04 SES 03 D, Exploring In‐Service and Preservice Teachers Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education
All children’s right to education is described in several international documents. The concept of inclusive education won international recognition when the United Nations (UN) put forth the idea of “Education for All” in 1990. Several countries have since implemented a policy to promote integration and, more recently, the inclusion of these students in their regular neighbourhood. With this in mind, teachers’ understanding of including students’ with a variety of special educational needs are of great importance for a successful implementation of inclusion, which also is emphasized in the Salamanca Statement (1994).
The concept of inclusion is, however, not something that has been developed or even agreed to by teachers and/or schools. Inclusion origins in human rights as a political initiative and has passed down from the UN to national and local governments and then to schools. Teachers should implement this policy regardless of their personal views and often without resources, which leaves teachers with little sense of ownership of inclusion (Takala et al. 2012). It is important that teachers whose task it is to make inclusion a reality also share a common understanding of the meaning of it.
Students whose behaviour is a potential danger to the education of others are often not welcomed by mainstream schools, and many of these disruptive pupils have emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) (Visser and Stokes 2003). The more students’ behaviour disturbs the order in the classroom, the more likely the school is toexclude those students from the classroom or even from the school as a ‘pragmatic decision’, a price that has to be paid to maintain the vision of equity for “all” (Dyson and Millward 2000). Previous reviews (Avramidis and Norwish 2002; De Boer, Pijl, and Minnaert 2010) conclude that teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion are lowest when it comes to students with behavioural problems, regardless of different school system and school culture. Teachers construct students who disturb as being in need of something different in order to make the educational situation work out well for them (Assarson 2007; Gidlund, 2017). But diagnosing students who fail to meet the social, emotional, behavioural and academic norms of the education setting has shown limited success in increasing their social competence, social functioning or academic viability within the general education classroom, and segregated grouping also has shown very little progress (Naraian, Ferguson and Thomas 2012).
Special educational needs, inclusion, and EBD are by no means universally agreed upon, and could all be viewed as social constructs. Teachers in mainstream schools show frustration and insecurity about how to organize education for diversity and variation (Gidlund & Boström, 2017). The concept of inclusion is unclear to teachers, and they have received no instruction on how to make inclusion work (Takala et al. 2012). There is a gap between the rhetoric of inclusive education and school reality. Inclusive education is a social and political construction in which different discourses struggle to achieve dominance. As a nodal point, an empty signifier, inclusive education is exposed to a hegemonic struggle between discourses shaped by different groups in their quest for influence and power over the content and design of the school (Assarson 2007).
The overall aim of this article is thus to contribute to the understanding of how teachers understand including students with EBD in Swedish mainstream classes. This article will study how teachers articulate the advantages and disadvantages of including students with EBD. The specific research question is: What discourses prevail, and what discourses are antagonistic, when teachers together are discussing including students with EBD in mainstream classes?
To study teachers’ understanding of inclusion of students with EBD, an approach of discourse theory which takes inspiration from Laclau and Mouffe (1985) is applied. In this study discourse analysis is used to investigate teachers’ understanding of inclusion of students with EBD, the starting point is to identify the nodal point around which their understanding is organized. Then, the study investigates the way in which the nodal point is relationally filled with meaning by being equated with some signifiers and contrasted with others; by looking for expressions, articulations, linked in these chains of equivalence, the key concepts of the discourse will become clear. It is by being represented by a cluster of signifiers with a nodal point at their centre that a concept gains its meaning (Winther Jørgensen and Phillips 2002). A discourse is only a temporary closure, however, since its fixed meaning will not be fixed exactly in that way forever. The data were collected through focus group interviews with individual follow-up interviews based on stimulus texts. The empirical data were collected through six focus group interviews with four to eight teachers of Grades 4–6, age 10–12, in six different Swedish mainstream schools and 37 individual follow-up interviews. The schools selected all have different cultures and contexts due to their size, geographical characteristics, and sociocultural, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical backgrounds. Stimulus texts were used in the focus group interviews to encourage the interviewees to discuss the research topic. The interviewer chose not to problematize the inclusion of students with EBD herself. The concept was put into the mouths of the interviewees, using quotations (stimulus texts), because the concept is central in teachers’ policy documents and policy texts but is known for its ambiguous character, and the focus is to know how different the concept can be understood and defined by the different teachers. Discourse theory is suitable as a theoretical foundation for discourse analysis because of its broad focus. But since Laclau and Mouffe (1985) seek theory development, they do not offer many practical tools. It can therefore be fruitful to supplement their theory with another constructivist method, in this case constructionist thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006). The aim of this study is not to clarify the ‘real’ meaning of inclusion of students with EBD. The focus is on the process and the struggle between different articulations within their particular contexts.
Drawing on the findings of this study, the teachers’ articulations reveal the complexity of including students with EBD in mainstream classes. Their articulations focused on the disadvantages of inclusion, such as its problems, dilemmas and impossibility when it comes to their classroom context. The teachers in this study reveal their confusion about not understanding the conflicting strategies of inclusion when schools are not designed for such purposes. Schools have norms for behaviours and celebrated skills such as being a good reader and listener, being knowledgeable, and being aware of and in acceptance of the hidden curriculum and are therefore not suitable to include all students. However, some antagonistic discourses emerged in order to highlight the idea of ensuring equal opportunities for all students and the celebration of diversity, but they were overpowered by discourses that were more pragmatic and based on the everyday reality of the school. This study reveals how the teachers based their understanding on their experiences on the one hand and on the policy of the Educational Act on the other hand. Their articulations reveal how they were reflecting in a pragmatic way rather than an ideological one. The pragmatic discourse of the disadvantages is therefore hegemonic to the ideological antagonistic discourse of the advantages. They also revealed the clear gap between policy and practice in the Swedish education system. Teachers’ discourses emerge from collective practices. The discourses that arise among teachers are part of the teachers’ experiences with educational situations. In this way, their experiences of concrete everyday life are constantly present as the starting point for shaping discourses. When teachers experience failure and dissatisfaction with specific teaching situations, they construct discourses that justify and legitimize their failure. If teachers experienced success and harmony, other discourses would hegemonize, and thereby entail other actions in the classroom.
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