TEACHERS’ ATTITUDE TOWARD INCLUDING
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IN REGULAR CLASSROOMS
Nasir Sulman, Ph.D
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
“Teaching is not a service, profession or a job. It is a pillar of the Society.” (Author Unknown)
Like most high-value educational practices, teacher attitudes regarding inclusive education vary widely. A review of the literature indicates that overall, teachers believe in the concept of inclusion. The studies suggest that teachers like what inclusion classrooms do for their students and they are generally interested in serving students in such a manner. However, studies also indicate that teachers do not believe they are receiving enough support and training in how to teach an inclusion classroom. It is this lack of support and training which prevents them from being the most effective teachers in the inclusion situation.
Aspects of Inclusion
As with any issue in education, inclusion is both criticized and praised. Arguments against inclusion include the possibility that students with special needs may be tormented or ridiculed by classmates; that teachers may not be prepared for inclusive education; that teachers may not be capable of appropriately servicing special needs students; and that every classroom may not be equipped with the proper services (Mastro pieri & Scruggs, 2004).
Proponents of inclusive education suggest that special need…; students will benefit both in learning and social skills. It provides children with special need..; an opportunity to learn by example from non-disabled peers. Since schools are a social arena, inclusion allows exceptional learners to be a part of their school community and identify with peers from whom they would otherwise have been segregated (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2004). Inclusion essentially allows the special education student more opportunity for social acceptance and friendships, in addition to the benefits of higher learning.
In addition to social benefits, elementary level students with mild disabilities demonstrated higher standardized test scores, better grades, more attentive types of behavior, a higher level of mastery in their IEP goals, and an overall more positive view towards school in inclusive environments (Hunt, Hirose-Hatae, Doering, Karasoff, & Goetz, 2000). Elementary students identified with severe disabilities and mental retardation tended to have increased mastery of IEP goals, experienced more engaged and instructional time, and had more exposure to academic work than other students with severe disabilities in more restrictive types of special education situations (Hunt, Soto, Maier, & Doering, 2003).
Secondary students with mild disabilities tended to make better educational gains and transitions, attained higher grades in content area courses, earned higher standardized test scores, and attended school more regularly than their counterparts who were serviced in pull-out special education programs (Rea, McLaughlin, & Walter-Thomas, 2002).
At the other side of the debate, studies exist that suggest inclusive programming does not benefit all special education students. Some students with mild disabilities are not provided with sufficient delivery of their specially designed instruction within their inclusive education settings
(Lloyd, Wilton, & Townsend, 2000).
Regular Education Teachers Attitudes
The right of every student to access general education requires special and general education teachers to assume new collaborative roles by sharing expertise and engaging in joint problem solving (Matlock, Fiedler, & Walsh, 2001). The success or failure of inclusive programming is significantly dependent on the teachers who implement it. Regular education teachers work with special education teachers to incorporate the special education students into the regular education classrooms as often as possible. Because the success or failure of inclusion is largely dependent on those who are charged with its delivery, it becomes important to measure teacher attitudes towards inclusion.
Inclusion is one of the most volatile topics in education today. An exception to this volatility lies in the published literature about the attitude of teachers towards an inclusion model for special education students. When it comes to inclusion and teacher attitude, there exists a consensus of opinion. Teachers support the concept and practice of inclusion, but feel they are not being provided enough training or support in its implementation.
There has been much literature published about inclusion and its history. There likely exists an underlying attitude of support by those who designed it, and those who advocate for its use. It is important, however, to analyze the literature so that teacher attitudes about it can be determined. Specifically, it is the teachers’ attitudes that have the largest impact on the student, and therefore the program’s success or failure. Teachers who are not in favor of inclusion may pass that discontent onto the students. Ultimately, an unfavorable attitude can undermine the confidence and success of the students. Conversely, teachers who support and believe in the inclusion model can provide special education students with confidence and a comfortable, and ultimately successful, learning environment.
Both general and special educators are challenged by the idea of including students with disabilities into the general curriculum. Often, it is difficult for them to envision how to teach and meet the needs of the student who is performing at a different level than the other students in the class. Physical proximity is not enough to ensure a student’s active participation and progress in an inclusive classroom. Teachers need to know what accommodations and adaptations are successful for students with special needs.
Studies indicate that general education teachers receive minimal special education training as a component of their pre-service training. A discrepancy appears to exist as to what is perceived as being taught in teacher training programs and what is actually being taught. The reality is that general educators receive limited preparation to meet the academic needs of students with disabilities (Salend & Duhaney, 2009).
Special Education Teacher Attitudes
Research findings determined that it is not only the general education teachers who need to have positive attitudes for the success of inclusion programs. The results also indicated that successful inclusion is dependent upon the positive attitude of special education teachers as well special education teachers, who began their careers pre-inclusion, were accustomed to being in one classroom with a variety of disabled students, who receive their entire education from the teacher in that classroom.
