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ICEVI and inclusive education in Europe

Inclusive education

Inclusive education [1] is the overall goal in all international declarations [2] on the education of visually impaired students. We see this as a positive development. The purpose of this paper is to outline some important issues in the process of implementation of inclusive education for students with visually impairment.

This is essential, because many countries already have a lot of experience in this developmental process. Many of the difficulties and dangers along the path are thereby already known. This paper wants to help authorities and professionals not to make the same mistakes as others have done.

First it is important to state that inclusive education is not a question of physical integration. By being in the classroom, the student does not automatically become part of the social life of the peer group. The implementation of inclusive education is an overall cultural educational change that involves all levels in the school system: The way the teachers think of education, pedagogical praxis, learning theory and the view of human nature.

Inclusive education is somehow more demanding and challenging than education at a special school. Inclusive education demands special pedagogical knowledge and assistive technology skills, besides requiring a high degree of competency within school strategies on inclusive education.

Inclusive education cannot be restricted only to the years a student stays in school, but it must also be seen from a lifelong perspective. It is not positive to be included during the school years only if you are excluded from further education, work and social life later on.

The parents

The decision on where the child should be educated is primarily made by parents. But parents should be equally advised about the regular mainstream school system as well as the special school system or the resource centre. Parents have the right to the choice which is not dependent on any costs. The decision for special schooling may in some thinly populated areas implicate that the child must move to a boarding school, or the parents must accept a special school for children with other disabilities.

Special and main stream education

The relationship between special educational systems and mainstream educational system with its support system must not be regarded as a contradiction. Both school types should be cooperative and complementary within the field of activities for the same target group. The borders can be flexible and an exchange of information is necessary. At the same time it is important to state that the decision on the right environment for education can differ over the years. In some countries children start at a special school, where they learn basic mobility and Braille skills and then continue their education in regular mainstream school. In other countries students go to frequent courses at the special school or a resource centre. They can even take the whole part of their training (complete courses) in the special system, for example on the vocational training level. The important thing is the shift from one system to another must not be seen as a personal failure. The introduction to both the regular and special school system must be considered as a whole.

The extent of these systems may change from country to country. The numbers of students in inclusive education in Europe varies a lot. The percentage of students in inclu-sive education is not a goal in itself. The goal must be an educational system having professionals qualified to meet the students' needs and the parents' wishes.

Professional qualifications

The guarantee of trained professionals along with the documented result of these different types of educational praxis, must be the factors, that the sets goals for educational praxis. We therefore outline the following points:

The visually impaired student, who is included in regular schools, should never be in a worse position, than the student at a special school. This is important in such aspects as the special pedagogical competence of the teachers and the quality and variety of assessable educational material and technical aids.

The quality of social interaction is also very import. The local educational system must ensure that the visually impaired student does not experience social exclusion. To prevent this, access to knowledge on how to develop social inclusive strategies is just as important as the educational resources.

If a government is unable to ensure these professional demands the promotion of inclusive education should be reconsidered and new ways of supporting should be found.
In some countries we have observed, that despite the wish to include students and the presence of the above mentioned resources, the educational system seems to become exclusive. A close analysis of the general inclusive conditions is therefore important.

National legislation should therefore:

The latter is important to avoid a compartmentalised approach where individual institutions and administrations promote their own interests over those of the individual, in the distribution of funding and services.

March 2008
Board of ICEVI Europe

[1] Definition: Integration is mainly a physical process where the visually impaired student is educated in the unchanged regular mainstream school system.
Inclusive education is the process whereby the visually impaired student also becomes a part of the social life of the peer group. To fulfill this, the inclusive school must change it's pedagogical praxis to meet the needs of the student.
back to note 1

[2] For example the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (2004) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
back to note 2

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