FHARIA TILAT LOBA
Abstract: Special teachers and regular teachers both have significant roles in implementing inclusive education. This study focused on attitudes of post graduate students towards inclusion of children with disabilities in regular school settings. This survey study has been conducted among the students of University of Sydney, who were studying in different courses of Education in post graduation level. It tended to explore general attitudes of post graduate students towards inclusion, students with disabilities, positive and negative results of inclusion and problems in implementing inclusive practices in regular school setting. It is a survey study with small size (n=20). Though individual knowledge, experience, point of view and other variables influence attitudes towards inclusive education, however the results of the study points to need for extensive training to implement inclusive practices successfully, sine regular teachers require comprehensive training to teach students with disabilities in regular classrooms.
During this century, the view and treatment of person with disabilities has changed drastically, with a distinct move toward including people with disabilities in the mainstream of the community (Swick & Hooks, 2005, p.397) and inclusive education is currently most discussed educational issues in the world (Ahsan, 2006, p.53). This study focused on attitudes of post graduate students towards inclusion of children with disabilities in regular school settings. This survey study has been conducted among the students of University of Sydney, who were studying in different courses of Education in post graduation level. The following questions were used to guide to explore the attitudes of the respondents towards inclusion
– What are the beliefs and attitudes of post graduate students towards inclusion of students with disabilities in regular school settings?
– What are the positive and negative results of inclusion?
– What are the problems in implementing inclusive practice?
– How the background (age, experience, locality) of the participants influence their attitudes towards inclusion?
The inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms is a goal of many educators and education sectors around the world (Armstrong, Armstrong & Spandagou, 2010 cited in Hwang & Evans, 2010). Inclusion is commonly defined as serving students with a full range of abilities and disabilities in the general education classroom with appropriate in-class support (Crawford, 1994; Roach, 1995; LoVette, 1996; Salend, 2001 cited in Horne & Timmons, 2009, p.274). Inclusion is a philosophy that implies the complete acceptance of a student with a disability in a regular class (Dixon & Verenikina, 2007, p. 194). Many academicians and professionals have argued that there is no place for segregated settings and that these students have the right to be educated not just in a regular school but in a regular class along with other students (Foreman, 2005, p.51). While the argument of whether inclusion philosophy should be accepted now seems redundant, schools keep continue to debate the merits and demerits of including students with a disability in mainstream schools.
Currently the debate centres on the degree to which this inclusion should occur rather than whether it should occur at all, and the strategies that should be employed to support this inclusion (Dixon & Verenikina, 2007, p. 196). Attitudes toward disabilities reflect beliefs about people with disabilities and as such guide behaviour towards individuals with disabilities (Roberts & Smith, 1999 cited in Parasuram, 2006, p. 231). In this regard, this study explores the beliefs and attitudes of post graduate students of Education towards inclusion, who are suppose to be more or less acknowledged of the philosophy, policies or theories of Education. To effectively support students with a disability in the regular classroom (practice) will be influenced by teachers’ attitudes and beliefs (the principles), and by laws and organizational guidelines (the legislation and policies) (Foreman, 2005, p. 36). Supporters of inclusive education suggest that with appropriate levels of peer and staff support and with appropriate levels of curriculum modification, the education of students with very high support needs in regular classes can be a meaningful experience for those students and their peers (Dixon and Verenikina, 2005, p. 194).
On the other hand some academicians (Kauffman, Bantz & McCullough, 2002) have argued that special education has lost its way in recent years and has been overly influenced by philosophical arguments associated with inclusion. Some teachers also feel that they do not have the necessary skills to support students with special needs and the Shaddock report (2005) into provisions for students with special needs found that teachers in the regular system are developing negative attitudes towards inclusion (Dixon and Verenikina, 2005, p. 195). In addition opponents of inclusion have stressed that regular classroom teachers in an inclusive setting may lack the appropriate support and assistance to adequately meet the needs of all their students (Daniel & King, 1997 cited in Horne & Timmons, 2009, p. 274) as well as inclusion does not work, especially when students with disabilities in the general education setting do not receive necessary support services (Moore, Gilbreath & Mauiri, 1998). Westwood and Graham (2003) found that teachers in two Australian states felt they did not have the professional knowledge to work with students with disabilities.
