Breaking down inclusion barriers and myths

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location in curriculum decision-making processes. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.24; Framework for School Age Care, p.41)

During 2018, ACECQA is working with Inclusion Agencies and a number of regulatory authorities to deliver a series of forums and expos for children’s education and care educators to meet and discuss inclusion.

Together we explore how the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS) support inclusion, what rich, inclusive practice and environments look like, the use and value of Strategic Inclusion Plans (SIPs), Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) and community engagement strategies and resources. It is expected that more than 6000 educators will attend the forums and expos.

One noteworthy piece of feedback that we have received from many participants is the way they now understand inclusion underpinning all of the quality areas rather than a practice exclusively embedded in Quality Area 6. This is especially interesting when we consider that the words ‘each child’ are intentionally used throughout the NQS – 18 times to be exact – to promote the inclusion of every child.

In this month’s blog, I would like to share some of the myths that emerged in discussions at the forums and expos that Inclusion Professionals dispelled:

1. Inclusion is about disability – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is about including every child holistically. As Adrian Ashman and John Elkins (2009) remind us, ‘Inclusion enables access, engagement and success for all learners’. Considering the definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks, we can see inclusion is broader than simply providing for children with a disability. Rather it is about embracing diversity and providing opportunities for all children to participate and benefit. The NQF promotes the valuing of diversity, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with a disability, as well as people from diverse family compositions.

2. The rest of the children will ‘miss out’ if you include a child with additional needs – UNTRUE!

Sometimes we hear that this is the perception of some families where a service educates and cares for a child or children with challenging behaviours or additional needs. Contrary to popular belief, we know from solid research that all children benefit from inclusive environments.

An educator’s image of a child is influential in the environments they create. Loris Malaguzzi (1994) advocates that the environment and the image you have of a child are strongly connected. Therefore, the environment you construct around children is a reflection of the image you have of the child. Creating an environment that supports the inclusion of every child means each child can be supported to thrive and build a respect and valuing of diversity.

3. Funding always improves inclusion – UNTRUE!

Funding can be a useful resource to support the implementation of inclusive practice, but sometimes it can hinder inclusion. Without critically reflecting on practice, employing an additional educator in the room does not always support inclusion and sometimes may exclude children from participating with their peers. For example, a support educator may unintentionally isolate other children in the room when preparing an activity for a child with additional needs.

Inclusive practice occurs when educators make thoughtful and informed curriculum decisions and work in partnership with families and other professionals. This helps ensure children – including those with a disability – to have equitable and genuine opportunities to participate. (Early Childhood Australia, Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice)

4. Inclusion and early intervention are basically the same – UNTRUE!

There is a belief that inclusion is the outcome of early intervention. Although these concepts interrelate, they are separate outcomes. The definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks refers to all children holistically. Early intervention relates to children who require additional support and involves the support of early childhood intervention specialists.

5. Inclusion is a charitable thing to do for children – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is a basic human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to an education (Article 28) that develops their ability to their fullest potential, prepares children for life and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages (Article 29). This is reflected in Regulation 155 of the National Regulations: “An approved provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that the education and care service provides education and care to children in a way that maintains at all times the dignity and rights of each child”.

6. Inclusion is about everybody being treated the same – UNTRUE!

Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who have any kind of disability should receive special care and support so that they can live a full and independent life. With this in mind, if everyone was treated the same, would this be fair or equitable?

Image source: NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency

Reflective questions

Below is a sample of questions from the Inclusion extension pack for ACECQA’s The Quest for Quality knowledge game. The questions are intended to prompt open, reflective and collaborative discussions among providers, educators and students. They are also useful as a starting resource for critical reflection and when planning your Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP), Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).

  • What is inclusion?
  • When was your inclusion policy last updated?
  • Does your inclusion policy reflect current research?
  • How does your service embed and reflect on children’s culture and abilities?
  • What are the benefits of mainstream services for children with additional needs?
  • How do you communicate this to families?
  • Where would you start the collaborative process of developing a RAP?

Where to from here?

Further reading and resources

Ashman, A. & Elkins, J. (2009) Education for inclusion and diversity (3rd ed.), Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

Early Childhood Australia – Code of Ethics

Early Childhood Australia – Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice

National PSC Alliance –Fact sheet – Understanding Inclusion

Loris Malaguzzi (1994) ‘Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins’, Child Care Information Exchange, 94.

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