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University of Canberra: Inclusion in early childhood education: What it is and why it matters

Every child deserves to feel valued, respected and supported in their educational path from the first day they enter into early education, all the way through to graduation from their senior studies. All children have the right to an education that aligns with their ability to engage and participate in learning alongside their peers, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds or differences. 

Inclusive education is not solely about the inclusion of children with disabilities – it’s a broader prospect. It is about ensuring children with disabilities can participate effectively with others, and it is also about other children learning how to treat students with disabilities with the same respect as everyone else. In an inclusive classroom, all children can learn how to respond to others with empathy and accept one another's differences, whether these are considered strengths or weaknesses. 

When children feel they are part of the learning environment and are as equally as important as each other, they are likely to perform better. When children work alongside their peers, they can feel accepted and valued.

By evaluating current inclusive practices and further developing inclusion within our educational settings, educators can ensure that every child receives a quality education in every setting and environment. Teachers also need to know the importance and the impact they can make to all students not just students achieving at or above level.

For these reasons, teachers pursuing their own higher education need to understand what inclusive education is and how to create inclusive classrooms. 

Defining inclusive education

An inclusive educational setting is an environment in which all children, regardless of their individual characteristics, can fully participate, learn and thrive together. This setting provides opportunities for students to access learning experiences both academically and socially alongside their peers. 

Inclusive classrooms may include: 

  • children with disabilities

  • children from diverse cultural backgrounds

  • children with different linguistic abilities

  • children with behavioural difficulties 

  • children who experience significant mental health challenges

  • children with varying levels of academic readiness

Inclusive education requires intentional effort and planning. It involves adapting teaching methods, curricula and classroom settings to accommodate different learning styles and needs within the classroom, the playground and the broader school community. 

Inclusive education is an evolving area of education, and it requires all parties of the school community to be involved, invest and share a common belief that all its members have a sense of belonging. 

For example, in a classroom setting, it may involve implementing differentiated instruction to cater to individual learning needs, providing additional support through education services, or fostering peer-to-peer collaboration and support among students. 

Outside the classroom, inclusive practices may extend to promoting community involvement, advocating for accessibility and accommodations, and creating a supportive school culture that celebrates diversity.

Benefits of inclusive education

The benefits of inclusive education can lead to more engaged students, improved academic outcomes and better social integration. It also improves post school employment rates and enables all students to become contributing members of society.

Here are some other benefits of inclusive education. 

Promotes social integration

Inclusion promotes social integration by breaking down barriers between children of different backgrounds and abilities; this fosters empathy, understanding and acceptance among peers. 

When children learn alongside classmates with diverse abilities and characteristics, they develop a deeper appreciation for individual differences and learn to celebrate people’s differences.

Enhances academic outcomes

Inclusive education enhances academic outcomes for all students. Research has shown that inclusive classrooms promote higher levels of academic achievement, as they provide opportunities for peer learning, collaboration and problem-solving. 

Support for students with functional needs

Inclusion in early childhood education also benefits children with disabilities or functional needs. When included in general education classroom settings with the appropriate support, these students’ specific needs can be addressed as they learn the curriculum, whether the curriculum is the same or modified for their needs.

Importance of inclusion in early childhood education

The education system aims to prepare children for success in the future, both by teaching specific skills and knowledge, and by influencing students’ attitudes and outlooks. 

Inclusive education is critical in this respect, instilling values of inclusivity, and fostering a love and respect for education in numerous ways. 

Developing empathy and social skills

Early childhood is a critical period for the development of social skills, empathy and attitudes toward others. Fostering inclusion in early childhood education can establish a foundation that facilitates positive attitudes toward diversity and inclusion throughout their lives. 

Providing support and removing barriers

Early intervention and support are key to addressing the diverse needs of children – ensuring that they receive the necessary resources and accommodations to succeed academically and socially. Interventions can provide students with an opportunity to build on their foundational skills and close the gap between themselves and others over time. 

Through inclusion in early childhood, educators can identify and address learning differences before they become barriers to learning and provide tailored support to meet each child’s unique needs.

Promoting belonging

Inclusive early childhood education promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem among all children, both academically and socially. It also demonstrates that everyone belongs in the educational setting.

Children who feel included and accepted by their peers and teachers are more likely to engage actively in learning and develop a positive self-concept. Conversely, exclusionary practices can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem and disengagement from learning. This, in turn, can lead to lower academic success and limited peer connections throughout their educational journey. 

Preparing children for the future

Inclusive education prepares children for life in a diverse and interconnected world. In today’s global society, the ability to look beyond a person’s ability and see the person for who they are is a lifelong skill. 

By experiencing diversity firsthand in the classroom, children learn valuable skills, such as communication, collaboration and cultural competence, which are crucial for success in the modern workforce.

The role of early childhood educators

The most vital role in supporting inclusive education is held by none other than an early childhood educator. Early childhood educators set the scene for education, creating spaces that promote a sense of curiosity to learn and build connection with others.

These educators are the first educator a child will engage with, and this experience can impact how a child will engage with their peers and learning for years to come.

Effective educators create an environment for learners to take risks and ask questions. Effective educators create spaces that welcome all students in, and they challenge and extend their students by building on their success. This allows all students to build connections with one another, regardless of ability.

Professional development and training are essential for equipping educators with the tools and strategies needed to implement inclusive practices effectively. This includes training on differentiated instruction, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), behaviour management techniques, and strategies for supporting children with disabilities or functional needs.

By completing professional development, teachers are exposed to recent findings and research that aligns with current practices, and they can be motivated to reflect on their practices and consider what they can improve or change.

Help create inclusive classrooms

Inclusion in early childhood education is not only a moral imperative but also essential for promoting positive social outcomes, enhancing academic achievement and preparing children for success in a diverse and interconnected world. 

By embracing diversity and creating inclusive learning environments, we can ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to society. Early childhood educators play a critical role in this by championing inclusion, and creating a more equitable and inclusive future for generations to come.

To create these inclusive environments, having the right training and expertise is essential. The 100% online Master of Education program at the University of Canberra offers working educators a way to develop their teaching and leadership skills while focusing on real-world issues and practical mastery. 

Reach out to one of our Student Enrolment Advisers at 1300 471 770 and learn how we can help transform your career.

1300 471 770


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