Inclusion as Education for all: a cross-national comparison

Suvi Lakkala, Outi Kyrö-Ämmälä, Gregor Maxwell, Mhairi Beaton, Alvyra Galgiené, Vijaya Dharan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperScientific


Whilst the definition of the term ‘inclusion’ remains contested (Slee, 2019), a trend towards becoming and being inclusive within national education
policies has been observed (UNESCO, 2019). The proposed symposium examines the policy changes towards inclusion and equity in five national
settings: Canada, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway and Finland. Contributors are all members of a UNITWIN/UNESCO Network for Social Justice
and Diversity and each contributor will focus on a distinctive element of the development of and implementation of policy within their national
context including preparing and supporting teachers for inclusion. Bringing these diverse experiences of aspiring to ‘inclusion for all’ (Florian
&Black-Hawkins, 2011) provides an opportunity to develop new understandings of how to provide education for all.
Already in 1968, Finland made the decision to establish a comprehensive school to increase educational equality (Aho, Pitkänen & Sahlberg
2006). Finland has continued investing in developing a socially just system of compulsory education (basic education). The pedagogical support
system was reformed in 2010 and 2014 (FNBE 2016). Today, teachers are expected to continuously assess learning environments and provide
support collaboratively to all students in ‘neighbourhood schools’. In addition, teacher education has been developed from the perspective of
inclusion. According to recent studies, teachers and headteachers are quite satisfied to the adequacy of current support system, and the way of
constructing support have become more versatile than before. However, here are regional differences in the conceptual interpretations of
pedagogical support. Furthermore, the support for students with a clear diagnosis is better arranged than for students who have received support
on milder grounds (Vainikainen et al. 2018).
The beginning of inclusive education in Lithuania is related to the transition of the country's education from a segregated and unified system during
the Soviet period to a system based on equity and equality after Lithuania regained its independence in 1990 (Kugelmass, & Galkiene, 2003). Its
development is influenced by the patriotic determination to create an open education based on humanistic values, and the memory of the
formation of teachers in a strictly unified education system (Lukšienė, 2013). Today, 90% of children with special educational needs study in
general schools. Yet, research results show teachers' open attitude to inclusive education and a great deal of confusion about its quality
implementation in practice. Obviously, teachers' favourable provisions and a harmonized legal framework are insufficient for inclusive education to
become the paradigm of the education system. The competence stored in the memory of pedagogical experience is the barrier for complete
New Zealand
In New Zealand there has been a reset in the use of often contentious and non-inclusive terminology of ‘special education’ (Slee, 2019). The word
"Special" has been replaced in policy language and practice, with a less stigmatising and culturally accepted term of "Learning Support" by the
Ministry of Education. This strategic move is captured in the Learning Support Action Plan (2019-2025) which has the vision of having an
education system where all children and young people can learn and achieve. The plan will be actioned through a strength-based, culturally
responsive collaborative framework to support teachers, families, children and young people to be inclusive for all learners (Ministry of
Education,2020). There is a commitment to ongoing efforts to build teacher capability through pre-service and in-service professional learning,
among others. As a first step Learning Support Coordinators have been employed throughout the country to support schools and teachers.
In 2017 Norway introduced a new national 5-year integrated initial teacher education master’s programme to train teachers with increased
specialization and research-based knowledge. There are higher expectations that these teachers are more able to adapt their training to the
individual student and better integrate special education in their general teaching. In the context of inclusion all this builds on a long Norwegian
tradition of adapted education. However, recent criticism has accused the system of actually creating exclusion and perpetuating a dysfunctional
system (Nordahl et al., 2018). To combat this, results from a recent study following the first cohorts of new teachers from both the national launch
and a pilot programme has found that newly qualified teachers in Norway need more knowledge about inclusive pedagogy and relational thinking
in education (Antonsen et al., 2020). This specific example from Norway, shows an intention to empower teachers to take agency of their
professional learning, and develop pedagogical practices to deliver more equitable and inclusive education.
References (250 word maximum)
Aho, E., Pitkänen, K., & Sahlberg, P (2006). Policy development and reform principles of basic and secondary education in Finland since
1968. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Antonsen, Y., Maxwell, G., et al. (2020). «Det er et kjemperart system» – spesialpedagogikk, tilpasset opplæring og nyutdannede læreres
kompetanse. ["It’s a really odd system!" – special education, adapted education and newly qualified teachers’ competences]. Acta
Didactica Norge, 14 (2), 1-19. ISSN 1504-9922. doi: 10.5617/adno.7918.
FNBE.Finnish National Board of Education (2016). National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014, Publications 5, Helsinki: National
Board of Education.
Florian, L., & Black‐Hawkins, K. (2011). Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 813-828.
Kugelmass, J., & Galkiene, A. (2003). Democratic reform and the emergence of special needs education in Lithuania. European Journal of
Special Needs Education, 18(1), 53-70.
Lukšienė, M. (2013). Jungtys [Connections], Vilnius, Alma littera.
Ministry of Education (2019). The Learning Support Action Plan. Wellington, Author.
Nordahl, T., et al. (2018). Inkluderende Fellesskap for Barn og unge [Inclusive Community for Children and Young People]: Ekspertgruppen
for barn og unge med behov for særskilt tilrettelegging. Bergen.
Official Statistics of Finland (2020). Special Education. Appendix Table 5. Comprehensive School Pupils Having Received Special Support
by Place of Provision of Teaching. Statistics Finland Helsinki: Finland. Available online:
Slee, R. (2019). Inclusive Education isn't Dead, it Just Smells Funny. Routledge
Vainikainen, M-P., et al. (2018). Educational support from early childhood to the transition to upper secondary education: actualisation of
equity and needs for development. Publications of the Government´s analysis, assessment and research activities, 55, Helsinki: Prime
Minister’s Office
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2021
MoEC publication typeNot Eligible

Field of science

  • General education


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