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Celebrating 20 years of the internationalization of inclusive education: A peek into IB’s own journey

Assessment Access and Inclusion Manager, Kala Parasuram, explores how the IB has developed its access and inclusion agenda, leading by example and taking the international community on this fundamental and important journey.


Part of an examination question written in braille.

By Kala Parasuram

Over the past two decades, education for students with disabilities has moved from segregation and special schools to inclusive education that embraces diversity and differences. Inclusive education addresses learning support requirements and questions the broader objectives of education, the nature of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. Today, inclusive education is supported by the United Nations as a matter of human rights and social justice.

At the World Congress on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality (June 1994) in Salamanca, Spain, members of 92 governments and 25 international organizations were signatories to a historic and dynamic statement, referred to as the ‘Salamanca Statement.’ It was the first international commitment to inclusive education and a call to governments and education agencies of all nations to make inclusive schooling a central part of all education programmes. It announced that all children should learn together and that schools must “recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles and rates of learning.”

The Salamanca Statement carried a rights-based lens on education. It recognized that inclusion and participation are a matter of human rights and essential to human dignity.  Since the Salamanca Statement, inclusive education has gained momentum worldwide and has changed the lives of a generation of students who would have otherwise been excluded from the mainstream.

On the 20th anniversary of the Salamanca Statement, it seems appropriate to examine the IB’s journey of inclusive education.  Where was the IB with the education of students with learning support requirements 20 years ago and how does that compare to the prevailing state?

The IB has travelled a long way in the last 20 years with regards to inclusive education. In the past, learning support was “not given the prominence and attention that it deserved,” says Graeme Donnan, Subject Group Head (3, 6 and Core) who managed special educational needs (SEN) in the IB Diploma Programme for 18 years.

Going down memory lane, Helen Murray an ex-employee who worked with the IB for 20 years, says that ‘‘there was no member of staff assigned to SEN at the IB at that time. This came later with the increased number of cases and the need to appoint someone with the expertise and knowledge to advise us accordingly’’. It was only in the year 2000 that a part-time Special Educational Needs Coordinator was recruited by the IB.

Currently, there are thousands of students with learning support requirements, including sensory, physical, neurological, psychological and other challenges, who successfully graduate from IB World Schools. ‘‘Over the years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of requests for candidates with access requirements and increasing awareness both within the IB and among stakeholders about the needs of these candidates’’, adds Graeme Donnan.

At present, learning diversity is very well reflected in the diverse student population in IB World Schools. Schools are required to demonstrate their support for learning diversity as evidenced by the following practices in the IB Programme standards and practices document.

  • The school supports access for students to the IB programme(s) and philosophy.
  • The school provides support for its students with learning and/or special educational needs and support for their teachers.
  • Collaborative planning and reflection incorporates differentiation for students’ learning needs and styles.
  • Teaching and learning differentiates instruction to meet students’ learning needs and styles

The IB has two full-time posts, one in the Assessment Centre in Cardiff and the Global Centre in The Hague, solely to address access and inclusion which in itself is evidence of the organization’s commitment to inclusive education.  The IB endeavours to employ inclusive assessment design in the design and development of assessments in order to make the standard examinations accessible to all students.  Students who have assessment access requirements are further supported with a number of arrangements ranging from additional time to the use of assistive technology.

There are well established criteria for the provision of these assessment arrangements which help ensure standardization and consistency to the maximum extent possible.  Learning diversity and inclusive education are included in the suite of IB professional development courses delivered to IB educators worldwide.  The IB publishes teaching support materials and other resources aimed at supporting schools with access and inclusion.

In 2013, in line with the IB’s alignment with inclusive approaches, terminology was changed to replace special education with inclusive education.  The IB now uses terms such as access and inclusion, learning diversity, learning support and assessment access requirements.

Comparing the different examination boards, a parent of an IB student in Mumbai says that the ‘’IB system suits people with learning disabilities better’’ (Mumbai Mirror, 3 August 2014).

On the 20th anniversary of the Salamanca Statement, the IB can say that not only has it expanded as an organization but that its growth has been inclusive. It has made large strides in access and inclusion, leading by example and taking the international community along in this very fundamental and important journey.

Learn more by exploring these resources:

Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
David Mitchell, PhD: “Education that Fits: A review of international trends in the education of students”
UNESCO: The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education
UNICEF: Promoting the rights of children with disabilities

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  • Howard

    Is the graph which shows a 285% increase in students with IAA’s adjusted for the general increase in IB student numbers between 1994 and 2014. According the statistical bulletin there was a 650% increase in total IB candidates taking exams.

  • Sky

    Hi Howard, you are correct – there is definitely another way to examine this data, but overall the IB’s ability to provide inclusive assessments has kept a strong pace right alongside the programme growth. As the chart illustrates, comparing 1994 and 2014 there have been over six times the number of total requests. If you adjust for growth, you’d find that these two years have a similar percentages of total candidates making these requests. Keep in mind that over that time the program has grown from just under 20,000 examinations to over 130,000 annually.

    More info: http://www.ibo.org/facts/statbulletin/dpstats/

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  • emily

    It is great to inclusion take place in IB schools!

  • chantal

    Can someone help me to find out how to apply for accommodations for the DP program exams?

  • Sky

    Hi Chantal – If you are a student, the first stop should be your IB Coordinator. They should be able to provide you with the details for a request of inclusive assessment arrangements. Hope that helps!