Inclusion is important, inclusion is right. Fewer and fewer people doubt this. And yet this great social task often seems more like a hurdle that cannot be overcome easily - and not like a goal towards which one moves joyfully.
Schools are certainly the most important area for living and implementing inclusion. And at the same time, they are the places where inclusion is experienced particularly intensively and perceived as a great challenge. This is because, in contrast to special schools, inclusive schools have a wide variety of pupils in their classes: learning needs, behavioural problems, emotional and social impairments account for a much higher proportion than children with visual or hearing impairments or children in wheelchairs, who are often cited as examples in the context of inclusion.
Teaching must be fair to all
In practice, this means for regular schools: they have to organise their lessons in such a way that they do justice to all children and young people. Special needs teachers usually are available to their pupils for fewer hours each week and teachers with training for regular schools often feel left alone with the inclusive teaching situation the rest of the time, which makes this topic quite challenging for all of them.
Students at Fulda University of Applied Sciences have used data from the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the states in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kultusministerkonferenz) to calculate how the numbers of pupils at special schools and regular schools in Germany have developed - from 2009 (when the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force) to 2017. Depending on the federal state, the developments differ greatly in terms of the proportion of children with special needs at special schools.
Many regular pupils with special needs
According to the report, almost 47,000 schoolchildren transferred from special schools to regular schools during this period. (Link: https://inklusion.hypotheses.org/4783) The total number of pupils at special schools thus fell from around 364,000 to around 317,000 between 2009 and 2017. However, during the same period, the number of children with special needs at regular schools increased by more than another 90,000 regular pupils who were identified as having special needs.
Successful implementation of inclusion is therefore becoming increasingly important not only because pupils are expected to transfer from special schools to regular schools, but also because there is a growing proportion of children and young people with special needs who attend regular schools anyway.
Frontal teaching as a stumbling block
One stumbling block is teaching in and of itself, as is still the case in many schools: frontal teaching. In most cases, there is a lack of personal contact and support for pupils with special needs. This is aggravated by the fact that inclusive classes cover an enormous range of learning content - after all, all pupils have the right to be taught according to their abilities.
Schools that have tried out new teaching concepts in the past have had good experiences with inclusive teaching: for example, working in teams instead of frontal teaching. "Whether and how well this works also depends on how working groups can be organised in the classroom," says Michael Ochsenfeld. For more than three decades, the school furniture designer has been intensively following developments in education. One result of these many years of study is the EWT.5, the 5-sided table from EinrichtWerk.
5-sided table for all learning concepts and forms of teaching
"The most important aspect in the development was universal applicability for all forms of teaching and working groups," says Ochsenfeld. A requirement that can be easily fulfilled with the EWT.5 - in any arrangement from plenary to, for example, groups of six, four or two, right up to individual seating situations. And that with and without a wheelchair.
Unlike conventional school desks in rectangular format, which are simply put together as a block, the 5-sided table enables communication situations in which all pupils can look each other in the eye and understand what the group members are saying. "In combination with footrest chairs, normal chairs or even wheelchairs, learning groups can be formed that enable all the requirements for learning together, even with different body sizes and age groups, i.e. learning at eye level," explains the school furniture expert.
This learning at eye level not only works very well within groups of pupils, but also when teachers or assistants sit at the table. This is the ideal base for learning together.
Integration into digital teaching worlds
In addition to these newly gained learning perspectives, the modern furniture offers all possibilities to transform any conventional classroom into a multifunctional learning space - and that with just a few simple steps. Especially when working with digital media such as tablets or notebooks, all group situations are just as possible here - and are always grateful. Even stationary computers can be integrated into classrooms with the EWT.5. Yesterday's computer room has had its day.
"We know that many schools would like to prepare their pupils better for the transition to working life," knows Mario Evans, school furniture consultant at EinrichtWerk. Confidence in communication, in working with digital tools and in human interaction (social competence) are skills that are particularly in demand.
Integrating pupils with learning difficulties and social disadvantages
"For socially disadvantaged young people in particular, these requirements can become a major hurdle if they have no support at home to learn them," says Evans. In class, they can automatically acquire these basics every day - if the framework conditions for learning are created with an appropriate institution. "Here, even those with learning difficulties can be taken along. And in small groups at eye level, children and young people with attention deficits can also be well included."
Inclusion has many facets and will certainly challenge society in the long run. With the right tools, this will certainly be a little easier.