PERSPECTIVES ON INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
Prof. Dr. Nasir Sulman
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
There are more than one billion “persons with disabilities” in the world, 10% of whom are children mostly living in developing countries. The term “disability” is defined as “any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.” Negative societal attitudes founded on ignorance often cause children with disabilities to be perceived as different, dependent, and incapable, which leads to exclusion via marginalization, institutionalization, abandonment, or neglect. The magnitude of exclusion a child with disabilities faces depends not only on social attitudes, but also on contextual factors such as class, culture, location, disability type, and overall physical, political, and attitudinal barriers of their environment. Exclusion is also compounded by the frequent invisibility of children with disabilities as parents hide their children’s disabilities to avoid ostracism or countries inadequately identify and assess children with disabilities. While the level and type of exclusion varies from child to child, the results are the same: children with disabilities are defined and judged by what they are missing rather than what they can offer.
Mainstreaming is both the instructional and social integration of exceptional students in a regular education classroom. The affective, cognitive and behavioral components interact to determine the degree to which social integration of disabled and non-disabled students is actually achieved within the schools. The affective component of social integration focuses on feelings toward or perceptions of exceptional students. A perception that is essential for successful mainstreaming is the acceptance of and respect for human differences. The second component, characterized as cognitive, includes the knowledge and understanding of the various types of disabilities. The final component focuses on students’ actions or behavior: verbal, nonverbal, and physical actions directed toward classroom peers.
Students with disabilities face a unique challenge. They must cope with learning the policies, procedures, academic requirements, and social expectations of two programs: special education and regular education. In addition, these students must adjust to numerous changes including alternative scheduling, special education and regular education teachers, and interpersonal relationships with students in both the regular classrooms and in their special education classes. Add to all of these the stigma of being labeled and acquiring the necessary skills and behaviors to assist them in maximizing their potential.
The way in which students think about themselves and the degree to which they are accepted by others often are affected by the visibility of a condition. These students’ visible impairment often prompts a great deal of curiosity, which leads to frequent and repetitive questions from others. In addition, those students who must use adaptive devices must be ready to communicate to others the reason for the device, thus further calling attention to their disability. Furthermore, the additional pressures of trying to belong can cause students to become unsure of themselves or insecure. These students must learn each group’s accepted behavior and adhere to the rules and policies of each classroom. It’s not uncommon to see many students with disabilities acting as the liaison between their friends from regular education with those from special education. Often times these students are caught between two worlds. Thus, it is often difficult for students with disabilities to gain acceptance and show allegiance with all of the various groups that they must encounter.
The role of unfamiliar situations in creating anxiety and confusion was stressed by. Similarly, upon initial interaction with a disabled person, the non-disabled individual is likely faced with an unstructured situation in which most socially accepted rules and regulations for interaction are not as well defined. These ambiguous situations tend to disrupt the cognitive intellectual as well as the more perceptual-affective processes.
Moving inclusion into the schools can have many benefits for both students with and without disabilities. Some of these benefits include helping to reinforce the moral values of recognition, respect and responsibility. Having students with disabilities in their schools and classes helps those without disabilities develop the skills they need to effectively deal with others who are different from them. In addition, inclusion gives all students the opportunity to become friends with one another and is an important component for future successful integration into the community.
Furthermore, all children have the opportunity to enhance their own self-confidence and self-esteem in learning to handle new situations with success. The need for including students with disabilities can be viewed from four different perspectives: the student with the disability, peers without disabilities, parents of students with disabilities, and the school staff.
First, inclusion can be very beneficial for students with disabilities both inside and outside of the traditional classroom setting. There is reason to believe that how a student perceives the school experience is related to how much learning takes place. The literature supports a positive relationship between learning and classroom climate factors such as class cohesiveness, establishment of formal rules, goal directives, and satisfaction with class relationships. Theoretically, people create their identities by taking in real or imagined audience feedback (such as feedback from their peers) about themselves. Thus, how students with disabilities perceive that the salient, unavoidable audience of students without disabilities views them could potentially have a profound impact on their self-perceptions. Furthermore, in order for peer relationships to be constructive influences, they must promote feelings of belonging, acceptance, support, and caring, as opposed to feelings of rejection, abandonment, and alienation.
