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  • Writer's pictureAMISA

A Truly Inclusive School: Moving Away from the “Funnel Approach”

Conventional education has always favored a typical and traditional learning style, with particular cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Students are seen as a homogeneous group to which teachers are able to passively give their knowledge. Students’ individuality is not considered since the school does not consider itself responsible for developing emotional intelligence. Teachers are not encouraged to like their students; instead they tend to praise their own autocratic methodologies, through which students are not heard or even considered during the entire teaching process. “Only the strongest will survive” – based on this outdated methodological procedure, many artistic and kinesthetic students are seen as lazy and disrespectful, which not only decreases their self-esteem but also prevents them from developing their distinctive abilities. 

Traditionally, curriculum has been organized in a linear path that promotes a one-size-fits-all approach to success. When we simply follow the curriculum map or implement programs, we fail to take in the context and uniqueness of individuals into consideration.

Due to this traditional approach, many children are disregarded during the educational process, since they do not fit into this educational model.

By statistically evaluating the usual process of traditional classrooms, it was possible to identify that teachers tend to follow the pace of an average of 70% of the students in the class. 10% of students will learn faster than the rest, and approximately 20% will not be able to keep up for a number of different reasons (cognitive, emotional, etc.). In these typical schools, the 20% unable to keep pace with the majority either repeat the year or leave the school; a dismissal seen as necessary to maintain the “quality” of education. Those educational institutions are commonly known as “funnels,” since the main objective of the educational staff relies on maintaining the school’s prestigious reputation, instead of really focusing on the students. The concern of these institutions, therefore, is not to stimulate a humanistic and holistic education, which involves not only the cognitive development, but also the social and emotional part of the individual. Their objective does not consist of valuing the educational process but rather focusing on the student’s final output. The score on standardized tests becomes the main goal, since it equates to an advantageous placement in the lists of best schools in the city, which leads to an increase of parental interest and, consequently, an increase of the profit of the school itself. 

This monetarist vision of the educational system still imposes itself on most of the institutions of this country, since the majority of the population ignores the harm inflicted by this conventional education. A school whose primary focus is at the finish line rather than truly concerned about the path taken to achieve such a goal tends to disregard the importance of the ethical development of its community, as well as building truly critical and socially responsible citizens. 

In order to create a truly inclusive school, pedagogical staff should be focusing on creating strategies that stimulate the 10% who are bored in a usual classroom; respect the pace of the 20% who need extra and/or differentiated activities in order to follow the curriculum. How can we help these students without feeling overwhelmed? The number of students in each class is fundamental for a more personalized educational method. Teachers with 20 children instead of 40 will be able to recognize each student’s needs and therefore create activities based on their interests and learning styles. However, the size of a classroom is not the only solution for a more inclusive education.

An innovative educational institution needs to stimulate the creativity of its community. It also should value diverse perspectives of the world and demonstrate to students that instead of holding all the knowledge that should be given, teachers are only guides who will assist with the creation of new knowledge based on all the information provided today. Each student has different intelligences and abilities and the role of educators is to awaken and stimulate such capacities so that he can become the best in what he wants to be. The educational purpose of schools nowadays should rely on enhancing inclusion, and not only for students with special needs. It should, instead, embrace all children in their community, with their different learning styles and talents. As Katie Martin states in her book Learner Centered Innovation, “Learning and innovation must be encouraged and supported for all learners, not just a few”

Having this goal in mind, administrators should create the best environment possible in order to assist and help teachers create differentiated activities which will stimulate the student’s learning growth. They must show their staff how to be concerned not only with the majority of the children, but also with the 10% who learn faster than the rest, by giving, for instance, extra or differentiated activities to stimulate them to grow as much as they can. Besides being preoccupied with grades and standardized assessments, principals should be the first to encourage teachers to give special attention to students with difficulties, creating personalized activities that will help them see their true capacities. If it is imperative that our teachers perform in such ways, it is also essential that administrators provide the necessary support for those things to be accomplished. Fewer students in each class, more planning periods, less focus on standardized tests and more assistance on creating new methodologies and student-centered assessments; those are the kind of things required to transform a conventional school, into a truly inclusive institution. John Hattie, author of Visible Learning, states that in order to see real improvement on student outcomes, teachers should provide constant feedback and help children create and monitor their own educational goals.

The motto “no one is left behind” fits into this new educational proposal, which moves away from the “funnel schools,” those traditional institutions that easily exclude children who do not fit their conventional methods and consider themselves to be prestigious, but instead, are short sighted due to their unilateral view of education. The world is a plural place, full of heterogeneity and multiple perspectives; therefore, the school must also represent this cultural plurality and, instead of a project that aims to “shape the student,” schools should respect the diversity and creative potential of all.

 

Dr. Isabel Cristina Fernandes Auler (Middle School Principal at Our Lady of Mercy School, RJ- Brazil) has a Masters Degree in Contemporary History (PUC-Rio), a PhD in Literature Theory and Comparative Literature (PUC-Rio), a postgraduate in Education and Technology and another one in School Administration (UCAM). She also published a book in 2011, entitled Memórias de Carlos Lacerda. Evocações de um Passado Presente. E-mail: principal.middle@olmrio.com

  1. Katie Martin. Learner Centered Innovation. New York: IMpress, 2018. P. 171.

  2. Katie Martin. Learner Centered Innovation. New York: IMpress, 2018. P. 91.

  3. John Hattie. Visible Learning.: A synthesis over 800 Meta-Analysis Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge Publication, 2010. P. 16.

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