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date: 12 December 2018

Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Inclusive Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Inclusive education is now a widely accepted pedagogical and policy principle, but its genesis has been long and, at times, difficult. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights included clear statements about rights and freedoms that have, over the decades, been used to support inclusive educational practices. For example, Article 26 states that parents “have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” This declaration later provided a basis for parent groups and educators to argue for equal access to schooling in regular settings, and for parental choice about where their child would be educated.

The concept of inclusive education received major impetus from the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, in the United States in 1975, the United Nations’ International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. A major focus of the UN’s initiatives has been the right of people with disabilities to participate fully in society. This focus has obvious implications for the way education is provided to students with disabilities or other additional educational needs. Up to the last quarter of the 20th century, the major focus for such students was on the provision of separate specialized services, with limited attention to the concept of societal participation. More recently, through parental action, systemic policy, and government legislation, there has been increasing acceptance of inclusivity as a basic philosophical principle underlying the education of students with disabilities.