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date: 21 October 2019

Inclusive and Special Education Services in Rural Settings

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

Education is a fundamental right of all children, including those with special educational needs. Efforts toward achieving this right have resulted in focused attention from governments the world over, improving the quality of education in schools and thus leading to dignified social status for the students who were marginalized earlier and denied admission to schools. This worldwide movement following various international conventions and mandates has resulted in local efforts to reach rural remote areas with education by the governments in most countries. Although there has been significant progress in reaching children, the spread is not uniform. Children living in rural and tribal areas or in remote parts of countries still have many barriers preventing them from receiving education. The essence of inclusive education is to build the capacity to reach out to all children, promoting equity. While in the 1990s special needs education was a focus, the importance of it becoming part of the overall educational system led to reforms in regular schools resulting in inclusive education to address diverse learning needs of children. How successful are we in these efforts, particularly in the remote and rural areas?

Special and inclusive education in rural and remote areas has varied models and practices. Educating children with special educational needs in rural and remote areas is a challenge. Although there are schools in such areas, not all are equipped to address the needs of children with special needs. Further, the teachers working in rural areas in many countries are not trained to teach those with special needs nor are there technological support systems as there are in urban areas. Yet, interestingly, in some rural and tribal communities, the teachers are naturally at ease with children with diverse needs, as the schools tend to have heterogeneous classes, with one teacher having to teach combined groups of different grade levels. There is evidence that rural teachers show less resistance to include children with special needs when compared to urban teachers. Community supports in rural areas due to rural residents’ relatively homogeneous lifestyle is another supporting factor for smooth inclusion in some rural areas. While primary education is ensured in most rural and remote areas, the children have to travel long distances to semi-urban and urban areas for secondary and higher education, a hardship that is compounded further when there is a disability. It is observed in many rural areas that children with special needs tend to learn the traditional job skills pertaining to that area naturally, though such lessons are not always blended in the school curriculum. Teacher preparation for rural areas that includes the latest technological developments and vocation-focused education is bound to make education more meaningful and will encourage natural inclusion of the children in society.