Since I took up the course “Policy Perspectives”, my interest and concern towards inclusive education were amalgamated with my main field – school leadership. When I was signing up for electives, one of my group mates asked about the reason of choosing inclusive education; my answer was: “As we are future leaders we should have expertise in every single issue in education which is taking place in Kazakhstan”. Now, I am chuffed that I have not been mistaken in my choice because the more I learn about inclusive education the deeper I understand the role of leaders (which is considered to be pivotal in implementation process of inclusive education). So, I decided to research and compare the role of Kazakhstani school leaders in relation to effective inclusive leadership. And in this blog I am going to share my findings with others.
Implementation of inclusive education in schools requires significant shifts in the way school leaders act and take up challenges that schools face in meeting the needs of students with diverse needs. Firstly, it is necessary to define inclusive education in order to understand the critical role played by school leaders in leading inclusive schools. Inclusive education is “high quality education for all rather than special education for some” (Agbenyeva & Sharma, 2014, p. 116). It is also interpreted as an act towards removing barriers to participation in education. Removal of barriers starts when school staff stops to see differences in students with special needs as challenges. Diversity in the classroom creates a numbers of opportunities for teachers to learn new skills to involve all students in education. Schools do not necessarily need lots of resources to become inclusive, but they need to make good use of existing resources, which is human resource. Schools need to engage different stakeholders (parents, support staff, teachers and students) in co-operating process to make schools more inclusive. Such co-operations will help to create positive school climate and congenial conditions for all members of education.
Another factor that facilitates the development of inclusive education at schools is effective inclusive leadership. Effective inclusive leader is one who “applies critical mindfulness” and who can transform existing normalized practices (Agbenyeva & Sharma, 2014, p. 129). Effective inclusive leaders regularly question themselves in order to control subjectivity in decision -making process. They perform a set of crucial roles to make their schools more inclusive. Sharma & Desai (2008) identified the responsibilities of effective inclusive leaders which can be categorized into seven (as cited in Agbenyeva & Sharma, 2014, p. 119-120):
- Developing and selling a vision of inclusive education;
- Seeking and supporting active involvement of parents and family members;
- Obtaining and providing resources
- Modifying school policies to support inclusive education;
- Developing a plan of professional development;
- Monitoring the progress of inclusive education;
- Support staff in their efforts to implement inclusive education practices.
Now, let me compare the responsibilities and duties of school principals in Kazakhstan with effective inclusive leaders and see if there is a discrepancy in their roles or there isn’t. School principals in Kazakhstan are called “directors”: they are the most authoritative and influential figures in schools. They play a crucial role in organization and decision-making process. In implementation process of inclusive education directors of Kazakhstani schools are responsible to (MoES, 2009):
- Supplement physical access to school (elevators, ramps, special furniture for children with disabilities);
- Accommodate the educational and correctional-developmental process with special technical equipment (for children with impairment in hearing, vision, speech);
- Provide with appropriate teaching materials and resources (for all learners);
- Select and recruit teachers, who can provide pedagogical-correctional support (teacher-defectologist, social worker, teacher-psychologist, teacher-speech therapist);
- Support teachers, students with limited opportunities and without disabilities in development, parents of all students and technical staff of the school.
As you have noticed, directors in Kazakhstan do not play a role of effective inclusive leaders, rather they serve as facilitators of inclusive education who just strive to provide their schools with technical equipment and resources. And what about developing the vision of inclusive education and involving other stakeholders in decision-making process? This shows that directors are not ready to collaborate and transform the school system to support inclusive education. That in turn, may seem as schools are not ready to accommodate students with diverse needs.
Do Kazakhstani school principals lack of something in implementing inclusive education?
Agbenyeva, J.S., & Sharma, U. (2014). Leading inclusive education: measuring ‘effective ‘ leadership for inclusive education through a Bourdieuian lens. In Measuring Inclusive Education, 115-132.
Ministry of Education & Science (2009). Guidelines on the organization of inclusive education of children with developmental disabilities. Decree № 4-02-4/450.
Sharma, U., & Desai, I. (2008). The changing roles and responsibilities of school principals relative to inclusive education. In C. Forlin & M. G. J. Lian (Eds.), Reform, Inclusion and Teacher Education: Towards a new era of special education in the Asia – Pacific region (pp.153-168). Abington, UK: Routledge.