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


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Continuum of Teacher Beliefs about Inclusive Education

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

Parents of children with disabilities in the USA began forming advocacy groups to ensure access to education for their children during the 1950s.  This opened school doors and led to the passing of the “Educational for All Handicapped Children Act” in 1975.  To serve the needs of these students, a parallel special education system with its own practices, regulations, staff, teaching training approaches and assumptions emerged.  This has created a dual-track education system where some feel the starting point for students with disabilities is an assumption of dis-belonging.  

To counteract this concern, the idea of a single restructured inclusive education system where classrooms are able to meet the diverse educational needs of all students has emerged.  This type of system is hard for many educators to imagine and it is impossible to create what cannot be imagined.  Personal beliefs affect what can be imagined and so it is important for educators to analyze their beliefs to gain greater insight in to possible barriers to creating this single-track inclusive system. 

Lalvani set out do to just this.  He interviewed 30 teachers, 20 general education and 10 special education, to gain insight in to their beliefs about learning, intelligence, student abilities, and placement options for students with disabilities.  He concluded that teachers conceptualized inclusive education in one of three ways.   

One group of teachers saw inclusion as a privilege for students who meet specific criteria related to type of disability, functioning level, cognitive ability, and behaviour.   Behaviour was most frequently listed as a reason for students to be educated separately.  This group of teachers believed that intelligence is biologically based and that students with disabilities are inherently different.  Their beliefs aligned with a medical model of disability that involves identifying deficits or limitations and working to treat them.  On the larger classroom level, they saw curriculum as rigid and felt that students who could not fit in academically or socially needed to be moved to environments where they could fit.  

A second group of teachers saw inclusion as a compromise.   They believed that students who are included experience social gains but it is at the expense of learning academics.  They believed that the academic needs of these students could only be met in segregated spaces with specialized, highly qualified teachers.  They tended more towards seeing special education as a place rather than a service.  They also expressed a belief that it took special characteristics to be able to teach this population.  Interestingly, a majority of the teachers that fell in to this group were special education teachers. 

The final group saw inclusion as a social justice issue that was about more than just students with disabilities.  This group was the smallest group and all but one member of the group were general education teachers.  They felt that inequalities in society create variability in learning.  These teachers believed in the social model of disability and saw disability as one aspect of human diversity.  They were concerned with larger institutional practices and policies that serve to oppress and marginalize and questioned practices related to assessment and how knowledge and learning are defined.

The inclusive education movement is a dynamic and complex social change movement.  Educators and educational training programs need to be vigilant in analyzing personal belief systems about disability, special education and conceptualizations of inclusive education. Both biological and socio-cultural components must be critically examined to ensure that we are not unknowingly sending messages of dis-belonging, perpetuating oppressive practices, or creating barriers to either social or academic learning. 

Lalvani, P. (2013). Privilege, Compromise, or Social Justice: Teachers' Conceptualizations of Inclusive Education. Disability & Society, 28(1), 14-27. doi: 10.1080/09687599.2012.692028.