04 SES 04 B, Preparing Teachers for Inclusive Classrooms: Opportunities and challenges
This paper presents the results of the study of preservice teachers’ curriculum ideologies and what kind of belief stances about inclusive education they reflect. The paper also provides insights into the steps the schools are taking toward inclusive school culture in Finland.
In all, inclusion is a current global educational movement with contested meanings. According to Kiuppis’s (2014), the various definitions of inclusion seem to stem from the divide between the progress of ‘Inclusive Education’ and ‘Education for All’. The former originates from the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994), which is considered the starting point of a ‘new thinking’ in special needs education. The latter one, in turn, began in the social justice agenda and the idea behind this concept was a call for every child to have a right to a basic education (UNESCO, 1990).
In Finland, it has been corollary to seemingly agree with the ‘Education for All’ philosophy, because education has traditionally been perceived as a mechanism for enhancing social justice and equal educational opportunities for all students. However, the education system has maintained the ‘twin-track model’ of labelling ‘exceptional’ students before they are entitled to receive the individualised instruction and support most appropriate for their needs within special education settings.
The ongoing change started within the updating the legislation (Basic Education Act, 2010) and the National Core Curriculum (NCC, 2010) to be in line with the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994). Now, the most recent NCC (2016) relies on the ‘Inclusive for All’ principle, in line with the UNESCO (1990), in its underlining of student participation and requiring the meaningfulness of learning, making it possible for every student to experience success. However, the discrepancies between these two inclusion approaches has given rise to pedagogical confusion for teachers regarding how to interpret the NCC’s (2016) agenda and apply ‘Inclusive for All’ pedagogies.
Therefore, the reforms putting inclusion into the curriculum are interlaced and highly debatable concepts in terms of enhancing the quality of teaching for all. Teachers feel confused because they are viewed as having the most direct impact on the day-to-day experiences of students in inclusive classrooms. Hence, teachers’ set of beliefs in a situation where they are expected to implement new curriculum agenda and practices are crucially important for the success of the reform (cf. Rahimi & Alavi, 2017). Consequently, if the attitudes andbeliefs of teachers are not considered, especially when a radical change is in progress, more resistance from the teachers’ side will be experienced (cf. Fullan,1991), and the commitment to change will be limited (cf. Rahimi & Alavi, 2017).
The meaning of considering also pre-service teachers is derived from the fact that they are regarded as change agents because of the updated knowledge that they have recently acquired. Further to these signals of confusion among them, I have seen a need, like Haines et al. (2017), to collect data from pre-service teachers, to identify their set of beliefs and what kind of curriculum ideologies they hold. Their beliefs give meaning to their curriculum, and their instructional endeavours reflect their curriculum ideology introduced by (Schiro, 2013). Curriculum ideology refers to a practical philosophy that influences teachers’ day-to-day behaviours toward curriculum issues. In this study, I draw on Schiro’s (2013) framework, in which the beliefs about the purpose of curriculum (education) are divided into four distinctive ideologies: the scholaracademic, the social efficiency, the learner-centred (child study) and the social reconstruction ideology. The study addresses the following research questions:
- What are the curriculum ideologies of pre-service teachers participating in the teacher education program?
- What kind of stances about inclusive education do these reflections represent?
In connection with two undergraduate courses entitled ‘Inclusive Education’ and ‘Teaching Practicum’, the current study was conducted at a multi-disciplinary research university within the Primary School Teacher Education (PSTE) program in Finland. The participants were 115 pre-service teachers who were completing their teacher qualification for primary school. The ‘Inclusive Education’ course focused on discussing the theoretical underpinnings of student diversity (such as language, abilities, background, religion and gender) and the current instructional support system as a means of enhancing inclusive school culture. In addition, the course included a week-long field experiment that asked students to visit one school community and find out how the inclusion principle was implemented in accordance with the NCC (2016).The data from the ‘Teaching Practicum’ were collected through the pre-service teachers’ written narrative reflections, which allowed them to examine their lived experiences, biases and assumptions about teaching. These two types of writings provided a window through which to understand the essence of the pre-service experience of teaching in inclusive settings. Through the latent content analysis (cf. Krippendorff, 2012), it was possible to articulate variations of students’ meaning making and varied ways of experiencing and interpreting their curriculum ideologies from the perspective of inclusive reform. The meaning unit was determined as either a complete description of an individual’s lived experience or a brief notional statement called an ‘episode’. I examined the data from the perspective of thinking with theory (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012), which uses the data to think with and use theory to think about the data. Accordingly, I constructed the data through the lens of Schiro’s (2013) framework by connecting the data and the curriculum ideologies to each other from the perspective of inclusive reform. In this way, I was able to interpret the pre-service teachers’ belief stances and prerequisites for working in inclusive settings and ways to understand the NCC’s (2016) inclusive agenda. The data set thus comprised of 230 reflective texts written during and after these two courses.
The analysis revealed two main tensions between pre-service teachers’ curriculum ideologies (Schiro, 2013), namely ‘knowledge versus experience’ between the scholar academic and learner-centred ideology and the ‘adoption versus reconstruction’ between the social efficiency and social reconstruction ideology. First, the data showed the tension between knowledge and experience, which occured between the traditional curriculum, to guide students on how to acquire knowledge and solve problems, and the learner-centred curriculum, advocated by constructivism as a way to emphasise an individual’s activity and learning experience. Second, the data indicated the tension between adoption and reconstruction. Adoption referred to top-down assumptions that teachers should apply changes required by society with a linear implementation of the curriculum. In turn, reconstruction arose a need to develop students’ abilities to analyse and understand society, creating solutions and a vision for a better society, and curriculum reform movements should be made by bottom-up strategy in collaboration with real implementers by classroom-level specialists. In terms of inclusion, these tensions reflect pre-service teachers’ prerequisites for working in inclusive settings and ways to interpret the inclusive agenda stated by the international and national declarations. The results indicated that the beliefs occurred as a complex societal phenomenon that was in conflict not only with the demands to fulfil the needs of students, but also the current needs of society. Another inconsistency they felt concerned the prevailing school cultures; the inclusive reform represented a risk: it both may shake the prevailing school cultures and professional practices, and the reform itself was at risk of being drowned out in the prevailing school cultures. The above-mentioned tensions and discrepancies necessitates continuous negotiations and flexibility between the politicians, designers, administrators and teachers – the true implementers of the curriculum. The negotiations are critical for enhancing the successful implementation of the inclusion, as well as developing teacher education.
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