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Educators usually face pressure from all angles when it concerns inclusive education. There tend to be a diversification in their roles as compared to teachers who do not work with students with disabilities and 'abled' students, together, in the same classroom (Avramidis et al, 2000). Teachers normally differ in their point of views as far as inclusive education is concerned. Mainstream teachers need to be cautious and sensitive simultaneously to the diversity of new classrooms and they have to be apt to adapt their learning styles in conformity with that of the students that they will have to face (Peterson and Beloit, 1992). Being psychologically and practically strong should be their forte to be able to master such a vibrant role of that of an inclusive educator (Mullen, 2001) with the idea at the back of their mind that attitudinal changes weigh much more than making physical provision for students with disabilities (Beattie, Anderson and Antonak, 1997).
Different teachers have their own conceptions of inclusive education. Some find it exciting, adventurous while still, others might find it difficult to cope with, stressing and challenging. For some it might be viewed as an additional obstacle but for others this can be seen as having a golden chance to enhance their teaching career as a contribution to the field of education. Attitudes of teachers vis a vis inclusive education are multifaceted and not that simple. Affirmative attitudes towards the inclusion of students with disabilities in the mainstream schools are considered to encourage the inclusion as opposed to negative attitudes which tend to demarcate students with disabilities rendering them with a poor acceptance (Beattie et al., 1997).
The aims and purposes of education are to make sure that every single child in the country has the golden opportunity to sculpt out their individual, socio-emotional, academic and psychomotor skills to their best of their capacity. Besides academic success and/or failure capability and disability are only cultural constructions (Carrington, 1998). There is a need for them to boost up their confidence level and self esteem and in addition to that, to lay the base for learning that will sustain them throughout their lifetime. Children of today are the citizens of the country of tomorrow and hence, there is the need to build up an all round personality and the right attitude to be an all rounder civilian.
1.2 The underlying principle For This Study
Concepts of even-handedness, equality and social inclusion have their roots firmly attached within both the Education and the Social Agenda of The Government of Mauritius which indeed identifies the right of each and every child to education. Democratic as it is, the country guarantees equal and fair rights to each child as everyone in the country has the civilian right for personal growth and overall development. It strives to build up a society where there is a chain of opportunities for everyone- an inclusive society- where each one of us is treated equally, with no differences, no prejudices, with equal treatment before the law and all agencies, be it public or private. In the same line, the Government also acknowledges that children with special educational needs (SEN) should be included as far as possible within the education environment (MEHR, 2008). Few months ago, the Honourable Mrs Sheilabai Bappoo, GOSK, Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare said in an interview that Mauritius should be viewed as an exceptional country. Students, with disabilities should and must be included in mainstream schools and effectively, the admission of such students in to regular primary schools started as from January 2012 (MEHR, 2011). There is a requirement to modify the way we see children with special educational needs. We need to put forward for them, an easy and acceptable normal life. And this can be achieved through the alteration of the social depiction and by denouncing labelling and stigmas (Mara and Gramma, 2011).
1.3 The Implication of Educators' Perceptions of Inclusion
To implement inclusive education it is undoubtedly that educators are going to be the main pillar of the education program. For inclusion to be a success, teachers need to form part of a well built team. As such, it is primordial to scrutinize the attitudes of teachers towards the idea of inclusive education as their views of seeing things may have an influence over their behaviour concerning the acceptance of students with disabilities (Hammond and Ingalls, 2003). Negative perceptions might create a rift in making the inclusion a success and consequently, this might have a negative impact in the field of education.
1.4 Factors Influencing Educators' Attitudes toward Inclusion
Some studies infer that teachers' attitudes towards inclusive education are normally positive but there are other studies which reveal that due to the lack of experience, time and skills, teachers find it annoying (Avramidis et al., 2000).
Lack of adequate training might reinforce negative beliefs and conceptions towards including students with disabilities in the mainstream. They might not be up to the level and hence might consider themselves unable to take on the job. This in turn can result in having low confidence. Being fully armed, in this case, having a proper training about how to work with students with special educational needs always appear to improve understanding concerning inclusion. However courses offered to teachers might not be up to the level to prepare them fully to face this different classroom setting (Beattie et al., 1997).
