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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf People Around the World: Educational and Social Perspectives

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When they are most differentiated, education systems offer high degrees of specialization of services to individuals and to groups. Curriculum responsibility is devolved to local school or regional levels, and in some circumstances, also high degrees of privatization and choice. Reforms of differentiated service systems often involve some increased degree of centralization of legislation, policy, funding, or evaluation to establish central control and to ensure that available resources are distributed as equitably as possible and that desired outcomes are achieved.

When they are most uniform, education systems are characterized by central control of legislation policy, funding, guidelines for practice, central curriculum policy and content, and maintenance of certain pedagogic traditions. Reforms to more uniform systems usually involve attempts to decentralize some elements to allow for local variation in implementation and specialization (Vislie, 2003).

In practice, the process is always dynamic, with national and local systems of education moving between these two extremes of differentiation and uniformity, depending on changing political, social, cultural, or economic factors and influences. No single, effective definition of inclusion is therefore possible because each system may view inclusion differently. Differentiation allows the needs of each student to be considered or taken into account (e.g., students with a specific learning need). Uniformity allows for the rights, participation, and equity of all students. Both can, therefore, be at some level inclusive or exclusive in their policy and practice as well as in following their controls and pedagogical traditions. There would seem to be no utopian “school for all” possible because in each form of system there will always be some aspects of exclusion, for groups or individuals, wherever there is inclusion. Within the cycle between uniformity and differentiation, the individuals or groups included or excluded can change as the rules, structures, and attitudes change.

Within this broad framework, it is possible to describe or locate various countries and education authorities with respect to their policies, positions, and practices. By their histories, traditions, economic priorities, legal provisions, as well as social and cultural policies, we can see where they currently place themselves and where their values and their professional and social tensions may lie in the providing of education services and in the reform of those services.

Mitchell (2005) suggests that there are three conclusions that can be reached about inclusive education: (a) that inclusive education is seen by most as creating a single system designed to serve the needs of all students; (b) that inclusive education is based on both sociopolitical models and psycho-medical models; and (c) although many countries appear highly committed to inclusive education, their practice often falls short of their rhetoric and policies. In the remainder of this chapter, we will examine the broader applications and interpretations of inclusive education for students in a number of countries and then attempt to draw some conclusions that may assist policymakers and practitioners to reflect on their current provisions and consider approaches toward reform in deaf education.

Some Conventions

Several international conventions and agreements contain guidelines that may provide us with structural contexts, or even imperatives, depending on how influenced we are by their proclamations. In particular, we should consider the perspectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989), the Salamanca Statement (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 1994), the World Education Forum (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2000) and most recently, the United Nations Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York on December 13, 2006. That convention agreed that there should be the following:

  • No exclusion from the general education system on the basis of disability;
  • Access for disabled students to inclusive education in their local communities;
  • Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements; and
  • Required support within the general education system to facilitate effective education, including effective individualized support measures (United Nations, 2006).
This perspective seems clear enough, and it could have a major influence on the ways in which we provide education for deaf students. So what are the challenges to the implementation of this perspective? One could take issue with the term disability in any consideration of deaf people, deaf children in particular. Using the cyclical model described above, a predominant interpretation in this convention is toward uniformity through mainstream placement of deaf students in local schools with accommodations or adjustments to their needs. This interpretation is usually associated with policies that stress access, participation, and outcomes. Because access by itself is no longer a sufficient condition for evidencing inclusion, participation in social, educational, and community contexts becomes the objective. Even though it  is agreed that inclusion is a process and not any single set of outcomes, some government education departments, as they attempt to mirror corporate structures in their operation, will try to measure outcomes in terms of student achievements in curricular learning, social learning, and personal development.
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