04 SES 08 B, Diversity and Its Discontents: Challenges of inclusive education policy and practice in Europe
When attempting to discern a causal link between society and perceptions of disability, the voices of academics from those countries that might be termed ‘developed’ (i.e. those that have high levels of literacy and education and have a high degree of freedom and liberty for the common citizen) tend to dominate the field. Whether with regard to critiquing the effects of ‘global education policy’ (Ball, 2012) or endeavouring to explore ethical norms and social justice in education (Reindel, 2016), scholars in the field have an eye to the impact of neoliberalism on educational processes.
A troubling consequence of this is that these debates often take little account of practices in developing countries that serve to identify and categorise people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). For example attention has been given to concern regarding “the enculturation of teachers into reductionist understandings of disability that limit the development of inclusive educational environments” (Gable, 2014, 86). Whilst these arguments are necessary to the development of inclusive practice, little attention is given to national contexts beyond the West which may be moving towards reductionist understandings in order to recognise ‘hidden’ citizens.
As such, debates about the limitations of social models of inclusive education (Allan and Slee, 2008) and the language used to depict educational practice (Allan, 2010) could be seen to reflect ‘Western’ dilemmas that have yet to be tested elsewhere. In this sense, it might be suggested that the voices of those in developing national contexts is often lost, leading to forms of ‘othering’ and marginalisation so roundly criticised by those who advocate inclusion.
Nonetheless, in offering a new perspective on the neoliberal critique of welfare state paternalism, Mladenov, (2015) opens a door, so to speak, for disability scholarship in post-soviet contexts, and an opportunity to examine the cultural reality of how disability is experienced (Vehmas and Watson, 2016).
This study is located in the Republic of Armenia, a national context where concerns continue to be expressed in relation to the fact that,
‘Societies’ misperception of different forms and types of disability and the limited capacity of social actors to accommodate special needs often place these people on the margin. People with disabilities experience inequalities in their daily lives, and have fewer opportunities to access a quality education that takes place in a truly inclusive environment.’ (UNESCO 2015, 3).
It is intended that an examination of the lived experiences of individuals in the Republic of Armenia will shed a different light on the ‘conceptual schemas of disability that are formulated by Western theorising’ (Gable 2014, 88) in order to level the intellectual playing field.
To enable individual research participants to explore their views in relation to a given situation, and person, they were presented with a Vignette. On reading the Vignette, each participant was asked what human rights the person represented in the vignette has, where she should be educated, and why. As Vignettes should provide enough contextual information for respondents to clearly understand the situation being portrayed, but be ambiguous enough to ensure that multiple solutions exist (Seguin & Ambrosio 2002; Wason, Polonsky & Hyman, 2002) this Vignette was translated into Armenian and then piloted to ensure that those reading it could see the strengths of, and challenges faced by, the individual represented. Five respondent groups were selected for this research - individuals with SEN/D; parents of individuals with SEN/D; student teachers, serving teachers; and members of the public. These diverse groups were chosen in order to explore the issues raised by UNICEF and Save the Children International from: the perspectives of those directly experiencing the cultural and political context in Armenia; those charged with educating individuals with SEN/D; and general members of the public whose attitudes and perspectives do much to shape the lived experience of individuals with SEN/D beyond the educational context. Armenian NGOs, universities and public administrators, administered the Vignette and data were coded using NViVo. In each case, 20 respondents were selected to represent variation in age, gender, region, and, in the case of individuals with SEN/D, as wide a range of SEN/D as possible. Data Analysis Phenomenography was selected as the analytic methodology for this project as it makes variation of conceptions visible and presents alternative views of these conceptions (Akerlind 2005) with discovery considered a central aim, rather than verification of an existing hypothesis (Saljo 1997). The range of ‘conceptions’(Marton 1981) or ‘understandings’ (Sandberg 2000), are presented as ‘categories of description’ (Marton 1981). The benefit of this approach is that conceptions are mapped for each group, enabling the researcher to discern the structural and referential features of the responses from each group.
The structural and referential composition of the experiences described by each participant group raise interesting questions about the social and cultural contexts of these experiences, and the ways in which each group interpreted the vignette and related this interpretation to Elena’s human and educational rights. Student teachers, individuals with SEN/D and the parents of individuals with SEN/D predominantly foregrounded Elena’s potential, whist serving teachers and members of the public generally foregrounded deficits.
Åkerlind, G.S. (2005) Variation and Commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher education Research and Development. 24(2), 321-334. Allan, J., & Slee. R. (2008). Doing Inclusive Education Research. Rotterdam: Sense Allan, J. (2010). The Sociology of Disability and the struggle for Inclusive Education. British Journal of Sociology of Education 31(5): 603-619 Ball, S. (2012). Global Education Inc. New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imagery. London: Routledge European Commission (2016) 'The EU Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance ('GSP+') covering the period 2014 – 2015 Available at: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2016/january/tradoc_154178.pdf#Armenia. Gable, A.S. (2014) Disability theorising and real-world educational practice: a framework for understanding, Disability & Society, 29:1, 86-100 Mladenov, T. (2015). Neoliberalism, postsocialism, disability. Disability and Society 30(3): 445-459. Reindal, S. R. (2016) Discussing inclusive education: an inquiry into different interpretations and a search for ethical aspects of inclusion using the capabilities approach. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 31(1): 1-12, Säljö, R. (1997) Talk as data and practice – a critical look at phenomenographic inquiry and the appeal to experience. Higher Education Research and Development /16 (2), 173-1890. Seguin, C.A. & Ambrosio, A.L. (2002) Multicultural vignettes for teacher preparation. Multicultural Perspectives 4: 10-16 UNICEF. (2012) The right of children with disabilities to education: a rights-based approach to inclusive education. Geneva: UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS) UNESCO (2015) The right to education for persons with disabilities. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Vehmas, S & Watson, N. 2016. Exploring normativity in disability studies.Disability and Society 31(1): 1-16 World Health Organisation. 2001. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. World Health Organisation.
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