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Something's Strange: Inclusive Education in Japan (3)

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Among those who read the past two posts, there are surely some who feel that what I have written does not help the teachers who work so hard in special needs classes and schools for special needs education. And some may wonder what would happen to the students now attending their classes and schools if they were discontinued or closed.

Some experts also claim that a totally inclusive system, like the one in Italy in which all students study together, is not realistic. Instead, they support a partially inclusive system, which they see as more suitable for conditions in Japan.

This view is concisely expressed below, which is an excerpt from the education ministry report introduced in the first post. (See underlined portion.)

Under an inclusive education system, it is important to develop a diverse and flexible system [...] that fits the individual educational needs of the moment for children in need, while pursuing the implementation of the education of children both with and without disabilities together in the same space.

This position is based on the view that if all children are educated in the same class as in Italy, it will not be possible to address individual educational needs.

But is it impossible to create a diverse and flexible system to respond to individual educational needs without separating children into different groups?

The answer is no. In fact, many countries in the world are proof that it is not impossible. Not only in Italy, but in many countries of the world, the individual educational needs of children are met without separating them.

In fact, inclusive education in many countries, as the name suggests, entails attempting various methods and means to provide children with education at local schools without sending them to separate schools. These various methods and means are considered to be "reasonable accommodation," which means making adjustments to suit the children's needs. In other words, in terms of inclusive education, this means making accommodations that will enable children with disabilities to study together with other children. If a child is prone to panic, this means taking steps to ensure that the environment and surroundings of the regular classes will not cause such panic.

I find this "reasonable accommodation" strange in a second sense: it comes with the stipulation that "it should be exercised to the extent that it does not become an excessive burden for the school and faculty." What constitutes an excessive burden is not clarified, so a teacher of a regular class could decide that it is too much for him or her and then recommend the student to a special needs class or school for special needs education. In fact, it would be possible to call such a decision "reasonable accommodation" in some cases in Japan where special needs classes and schools for special needs education are recognized as "inclusive education."

In the end, the goal of inclusive education is to enable children with and without disabilities to learn together in the same classes. By ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Japan joined hands with many other nations in the effort to realize inclusive education, but quite honestly, it now seems to be running in the reverse direction.

Of course, I am well aware that many working in classes and schools for special education are making a tremendous effort to help children. But as I noted in a previous blog post, as I look at the gradual increase in the number of children attending schools for special needs education, it seems to me that Japan is moving away from inclusive education. Let me finish this post with an experience that supports this view.

One example concerns a child who is my patient. Although the child was hyperactive and could not adapt well to group activities, I recommended him for placement in a regular class, but when they visited the elementary school before entering school, the principal made the following statement, which was related to me by the astonished mother: "Having this kind of child in school will disturb the other children, so he should attend a school for special needs education." I would like to think that such a principal is the exception, but would this be reasonable accommodation in inclusive education?

The other example is that of an elementary school that created special needs classes alongside the regular classes when a new school building was built. The local government also advertised this juxtaposed set-up as one step forward in the system of special needs education. However, upon visiting the school, the father of a child with special needs told me he was disappointed to find that the special needs class was going be placed in a separate building from regular classes.

Can this be considered inclusive, too? I have growing doubts about this.

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Sakakihara_Yoichi.bmp Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Vice President, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before assuming current post.
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