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1.12.2023 | Jamie Lee

What does it mean for education to be inclusive?

Every student is unique, and inclusive education ensures that each student is able to learn in an environment that best suits their learning needs.

What is inclusive education?

At a very basic level, inclusive education is the idea and practice that respects the rights of all children to receive quality education alongside their peers. 

Inclusive education is strongly related to social inclusion - the inclusion of children with a wide diversity of differences into mainstream education. But that does not mean simply putting all children in the same place and expecting them to get along. “Inclusion is not tolerance, we are not just asking people to be tolerant of others, but inclusivity is welcoming and breaking down barriers. And this level of inclusivity is not built purely by physical inclusion. Bringing people together in the same physical place is not enough. Full inclusion in education requires a commitment to social inclusion. Teaching students how to live, learn and play together.” explains Haylie Wrubel, Sr. Director of Special Olympics

"Full inclusion in education requires a commitment to social inclusion." - Haylie Wrubel, Special Olympics

Inclusion in education should not be an afterthought. Inclusion needs to be considered from the start of designing educational experiences. This philosophy is reflected in Universal Learning Design (UDL) principles. “UDL involves anticipating and addressing the diversity of student needs from the beginning. In the context of education, this allows for the development of teaching methods, materials and environments that are inherently flexible and adaptable.”, explains Luisa Velez, Founder of Skalo

There are a variety of innovations in the Global Collection who are working on making education more inclusive in different ways- ranging from sport to literacy to parental support to resources and accommodations. 

Building schools and communities of inclusion through sports

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Children in the Special Olympics Programme, Montenegro

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program promotes inclusion by implementing inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement. Haylie Wrubel explains that “The Special Olympics is using the power of sport to build friendship, understanding, and inclusion between young people with and without intellectual disabilities. We work with schools around the world to start Unified Sports teams, which are teams made up of students with and without disabilities, who then compete together. In addition to sports, the Special Olympics also promotes programming that focuses on youth leadership and opportunities to engage the entire school population. Through these activities, social inclusion blooms and breaks down the divides.”

Making literacy resources more accessible

Access to books and literacy resources is another important factor to ensuring inclusivity in education. "SIL International has long been concerned about increasing accessibility to literacy resources. In the last years, SIL has built tools into Bloom software for creating sign language books for the Deaf and accessible books for the visually impaired. The accessible books contain descriptions of all of the images in a book and narrated audio of all text, including the image descriptions. Sign language books include video clips of the signed content on each page that tell the story that is typically also written out in the relevant spoken language. Any book in Bloom can be made accessible or have sign language added to it. Bloom Library has more than 500 accessible books in 20 languages and more than 500 books for the Deaf in 13 sign languages. These books have reached some 18,000 people and have been read nearly 85,000 times. The books for the Deaf have been particularly well-used."  explains Paul S. Frank, Bloom Program Director. 

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Kids in Papua, Indonesia, with Bloom Reader tablets

"Although people may not think of language as a major factor in exclusion, the World Bank estimates that 37 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries are not being taught in a language they best speak and understand. More than a quarter of a billion students are affected. Bloom exists so that communities can create literature in their own languages. The Library currently has nearly 17,000 books in 680+ languages. We believe that at least 200 books are needed in each language to support literacy.", Paul elaborates. 

Supporting parents to support their children

The habaybya.net platform

Hababya.net was created by the founders' own personal experiences having two sons with developmental disabilities. They realised that being a parent of a child with a disability requires a lifelong adjustment that needs continuous learning, guidance and support. Aiming to help other parents and caregivers of children with disabilities, habaybna.net is a digital platform in Arabic that aims to equip Arab parents and caregivers to support their children to improve their skills and have a meaningful life. The platform includes a video library filled with content created by special education experts, specialised online courses, and online consultations to connect with specialists. 

Parents and caregivers play a fundamental role in ensuring accessibility for children in education, especially in the child's early years. 

The platform is aimed at parents because, “Parents and caregivers play a fundamental role in ensuring accessibility for children in education, especially in the child's early years. If the parent decides to keep their child away from the mainstream educational systems or specialised educational programs, it will affect the child's life moving forward and it will increase the gap between the child and their peers. Parents' role starts from accepting their child and the child's abilities to learn, learning how to adapt and learning how to make necessary arrangements at school or at home, and knowing how to navigate the different alternatives for learning that matches the abilities of their child.” explains Reem Alfranji, Co-Founder of Hababya.net. 

Creating tailored support

Skalo was also created by a parent of a child with cerebral palsy who faced challenges with trying to find the right support to facilitate her son’s school experience while helping him maximise his abilities. The Skalo platform uses an algorithm to calculate the best accommodations according to the student’s abilities and needs to give teachers strategies to adapt to the way they teach to the way the student learns. 


The Skalo platform in action

Luisa Velez, founder of Skalo, explains that Skalo goes beyond providing accommodations as they also emphasise interdisciplinary collaboration to ensure a holistic perspective that fosters an inclusive educational environment from the start. She explains, “Promoting collaboration between teachers, support professionals and families becomes an essential component to build a comprehensive team around the student. This approach goes beyond simply offering accommodations, it is about building an educational environment that embraces diversity from its conception. Skalo's flexibility allows it to be integrated into different environments (in-person or virtual), further expanding its impact by making inclusive education a reality in various educational contexts where circumstances are not entirely favourable.”

Want to learn more about impactful education innovations? Check out the 2024 Global Collection report.

Working on your own innovation? Submit your innovation to be considered for the next collection.