Issues in Special Education: Inclusion of Students with Special Needs
In the world over, the concept of inclusion of people with disability, particularly inclusion in education, is increasingly becoming a vital issue of concern as several attempts are being made to offer people with disability similar opportunities that are available to people who do not have any impairment of any kind. Ideally, children are considered disabled in learning if, for some reasons, they are not able to learn normally as their counterparts with similar ages and as Holt (2004) documents, disabled are not able to use the same learning facilities as the ones used by their counterparts. Additionally, this implies that such learners need more intensive and carefully chosen instruction methods in order for them to attain academic like their normal peers.
The Origin of Inclusion
The ideology of mainstreaming came into existence in 1975 following the introduction of a new philosophy that was meant to ensure that students with disabilities received education in an environment with few or no restrictions (Power-deFur & Orelove, 1997: Alquraini & Gut, 2012). The idea was based on the concept that children with disability would attend regular classes, participate in core curricula activities and non academic activities as other normal students but would later in the day move to other classes to be taught with a curricular specially designed for them.
According to UNESCO (2005) the development of special education has involved the exploration of various ways of responding to the needs of children with disabilities and those experiencing difficulties in learning. Initially, special education was designed as a supplement to ordinary education and at some point it was fully separated from normal education and given an entirely different approach. The idea of separating special education from the normal type of education was excessively challenged on the basis of its appropriateness, human rights perspective and effectiveness (UNESCO, 2005). Since the arguments against the move to separate special education from the normal type of education were overly valid and carried genuine and weighty concerns, it was in inevitable to devise ways through which the two could be merged again, but in a manner that catered for the challenges that led to the separation of the two leading to adoption of the concept of “integration”. However, the main challenge that faced integration was that it was not accompanied by appropriate organizational changes. (UNESCO, 2005). This led to the adoption of inclusion (often called Inclusive education) in which efforts were made to have children with learning difficulties of any kind share classroom with other normal children. The focus of this concept was, therefore, on the adoption of teaching methods that were applicable for both the normal and children with learning difficulties.
Difference between inclusion and integration,
The broad terms of inclusion, educational inclusion inclusive education and integration have attracted a wide range of definitions (Armstrong, Armstrong, & Spandagou, 2009). The difference between inclusion and integration, according to Daniels & Garner (1999), lies in the assumption about the difference in learning abilities. Integration is the term employed to delineate the process of assimilation of children with learning difficulties and impairments of any kind into the mainstream education (Daniels & Garner, 1999). The learning difficulties being referred to here may arise from a wide range of factors such as language, family income, culture, ethnicity and disability. While the term was particularly common in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, in the U.S. the most preferred term was “mainstreaming” (Thomas, Walker, & Webb, 1998). Inclusion, on the other hand, does not usually have a clear definition especially with regards to the fact that the term is normally used interchangeably with other terms like inclusive education. Another source of confusion in the definition of the term arises from the fact the inclusion was regulated with philosophies, set of values that about the right of children with disabilities as well as the interpretation together with the origins of the terms. Thomas, Walker, & Webb (1998) define inclusive education as the provision of education to a child with disabilities within the same classroom with other normal children.
Hegarty & Alur (2002) while attempting to discern the meanings of integration and inclusion write that while integration implies the stationing of children with special needs in ordinary schools, inclusion being a more specific term connotes the placing of all learners who face some learning difficulty, no matter how small it is, together with other children with not learning problems. In this regards, inclusion might be perceived to have a larger philosophical implication in the understanding and acceptance of diversity and methods that are used to deal with different children and their different needs of education. It is worth noting that despite the perception that inclusion and inclusive education have distinct meanings the two terms are used interchangeably in this paper. Additionally, while integration fundamentally focuses on the student and is diagnostic in nature, the focus inclusion is on the classroom with the concept overly being a collaborative problem solving strategy (Thomas, Walker, & Webb, 1998).
Legislations on Inclusion
The year 1990 saw the adoption of the World Declaration of Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand setting out the vision of universalizing the access of education to all people while also promoting equity in the provision of education. The World Declaration of Education for All demanded that all nations become proactive in identifying the barriers that hinder access of education and finding solutions through which these barriers can be overcome. This move can be perceived to have gone a long way in validating the need for an inclusive education. Following the adoption of “Education for All” commonly connoted as EFA, several states in the United States rushed to formulate policies that would enable the achievement of an inclusive education for all (Vislie, 2003).