Inclusion can have profound benefits outside the traditional classroom setting as well. Physical activity is depicted as routine and expected for children and also plays a significant role in childhood socialization and organization of leisure time. A shortage of suitable play opportunities often results in the child with a disability being “doubly ‘handicapped'” by the physical disability and by the lack of accessible contexts. It is not too surprising then that along with societal stereotypes the competence and abilities of individuals with physical disabilities are often questioned. Therefore, physical activity can be an opportunity for these children to socialize with able-bodied children in integrated contexts. Furthermore, inclusive programs provide students with disabilities age-appropriate role models that can have a positive influence on their communication ability, dress, social interaction, behavior, motivation for learning, and self-concept.
Second, inclusion helps children without disabilities by increasing their tolerance of others. People will experience reduced fear of the differences of others because they will not be secluded from these differences. Probably the most often noted benefit for both groups of students is the possibility that natural peer supports and friendships will develop.
The third component to successful inclusion is parental involvement. Few studies have addressed the question of parental perspectives in inclusive education. Majority of parents had positive attitudes toward the concept of inclusion. They reported that their children benefited from inclusion in numerous ways, particularity in regard to increases in social, academic, and developmental skills, availability of appropriate role models for behavior, and friendships with peers.
Finally, teachers are in a key position to impact the acceptance of children with disabilities on at least two levels: their own knowledge of attitude formation which impacts the class environment they create, and the activities they choose in their classes. It has been proposed that teachers’ attitudes toward their actual included students, rather than their opinions regarding the abstract concept of inclusion, is a better predictor of the quality of education for included students with disabilities. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that student-teacher interactions and related educational opportunities are directly impacted by teachers’ attitudes toward actual students.
The attitudes of the teachers and other staff have a significant impact on how they interact with students with disabilities. It is our feelings with which we must deal our attitudes, fears, and frustrations about the handicapped about something that is a little different. We can give skills and competencies, but our attitudes affect the delivery of them. In the design of our training programs, we must look at the attitudes of everyone involved–ourselves, the staff, administrators, secretaries, and presidents of the colleges and universities and make those attitudes the focus of our change efforts.
Special education students are labeled according to their disability. Unfortunately, there are some people who will treat students according to that label. Labels shape teacher expectations and perpetuate the notion that students with mild disabilities are qualitatively different from other children. Thus, students with disabilities must constantly prove their individual needs, strengths and talents to people beyond the stigma or stereotypes of the disability.
Usually, teachers have limited or no knowledge about attitude formation or programs or materials in this area. As they prepared for their classes, they made no plans to incorporate materials or programs that addressed this issue. This lack of knowledge and materials is thought to be a contributing factor to low levels of acceptance. In conjunction with school wide programs to promote greater acceptance of children with disabilities is the need to provide structures to support the social networks of young children with disabilities outside of the classroom.
According to the literature, it appears that teacher training and experience in inclusive procedures is critical to the program’s success. Research suggests that that when educators were trained in techniques for including students with disabilities and sharing responsibilities with other educators, they had a positive change in attitudes.
Inclusion in the schools can have many benefits for both students with and without disabilities. Inclusion helps those students without disabilities develop the skills they need to effectively deal with others who are different from them. Inclusion also gives all students the opportunity to become friends with one another and is an important component to successful integration into the community in the future. Previous studies conducted confirm that positive attitudes must be taught. One way to do this is through planned social contact. Planned social contact can result in the development of positive relationships and increased empathy between peers with and without disabilities.
If things go badly, students with disabilities will be stigmatized, stereotyped, and rejected. If things go well, however, true friendships and positive relationships may develop between the non-disabled and disabled students. What is needed is an understanding of how the process of acceptance works in the classroom setting and an understanding of specified teaching strategies that help to build positive relationships.
When those children who exhibit negative attitudes become aware of the effects of their negative feelings they seem to develop a desire for change. In a theory presented by Bowe (cited in Shapiro 1999) “attitudes appear to be heavily dependent upon contact with and information about what the attitudes concern.” Bowe goes on to say that true integration can only be achieved through planned interaction.
Disability simulations can be defined as “models or imitations of the disabling condition”. A simulation of a disability involves more than just role-playing. It also involves an awareness of the functional and emotional problems associated with a particular disability. Often, the main rationales for utilizing disability simulations have been: (a) to know what another is feeling; (b) to feel what the other is feeling; and (c) to respond with compassion to another’s distress.
A review of literature indicates several benefits to using disability simulations. One is that they provide an opportunity to sample the experience of living with a disability. Non-disabled students assumed a disability, stating this experiential technique had ‘immediate and long-term effects on interpersonal attitudes toward the disabled. Another potentially beneficial aspect of disability simulations is that studies report changes in perception and attitudes on the part of an active observer of the participant engaged in a disability simulation.