Early childhood care and education is an important part of children’s growth and development. However, despite the importance of early childhood education, children from minority groups and those with disabilities may not enjoy similar access to education. Statistics indicate that while children from poverty areas are less likely to attend preschool in comparison to those from higher-income families, these children are the ones most likely to benefit from high-quality preschool programs (Bredekamp, 2017). It is for this reason that there is a push towards inclusive preschool education, given the value that it brings to minorities and children with disabilities. Aside from cultivating a sense of belonging, strengthening friendships, and respect among all children, inclusion in education produces better learning outcomes for all. Therefore, not only does inclusive early care and education have value for minorities, children with disabilities, and those without, but it also profits families and the entire society.
For a long time, early childhood education was not among the most recognized parts of education. Recently, however, there has been an increase in public recognition of its importance. Even more important has been the recognition of the benefits of early childhood education, especially for children at risk of later school failure (Bredekamp, 2017). Poverty (for minorities) and disability are among the key features of these at-risk children, thus the push for inclusion in preschool education, given the benefits that would accrue to these groups. According to Gupta, Henninger, and Vinh (2014), while there have been improvements in including children with disabilities (and minorities) in early childhood settings, much more needs to be done. Statistics from the US Department of Education indicate that at least 44.5% of children with disabilities have been served by regular early childhood programs, while about 24.2% were under specialized/separate classes (Gupta, Henninger & Vinh, 2014). While the increase from 44.5% is a considerable increase from the initial 25% witnessed in 1997, it still falls short of the desired goal of full inclusion.
The push for full inclusion emanates from the benefits that accrue to the children and the society at large. One of the values of inclusion is the cultivation of a sense of belonging for the disabled and minority children. Underwood, Valeo, and Wood, (2012) assert that every parent wants their children to be accepted by their peers, make friends, and live “regular” lives friends, family members and the local community. For young children with disabilities or from minority groups, their parents’ hope for them to go to the same school as their peers and siblings, in addition to being invited to their friends’ birthday parties. It is only through inclusive education that such children can realize such goals and develop a sense of belonging to their community. Perhaps most important is that parents of the children with disabilities or from minority hope that peers, teachers, friends, and neighbors will see beyond their children’s race or disability and accept them as bona fide members of the community that they belong to.
The development of real and lasting friendships is another value of inclusive education. In their research on what matters to children in preschool, Lundqvist, Allodi, and Siljehag (2019) interviews with the children with special needs pointed to friendship as one of the most important things to the children. In one of the interviews, one boy (with special needs) said: “I like preschool because I have nice friends” (Lundqvist, Allodi, & Siljehag, 2019). Inclusive education allows such children to cultivate friendships. Within an inclusive education setting, children with disabilities and from minority groups, as well as others learn to develop social skills, which are the basic foundations for establishing and maintaining school foundations at the elementary level. Moreover, such skills help the children adjust within the school environment and make tremendous academic gains. Perhaps most important is the development of social competence from such interactions. It is (social competence) a precursor to future welfare and mental health.
Inclusion further draws value from the respect that it cultivates among all learners within the inclusive system. Lundqvist, Allodi, and Siljehag (2019) posit that children, whether with special needs or not and from all races have the right to share their opinions about everyday school life, in addition to experiencing similar school conditions. Lundqvist, Allodi, and Siljehag (2019) additionally argue that despite the difference in race and ability the children deserve respect. Cultivating a sense of respect for all despite the individual differences can only be possible through inclusive education. By learning the value of respect for all at the tender age, the children cultivate the values, which they hold on to through their adulthood.
Inclusion in early childhood education additionally produces better learning outcomes for all. DEC and NAEYC (Division for Early Childhood/ National Association for the Education of Young Children) (2009) point out that through the incorporation of the principles of universal design for learning, which supports each child’s pace and style of learning, inclusive education produces better learning outcomes for all. Following these principles, providing support, and commitment among all involved in the education of the children produced better results than the typical learning situation (DEC/NAEYC, 2009). Moreover, inclusive education means that children learn important lessons among them coping with challenges, social and communication skills, as well as alternative paths to success: which overall culminate into better learning outcomes in comparison with traditional learning settings.
Most children will benefit from inclusive education given the diversity of experiences they will have through such a setting. Inclusion, in this case, helps to not only contribute to research in education but also enrich the school experience of both children with disabilities and those without, as well as children from different racial backgrounds (Lundqvist, 2014). Segregated schools tend to give children specific experiences, which may not be the case in inclusive educational settings due to the diversity in population, teaching methods, and backgrounds in inclusive educational settings. Besides, the inclusive educational setting gives learners the closest experiences to what real life is outside the school setting.
Preschool education is an important facet of the general learning experience for everyone. It is even more important for vulnerable populations, which have higher chances of non-completion of their educational programs. While there has been tremendous progress towards inclusion in preschool education, a lot still needs doing to reach full inclusion. Gravitation towards inclusion lies in the fact that a lot of benefits accrue from inclusion. Development of long-lasting friendships, giving diverse experiences, cultivating respect, and better learning outcomes for all make a good case for inclusion. Both minorities and children with disabilities need to experience education with the rest of the population to prepared them for the world as it is outside school. Inclusive education is the only way that such disadvantaged groups can find a level playing field with the rest of the population.
Bredekamp, S. (2017). Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education: Building a Foundation, 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson.
DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.
Gupta, S., S., Henninger, W., R., & Vinh, M., E. (2014). First Steps to Preschool Inclusion: How to Jumpstart Your Program-wide Plan. Brookes Publishing.
Lundqvist, J., Allodi, M., W., & Siljehag, E. (2019). Values and needs of children with and without special educational needs in early school years: A study of young children’s views on what matters to them. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 63(6), 951-967.
Lundqvist, J. (2014). A review of research in educational settings involving children’s responses. Child Indicators Research, 7(4), 751–768. doi: 10.1007/s12187-014-9253-
Underwood, K., Valeo, A., & Wood, R. (2012). Understanding inclusive early childhood education: A capability approach. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(4), 290-299.