04 SES 07 E, Inclusion from the Viewpoint of Students: Listening to the learners’ voices
The concept ”A school for all” was coined in the 1980 curriculum of Swedish elementary school. It has its counterparts in other Scandinavian countries. “The spacious school” is used in Denmark, and in Norway, the concept “inclusion” is used to describe the ideal work process of schools (Haug et al, 2006:181). These concepts derive from an overarching ideology based on the right to education of every individual, as stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This ideology, often referred to as inclusive education, elaborated in the Salamanca statement (1994), is promoting a high grade of participation, integration and inclusion of all students. The aim of the ongoing PhD project is to contribute to the understanding of inclusive education empirically, by examining the experience of students with physical disabilities, with regard to their perceptions of what an inclusive community is.
My PhD project stems from a pilot study carried out in 2016, implying that it is plausible, as suggested by Simons and Masschelein (Tremain, 2015), to express the relation between inclusion and community in terms of governmentality. From this perspective, issues regarding self-determination, in-group exclusion and normalization emerge, putting inclusion as it is expressed in a dominant Swedish educational discourse, into question (Bernmalm 2017). The main problem brought up by the pilot study concern social pressure and the risk of normalization of students diverging from mainstream students, which risks to constrain diversity in schools. Another problem, also recognized in international research, is that integrational practices in school risks to create in-group academic and social exclusion, due to poorly made adjustments of the educational system (Labon & Evans, 1999, 20-21). In order to examine these problems closer, my PhD project applies a phenomenological frame, built on the work of Merleau-Ponty (2002), alongside with Foucauldian concepts on exercise of power (Foucault, 1982), (Tremain, 2015). Hence assuming that the phenomenon inclusive education is both socially constructed and perceived differently depending on the student’s position in existence.
Two different but related circumstances in the field of research motivate the aim of the PhD Project. First, empirical research on how inclusive education should be achieved is quite rare, particularly when it comes to describing the constituents of inclusive communities (Göransson & Nilholm, 2014). Second, in accordance with the case study of an inclusive classroom by Nilholm and Alm (2010), the PhD project underscore that students’ accounts are a prerequisite in order to characterize the concept inclusive education in a way that corresponds properly to inclusion as condition. Equally students’ accounts offer empirical input vital to describe the relation between community, inclusion, normalization, and in-group exclusion. Thus, an enhanced understanding of students’ experience is important to categorize the concept of inclusive education and deal with everyday ethical and educational dilemmas in schools of today.
The main question of the PhD project revolves around how inclusive education can be understood from the vantage-points of students with disabilities. The inquiry will be guided by the following research questions:
- Which are the constituents of inclusive education according to the experience of students with physical disabilities and how can they be understood with regard to inclusive education on a policy level?
- Inclusive education entails relations of power. How can these relations be understood from the viewpoint of students with physical disabilities?
- What educational and ethical dilemmas are embedded in the student’s experience of inclusive education?
Examining inclusive education as a socially constructed phenomenon, from the viewpoint of students with physical disabilities, requires research methods that facilitate rich descriptions of their varied experience. At the same time, the project depends on methods able to deconstruct the meaning of inclusive education in educational discourse. The consistent methodological strategy of the project is critical hermeneutics, which will be used to examine the ideological angle of inclusive education in the light of student’s experience (Roberge, 2011). Mixed methods will be used in order to gather a varied material for analysis to strengthen the validity of the results. The first part of the project examines the history and policy level of inclusive education in order to relate the concept to its origin, its changes and continuities over time and its varying political contexts. This part will rely mainly on documents while international policies created by the UN will be compared to Swedish educational policies, putting them in relation to the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. The second part of the project is an attempt to map how upper secondary students with physical disabilities experience the attempts by the schools to include them in mainstream education. The survey targets students who studies according to Swedish legislation exclusive to students with physical disabilities. There are four schools in Sweden providing education, accommodation and habilitation to approximately 100 students. My intention is to reach all students that give consent, with a heavily structured interview, in order map how physical disability may affect the experience of and attitudes to inclusive education. The third part of the project explore the experience of students that question or resist the attempts of the school to include them in general education. The participants will be selected from the mapping on basis of consent and their positioning with regard to inclusive education. In order to get close to their experience and to deepen the phenomenological perspective, open ended lightly structured interviews is used to create narratives about the participant’s time in school (Wengraf 2001). The purpose is to locate educational and ethical dilemmas related to the integration of students with physical disabilities into mainstream education.
Bearing in mind the scarcity of research concerning student’s perspectives on inclusive education, particularly the perspectives of students with physical disabilities, prediction comes with uncertainty. However, to be able to empirically investigate the experience of the students and construct meaningful narratives, has the potential to create a better understanding of inclusive education as a concept and practice. Furthermore, the phenomenological approach will shed light upon how bodies with physical impairments can be understood as points of departures when perceiving and living in the world, in contrast to merely results of social constructions. Previous research, as well as the pilot study, indicate that there is a gap between what students perceive as inclusive education and how inclusive education is described in research and policy documents. This gap is not very surprising considering the complexity of the task to design education that fits all. There are however some troubling aspects in the experience of the students in the pilot study. Among these, the risk of normalization of students that deviate from mainstream students, and the corresponding risk of immunization of mainstream students with regard to human diversity (see Tremain 2015 , s for a closer description of immunization processes). These risks indicate a paradox of inclusive education, namely that the effort of creating inclusive educational communities may constrain the diversity of classrooms. The narratives of the students will provide important empirical data for analysing these risks. Another troubling aspect is the dilemma of difference, forcing students to choose between partaking in the social community of a mainstream classroom, and getting adequate educational support, with regard to special needs, in a smaller customized classroom. I believe that students’ experience of this particular dilemma is a necessary starting-point for theorizing in the field of educational justice.
Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4), 777–795. https://doi.org/10.1086/448181 Goransson, K., & Nilholm, C. (2014). Conceptual diversities and empirical shortcomings - a critical analysis of research on inclusive education. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION, 29(3), 265–280. Haug, P., Egelund, N., Persson, B., & Nilsson, B. (2006). Inkluderande pedagogik i skandinaviskt perspektiv. Stockholm: Liber. Labon, D., & Evans, P. (1999). Inclusive education at work : students with disabilities in mainstream schools. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge. Nilholm, C., & Alm, B. (2010). An inclusive classroom? A case study of inclusiveness, teacher strategies, and children’s experiences. In European Journal of Special Needs Education (Vol. 25:3, s. 239–252). European Journal of Special Needs Education. Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:hj:diva-13783 Roberge, J. (2011). What is critical hermeneutics? Thesis Eleven, 106(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.1177/0725513611411682 The UNESCO Salamanca Statement. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/unesco-salamanca.shtml Tremain, S. (Ed.). (2015). Foucault and the Government of Disability. University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3998/mpub.8265343 Wengraf, Tom (2001). Qualitative research interviewing: biographic narrative and semi-structured methods. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE
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