Historically, exclusive school systems have been associated with different forms of injustice, particularly in modern post-colonial states. Segregating educational opportunities has and continues to lead to inequality in economic and social opportunities, leading to a loss of upward mobility, a lack of meritocracy, and wider social instability. As societies become more cognizant of the injustices created by exclusive and unequal systems, it’s becoming more important for educational institutions to promote a more inclusive approach to learning.
The harsh lessons of colonial-era educational exclusion have long been taken to heart in multicultural Singapore. Since the country’s independence, inclusivity has been promoted as a core value, with domestic policy directives and mainstream education curriculums taking great pains to avoid any overt sense of cultural chauvinism. Today, the country’s mainstream and alternative schools all try to maintain a sense of inclusiveness, regardless of their specific pedagogical frameworks.
However, despite best efforts, schools may sometimes fail to cultivate a true spirit of inclusivity. This can make them highly disadvantageous for children who belong to cultural minorities, foreign families, or less-prosperous economic backgrounds. Given this, some parents from minority communities in Singapore try to send their children to schools that promise more genuine inclusivity.
Inclusive school cultures could be identified by the following characteristics:
1) A Commitment to Creating a Safe, Unbiased Learning Environment
No school system, no matter how well funded and administered, can be truly free of bias. However, all schools can do their best to be better. Truly inclusive schools do not claim to be truly free of bias or social friction. What they do have is a real commitment to doing right by the children in their care.
Singapore-based expat families who are concerned with potential biases in mainstream schools should look for an accredited global international school Singapore expats vouch for. Choosing an expat-oriented school with a global and cosmopolitan outlook may help foreign children enjoy an education without the kinds of unintended biases that they may encounter in mainstream schools.
2) A Focus on Providing Equitable Opportunities for Students
Inclusive schools are not necessarily blind to differences between different students. Rather, they try to understand the underlying contexts behind those differences so that they can deliver a truly equitable learning experience for all. They do not pretend that differences do not exist but, instead, they look into these dissimilarities to better deliver fair educational opportunities regardless of a student’s background.
3) Active Engagement with Diverse Communities
Truly inclusive institutions don’t just pay lip service to the idea of inclusivity. They will actively engage with a range of different communities that are stakeholders in the school. In international schools, this engagement is often manifested in special cultural observances of stakeholder communities that are not held in mainstream schools.
4) A Culture That Emphasizes Continuous Improvement Over Perfection
Where an exclusive school will tend to claim or imply perfection, inclusive institutions will, instead, emphasize overcoming one’s prior limitations. While both approaches may create high-achieving students, the latter approach will often be more sustainable and result in better-rounded, more empathetic individuals.
5) Equitable Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers and Administrators
One key difference between inclusive schools from more exclusive institutions is that their attempts at inclusivity extend to the staff and administrators, not just the students. As such, they often have a direct stake in the development of their staff. Inclusive institutions such as International Baccalaureate schools, for instance, are well-known for the professional opportunities they provide their instructors and administrators. In contrast, schools with exclusive tendencies may seek to deny professional opportunities to staff to maintain a favorable status quo.
6) A Proactive Student Leadership
Inclusive schools empower students by making them understand that their voices matter, regardless of their background. As a result, more inclusive schools tend to have stronger traditions of substantial student leadership and activism compared to more exclusive institutions.
7) Faith in the Abilities of Students
One common thread among inclusive schools is that teachers and administrators have faith in the ability of students to succeed academically as well as on their own terms. Exclusive schools tend to emphasize more narrow ideologies that, in turn, emphasize obedience to specific points of view without trusting students to do the right thing. Thus, a more inclusive approach to education will necessarily require educators to be more trusting of their students.
Why Inclusivity Should Be Part of All School Cultures
An inclusive school culture promotes acceptance and the sharing of learning opportunities regardless of one’s background. The environment fostered by truly inclusive schools creates a positive culture and camaraderie among students, teachers, and administrators, regardless of their ethnicity, economic background, or social connections.
Though it’s challenging to create a school that could include everyone, sincere and consistent efforts at creating an inclusive learning environment can help students of varying backgrounds enjoy similar life opportunities. Equitable access to learning opportunities may, in turn, help empower and motivate less-advantaged children to do better in their studies.
Importantly, the benefits of inclusivity also go beyond academics. As people in Singapore know all too well, inclusivity in schools can also be a key part of building friendlier communities and stronger nations. The characteristics that define inclusive school cultures create a better, more equitable learning framework that benefits students and also helps inculcate prosocial values in them. Thus, inclusive schools may ultimately provide a considerable societal good by helping shape children into productive, selfless, and compassionate members of their communities.