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Problems in realization of inclusive education of children with disabilities in European countries
Author: Tupytsya O.V., postgraduate student of the department of general pedagogy and high school pedagogy (Kharkiv national pedagogical university n. a. G.S. Skovoroda)
When there is so much difference in definitions and understanding, there are even more widespread differences in the realization of inclusive education in Europe.
Some countries have a legislation which has radically chosen for inclusive education and have practically closed down the special education system (Spain) or transformed special education into resource centers (Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina). Those countries institutionalized and generalized inclusive education since the late 70-s. Every child with disabilities goes to a regular school and receives theoretically adequate assistance. Individual curricular adaptations are discussed at the beginning of the school year, together with classroom teacher support teachers, possible external experts such as speech therapists and parents . When everybody in the team works well, this system works well. Excluding obvious lack of personal and professional commitment as a cause of inclusion failure, there are nevertheless some structural problems. Sometimes there are too many children with disabilities in one classroom, or the child having severe multiple disabilities is left without enough support, without proper integrated participation activities and without an adequate individual education plan. Though, in this case the law may have been followed to the rule, some of the basic «conditio sine qua non» have not been fulfilled.
It needs to analyze some models of good practice. Let us summarize some of the problems and challenges that are being met in different European countries while trying to implement inclusive education.
In the Netherlands, for example, inclusive education is officially favoured, but meets a lot of resistance in the field. While retaining – unlike Spain and Romania – a well established special schools education system, the Dutch government financially stimulates inclusive education: regular schools get a bonus in financing when they integrate a special needs child, which allows the school to employ extra special needs staff, mostly coming from a regional special school. Families receive financial support from the Ministry of Welfare to pay personal assistance for stimulating independence, or for assisting in daily practical needs. Despite all this, inclusive education meets with opposition from regular as well as special schools: regular teachers hesitate because they have already big classes with an often high load of behaviourally disturbed children. Reform of mainstream schools is lagging behind and schools are far from being «welcoming schools» in the Salamanca sense. Special schools are hesitant to let children go; it might be for financial reasons as well, or for the «classic arguments»: smaller classes, more therapeutic staff available, and children feeling better because lack of competitive atmosphere. Other factors inhibiting inclusion are an IQ based schooling classification: secondary schools with an individual assistance adapted curriculum possibility, take in only children with an IQ above 85, or with sufficient score on the national primary school achievement test at the age of 12. Schools require adequate performance test results. At the Feuerstein centre in Amsterdam we continuously struggle with these obstacles when trying to include children [1, p. 252-265]. In the Dutch society, inclusion is absolutely not generalized, though there has been quite some progress in the number of children with intellectual disabilities integrated in the regular system.
In Great Britain, in opposite, parents are not free to choose. They depend on a decision of the local education authorities (further – LEA), who also decide on the special needs budget and allocation to regular or special school, the so-called «stating system». The system has recently been under heavy scrutiny, from many different parts. Inclusion depends too much on LEA’s and not on a pedagogical viewpoint and proper responsibility. After 15 years of blossoming, there is a renewed trend towards separation in Great Britain. .
Similar processes are happening in other countries. Spain has officially embraced inclusive education. Several regional initiatives have been taken to promote inclusive education practices. There are many good examples, usually build around university centers, which particularly make a lot of effort in training teachers and activating local implementation. A well structured support system is lacking, mainstream school teachers are not yet trained, attitudes are lacking. In the large catholic private education school system catering for 2,000,000 children, until 2004 there have been only scarce implementations of inclusive education, usually in the limited sense of the «integrated», conditional mainstreaming for the most intelligent disabled. But things are slowly changing.
As for teachers, they feel the pressure of educational standards. They know that at the end of primary school all children will be tested on state- or province-based academic achievement tests, which are based on governmental educational standards. Although children with a diagnosis of disability can be exempted from participation, nevertheless schools are judged on statistics of achievement. Therefore schools tend to limit the number of underachieving children if they want to get good marks in the country’s ranking of school performances. Apparently this is a phenomenon which is international: schools are not valued on input - on investments they make in helping children achieve – but on achievement output. This mechanism may counter inclusion.
Psychologists and regular schools tend to continue to refer on the basis of a classic diagnostic process: school failure, leading to cognitive psychometric assessment, leading to referral to special needs. Diagnosis of ADHD, behaviour disorders and autistic spectrum disorders have taken epidemic proportions . They are often a reason for referral to special education.
Problems may be due to lack of finances. Parents’ pressure groups for inclusive education claim an equal amount of governmental financing for children with disabilities in special schools as in mainstream schools, enough financial support via the Ministry of Welfare to organize assistance and enough financing to the mainstream schools.
Teachers still lack a proper «inclusive attitude»: there is rigidity in teacher’s attitudes, a uniformity in ways of teaching and evaluation. When the child learns «independently» and shows its knowledge and skills on tests, they are happy. When the child doesn’t, they don’t know what to do. They are hardly aware of learning processes or why these are hampered, and how they can be improved. Teachers should be taught to learn how to learn. This is a cognitive aspect. Teachers are insufficiently trained to know and use methods how to include, teach and evaluate a broad range of children with various levels of competence and levels of difficulties, as well as cognitive activation methods of «learning how to learn».
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