Schmidt. These two contributions, we are sure, will stimulate debate on the future of education.
JUAN CARLOS TEDESCO