Jayne Pletser, Curriculum Manager for inclusive education, and Kala Parasuram, Assessment access and Inclusion Manager at the IB, talk to Sophie-Marie Odum about how schools can help remove barriers to learning
The IB believes that an inclusive education is something every IB World School should embrace and work towards. Students should be prepared to exercise their rights as citizens and take their responsibilities in the wider community. The IB Learner Profile implies a commitment to help all members of the school community to learn to respect themselves and others, as well as the world around them. Inclusivity then is larger than a recognition of cultural diversity.
“If you think you know what inclusion is, the next child who knocks on your door will challenge that belief,” says Jayne Pletser, Curriculum Manager for inclusive education. “Inclusion is about breaking down barriers to learning because if learning or access to learning is problematic, students may find themselves feeling excluded from the learning process or their peer group. Inclusion is about helping them move through this and affirm their identity in different ways – who they are and who they are proud to be.”
To help remove barriers during assessments, inclusive assessment arrangements (IAA) such as additional time, supports students during the assessment process. Sometimes the IB will receive unique requests, says Assessment access and Inclusion Manager Kala Parasuram: “We get questions such as: ‘What can we do with oral exams for a candidate who has social phobia?’ ‘Or how can we help a candidate who has autism when it comes to group interaction tasks?’
“We take these on an individual basis and arrive at what we call a reasonable adjustment. We do not change the assessment task or learning outcome, but suggest adjustments so the candidate can demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities.”
Inclusive education is a journey
To support schools on their inclusion journeys, the IB has published the ‘The IB guide to inclusive education: a resource for whole school development’.
Taking into account the IB Learner Profile and its importance in empowering students, and the IB Programme standards and practices, the guide is designed to facilitate inclusive school development by increasing awareness and knowledge, and provoking discussion through reflection and inquiry. Pletser says: “Up until now we were saying to schools: ‘we would like you to be inclusive’ and now we have a guide that helps schools think about what inclusion might look like”.
The guide consists of 43 statements, which reflect the ideals of inclusion. Each is accompanied by a series of reflective questions. It covers all elements where inclusion should be considered, such as a school’s philosophy, organization and curriculum.
Although the guide aims to support schools, it does not offer a set pathway to inclusion. This would be “wrong” says Pletser, as the development of inclusion cannot be removed from the context of the school and its student population. Parasuram adds: “We hope that the new guide will provoke discussions whereby each student is given the support that they need to fully access teaching and learning.”
“Schools hope we have the silver bullet for them to achieve inclusion, but we don’t,” says Pletser. “Instead, we hope the guide will get the whole IB community thinking about it. You might think you know what standard to choose, but when you start discussing it you may realize that it may not be right for your school, and want to look at a different standard. Inclusion is a journey; a never-ending process.”
A lack of resources or access to appropriate therapies are barriers to access and participation and strategic school development is necessary to overcome them. Schools may also be required to develop inclusion in line with local and national legislation. Pletser says: “The guide will help schools consider what next steps in their school development plan are necessary to increase access and participation.”
All students have different strengths and learning barriers can arise when the teaching and/or assessment is not geared towards enhancing these strengths and circumventing areas of unreasonable challenge. In schools where inclusion is embedded, students are taught which learning strategies will help them to achieve success. There is less focus on labels, which are not helpful, says Pletser: “They do not tell us about the individual student, their strengths or interests, but describe a whole range of issues that might have very little to do with their learning needs. Inclusion can only be successfully achieved in a culture of collaboration, mutual respect, support and problem solving.”
Parasuram adds: ‘’The IB supports students in the assessment process based on unique learning characteristics and requirements, rather than labels.”
Can schools be fully inclusive?
Inclusion is an ongoing process that will look different in every school, says Pletser. “We acknowledge and respect schools that are achieving inclusion in their own way, within their own legislations and within their allotted budgets. We don’t expect all schools to be fully inclusive, but we do expect them to begin their journey.”
“Attitudes can make or break the inclusive process,” adds Parasuram. “We hope The IB guide to inclusive education can facilitate positive attitudes to inclusion in the whole school community.”
Have you used ‘The IB guide to inclusive education: a resource for whole school development’? Tell us how it has helped change your approach to offering an inclusive education: email firstname.lastname@example.org