In an unpublished journal article, Hwang & Evans (2010) surveyed 33 general education teachers of Republic of Korea and studied their attitudes towards inclusion of students with disabilities. The results indicate that Korean general education teachers are divided in their attitudes towards inclusion. While teachers who perceived inclusion positively slightly outnumbered those who perceived it negatively, actual willingness to teach students with disabilities was lower than these favourable attitudes would indicate.
In a study of Horne & Timmons (2009, p. 282), training to work with a variety of students in the classroom was a major concern of 85% of the participants, a total of 65% of the teachers surveyed were concerned that they would not be able to individualize instruction for a diverse classroom population, and 80% were concerned about instructing a variety of students in one class. The majority of interviewees in a study believed that inclusive education contributed to academic achievement of students with and without disabilities (Bunch and Finnegan, 2000 cited in Timmons & Horne, 2009, p. 284). This study has described what the post graduate students’ attitudes in these regards.
It was a survey research and data were collected through questionnaire. The questionnaire was developed utilising four point (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) Likert scale. Since the simplicity and ease of use of Likert scale is its strength (Neumam, 2006, p.207) and in survey research data can be collected within limited time and cheapest way, researcher has chosen Likert scale questionnaire as data collection instrument. Data have collected through self-administered questionnaire and most of the items of the questionnaire have been adapted from different studies which focused teachers’ (pre-service training/ regular/special) attitudes towards inclusion of students with disabilities and a few of items of the questionnaire have been developed by researcher (21, 22, appendix A). For piloting, the questionnaire had shared the draft questionnaire with two post graduate students of Master of Social work (University of Sydney) to fill it in and to give their feedback and the questionnaire then edited and modified according to their feedback. The 22 items of questionnaire has divided into four major areas – 1) General attitudes towards inclusion, 2) General attitudes towards students with disabilities, 3) Positive and negative results of inclusion and 4) Problems in implementing inclusive practices.
Sample of the study
The respondents of the study were postgraduate students of Education (Special education, Educational management and leadership, Educational psychology, Research methodology) coursework/ research work of University of Sydney. Because their beliefs and attitudes can play an important role in education arena since all of these students were either working as a regular/special teachers or doing research in Education in Australia and other countries. Thus, it is assumed that they have either theoretical or practical foundation of knowledge towards inclusion.
Among 20 participants, 7 were males and 13 were females. All of the participants were from University of Sydney and studying in post graduation level but in work life they are working in different profession. 12 were school teachers (1 special education teacher, 2 TAFE1 teachers and 9 mainstreaming teachers), 4 respondents from Research in Education and 4 students from Educational management and Leadership. Since a number of international students are doing Education courses in University of Sydney, researcher also got the opportunity to know the attitude of different countries’ students and compare with local students attitudes towards inclusion and in this survey, 6 participants were local students (from Australia) and 14 were international students of University of Sydney. Therefore their perception regarding inclusion was believed to be crucial to know the relation between principle and practice in different context.
Limitations of the study
This study has a number of limitations which suggests caution in interpreting the result. The first is that, students may have become more aware of the social desirability of affirming positive attitudes towards inclusive education as they are all from Education courses and commonly expected to be positive towards inclusion. Researcher had limited time and due to limitation of accessibility to other universities, researcher has chosen only the students of University of Sydney as she was an international student of Master of Education of that University. Therefore researcher has followed purposive sampling rather than any probability sampling and the sample size was very small, so the result of the study should not be generalised.
