Inclusive Education

Inclusive Education

Padma Shastry has a Master's in Special Education from Santa Clara University, California. She has been the head of the special education department at Buchser Middle School in Santa Clara, California. Seven years ago, she returned to India and founded Samam Vidya, an initiative focused on conducting teacher education workshops and courses. Her expertise encompasses working with students facing various mild to moderate disabilities, fostering inclusive classrooms, and advancing teacher education.

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So, inclusion is where all students learn in a similar classroom, where both children with disabilities as well as typically developing learn and benefit from each other.

The classroom is a microcosm of society.

In society everybody is together and they have to live in the same world, walk the same streets and shop at the same stores, so the school has to teach that to both sections of the population, both with disabilities as well as typically developing so that they both learn to work together in society as adults.

Uh, and the law says every classroom needs to be inclusive, so students of every…

and inclusive in terms of disability and ability, okay fine; also in terms of gender, in terms of religion, in terms of language, in terms of everything.

We have to have that kind of inclusion, because like I said earlier, it is a microcosm of society.

What society looks like, a classroom should look like that.

And this is a complete practice ground for students to function well as adults.

Q. How do we know that inclusion is happening in classroom?

How do we know that inclusion is happening?

What is inclusion?

Is inclusion geographically keeping kids in the classroom and saying ‘Okay they are in my classroom’?

That is a very incomplete definition of inclusion.

In an inclusive classroom everybody should be learning.

And we expect that every student, whether with disabilities or without disabilities, is in a zone of progress, is making progress.

So, every student starts the year at a certain baseline level and that's…every student should exit the year knowing more than they knew at the beginning of the year, regardless of whether they hit the benchmarks for the year.

Even if the pass percentage of the class is not a 100 percent, even if everybody…every fifth grader does not pass the fifth grade final exam, everybody should know more than they knew at the beginning of the year.

That is when we know that inclusion has worked for every student.

Otherwise you have some students who struggle, who either stagnate and learn nothing the whole year, or who actually lose some learning and fall even further behind than they started the year with, which is regression.

We don’t want stagnation, we don’t want regression.

So, for us to deem that inclusion has actually happened and that it has happened well and successfully is when we know that every single student in a classroom has actually progressed in the year.

Every classroom already has struggling students.

So it is by default, even today, inclusion is happening, consciously or otherwise.

Even without a school actually making the decision to be an inclusive institution, they already are, I can assure every teacher of that.

Uh, so, the disabilities that they see in their students might not be the visible kind, they might not have blind students, they might not have deaf students, they might have hard of hearing students who have not been identified.

They might have low vision students which they might not have yet assessed and identified.

They will be struggling in the classroom.

They will have, maybe, learning difficulties or maybe they have mild autism which has not been identified yet.

So there are so many of these invisible disabilities where the students are already struggling in the classroom and the teachers are struggling along with the students, not realizing how to help the student.

To become inclusive, as a conscious decision, means that you’re now prepared to address these difficulties that the teachers and the students are feeling.

That is the only step that needs to be crossed to call yourself an inclusive school.

Q. How does a school become inclusive?

How does a school become a more inclusive school or how does a school go about formally declaring themselves to be an inclusive school?

First of all, see if the struggling students can get assessments to figure out what the trouble is.

Is it autism? Is it a learning difficulty?

Is it that there has been some hearing loss that has not been detected?

All of these… Can the student see? Can the student hear? Can the student understand? Is it a language problem?

Is the home language different from the school language? Is it ‘English as a second-language’ problem?

All of these can be assessed as a first step to figure out how many students are struggling.

The next step is to train the teachers, have some teacher workshops where the teachers are actually given strategies in which they can address these issues.

That is very very important.

And before we even come to the training, the sensitization, that it is worth it and necessary to actually struggle with this and address this problem.

And because the tendency is that, there will be two or three or four students in a classroom and there are 30 students or 35 students who are studying and learning at the typical speed.

And the tendency is that the teachers need…they also have all these portions to complete and you know, the timeline is so tight and so many things going on - and the tendency is to just keep going going going and the ones who are falling behind just sort of like, fall behind in spite of the efforts of the teacher who tries a little bit but the focus is not completely there.

So, if there can be some sensitization, awareness as well as actual training sessions with strategies that the teachers can be given, that will be very helpful on a day to day basis from the teacher's point of view.

The third thing to have that will really help is a resource room.

Have a resource room with some materials, low tech assistive technology, cushions, and step stools and pool noodles and thick pencils and you know, just tripod grips and bouncy balls, standing desks - these are all very simple - lined paper, graph paper for math - they’re very very simple low tech ideas, that they can keep in the resource room that any teacher can use on an ongoing basis.

Another very valuable thing to put in the resource room is alternate curriculum.

Get some books that are created for struggling students, that address the same syllabus that the NCERT or the CBSE is expecting but is taught in a different way.

Because if you’re using the same book over and over again with the student and the student is struggling and struggling and struggling with it, there’s no point using that again and again.

You might as well try some different strategies, different texts and different books.

Those are the kinds of things that you can stock the resource room with and you can keep adding to the resource room year after year after year and it can be a common place for all teachers to get ideas.

There are many other things that a school can do.

Peer observations are a very useful tool where one teacher goes into the classroom of another teacher to observe the class.

And this has nothing to do with being a student-teacher or a newbie teacher.

Every teacher in the classroom does three observations a year, that will be really wonderful because what we get from these observations is, when I go into another teacher’s classroom, I get ideas.