Studies have been conducted to find out whether there is any considerable correlation between a teacher's age, years of experience and his or her qualifications (Avramidis et al., 2000). In addition to that, class size seems to be a big question mark. Having small classes might aid in improving the implementation of inclusion in such that the educator can handle each child at the same pace. Furthermore, the severity of the student's disability at times creates trouble for the teachers. It is viewed as quasi unreasonable to include students with severe disabilities.
Inclusive education unlike the traditional school model looks equally after children with SEN like those having:
Physical, sensorial, intellectual and other disabilities
Specific learning needs (for gifted children or those who have major learning difficulties)
Learning difficulties arising from social problems (vulnerable groups)
It is a new kind of philosophy that acknowledges the meaning of the real world for students' learning. Children spend most of their formative years in schools and as such, their classrooms reflect at one point in time, real life challenges and its distractions. Even children with disabilities need to be educated in language-rich classrooms, to intermingle on a daily basis with their classmates who are near role models so that they are justly modelled to face the real world as adults (Ray, Stallings ad Colley, 1995). The children with disabilities need to be autonomous in their own way and should not be dependent on others for their daily routine. Keeping students away and aloof throughout the day is not beneficial at all; it classifies, creates biases and makes them feel different from others. Now it is recognised that children with SEN will be offered all additional services and facilities that are needed to supply them the best of opportunities for their personal and social development. Besides, the schooling with disabilities in normal mainstream classrooms and schools along with their peers who do not have any disability is becoming an interesting universal progress. (Hegarty,1998; Mittler,2002; Sebba and Ainscow1996). Everyone has the right to education. The United Nations Declaration on the rights of Disabled Persons (1975) stated that:
"Disabled persons whatever the origin, nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities have the same fundamental rights as their fellow citizens of the same age, which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and as full as possible." (Article 3).
However, the resolutions of special education do not come into view out of a social vacuum; but on the contrary, it rests upon the interplay of history, knowledge, interest and power (Clark et al, 1999).
1.4 Advantages of Inclusive Education in Societies
According to Roy McConkey and Alice Bradley (University of Ulster), many children with disabilities in somehow less well-off countries have no access to education at all because firstly it is expensive, secondly its location (affluent) and thirdly there is a dearth of specialist teachers. Inclusive schools offer children with more educational and social opportunities. It sustains biased attitudes within society notwithstanding the best of intentions. Following the UNESCO's guide, there are some advantages of inclusion and they are as follows:
The schools respond to individual differences and hence this is a plus point for all children.
There is a change in attitude towards diversity by educating all students together.
There is less cost as compared to special segregated schools.
There might be a higher achievement for children than those in the specialised schools.
The disabled child is less stigmatised, he/ she is more socially included.
The children have access to wider curriculum than that which is available in special schools.
In addition to these, children who do not have any sort of disability need to know and understand the unique aspects of those students who are unlike them. There is a need for them to know the truth as it is and not to blindly follow and accept myths. They should know how to approach and maintain friendship with those who are 'less fortunate' than them. They need to develop and cultivate empathy for those friends along with it respect as well. The kind of involvement that the students will be gaining will most probably give them the opportunity to learn to work as a team, in a group, to plan and to execute those plans. Such skills are honestly laden with precious values and it stays for a lifetime and as a matter of fact, it cannot be achieved through any bookish knowledge (Ray, Stallings and Colley, 1995). UNESCO recommends that the majority of children with disabilities should take their place in mainstream schools. It is a moral issue. Above and beyond, students who face difficulties in learning, the argument goes hence, ascend not of a lack in the pupils themselves, but it emerges out of the inapt responses that are made to those children by the schools they go to (Clark et al, 1999).
Furthermore it has been argued that Special educational needs and disability must be viewed as a social construction or conception and an indicator of not solely individual teething troubles or impairment but on the contrary of normative and discriminatory attitudes and beliefs. Moreover it is about society's lack of capability to modify environmental and structural barriers to full economic and social contribution and self determination (Bines, 2000).
