New Brunswick is well known for its inclusive education system. The province’s ongoing effort to successfully integrate children with disabilities into the regular classroom is to be lauded and emulated.
Unfortunately, some pundits believe incorrectly that inclusive education is solely about ensuring children with disabilities receive the accommodations they need to be successful in the classroom. This thinking is both erroneous and dangerous.
In his ground-breaking study commissioned by the New Brunswick Department of Education Dr. Wayne Mackay of Dalhousie University underlined the fact that “inclusive education” is about designing school systems where “all” students achieve their full potential.
An inclusive education system is not solely about integrating children with disabilities into the classroom; it is far more ambitious. It is about personalizing learning to the extent that every student reaches his or her full learning potential.
The 21st Century learning agenda designed by the New Brunswick’s education leaders and teachers (NB3-21C) is founded on the vision of an inclusive education system enabled by ICT rich learning and teaching environments. Inclusive education will only be realized when learning is personalized and every student has the ability to access information at their individual speed of learning.
New Brunswick has certainly deployed assistive technologies to students with learning disabilities, where appropriate. In one celebrated case, digital technology is ensuring a hearing impaired student in a New Brunswick classroom is receiving sign-language services linked in from Quebec. At the same time, the province’s 1:1 laptop model clearly demonstrated learning benefits for “all” involved students. While technology should never be considered a panacea for the challenges in public education, we do need to design our public education systems to inspire all our students to be as creative, innovative and digitally competent as they can be.
The demands of an inclusive education system on teachers are great. They must plan for and accommodate a diverse range of learning needs. ICT rich learning environments not only empowers student learning, it allows teachers to monitor the progress of a student or a group of students, and then intervene quickly and effectively.
By definition therefore, an inclusive education system must be systemically designed to ensure that all students receive personalized learning. And for the first time in history, we have access to technologies that will help enable this vision to be realized. Creating ICT rich learning environments in our classrooms and training educators to personalize a student’s learning experience are key pillars to attaining a fully inclusive education model.
The New Brunswick Department of Education recently signed an agreement with the National Research Council in Fredericton designed to explore the most effective models for integrating ICT with pedagogy. A second agreement, currently pending, would see Microsoft joining the coalition with a focus on training in-service teachers using UNESCO inspired 21st Century teacher standards. Three of four New Brunswick universities have already signed agreements to integrate 21st Century teaching standards into their pre-service programs, and to move toward a 1:1 model of instruction with the next three years.
New Brunswick is on the cusp of attaining a truly inclusive education system, enabled by ICT rich learning and teaching environments. Any individual or group professing to be proponents of inclusive education should be calling on their government to invest in creating ICT rich learning environments in public schools. And if we truly expect educators to teach in an inclusive learning environment, we must give them the training and ICT tools to do so.
Personalized learning for all students is the true vision of inclusive education.
John Kershaw, is co-president of 21st Century Learning Associates