Inclusive education in Quebec: Is it effective and equitable?
During the Normalization movement in the 1970s, people with disabilities started advocating for their rights to equal and accessible education. By the end of the 1970s, the framework for a more inclusive education was introduced in hopes of promoting equal opportunities, removing barriers to learning for all and creating a more inclusive society. In the following decades, inclusive education gained popularity, but its effectiveness has frequently been challenged.
The question of how Quebec’s education system manages and cares for students with learning disabilities has been a topic of extensive interest and discussion. Historically, people with disabilities have been mistreated, neglected and not given the same opportunities and rights as others when it comes to education. In Quebec, until the 1970s, classrooms were highly segregated, with special needs students being taught in separate classrooms from the general student population. However, as issues of discrimination and the importance of human rights arose, the topics of integration and inclusion of students with special needs and learning disabilities into mainstream classrooms became more prominent and relevant.
The equal rights of all individuals, regardless of their disability, have been a guarantee in Canada since the establishment of Section 15 of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights. This right was reiterated in 2010 when Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which, under Article 24, “prohibits discrimination against children with disabilities and mandates the right to inclusive education.” In addition, the Quebec Education Act Section 36, which was put into effect in 1988, states that “in keeping with the principle of equality of opportunity, the mission of a school is to impart knowledge to students, foster their social development and give them qualifications to properly succeed.” These legal frameworks have been at the forefront of the battle for justice for people with disabilities and have led to the development of an inclusive education approach being established in multiple provinces. However, in Quebec, inclusive education is yet to be provincially mandated. This means that every school board has the choice to decide how inclusive they want to be, which makes evaluating this framework’s effectiveness difficult.
While the concern as to whether inclusive education is truly equitable and effective in Quebec is complex, it cannot be overlooked. As stated in the Quebec Education Act, it is mandated by law that students with disabilities must be provided with an alternative way of learning and given the right to accommodations based on their needs and preferences. As the Quebec education system evolves and finds ways in which to better accommodate students with learning disabilities into mainstream education, inclusive education has been at the center of this initiative. First, it is crucial that we evaluate the different ways in which Quebec implements inclusive education. The primary way in which inclusive education is achieved in the classroom is through differentiated instruction through the framework of Universal Design Learning (UDL). In education, the idea of “one-size-fits-all” is no longer the norm; every individual has different learning styles. So as to accommodate and enable all students to succeed properly, differentiated instruction is needed. Differentiated instruction can be defined as the way in which one tailor, modifies and caters to content as well as the process and environment in which a student learns so as to meet their individual needs. This removes the barriers that are implemented by the curriculum and aids all students in feeling a sense of attainment. That being said, the model of inclusive education has its advantages as well as its drawbacks.
Inclusive education offers a wide range of benefits for students with learning disabilities as well as for the educational system as a whole. One of the main advantages of such an education is the promotion of social inclusion and integration. Inclusive education values the diversity of its student body and, in doing so, fosters a sense of belonging and reduces the feelings of isolation that one might feel for being ‘different.’ Research conducted by Marsela Robo has demonstrated that students are able to connect with their peers in a more meaningful way and build stronger connections. Another advantage of inclusive education is the increase in student engagement. A large amount of research has been conducted on how differentiated instruction enhances student motivation and engagement. Students perform “better academically and socially when [children with disabilities] were in regular classrooms with modified curriculum than when they were in special classrooms.” This not only helps them academically but also contributes to their self-esteem and confidence. Through a differentiated instruction environment, each student is valued for their uniqueness while being provided with opportunities to explore and achieve their individual goals.
That being said, inclusive education comes with numerous barriers that can not be ignored. One of the biggest issues in education, especially when it comes to teaching students with learning disabilities, is the lack of teacher preparedness. In Quebec and throughout Canada, a substantial amount of reports show that teachers entering the field from university do not feel adequately equipped for the challenges that they will face during their teaching careers. Thompson et al. found that even though teachers are in accordance with inclusive education, they feel unprepared to deal with the range of behavioural problems, learning disabilities and handicaps that come with the responsibility of managing an inclusive classroom. Not only do teachers feel as though they have a lack of support, but they also have insufficient funding and resources to attain an equal and effective form of inclusive education. Teachers in Quebec are offering services to students “based on what is possible,” and the struggle to provide the necessary accommodations and specialized services that students with disabilities require is overwhelming. Even though section 275-277 of Quebec’s Education Act states that funding shall be distributed among school boards in an equitable way, the resource shortage can and does hinder the successful implementation of inclusive education in Quebec.
So as to make inclusive education in Quebec more equitable, there are several recommendations that have been discussed between the government and school boards, whether it be in the public or the private sector. The first one is to redefine the term inclusive education. This model goes beyond simply having diversity in the classroom and accommodating students based on their needs. It “should also mean celebrating differences in a positive way and not simply just tolerating them” while also implementing accommodations that are successful and constructive. Increased funding for teacher training programs and courses on inclusive education would also aid in achieving this objective. The Ministry of Education must allocate more funds to teacher training and hire additional staff that is trained in inclusive education so that they are able to learn how to properly and equitably implement it in their classroom. Making a classroom inclusive is a very difficult task, and doing it without adequate training can become more of a hindrance to students rather than something beneficial. Lastly, it would be beneficial to enhance teacher preparation programs in undergraduate certificate programs. Integration of training regarding this topic would open the doors to more discussion and further enhance teachers’ capacity to implement inclusive education equally and effectively for all students to succeed.
Edited by Victoria Sabran