Inclusion creates an organizational nightmare for some teachers who are not able to multitask. This means that the special education teacher who is frustrated or not ready to embrace the inclusion program may pass that attitude not only to the general education teacher, but also to the disabled students who are taking part in the special education inclusion program (Cook, 2001). Cawley et al. (2002) found that special education teachers working in inclusive situations reported having a greater sense of belonging to the school community, an enriched view of education, a greater breadth of knowledge of the general education system, and a greater overall enjoyment of teaching.
Conversely, studies by Fennick & Liddy (2001) suggested some concerns special education teachers have indicated concerning inclusive practices. Specifically, special education teachers indicated concern about job security. They also feared that the inclusive classroom would place them in a subordinate position to the regular education teacher. Some revealed concern that they may be viewed as a visitor or an aide by the students due to their perceived subordinate role in the general education classroom.
Situation in Pakistan
Haider (2008) wrote that more efforts are needed for teaching students with SEN in Pakistan. Overall teachers hold a positive attitude towards inclusion of students with SEN. However, collaboration between the mainstream and special education teachers is important. Workshops should be conducted regarding teaching students with special needs. Provision of adequate resources to inclusive classes is also recommended. Inclusion requires support by school administrators, principals, parents, teachers and students.
Anwer & Sulman (2012) reported that there was no statistical significance between the teachers’ years of experience and their overall perceptions of inclusion, adequacy of training or perceived administrative support. A suggestion for further research may include investigating regular education teacher’s attitudes toward inclusion at the early childhood level (preschool), middle school and high school. Future consideration to investigating elite private schools, as well as schools with a religious affiliation should be taken into account. Additionally, the research may be broadened by the investigation into college/university level.
Fazal (2012) conducted a study on this issue and the results of her study demonstrated three major issues associated to the aims of the study. First, majority of the administrators had a lack of awareness of specific disabilities and the special needs of disabled children and require proper training. Second, 100% administrators notified that they face problems in handling disabled children in mainstream classrooms; it might be because of lack of awareness, lack of resources or the strength of students. At last, there were no such special strategies to accommodate disabled children in mainstream classroom. It was concluded that the entire school principals and teachers exhibited a positive approach. If the policy is properly implemented, have trained teachers, average strength classes, adequate resources including aids, equipment and support staff, it would be more beneficial for both children with or without disability.
Currently, there is no specific law which protects the right of disabled children to be enrolled in mainstream schools. However, the courts including the Supreme Court of Pakistan have upheld the right of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in Article 25 of the constitution to direct medical colleges to grant admission to successful candidates despite their physical disabilities (Riffat Akram v. Chairman, Admission Board, King Edward Medical College, Lahore 1993 SCMR 2370).
A few top-tier mainstream primary schools in Karachi are experimenting with integration of children with disabilities if they are accompanied by resource teachers. In the public sector, instances of model inclusive schools are scattered.
Lack of parental awareness about disability and children’s potential for learning, albeit slow, dearth of special education needs educators and teacher-training programmes, physical inaccessibility of transport services and infrastructure of schools, gender discrimination, poverty and limited financial resources have seriously hampered the outgrowth of full-fledged programmes for large-scale implementation of inclusive or integrated schooling.
It is somewhat assuring to know that, at least in theory, the essence of inclusive education will trickle down into domestic law once Pakistan ratifies the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), whenever that might be. For the overhaul of our education system to leapfrog into inclusive education, decades ahead of itself, the rewriting of domestic law would only be the starting point.
The administrative framework at the federal level needs redressing so that the portfolio of education currently divided between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education is merged under the former. The latter may be revamped to discard the welfare or charity model of disability to adopt the social model which inherently seeks to empower and enable the disabled population.
An expanded yet flexible Ministry of Education advised by international consultants may facilitate the transition towards an inclusive and, in certain cases, integrated education. The traditional method of rote learning may be eliminated and extensive teacher-training programmes and competitive programmes may be initiated in universities for a surge in the local pool of special needs educators, remedial experts and therapists, social workers, counsellors, and behaviour experts.
Most challenging of all is fostering a working relationship with families of children with disabilities many of whom are barely able to feed and clothe themselves. As primary caregivers and providers their awareness must be raised and negative attitudes transformed. Respect, love and patience that consequentially develop are the essential building blocks for creating an environment conducive to learning for the overall success of inclusion.
Given the ground realities as they exist today, the leapfrog towards inclusive education is as ambitious as it is gigantic. It is also dependent on our financial resources, the availability of expertise and the removal of the barrier of discrimination, an unfortunate part of the human condition. Advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities would be grateful for small moves instead of gigantic ones as long as these are forthcoming in the right direction and not unworthily sidelined in the future.
Anwer, M. & Sulman, N. (2012). Regular Schools’ Teachers Attitude towards Inclusive Education in the Region of Gilgit-Baltistan. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, VOL. 4, NO. 5, pp. 997-1015.
Cawley, J. F., Hayden, S., Cade, E., & Baker-Kroczynski, S. (2002). Including students with disabilities into the general education science classroom. Exceptional Children, 68, 423-435.
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Fazal, R. (2012). Readiness for Inclusion in Pakistani Schools: Perceptions of School Administrators. International Journal of Social Science & Education, Vol. 2, Issue 4, pp. 825-832.
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