Sunday, March 17, 2013

Supporting Teachers to Support Inclusive Education

Just sharing a couple of "research digests" that I did as projects in graduate school this term...

In 1994, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released the Salamanca Statement which resulted in a deliberate global movement towards inclusive education.   In the years since education systems around the world have undergone changes in policy, structure, and organization.  Despite these changes, there continues to be apprehension and debate about inclusive education and there is still much to do in creating the inclusive systems laid out in the Salamanca Statement. 

When a child with a disability is educated in a general education classroom, the teacher is often faced new challenges and an added workload as, by the very nature of disability, accommodations will need to be made. It is a very real possibility that this could generate negative feelings in teachers towards the concept of inclusive education.  Studies have shown that teacher attitude will have a direct impact on student success in inclusive settings.  This raises the question of what variables will generate positive teacher attitudes towards inclusive education.  

Ahmmed, Sharma and Deppeler set out to answer this question by surveying 738 teachers working in 293 government primary schools in Bangladesh.  They examined demographical information, attitudes towards inclusive education and perceived support supplied by the school to get a picture of affective, cognitive and behavioural components of teacher attitudes towards inclusive education. 

Variables examined included gender, age, educational qualifications, teaching experience, contact with a student with a disability in the classroom, acquaintance with a person with a disability, previous training on inclusive education, past success in teaching students with disabilities, and perceived school human and material support.  From this data, they were able to conclude that previous success in teaching a child with a disability and perceived school support had the greatest positive impact on teacher attitudes about inclusive education.   Contact with a student with a disability in the classroom, gender, and educational qualification also positively affected teacher attitudes.  All other variables examined were considered insignificant.  Interestingly, previous training on inclusive education did not impact teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion. 

Studies like this can help guide the larger inclusive education movement as increasing positive attitudes about inclusive education in teachers will result in more effective inclusive practices.  Support for inclusive education from administration, colleagues and parents, availability of specialized resources and materials, and positive experiences teaching students with disabilities all contribute to this increased positive attitudes about inclusion.  There appears to be a cyclic process in that support for teachers increases the chance of student success and student success increases positive teacher attitudes.  Investing in human and material resources right at the school level seems to be the way to get the most bang for our buck when it comes to including students with disabilities. 

Educating students with disabilities is a dynamic and complex process.  It cannot always be mapped out ahead of time and this can create anxiety.   Policy and organizational changes and teacher training programs may not be enough to generate the positive attitudes needed to make inclusion work.   Supports, services and materials need to be present at the schools in real time so schools can be responsive to the individualized needs of students with disabilities.   

Although this research was completed in a country that is quite different demographically from where we live, it seems reflective of the human spirit in any country.   There is a greater likelihood of generating positive attitudes around something new when one feels they have appropriate resources, feels they are supported, and has past experience that creates a sense of self-efficacy in their ability to take on and meet the challenge.   

Ahmmed, M., Sharma, U., & Deppeler, J. (2012). Variables Affecting Teachers' Attitudes towards Inclusive Education in Bangladesh. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(3), 132-140.  doi: 10.1111/j.1471-3802.2011.01226.x


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