Four main areas of ethical principles (harm to participants, lack of informed consent, invasion of privacy, and deception) (Diener and Crandall, 1978 cited in Bryman, 2008, p.118) have been preserved by this study as the data collected through anonymous survey and each questionnaire contains clearly written explanation describing the purpose of the study and researcher’s identity. Moreover the research title and items of the questionnaire have been approved by the lecturer of the course (EDPD 5011). The role of the researcher was overt and the data have collected from the samples who have freely agreed to participate.
Findings and discussion
There has been a mixed response from the participants of the study, with positive aspects of inclusion expressed by some respondents and reservations expressed by other respondents. The participants have diverse background apart from their country of origin (70% are international students of different countries) and profession (60% are teachers and others from different occupations). Among all 70% participants have told that they have experience of working with or contact with students/people with disability.
1) General attitudes towards inclusion
First 4 items of the questionnaire were to know the overall attitudes towards the inclusive education approach, more than two third of the participants have shown positive attitudes towards inclusion (item 2, 3 and 4, appendix A) except item 1 (65% agreed) and surprisingly no one strongly agreed with the statement – inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classroom regardless their type of disability (item 1, appendix A). On the other hand 90% agreed that diversity in the classroom enriches the learning environment (item no 3, appendix A), which is quite similar with the result of the study of Horne & Timmons (2009, p.277) as well as 65% think that it is more important for schools to promote social inclusion than academic achievement (item 13, appendix A). Who strongly disagreed with item no 13, all are the students of Special education as In another study on pre-service teachers, Shade and Stewart (2001 cited in Burke & Sutherland, p.166) found that a single course could significantly change the attitudes towards inclusion of students with disabilities.
2) General attitude towards students with disabilities
It was good to know that the majority of the respondents think that, it is not impossible to accommodate students with different kinds of disabilities in one class room (60% of total respondents disagreed with item 5) as well as 65% think that students with disabilities are socially well adjusted in regular classroom (item7, appendix A), moreover more than 50%t disagreed with the statement that students with disabilities are less popular than students without a disability (item no 22, appendix A). Most of them who possess positive attitudes towards students with disabilities are regular education teachers and have direct experience of working with students/people with disabilities. Likewise another study by Parasuram (2006, p. 240) showed that acquaintance with a person with disability of general educators, significantly influence attitudes towards inclusion.
95% of total respondents of this study agreed that there are some disabilities which are inappropriate for the regular classrooms (item no 15), surprisingly 40% strongly agreed with the statement and among them (who strongly agreed) 75% are regular education teachers, The only respondent who disagreed with this statement, is an international student of Special Education course and a regular education teacher.
All the participants in a qualitative study by Horne and Timmons (2009, p. 277) agreed that students without disabilities generally accept a student with special needs whereas in this study 40% of the respondents disagreed with this statement (item 20, Appendix A). May be the use of the term “student with disabilities” in this study rather than “students with special needs” negatively influenced them. The total 8 respondents who disagreed with the statement, 5 of them are regular education teachers and 2 of them have no direct working experience with students with disabilities.
3) Problems in implementing inclusive practice
Hwang & Evans (2010) found in the survey which they had conducted in Korea, that many general education teachers were aware of their limited skills and knowledge regarding inclusion, including the relevant skills and knowledge, and this survey also indicates that fifty percent of the respondents do not think that regular education teachers have the needed skills and experience of teaching students with disabilities (item 9, appendix A) and among them (the respondents who disagreed with the statement of item no 9) 80% respondents are regular education teachers. On the other hand, these 11 respondents who disagreed with item no.9, 3 of them are Australian and 8 are from different countries of Asia, similar issues were found among Australian teachers (Westwood & Graham, 2003).
In this study 95% participants think that special education teachers can best meet the needs of students with disabilities, who require significant modifications to the curriculum (item 12, appendix A) and 60% think that regular education teachers are not informed about special education laws (item no 14). Here also the regular education teachers’ needs of training for teaching students with disabilities can be understood.
