Early Scope

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Dr. Kathy Cologon is an academic at the Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University in Sydney. Kathy lectures in Inclusive Early Childhood Education.

Kathy has a particular interest in research and practice relating to the development and support of inclusive education, with a view towards greater recognition of the rights of all children. Prior to entering academia, Kathy has experience working in mainstream school and prior to school settings and has developed and implemented early intervention and inclusive early childhood programs. In this work Kathy has collaborated with families, teachers and therapists to support the inclusion of young children who experience disability. In her research, Kathy continues to work closely with families and early childhood professionals across a range of different roles and services in Australia and across the Asia-Pacific region. 

The crux of what drives Kathy’s research is a belief in the equality of all human beings and that recognising this has particular implications for the role of education and teacher education. History has clearly demonstrated the negative impact of a lack of learning opportunities and of social exclusion. Through her research Kathy seeks to contribute to the growing development of knowledge and understanding regarding how to provide effective opportunities to enable all children to flourish as valued members of our communities.

Inclusion is a word that is understood in many different ways – or perhaps more accurately, inclusion is a term that means different things to different people.

There are many questions that arise when we start talking about inclusion in early childhood, including inclusion of whom and into what? 

In 2010 researcher Jennifer Gidley and her colleagues outlined three ways of understanding social inclusion:

  1. The narrowest understanding relates to inclusion as access, so in early childhood this would involve access to early childhood services;
  2. A broader understanding is a view of inclusion as participation, this would involve both access and active participation within early childhood services;
  3. The broadest understanding of inclusion is inclusion as human potential.

A human potential understanding of inclusion involves embracing diversity in all its forms. This involves a process of social transformation whereby individual potential is supported not only through access and participation, but also through a process of actively engaging with the complexity of humanity. Therefore, being able to value all individuals and support their potential without focusing on deficits or seeking to assimilate or change people to fit the system. This focus on possibility and human potential requires not just providing access and supporting participation, but also being open to rethinking the way in which we set up early childhood services.

Inclusion is about everyone, everywhere. However, inclusion often comes to be associated with minority groups because of the tendency for minority groups to be excluded and therefore conscious efforts to fight against that exclusion and segregation become necessary.  

Facilitating inclusion is often viewed as an ‘added extra’ or a ‘special effort’ born out of kindness or charity. On the contrary, inclusion is fundamental to a functioning society – thus inclusion is the responsibility of everyone.

Inclusion is not territory for kind-hearted ‘do-gooders’, it is not about granting ‘special favours’, nor about changing someone to fit the elusive ‘norm’ in order to be ‘granted’ access to the community (or indeed the world!). Rather, inclusion is about recognising our shared humanity and moving beyond false notions of entitlement to recognise that for any of us to succeed as members of society we need to be included.

Inclusion requires accepting and celebrating human diversity.

For those of us committed to early childhood care and education (ECCE), we need to ask ourselves how will we create services that are inclusive of all children and families? - and not perpetuate a situation where we create a "them" and an "us" and then make adjustments to fit "them" in. This requires providing access and facilitating participation and engagement, but it also requires systemic change, social transformation and a focus on potential and possibility so that all children belong.

Bringing about inclusion in early childhood in reality is challenging, so we also need to think about why it is important. There are many different reasons or rationales and I would like to provoke discussion by raising a few.