Mainstreaming vs Inclusion: Understanding the Differences

Mainstreaming vs Inclusion

Mainstreaming and inclusion are educational concepts, particularly in the context of educating students with disabilities. In 1975, Congress passed a law requiring all students to receive education in the least restrictive environment, which primarily applied to disabled students. Mainstreaming and inclusion both emphasize the need to educate children with disabilities alongside non-disabled children, but there are differences in these two approaches.


Mainstreaming contends that segregating students with disabilities from regular classrooms creates a two-tiered system where both tiers are ineffective. Mainstreaming advocates for disabled students to be educated in regular classrooms based on the idea that disabled students should be integrated into the mainstream and taught alongside non-disabled students as much as possible. Mainstreaming opposes the restriction of disabled students to special classrooms in sheltered environments, arguing that they should be allowed to study in regular classrooms.


Inclusion is a more recent approach to educating students with disabilities and shares similarities with mainstreaming; it aims to teach disabled students alongside non-disabled students as much as possible. Inclusion is more comprehensive than mainstreaming, but there are many variations of the concept. Generally, inclusion involves educating disabled students with non-disabled students in the same classrooms, providing support for special education needs whenever necessary. The need for inclusion arose due to reports of mainstream schools treating children with special needs differently and even cases of mistreatment of disabled children.

Inclusion advocates for educating disabled students in regular classrooms without discrimination from students or teachers. However, inclusion does not require disabled students to be in the same classrooms as non-disabled students 100% of the time, as evidence suggests that disabled students benefit more when placed in self-contained classrooms.

Key Takeaways

  • Mainstreaming and inclusion both aim to educate disabled students in the least restrictive environment, but their approaches differ.
  • Mainstreaming seeks to integrate disabled students into regular classrooms, treating them on par with non-disabled students.
  • Inclusion is more comprehensive and sensitive to the special needs of disabled students, recognizing that they may benefit from a combination of regular and self-contained classrooms.
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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