Teacher Education with an Emphasis on Inclusive Education
All children, regardless of language, disability, sex, cultural background, religion, migration status, socioeconomic status, etc., have the right to accessible education. UNESCO (2003) states that:
“Inclusive education is an approach that looks into how to transform education systems in order to respond to the diversity of learners. It means enhancing the quality of education by improving the effectiveness of teachers, promoting learning-centered methodologies, developing appropriate textbooks and learning materials and ensuring that schools are safe and healthy for all children. Strengthening links with the community is also vital: relationship between teachers, students, parents and society at large are crucial for developing inclusive learning environments.”
Building off the above statement, the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underscores the right to equal and inclusive education for all children. By signing this convention, Germany committed itself to creating inclusive educational opportunities for all youth.
This national commitment to inclusive education posed certain challenges to existing school systems across Germany. In order to train a new generation of teachers ready to foster inclusive learning, the University of Potsdam created an Inclusive Education emphasis in Teacher Education at all levels. For Primary Education a comprehensive curriculum was developed that highlights areas such as speech and language acquisition, mathematics education, social and emotional development, assessment and diagnostics, and diversity based on culture and migration.
In addition to traditional subject-oriented training, students should gain in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical research regarding all aspects of inclusion. As a young, interdisciplinary, and growing field, learning how to conduct and interpret research on both the national and international levels gives students the skills needed to plan, enact, and evaluate evidence-based practice in inclusive education. Students learn how to create an inclusive environment to support and promote optimal learning for children of diverse abilities and backgrounds. Broadly, students learn about obstacles children face, while also gaining strategies to help them overcome such obstacles in the school context, thereby widening educational opportunities for all children.
Inclusive thinking and action require students to develop skills to reflect on, monitor, and understand their own pedagogical beliefs and attitudes more deeply. To accomplish this, students are introduced to national and international literature from various academic disciplines, they learn about scientific and methodological approaches in education and related fields, and discuss how to apply theory and research findings on child development and learning to the classroom context. Moreover, they learn basic statistics and research methods in order to critically evaluate information from empirical journal articles, as well as from everyday sources of information such as newspapers, reports, and online material.
The aim is to train students to adopt an inclusive mindset, with the motivation and skills to develop into effective teachers able to work with a diversity of children. This goal, and the Inclusive Education program at large, follow the directive of the most recent Kultusministerium Konferenz, which stated that, “Teacher training for a ‘school of diversity’ is a cross-cutting task, which must build on an intersection of education science, teaching methodology, and specialized research within teachers colleges for all types of teachers.” (Kultusminister Konferenz, 2015, p. 3).