04 SES 09 A, Exploring Attitudes Towards Students with Special Educational Needs
Background: Stereotypes and attitudes influence judgments and behavior and hence may contribute to the successful inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN). The influence of stereotypes may be reflected in the identification of SEN, as the SEN diagnoses are not only affected by specific difficulties students may encounter in schools, but also by the background and language skills of the students. For example, Dyson and Gallannaugh (2008) indicated that students with a migration background are often identified as having SEN, although their educational difficulties may actually reflect more structural or systemic problems. Strand & Lindsay (2009) reported strong associations between gender and poverty and the identification of SEN. Similarly, Hänsel and Schwager (2004) stated that, in Germany, educational inequality reflects social inequality as students attending special schools for students with learning difficulties are essentially students from less affluent families. As a result, boys and students with an immigrant background are more likely to being classified as having behavioural or learning difficulties.
Stereotypes reflect beliefs about the members of social groups (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). In the interaction with others, people form impressions and over time develop stereotypes about groups who share important characteristics. Out of such stereotypes, expectations develop, which in turn effect perception and judgments (Ferguson, 2003). Applied to inclusion, people may hold different beliefs and expectations in regards to the learning and behaviour of male and female students with differing SEN from different backgrounds, which in turn, could affect their judgments of and (social) behaviours toward these students. According to the stereotype content model (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002), warmth and competence are the basic dimensions of impression formation and explain over 80% of the variance in perceptions of social behaviours (Wojciszke, Bazinska, & Jaworski, 1998).
Stereotypes form the cognitive component of attitudes. Person perceptions- and judgments are however not only affected by this cognitive component but also by evaluations of objects, i.e. the affective component of attitudes (Sanbonmatsu & Fazio, 1990). The third component of attitudes are the (intended) behaviours, which reflect people´s willingness and manner of interacting with other people. Based on people stereotypical beliefs and associated thoughts and feelings, specific behavioural intentions develop and hence attitudes may be pivotal for the level of acceptance or rejection of others.
Students with SEN remain one of the most socially excluded and vulnerable groups (Limbach-Reich & Powell, 2015). Research indicates that negative attitudes toward students with SEN hinder their inclusion (Gilmore, Campbell, & Cuskelly, 2003) as negative attitudes lead to avoidance and minimizing contact. Hence people´s attitudes may affect the quality of inclusion, daily living and social participation of students with SEN (Henley, Ramsey, & Algozzine, 2010). Although boys and students with migration background are disproportionally identified as having challenging behavioural or learning difficulties, to our knowledge, no studies have investigate to what extent people´s attitudes toward students with SEN vary as a function of gender and migration background.
Therefore, the current study investigated stereotypes and attitudes concerning male and female students with SEN from different backgrounds.
One hundred seven German participants (63% Female) with a mean age of 26.42 years (SD=9.31) participated in our study. Stereotypes were measured by asking participants to rate the competence and warmth of students with challenging behaviour, learning difficulties, or without problems using vignettes (Lanfranchi & Jenny, 2005) as perceived by the general society (Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2007), whereby we systematically varied the gender and migration background of the student. More specifically, each participant was presented with 3 student descriptions, describing a student with learning difficulties, challenging behaviour or without SEN (order randomized), after which they were asked to evaluate the student on 4 competence variables (competent, confident, intelligent, independent) and 4 warmth variables (tolerant, warm, good natured and sincere) using a 6-point Likert scale. Participants also completed the behaviour and academic subscales of the Attitudes Toward Inclusive Education Scales (ATIES; Benoit & Bless, 2014; Wilczenski, 1992) and two subscales (benefits and progress) of the Opinions towards Integration questionnaire (ORI; Antonak & Larrivee, 1995; Benoit & Bless, 2014).
Results: Results showed mixed stereotypes for students with learning difficulties (i.e., low competence, high warmth), students with behavioural problems (i.e., competent, but not particularly warm) and students without problems (i.e., high competence, high warmth). Although the stereotypes clearly differed as a function of SEN, they did not vary as a function of gender (male vs. female) or migration status (German vs. Turkish). Although participants expressed positive attitudes in regards to the benefits of inclusion, they reported neutral attitudes in regards to the academic and social development of included students. Furthermore, participants were negative about the inclusion of the students with challenging behaviour or learning difficulties in mainstream classes. Positive associations were found between attitudes concerning the general benefits of inclusion and attitudes toward the inclusion of students with SEN in mainstream classes. Discussion: Our findings are in line with previous research demonstrating differential attitudes and stereotypes towards students with and without SEN. Similarly, results replicate findings that although people are open to the idea of inclusion, they generally feel concerned about the inclusion of students with specific types of SEN in mainstream classrooms. Such stereotypes and beliefs may result in the avoidance of contact with students with SEN (see Dovidio & Gaertner, 2010).In sum, our results indicate that people have more positive attitudes toward students without SEN than student with SEN, which may impact both the quantity and quality of their interactions with these students. Interestingly, neither the gender nor the migration background of the students affected the results.
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