“Make sure to read about the incredible story of the Henderson school.” This is how the friendly Dianne Denton, a graduate student at the Harvard School of Education, said goodbye after our meeting. Considered the North-American model for inclusive education, the William Henderson School, in Boston, warrants admiration from educators in various regions. One third of its students possess some type of disability, which does nothing to prevent them from exercising their right to attend classes side by side with other children. Up until 1989, the year in which its principal started the shift in the institution’s pedagogical project, students with deficiencies were systematically directed to special schools, segregating them from a normal school environment. Could it be that this sort of initiative is only viable in economically-developed countries? Wrong.
Over the last years, the legislation in Brazil has made great advances regarding the attendance of students with disabilities. It started with a change in concept. Special education, formerly translated as a method of substitution for regular education, is today understood as an integrated method which complements the schooling process. The idea is that children with deficiencies can attend regular classrooms and receive specialized attendance in after-school programs. This model is in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, approved by the U.N. in 2006, of which Brazil is a signatory. According to the convention, the Member States must insure a system of education that is inclusive on all levels of schooling.
The good news is that such changes go beyond theory and can already be seen in practice. The Ministry of Education, for example, promoted in 2010 the prize “Inclusive Educational Experiences” and awarded five experiments throughout Brazil (one for each of the country’s regions) due to their concepts of inclusion. The prize organizers reached important outcomes and have just launched its second edition. Those experiments were researched by project DIVERSA which released videos and case studies about them on his website. This shows that, despite challenges and resistance, it is possible to plan and practice an egalitarian and plural public education system.
Rodrigo Hübner Mendes is the founder of the Instituto Rodrigo Mendes, a non-profit organization that develops programs of inclusion in the fields of art and education. And he’s a member of Young Global Leader–World Economic Forum and an Ashoka Social Entrepreneur. This article was adapted from his own column published in “TAM nas Nuvens” magazine, 35th edition.
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