Special Education: Why Inclusive Schools Benefit Everyone

02 Mar 2012 | Education | By Nazneen Aibara

According to the Persons with Disability Act (1995) for children with special needs, every child has a right to education in an appropriate environment, integrated into mainstream schools. However, this act hasn't been implemented in full rigour in our education system. Nazneen Aibara, a Special Educator, tell us why it is important for children with special needs to study in mainstream schools.

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Rhea is a 13 year old girl with dyslexia, a learning disability that thousands of children like Rhea struggle with each day of their lives. The struggle, however, is not with dyslexia but with stereotyped attitudes toward learning disabilities compounded by educational policies that are not enforced properly thereby excluding children like Rhea from equal opportunities for academic success. According to our educational policy, no child is to be left behind till eighth grade. Rhea has completed eighth grade under the policy of promoting all children till eighth grade. However, Rhea is denied the right to ninth grade in her school, as her school administrators and teachers advise that Rhea be moved to an alternative school. What does this mean for Rhea? What does this mean for children like Rhea? What does this mean for a democratic society that believes in education but excludes those who need it the most?

Rhea’s story is not an anomaly. Special needs children across the country are excluded from mainstream schooling, play, and opportunities for no other reason than the will to understand children with special needs, how to attend to children with special needs, and the resources to provide for children with special needs.

History & Law on Special Education in India

Why are some children diagnosed with special needs? Children with special needs do not learn according to medically and psychologically defined developmental norms and encounter various forms of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor challenges. Special needs education in India goes back to 1880 when Christian missionaries first started ‘charity schools’ for children with special needs. Much later came the Integrated Education for Disabled Children scheme (IEDC), of the 1970s, which stated that children with special needs should be mainstreamed in regular schools rather than excluded from public education. Four decades later, now in the year 2012 children with special needs continue to struggle for a place in mainstream schools.

Why is it important for children with special needs to study in mainstream schools? According to the Right to Education act (2009), education is a “fundamental right” of every child between the ages of 6 to 14 along with the Persons with Disability act (PWD, 1995) for children with special needs. According to the latter, every child with a disability, cognitive, affective, or psychomotor, has the right to free education in an appropriate environment till the age of eighteen and integrated into mainstream schools.

Inclusive education breaks barriers between ‘them’ & ‘us’

Albert Bandura’s theory of observational learning is apt for all children. Children with special education needs need to be placed in an environment where they interact with all other children. A lot of research done in this area shows positive effects of children being mainstreamed. A review of literature done by Salend and Garrick (1999) concluded that children with special needs who are mainstreamed gain in academic achievement, their peers begin to show more acceptance and they develop richer friend networks and higher self esteem. Mainstreaming and integration are also beneficial for students without special needs. It gives them an opportunity to interact with children who are different, to understand other perspectives, to learn important lessons in empathy. More importantly, mainstreaming children with special needs benefits all of us as inclusion helps us understand how to work with children with special needs, break stereotypes, and change societal attitudes toward children with special needs. When these children are mainstreamed, they educate the rest of the educational community on cognitive, affective, and psychomotor differences, and respect human diversity. 


It gives me great joy to see how much children with special needs are benefitting from being mainstreamed and how much administrators, teachers, and children benefit from working with children with special needs. Working in an inclusive set up has given me the opportunity to witness the value in our education system and the celebration of human diversity. There is a zest in these children to do everything like their peers, to participate actively in school and play. Inclusion needs to go beyond the classroom. The children participate with their peers at outstation trips as well. Such interactions are hugely beneficial to all children in learning to be independent, developing good social relations, forming friendships and learning essential life skills.

This change needs to start with our Government schools before anything can be expected from our private schools. It is true that schools face many limitations. There are challenges with student teacher ratio, funds, management attitudes, and physical limitations. However, research done by Landrum et al (2003) showed that the instructional practices effective for most learners are also effective for students with special needs if delivered in an explicit and systematic manner. If general education teachers are well equipped with the methods of working with children who have special needs all other concerns get absolved to a large extent.

Credit must be given to schools that have initiated change through successful integration by making education inclusive for all children. Such efforts are a just a drop in the ocean, but every drop goes a long way in filling up the ocean. This is not a change policy makers alone can bring about. This is a change everyone collectively can bring on. If Rhea’s school, principal and teachers make a concerted effort to work with Rhea toward an inclusive education, they will change Rhea’s life for the better; they will change the lives of all children with special needs, and in the process, will change their own lives.                        


Nazneen Aibara is a Special Educator who teaches children with special learning needs like Dyslexia in Step By Step School, an inclusive education set up.

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