Inclusive education defined: a cross cultural comparison from Canada and Sweden

  • Shurr, Jordan (Projektledare)
  • Östlund, Daniel (Forskare)
  • Holmqvist, Mona (Forskare)



Inclusive education has been a topic of intense interest and some debate of late. In the broad sense, inclusion often refers to making education welcoming and accessible to all students and in so removing barriers that inhibit access for students from marginalized groups such as those who are economically disadvantaged, racialized, those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community or those that are diagnosed with a disability (e.g., Ainscow, Booth, & Dyson, 2006; Brooks, Adams, & Morita-Mullaney, 2010; Kugelmass, 2004). Originally, prior to this broad thinking, the term inclusion had been mostly associated with increasing access for students with disabilities to the general education context. While the concept of inclusive education has been somewhat settled for students with high incidence disabilities, the debate continues for those with more significant support needs (Norwich, 2008). And, for this population, the focus of inclusive efforts has transformed over recent history. Wehmeyer described these shifts in foci, beginning around the 1970’s and shifting every few decades, in three general themes (2006). Initially efforts on the part of researchers and advocates often focused on inclusive spaces, or physical access. This was aimed to get students with disabilities into general education places and away from segregated educational environments. The following wave was centered on the idea of social connectedness between students with and without disabilities. The intention here was to move beyond physical access, toward socially-meaningful connections for students. And the most current shift, initiated in the 2000’s, has focused on inclusion as academic access. That is, students with disabilities are expected to gain access to the general education curriculum, tools, and resources for substantial opportunities of inclusive learning.

While it appears that there is a clear trajectory of the inclusive education history thus far, this is not necessarily reflective in current policy and practice, nor in public discourse. For instance in Canada alone, several somewhat diverging definitions of inclusive education from prominent entities exist. The Ontario ministry of Education describes it this way, “education that is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected” (2009, p. 4). In this case, a strong emphasis on general principles of welcoming and a curriculum to match, seem to be the main message. Another such definition by, Inclusive Education Canada, is much more focused on the specific place and context of education, “all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school” (2017). Yet another definition from the Alberta Ministry of Education describes inclusion as, “an attitude and approach that embraces diversity and learner differences and promotes equal opportunities for all learners…” (2019). While there are similarities among these definitions and the many others published, differences exist regarding the focus on either specific elements of access or the broader principles or attitudes meant to guide the educational experience.

In addition to conflicts in the research literature and differences among authoritative definitions, it is clear that public perception of inclusion is often not based on a shared understanding of what is and what is not inclusion—specifically in the context of education for students with significant support needs. Recently, the Globe and Mail published a story on such a clash of perspectives along with a series of comments to the article from multiple perspectives (See Alphonso, 2019, January, 5; Busta, 2019, January, 7). The discussion in some way reflects the tension between inclusive education definitions which focus on the pragmatic versus those with more emphasis on philosophical elements. While debate is considered a healthy part of democratic society, it often appears that differences in opinion, in the case of inclusive education for students with significant support needs, could perhaps be attributed to a lack of clarity or shared understanding of the term. This topic is the central focus of this present project.

In working to understand the perspectives of individuals or groups on concepts as complex and nuanced as inclusion, it can be helpful to highlight the related external factors or influences. These can include history, culture, policy, social attitudes and the like—as ideas such as inclusive education are developed, practiced, and understood in context. Cross-national comparative research is one method for exposing such external variables and factors related to a concept of interest (Crossley & Watson, 2003). Such comparison of data can help reveal similarities across contexts as well as data that may be more accurately understand in a particular national context. It is expected that such a cross-national lens as will be employed in this project, will enable a rich understanding of perspectives on inclusive education.


The aim of this study was to collect and analyze research on inclusive education from the perspective of parents of students with intellectual disability (ID). The review examined characteristics and trends related to geographical origin of research, design, data collection, publication source and year, source of data, age of individuals with ID, and research focus. The initial database search produced a total of 2,540 non-duplicated articles published between 1994 and 2019. In total, 63 articles were included from the initial search and a subsequent ancestry search. The results show a significant increase in publication on the topic in the final one-tenth of the review time parameter, suggesting a continued upward trend. The majority of articles were qualitative in design, used interviews and surveys to collect data, and focus on the perspectives and beliefs of parents on inclusive education. Gaps in the existing set of research included a lack of family perspectives beyond that of mothers (e.g. father, grandparent) and a limited focus beyond perspectives and beliefs, to that of parent experiences of inclusive education.
Gällande start-/slutdatum20-01-0122-10-31

Nationell ämneskategori

  • Pedagogiskt arbete (50304)


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