“Come Mommy, we are late! I want to see my friends now.” Waking up, on the first day of school this year, to my three-year-old (Denlan) nudging me on, to swiftly move along towards our school travel route, I realized that this is one of the most beautiful sentences any parent could ever hear. The friends referred to, are students from Arden Academy who face physical challenges, learning barriers along with neurotypical (average functioning) learners. The beauty of this setup is the fact that my son does not see the difference in ability when he refers to his friends. He does not notice the physical, educational or emotional barriers – he only sees these little human beings as his friends.
The word ‘friend’ refers to a special relationship held between two people. A person can only accept such a relationship if there are posed opportunities for two individuals to become acquainted with and experience their personalities in relation to their values, beliefs and likes. If a child, living with a barrier, is excluded from the education system in whichever way, how are we, as society, allowing our children to gain such powerful feelings of contentment, loyalty, security and empathy associated with friendships?
Providing a child with exposure to inclusive education, not only sets multiple stages for all to create life-long relationships, but to be a part of memorable events that can carry tremendous weight, for life. In addition to this, friendship increases a person’s sense of being and purpose, it also improves self-worth and self-confidence.
Friendships affect us on all spheres of life but what is this “inclusive education” context enabling special friendships to blossom? The White Paper 6 define inclusive education as an accessible element to all students who may require additional support. All learners are accepted as unique individuals with different needs related to learning and daily living requirements. Educational entities are therefore required to support learners with barriers within the classrooms – average functioning classrooms. Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, language, class, disability or HIV status, students are accepted and respected. (Department of Education. (2001). White Paper 6. Retrieved from https://www.vvob.org/files/publicaties/rsa_education_white_paper_6.pdf).
Upon our return from the first day of school, Denlan sat next to me while he ate and happily exclaimed “Mammie, I had the best day ever!”. Taken aback as a teacher to this comment, knowing that the first three days of school are usually the most taxiing on all levels for a child, due to the change of environment, overwhelming feelings etc., I questioned him to obtain a reason for his statement. The most beautiful, comforting and satisfying answer filled the room as he replied, “because I love my friends” – speechless!