A plethora of nations have policies that strive to ensure the children with disabilities are amicably included in the regular learning programs. For instance, the key legislation that protects individuals with disabilities in education in Australia is the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 which highlights the ground for discrimination to be inclusive of physical, sensory, intellectual, neurological and learning disability which include in scope lack of judgment, lack of ability to perceive, disfigurement, among others (Holt, 2004). The legislation warns against the use of special needs as the basis for judging learners who should be considered for admission in any learning institution besides conditioning that children with disabilities be given equal learning opportunities as their normal counterparts. In addition, the law admonishes that administrators any learning institution should not use the disability issue as a basis of expelling learners from learning institution. Notably, by the end of 1999, most states in Australia had enacted utilitarian legislations that sought to ensure the provision of equal learning opportunities to children with disabilities and even though the concept of inclusion if faced with a set of assorted setbacks it is worth noting that a majority if Australian states have already adopted the concept of inclusion. (Keeffe-Martin, 2001).
In the U.S., the history of inclusion in education can be traced back to the 1970s when the Education for Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was enacted. EHA was a culmination of two decades of consent decrees and court rulings as well as parent advocacy, which sought to set into law the several state and court rulings for the previous 20 years (Rhodes, Ochoa & Ortiz, 2005). As was indicated in the law, all public schools that were in receivership of federal funds to support their systems were supposed to provide one free meal and equal learning opportunities to children with disability. Rhodes, Ochoa & Ortiz, (2005) and Power-deFur & Orelove (1997) document that the act also guaranteed children with disabilities other rights such as the right to have education in least restrictive learning environment (LRE), the right to an Individualized education program (IEP) and nondiscriminatory assessment procedures contained in the Protection Evaluation Procedures (PEP) provision.
In 1990, EHA was amended and was renamed Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and just like EHA, the new law supported the provision of education to children with special needs alongside other children. During the enactment, the term disabilities was used to replace the term handicapped and even though the PEP provision was maintained, special accent was placed on the pertinence of having timely and comprehensive evaluations (Rhodes, Ochoa & Ortiz, 2005; Javier, 2005). However, the law permitted that children with severe learning needs that could not be met in regular classrooms be taught in their own special classrooms. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is yet another momentous legislation that govern inclusion in education. Signed into law by the then G. W. Bush in 2001, the law was meant to complement IDEA while also ensuring that all children with disability had access to free and public basic education.
Benefits of Inclusion
Indubitably, inclusion of children with special needs is a utile approach for ensuring that children with disabilities develop skills just like other normal children. The benefits of inclusion can be categorized into; academic benefits, social benefits and communication benefits. Reportedly, inclusion of children with disabilities ameliorates the academic achievement of these children through their interaction with their normal peers. As Alquraini & Gut (2012) and Dash (2006) assert, empirical researches have shown that the academic performance of child with severe disabilities improve when such students are place in a cooperative learning context with other students. In a study conducted by Cole et. al. (2004) it was found that “achievement outcomes in mathematics and reading for students with disabilities placed in 16 programs in general education setting of California in general education setting in the State of California improved compared with students with severe disabilities placed in special programs” (as cited in Alquraini & Gut, 2012).
Similarly, several studies point to the fact the communication proficiency of students with disabilities improve considerably when they are included in one learning environment with their normal peers. The most viable reason to this improvement can be argued from the point of view that these students interact with normal students who have mastered communication proficiently hence the students with disabilities strive to master communication harder than they would have struggled when placed in special programs. This assertion underscores the fact that students with disabilities usually develop their physical coordination and social skills by observing and communicating other students placed with them in the same learning environment (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; Dash, 2006).
Admittedly, the social skills of students with disabilities are also bettered extensively if the students are placed in an inclusive environment. In the inclusive environment, students with disabilities establish relationships with other students hence ameliorating their normal counterparts. Studies have shown that students with disabilities in inclusive environments show higher levels of interaction than similar student in segregated learning environments specially designed for them (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). It follows, therefore, that inclusion on education on general education system has celebrated positive outcomes compared to unintegrated education systems.
