In recent years, several new models of Inclusive Education (IE) have emerged in China. In Guangzhou, IE is mainly driven by parental advocacy as parents of disabled children lobby local authorities to provide supported places in mainstream schools. In Beijing, IE is driven by local policies, which in theory encourage mainstream schools to set up “resource classrooms” – though this is still far from full inclusion. In Zhengzhou, Henan Province, a local kindergarten, Qisehua, has developed a model of full inclusion at pre-school level, which is having a real impact on education policy and practice in Henan Province.
In 2014 Henan provincial government started paying attention to inclusive education, announcing its ‘Plan to Raise Standards in Special Education (2014-16)’ and pledging to make Henan Province a model of pre-school inclusion. Qisehua’s work over the years has been instrumental in bringing about this change of policy. In 2015 Henan Education Bureau selected 45 pre-schools (kindergartens) across the province to become pilots for inclusion and teacher training. Qisehua is actively involved in this process and is widely recognised as a launch pad of inclusive pre-school education.
Henan is one of China’s most populous provinces, with a population of over 94 million. It is largely agricultural and faces huge development challenges. Its education system – especially for people with disabilities – is underdeveloped and no universities or teacher colleges yet have inclusive education on their curricula. Developing inclusive education means more than simply training resource teachers: it involves wider, interdisciplinary training for all teaching staff and a thorough change in approaches to education. Public perceptions also pose serious challenges to inclusion, so it is essential that our advocacy aims to change attitudes and raise public support for inclusive education.
Qisehua’s mission is to promote inclusive education and individualized development for every child. Founded in 1991, Qisehua is the first organization in Henan to practice full inclusion at pre-school level. We are registered as a non-profit organization and located in a regular housing district of Guancheng Huizu (Muslim) District in Zhengzhou City.
We began experimenting with inclusive education in 1996, integrating children with special needs into our regular classrooms, at a ratio of 7:1 (i.e. 1 special needs child to 7 regular pupils). Initially most of our special needs pupils were children with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and learning disability. Over the past 20 years Qisehua has constantly emphasized the rights of children with special needs to enjoy educational equality in an inclusive setting. We now have a total of 252 children, 35 of whom have special needs.
As part of our advocacy work we have produced several publications, including “Theory and Practice in Inclusive Pre-school Education” and “A Handbook for Assessment of Children’s Development in Pre-school Education”. We also organize itinerant training teams to assist kindergartens in many other areas develop pre-school inclusion and support children with special needs in adapting to mainstream classrooms. In 2015, with the support of Henan Provincial Education Bureau, we took on the task of teacher training for pre-school teachers across Henan Province. We have also organized many events to raise public awareness of inclusive education, including conferences, workshops, parents’ discussion groups and social events. All our activities aim to promote policy reform, as well as changing public attitudes and improving the overall environment for inclusive education.