SPROWT ARTICLE | Miguel Prista

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For an Inclusive Education, indeed

Educating is different from training. Education takes place at home, within the family, in the community, under the perspective that our way of being reflects and is the result of the collective. The family is the central educator, supported by the larger community, society, and the world beyond. It involves care, morality, affection, discipline, and setting limits. The individual carries with them a foundation for the formation of their personality and political, social, and professional stance in the world, building and deconstructing their values in interaction with others. The school reinforces basic values of social coexistence. Training aims to fit the individual into a pattern of functioning and equip them with tools to fit into productive and behavioral gears, satisfying current norms. In education, we need to include because the center is the individual, who has their own life and will make their own decisions, regardless of how they are guided to lead their life. In training, we inherently exclude because anyone who does not fit into the gear has no space, does not meet the standard. The established model of education aims to produce workers of “knowing how to be, be, and do,” inhibiting the conscious construction of how to navigate the world in harmony with others. From the early steps of education, the individual is urged to follow a predetermined, behavioral, and programmatic path without being the actor of their journey. It is shown how to happen. If we feel the need today to talk about Inclusive Education, it has something to do with the fact that education is exclusive by definition. What is happening?

Inclusive education arises from the non-acceptance of exclusion by those affected. It comes from the outrage at the observation that some can, and others are considered incapable or useless. One of its strong driving forces is the need to accept differences. Another is the perception that exclusion generates, through discrimination and prejudice, more work in the medium and long term, and above all, increases levels of unhappiness. Families, neighbors, and communities have realized and experienced paradigmatically more enjoyable and constructive experiences when relating to “the different” openly, receptively, and transforming themselves, realizing the power of adapting to what the world offers. The view of nature, worn out for centuries by a conception and action of domination and appropriation, has transitioned to a more integrated ecological view, where humans allow themselves to perceive as an integral part, not distinct and transformative, since abusive transformation has generated irreversible consequences and degradation of mental and physical health, of humans and non-humans. This new embedded dimension of sensitivity has also allowed acceptance of individuals with different physical and mental characteristics, outside the standard established by some cultures. With it, openness to social and cultural differences has also increased. Since 2005, the UN has recognized cultural diversity as a key factor in the coexistence of peoples.

Although inclusion is not limited to psycho-physiological differences, it is on these that Inclusive Education has focused, refining techniques and policies to make it effective. A subsequent step is to ensure that inclusion is not limited to integrating individuals into the same social spaces but that didactic programs and processes are effective in the cognitive, intellectual, emotional, social, and programmatic participation construction of individuals framed in this condition considered special. However, we should all be special, and, in the end, we all have specific learning needs.

One of the magic aspects of Inclusive Education has been the realization by professionals and adult family members that those included by default are the ones who perceive (and are included) in an entire existing universe of those left aside when designing, architecture, public spaces, programs, technologies, industrial design, utensils, financing, and cultural programs. Inclusive Education has proven to be as important for those who inhabit and participate in it as for those who benefit from it as the main object. The individual with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is as integrated and qualified as the acceptance of their surroundings and society to the normality of their condition. The example of the Mozambican Autism Association reflects this dynamic. AMA has shown the country how it is possible to generate transformation and effective inclusion by simply bringing visibility to the Autism spectrum condition, through the actions of parents, professionals, and aligned institutions, and of individuals who grow with joy, protection, autonomy, and productivity in their abilities. Perhaps due to the difficulty of diagnosis, differences in mental foundations remain invisible to the general public and in the formulation of policies and technical expertise, something less incident in differences of a physical nature. Still, these groups are little included, serving as propagandistic flags. Even with inclusion provided for in the National Education System, with 3 model centers in the 3 regions of the country and schools directed to enroll children with SEN, special schools remain. If the work of public sector teachers is already hampered by a lack of conditions and overcrowded classrooms, the ‘behaviorist’ view of pedagogical practices will hinder the implementation of the proposal assumed by the Curricular Plan of a Student-Centered Teaching, which would, by itself, promote the Inclusion of the educational process. Inclusion also needs to be observed for learning difficulties, which arise from different factors than just pathological ones. Inclusive Education needs a constructivist/cognitivist approach, which observes the individual in their learning process and guides them in the process of knowledge construction. The methodologies applied to promote learning define the results and are the result of the guiding worldview of the process. They cannot be achieved if the teacher is not seen as the driving force behind the implementation of the educational process.

Above all, it is a political decision of society to lead the public debate to the central question: what kind of individual do we want to form.