1.5 Philosophies: What is Inclusion?
"Inclusion" is truly a complex term (Robin, 2011). It is inextricably attached to other composite and tricky terms like democracy, authority, freedom, equity, power and relationships. He says:
"If we want a society with high levels of inclusion, we need to aim for both an equally relevant and appropriate education that meets the needs and aspirations of all along with the equity that recognises the needs and interests of individuals in ways that are just and fair."
Moreover, according to the Norwegian Minister of Education, Bard Vegar Sohljell (June 2009):
"Inclusion and equity in education is in my opinion the best long term instrument we have in order to secure economic progress, as well as democracy and social stability."
Education reflects and shapes society and the degree to which schools are exclusive or inclusive does have an impact on individuals' lives. There is both a psychological and social aspect of how much people feel a sense of belonging and this in turn affects their well being. (Bok in Inclusive leadership for inclusive education- The Utopia worth working towards, 2011).
Inclusion is "an effort to equalise educational opportunities for all children regardless of their physical or mental conditions, gender, colour, creed or language," (Adekomoya, 2003).
For some, inclusion might be a philosophy or practice (Bailey, 1997); as such, it is a very knotty concept to describe. From a philosophical point of view, inclusion might speak of ideas about equal opportunities, a treatment, or even a notion of full and complete participation. It might be even classified as a way of eradicating socially constructed labels, categories and disabling phenomena. Although there might have been questionable evidence and dilemmas concerning inclusive education (Sapon Shevin in Bailey's article- 1994,1995), it should be a must that every student secures a place in regular schools as a basic right. Afterwards it is upon the schools rules and regulations to make sure that the proper resources are being provided, along with effective instructions and support.
However, Kauffman's (1994 and1995) perspective was entirely different. While the ideal was for all students to be massively included in terms of progress, it was not really to be the case for everyone. He postulated that for some students, (with several and/ severe disabilities), a separate placement would be ideal; providing much better outcomes and as such it would be an appropriate setting.
Another general disagreement concerning inclusive education is that its practice may undoubtedly support the students with external physical admittance in the mainstream schools but it does not essentially offer the right kind of instructional access which is truly needed (Crockett and Kauffman, 1998; Hallahan 1998 in Practice to theory). There have been even some educators in conflict that children with major physical or intellectual disabilities can absolutely not learn handy life skills in a general school surrounding.
According to Ray, Stallings and Colley (1995), inclusion in any case does not connote that a child will never acquire different instruction in skills or well-designed daily tasks. On the other hand, if a child is about to gain separate instructions and guide lines, it should be a priceless, valuable know-how that can only be achieved outside the four walled classroom. The document Removing Barriers to Achievement in Klaus Wedell's article Dilemmas in the quest for inclusion, the Government a affirmed that inclusion is not only about the type of school that pupils attend but it is much more than that. It is all about the quality of experience, how they are aided to accomplish more, be taught and involve themselves entirely in their school life.
How can Inclusive Education be implemented in schools?
To be able to implement inclusive education in mainstream schools, there are certain conditions which should be taken into consideration. There need to be the recognition and planning of diversity. The Educational system should be acquainted with the diversity that exists and thus should make a plan accordingly to it.
Furthermore, according to Marchesi (1991) teachers must definitely develop interest and the right aptitude in the act of putting the inclusive education into practice. In addition to that there are certain practices imperative for making inclusion a success, that is, there has to be a team teaching, along with it a special education coordinator; mutual support between teachers; efficient cooperation through discussion and problem solving approach; pedagogy of the programme of study differentiation and finally monitoring of progress of the students.
It has been pointed out that setting up successful inclusion has to go further than the teaching of conventional subject and to give attention to the social and affective side of development. A lot of dilemmas need to be considered especially attitudinal change, cultural readiness for financial challenges, commitment and dedication to really make it work and sustain (Eni- Olorunda). From Wedell's (1955) point of view,
"For some schools, rigid timetabling, inflexible staffing and lack of inventiveness were handicaps to effective developments."