That teacher is using a certain strategy in a certain way to teach some topic.

And I’m looking at the students going: How engaged are they?

How well is that strategy working?

Can I use that strategy in my classroom?

And so this is a very valuable way for sharing ideas among staff.

Q. How can a teacher teach such diverse students of different learning capabilities?

A question comes up, how can a teacher teach such different abilities of students that, kind of, spectrum from struggling to gifted in one classroom?

And, so, this is something, that, uh, that is, this is something that the teacher training workshops will have addressed and should address.

Uh, how to differentiate a lesson plan?

How to differentiate the curriculum for different students?

We’re teaching the same thing but we’re teaching it at different levels, at different levels of complexity.

And, so, there is this differentiation umbrella and it’s a very common graphic that you can see here now.

So, in, I…there are four different ways in which teachers can differentiate curriculum.

They can accommodate all learners and they can modify as necessary for each learner, and there are four ways of doing it.

One is by accommodating or modifying the content, what the students are learning.

So you can increase the complexity or decrease it depending on the student’s level.

Another is by product.

How do you test, how is the outcome assessed?

Has the student learned?

Sometimes it can be an oral exam, sometimes it can be a written exam, sometimes it can be a drawing and it can be a skit.

So how do you modify the output that is the product?

And then, you can, you know, modify by environment.

Are you teaching in the mainstream classroom?

Are you teaching under a tree?

Are you teaching, you know, one on one?

Because sometimes you just want to grab two or three students and address their difficulties or it’s a whole class or it’s a small group or it’s one on one or it’s outside in nature or it’s in the classroom.

So, change the environment.

There are different ways in which - the process, how do you teach? - sometimes you can teach by lectures, sometimes you can do a lab, sometimes you can do a field trip, you can do a worksheet, you can teach by using magazines, you can show a video in the classroom - there are - you can use newspapers as a teaching tool.

So there are so many ways the process of getting information to the student can be modified or accomodated…that can be used to accommodate different students.

Differentiation is a skill, it’s an art and a science and it is something the teachers can first learn in their initial training and then get better and better by applying it as the years go, they become more and more experienced, more and more comfortable with it.

And it's like…a lesson plan can be like an elastic band where you can stretch it to accommodate different learners in the classroom while still teaching what you need to teach.

This way you're not only accommodating for the struggling students you’re also accommodating for the gifted learners who are galloping ahead of the rest of the class and who are pushing to be more and more challenged.

Have a very clear vision of Must Know, Should Know and Good To Know.

Not everything that’s in the textbook needs to be, you know, attacked with equal force.

There are…If a child cannot learn one year’s worth of material in one year, that child is gonna fall behind.

Two or three years later the loss becomes accumulative.

And so you can’t expect a struggling student to learn one year’s worth of material in one year and if you’re going to pick only a few things to teach that student you’ve got to know how to know which are the Must Teach.

Then there’s the next level, which is Should Teach. Should Know.

Must Know. Should Know. And Good to Know.

And I can give an example.

It's very important, let’s say it’s multiplication.

It is very important for the student.

And the student must know that multiplication is repeated addition.

It’s very important because even if the child has memory problems and forgets the multiplication table, the child can still add and get the answer.

You’re giving the child some power tools, even if nothing else works.

So that’s a Must Know.

Should Know is how to add, I mean if you’re going to tell the student that multiplication is repeated addition then the child should know how to add and how to use that skill and all of that.

Good To Know is the multiplication table.

If the child knows the multiplication table, things will go really fast but you can’t reply on ‘Oh the child should know the multiplication tables from 2 to 20’.

Maybe that kid has ADHD and cannot learn.

Maybe that kid has memory issues.

You’re better off teaching that kid only a few aspects of that lesson instead of the whole thing.

Same thing in social studies, You’re teaching something about India so you’re going to teach what is the Must Know about India for that year that the child should know.

The cities of India or the rivers of India or the hills of India or whatever or some state that you’re learning about.

What is the Good To Know? Oh the clothes they wear in Assam, the foods they eat in Odisha.

So these are Good To Knows, it adds to the cultural knowledge of that child but that may not be the Must Know.

So what are the things that the child must know?

Pick, pick it, pick out of it.

And this is something where you are not fighting the child and you're like, saying, 'Okay the child can do this, I'll do this' and the child is still making progress in the year and learning something, if not everything.

The other thing that I wanted to say is that when students are in a classroom in school, that is the pipeline for higher education.

There's no point saying that there are no students with disabilities in college.

They can only hit college if they have successfully negotiated school.

Why Inclusive education?

Let us come to the question, why inclusive education?

Because we want an educated society.

We want educated citizens and we want to make progress and the only way we’re going to have highly educated citizens of every section of society is if that has been facilitated at school level as well.

If we do not see success amongst the students with disabilities in school, we are not going to see it in college and we’ll correspondingly not see it in society.

When students are in a classroom, in school, that is the pipeline for higher education.

There is no point saying that there are no students with disabilities in college.

They can only hit college if they have successfully negotiated school.

Why Inclusive education?

Let us come to the question, why inclusive education?

Because we want an educated society.

We want educated citizens and we want to make progress and the only way we’re going to have highly educated citizens of every section of society is if that has been facilitated at school level as well.

If we do not see success amongst the students with disabilities in school, we are not going to see it in college and we’ll correspondingly not see it in society.

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Familiarize yourself with and expand your vocabulary of disability-related terminology! 
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C - Cognitive disability
O - Otologist
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