From an historical perspective, our public education system is in its infancy, and inclusive education is something new. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the family was the basic unit where socialization and education took place. Families were dependent upon the economic contributions of their children. Any formal education in Canada during that time was the responsibility of religious orders and its focus was on catechism. In the early 19th century, the idea of formalized schooling began to gain some popularity. With the advent of new and massive immigration along with the move from a rural to an industrialized society during the mid-1800’s, the push for public education became more prevalent. Legislation for Special Education only began to take root in the latter half of the 20th century.
So while education often looks to be a static institution, it is actually an evolving entity that responds to the changing cultural forces in society. As we move forward in the 21st century, it is my firm hope that we will no longer require a distinction for “Special Education” but rather, the focus will be on accessible learning for all students; i.e. the focus will be on “equity” rather than “equality”.
Currently, to support and guarantee just treatment for our identified students we use Individualized Education Plans. But educators of the 21st century must acknowledge the uniqueness of all individuals and recognize that instruction and assessment should be tailored, or individualized, for ALL students. Hattie’s research indicates that labeling students with an identification actually impacts their achievement negatively. How much better education would be if we could do away with labels, and start focusing rather on the conditions necessary for success for each of our students!
Teaching and learning in the 21st century is shifting to a focus on Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment AS Learning practices. With this shift to formative assessment, education will be learning-driven as opposed to achievement-driven. 21st century teaching and learning will be student-centered and begin with student assets and needs, thus making the IEP and formal identification superfluous. 21st century teaching and learning will make accessible to students the technology and teaching practices necessary for learning to take place and for all students to meet, and yes, even exceed their current potential.