There has to be a proper way of learning and teaching both so that the goals of inclusive education are met. It is up to the schools to acquire a culture which disentangles the disgrace linked to individual needs from the practice of inclusive schooling (Wedell, 2003). As such, a school culture is imperative (Carrington, 1998).
1.6.1 Teacher's Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education
Inclusive education comes along with a baggage; it is far from being easy. A lot of things has to be kept into consideration, such as, firstly the attitudes of teachers, are they keen to take up the job as it should be, and secondly schools and the educational system as a whole need some changes to be more apt to take care of the variety of needs of each and every student and to be sure that these pupils are not left behind in any aspect of school life. There has to be recognition about both the social and physical barriers inside and outside the school peripheral that cause a dilemma concerning learning and actively looking towards solution that can help in reducing these barriers.
To be able to put into practice, what is required foremost is undoubtedly attitudes change of teachers. Why teachers? This is so because it is teachers who will have to spend the maximum time with the students, recognising their needs and to give them their attention. And the aim of this study is to be able to know whether inclusive education might be a success or a 'failure' in the country. Teachers are indeed as key individuals in both the development and implementation of inclusion (Hegarty, 1994; Meijer, 2003, Norwich, 1994). Different attitudes have managed to ascertain the attitudes that teachers hold concerning inclusive education.
Research has shown that teacher's attitudes differ according to the type of special educational needs. Avramidis et al (2000) showed that pupils with behavioural and emotional difficulties are viewed as posing significantly more trouble to teachers other than students with different kinds of disability.
Before really exploring teachers' attitudes, it is more appropriate to define the term "attitude". There have been many definitions concerning attitudes in social psychology. But according to Gall, Borg and Gall (1996): "an attitude is an individual's viewpoint or disposition toward a particular 'object' ( a person, a thing, an idea, etc)" (P.273). It comprises of components namely the affective, the behaviour and cognitive aspects. The affective component deals mainly with feelings, the behavioural aspect is about the inclination to act and thirdly, the cognitive part deals with beliefs and knowledge (Eagly and Chaiken, 1993). Attitudes vary in direction and intensity. Teachers may have different attitude vis a vis the same idea and concept (Bailey, 1997).
Perspectives of teachers are powerful predictors of the behaviour of their classroom. Richardson (1996) pointed out that beliefs and attitudes form part of a split of a group of constructs that identify and illustrate structures and the material of mentally states that are considered to make up one's actions. At any career stage of teachers, the inclusion of students with a wide range of disabilities into 'normal' classes might be an off-putting outlook for them. Nevertheless, when it concerns the competency-building stage of most teachers, they often find the task of teaching both kinds of students together quite difficult, maybe challenging only because they do not have the right amount of experience, training and support altogether (Werts et al, 1996).
A point which stands out is that all teachers should be prepared mentally, physically and emotionally to deal with such students. Supporting and standing side by side people with SEN truly represents a composite realistic movement which encompasses a series of activities such as; the avoidance, the art of detecting, the analysis, followed by therapies, the goal of recovery, the noble act of educating, keeping in mind the school and professional orientation and monitoring the development of the one who is in [slight] difficulty. To be able to fulfil all these accomplishments with a due degree of responsibility, the teachers employed to teach students with SEN should be fully psychologically, educationally, medically, legally and socially trained (Mara and Gramma, 2011).
Nonetheless, inclusion needs extensive changes in views and within management of schools. Resources prove to have an upper hand in the execution of special schooling. There need to have an arrangement for teachers' assistance, physical facilities (such as ramps for those in wheel chairs) to deal with the included pupils and a decrease of students per class as the class size matters. It is primordial to clearly be aware of which factors have for the most part influence on teachers' attitudes, beliefs both towards and decisions about inclusion (Bailey, 1997).
1.7 Aim and objective of the study
Taking in mind the conception of inclusive education, the aim of this study is to know whether the inclusion of students with a disability in the mainstream schools is really acceptable to the educators. This is so, because, as pointed out earlier, teachers hold the greatest place in a child's life. They spend most of the time with them. The objective is to find out whether teachers in the Mauritian context are keen enough to implement this program of inclusive education. Besides, it is a great responsibility to handle such students within the school premises.