Many countries have been faced with the challenge of making sure that all learners access education irrespective of their educational needs and forms of disabilities. One solution to this challenge has been the creation of special schools designed in a way that they accommodate learners’ special learning needs, which gave rise to the concept of special needs education.
These schools only received children with special learning needs such as those with physical (such as blindness, hearing impairment, etc.) and mental disabilities. Given that only learners with special educational needs went to such schools, these learners were isolated from others, which worsened the stigma that these learners were already faced with in the society. In addition to that, labeling these children as “learners with disability” led to low self-esteem, lower expectations from themselves, parents and teachers, difficulties in relating and making friends with their peers. The need to include these learners in the mainstream schools to learn alongside their peers led to the concept of inclusive education.
In many contexts, inclusion has been limited to physical and materials elements such as braille, wheelchair passages, appropriate computers, resource rooms and resource teachers, etc. However, as implied by the Rwandan competency-based curriculum framework, inclusion needs to be embraced even in classroom practices. This framework defines inclusive education as “an approach to course and unit design, teaching and learning practice which aims to improve access and offer chance to all irrespective of needs and ability. It is regarded as a balanced, equitable and globally-oriented program that is adaptable according to circumstances. In its essence, inclusion is based on the right of all learners to a quality and equitable education that meets their basic learning needs, and understands the diversity of backgrounds and abilities as a learning opportunity” (REB, 2015, p. 24).
Thus, “the curriculum must ensure that every individual is valued and there are high expectations of every learner. Learning must be organized so that all learners thrive, including girls, learners with disabilities, learners with special educational needs and regardless of their background” (REB, 2015, p. 20). Thus, inclusive education needs to go beyond access to school infrastructure and teaching/learning resources to make sure that teaching/learning practices are inclusive of all. This brings us to the concept of inclusive curriculum.
An inclusive curriculum is a school curriculum that emphasizes the strengths but accommodates the needs of all children in the classroom. The inclusive curriculum expands that concept of inclusion to include children with varying abilities, children who are at risk of school failure or dropping out, children from various minority groups and cultures, and children with limited English skills. An inclusive curriculum design approach is the one that takes into account students’ educational, cultural and social background and experiences (poverty, culture, religion, nationalities, etc.) as well as the presence of any physical and sensory impairment and their mental well-being. It takes a wider and holistic view that is based on the recognition that all students are entitled to a quality learning experience (Morgan & Houghton, 2011).
In other words, inclusive curriculum is based on the principle that “whoever comes to our schools is the right learner and must succeed’. However, many of our teachers and educators keep on complaining about the quality of learners joining their schools and classes instead of reflecting on how these can be helped to climb up the ladder of their potential.
As educators we need to reflect on how we handle children in the following categories: those who always come to school late, those with very limited or without school materials and/or school uniform, those who learn slowly and never put a hand up in class, those that are talkative and want to answer every teacher’s question, those that are from a different social, cultural and/or linguistic background, just to mention but a few. While teachers’ general tendency may be to care less for these categories of learners, they are, conversely, the ones who need much more attention because they are at risk of failure and/or dropping out of school. This may imply that the high dropout rate that is observed in many Rwandan public schools is related to the curriculum and classroom practices that are not inclusive of all. This calls for continuous reflection on, and possibly question, our classroom practices and theories which inform these practices so that we help all learners achieve their full potential.
Morgan, H. and Houghton, A. M. (2011). Inclusive curriculum design in higher education: considerations for effective practice across and within subject areas. The higher education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Introduction%20and%20overview.pdf, on 25 March 2018
REB (2015). Competency-based curriculum: Curriculum framework pre-primary to upper secondary. Kigali: Wordcore Communications Limited.
 Retrieved from http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/earlycld/ea4lk46.htm, on 1 April 2018