Barriers to Inclusion
Several barriers to effective adoption of inclusion have so far been identified despite various governments showing commitment towards its adoption. It is true that several policies have been enacted with an aim of ensuring that students with disabilities are included in the same learning environment as their regular peers. However, it can be pinpointed that most governments have done singularly little towards the training of teachers on how to handle both normal children and child with disability in the same classroom. Taking into consideration that inclusion aims at diversifying classrooms with regards to learning needs, there is a need for teachers to be trained on how to effectively manage and cater for the needs of such a diversified classroom. On the same note, since disability, especially with regards to education, is diverse in nature, training teachers to effectively cater for the needs of students in a diversified learning environment is an overly arduous and expensive task to most governments. Forbes (2007) admits that there is a disturbing shortage of qualified teachers to take care of the needs of the learners in an inclusive classroom. Other barriers that still have to be surmounted in order to have an effective inclusive education system include; very small staff to student ratio, negative attitude on the part of stake holders in education, limited resources, and lack of equipment
Nonetheless, even though the above mentioned barriers seem slow down the process of inclusion, it can be noted that parents of students with learning disabilities and parents of students without disabilities alike are positively opinionative about the idea of inclusion. Disturbingly, teachers, as several researches have shown dislike the idea on inclusion especially on the grounds that it requires them to shoulder more responsibilities without any increase in pay (Dash, 2006).
Recommendations: Elements of a Successful Inclusion
According to Alquraini & Gut (2012) there are many theories about inclusion that have been formulated, described and evaluated severally. Many proponents of inclusion in their theories often describe plans to create and continue inclusive education programs successfully. From these theories, the essential elements of a successful inclusion can also be derived and be used as recommendations for formulating successful inclusion programs for students with disabilities. As Alquraini & Gut (2012) pinpoint, the most fundamental facets that relate to a successful inclusion are; and improved access to the general curriculum, accommodation and adaptation, availability of assistive technology, professional training of teachers, and active involvement of parents.
An accommodation as identified by Alquraini & Gut (2012) is a term used to imply the helping of students with disabilities to accomplish what they would not have been able to accomplish because of their disability. Another possible meaning of the term, as perceived by most researchers, is the process of helping a student to gain more access to the curriculum. This can be made possible if learning aids such as audio tapes, videos and pictures, just to mention a few, are availed to students with disabilities to help them in learning. As Alquraini & Gut (2012) asserts, accommodation can also be attained if learning requirements for students with disabilities are moderated. For instance, students with disabilities can be allowed to take oral exams unlike their peers who have no disability issues.
Adaptation of the curriculum, on the other hand, is identified by Alquraini & Gut (2012) to be yet another important modification that can be done to guarantee that children with disabilities are included in general education. Curriculum adaptation can be defined as the alteration of the teaching methods and the teaching materials to provide for the needs of children with disability. As studies have shown, curriculum adaptation is pivotal in supporting children with disability succeed when included in the general education system (Lee et. al. 2006 as cited in by Alquraini & Gut, 2012). York, Doel and Kronberg (1992) in s study that aimed at finding out the role that curriculum adaptation plays with regards to the attainment of a successful inclusive education found out that children with disabilities performed much better when the curriculum was adapted to cater for their needs.
Closely related to curriculum adaption is the adaption of instructions methods to fit well in an inclusive learning environment. The instruction methods should be formulated in a way that they enable students with disability to easily acquire functional skills. As Alquraini & Gut (2012) asseverate, successful inclusion can only be achieved if teachers and all the stake holders in education gain an understanding of the effectiveness of the instruction strategies. Teachers should knowledge of the typical instruction methods alongside effective instruction methods for children with disability. Copeland & Cosbey (2009), pinpoint that adaption instruction methods can be chanced on in the inclusive environment is designed to include cooperative learning, inquiry learning, universal design for learning and response prompting. In is also worth noting that for the inclusion to be successful, there should to collaboration between stakeholders, professionals and Para-educators (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; Dash, 2006).
Aggregately, the importance of inclusion in light of education for children with disability cannot be understated in any way especially since it is one of the most significant steps towards ensuring that every child gets education. The benefits of inclusion surpass the benefits that are accruable from segregated learning environments. Professedly, the concept of inclusion has been well received worldwide and even though considerable steps have been made in the world towards its adoption, there is still much to be done before the concept is effectively implemented. From a persona standpoint, I am opinionative that the needs of children with disabilities should be taken care of from childhood as most of the problems facing these children are deeply rooted to childhood.
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