Over one third of teachers in the study by Hwang & Evans (2010) indicated they did not have enough time to effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities, and more than half felt they did not have enough time for students without disabilities. In this study also 80% of the respondents think that in inclusive settings regular education teachers are unable to provide individualized instruction for all students (item 18, appendix A).
85% respondents think that it is difficult for the regular education teachers to modify instructional strategies for students with disabilities (item 16, appendix A) and this result is similar with the study done by Hwang & Evans (2010), as 68.96% agreed that adjusting instructional strategies for students with disabilities is problematic. In this study 75% think that evaluating the works of students with disabilities in regular school setting is hard for the regular education teachers (item 19, appendix A). 15 respondents who agreed with the item no. 19, among them 12 are from teaching background (including 2 TAFE teachers).
80% of total respondents think that regular schools are not physically accessible for the students with disabilities (item no 21, appendix A). Rest 20% respondents are all local students of Australia, who think that regular schools are physically accessible.
4) Positive or negative result of inclusion
More than half of total respondents think that regular education teachers’ effectiveness is compromised by the amount of preparation required for teaching students with disabilities (item 6). In addition 75% believe that inclusion creates too much additional work for the regular education teachers (item 8), but in the study of Horne and Timmons (2009, p.278), 70% of the respondents think that inclusion does not create too much additional works for staff.
In this study 70% of the respondents think that students with disabilities lose the specialised services that they need as a result of inclusion (item 10, appendix A). Among 4 out of 6 respondents who disagreed with this statement, are from Special Education course and 1 is special education teacher. Therefore it can be said that knowledge about inclusion influenced their attitude towards inclusion. However, the result of another study (Hwang & Evans, 2010) also indicates the majority of regular education teachers (75.85%) felt that students with disabilities would receive a better education in a special education classroom. In that same study (Hwang & Evans, 2010), it was found that over a third of teachers thought that students with disabilities may experience feelings of failure and frustration within the regular classroom while this study also indicates same result (item 11, appendix A).
In the study of Hwang & Evans (2010), 24.13% saw academic benefits coming from inclusion for the students with disabilities, while 44.82% believed the opposite but in this study 70% saw academic benefits coming from inclusion and rest of the respondents have negative perception (item no 17, appendix A), interestingly the 6 respondents who do not think inclusion helps students to improve academically, all are regular education teachers and are international students (from different countries of Asia) of University of Sydney,aAnd one of them is from special education course.
Majority of younger respondents (age 20-30) have shown positive attitudes towards inclusion (item no 1,2,3,4 and 13). However, in another study (Parasuram, 2006, p. 238) most positive attitudes towards inclusive education and disability have been observed in the youngest and the oldest teacher groups. On the other hand 70% of international students showed negative attitudes in implementing inclusive practices (item no-9, 12 14, 16, 18, 19, 21). May be because, except two, all the international students who participated in the survey, are from different countries of Asia where inclusion is not being well practiced yet.
The inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms is a goal of many educators and education sectors around the world (Armstrong, Armstrong & Spandagou, 2010). Though individual knowledge, experience, point of view and other variables influence attitudes towards inclusive education, however it is clear that to implement inclusive practices successfully, regular teachers are in need of extensive training to teach students with disabilities in regular classrooms. Special teachers and regular teachers both have significant roles in implementing inclusive education. Maintaining positive attitude towards inclusive education is another key factor for effective implementation of inclusion in regular classroom, therefore building awareness regarding disabilities and inclusive education is essential. Though the research have conducted with very small sample size, thus generalization of result the study is not possible, however it can be used as basis of future researches which will desire to focus attitudes of students towards inclusive education. In country like Bangladesh2 where teachers as well as the students who are studying in Education or Special Education discipline in different public and private Universities are mostly ignored, this study can be work as base line to conduct further study on this similar issue.
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1. Technical And Further Education, TAFE is the largest vocational education and training provider in Australia
2. Since Author is from Bangladesh and has idea about current practice in inclusive education over there, she particularly mentioned about Bangladesh
FHARIA TILAT LOBA: Deputy Manager (Education), ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.