04 SES 04 D, Small Worlds: Exploring peer relationships in the inclusive classroom
Despite commendable progress in expanding the access to education, ensuring that all learners experience a genuine inclusive environment is still a challenge in many countries (UNESCO, 2017). At the beginning of the process of educational inclusion, the vision of a better social inclusion of children with disabilities was one of the important initiator of the process. However, this idea have not been supported by sufficient interventions focused on peer acceptance and social interactions in classes (Žic Ralić, 2014). This was reflected in numerous research findings where children with disabilities have been unaccepted among peers more often than typical children (Overton and Rausch, 2002; Žic and Igrić, 2001), more unsuccessful in forming positive social interactions (Koster, Jan Pijl, Nakken i Van Houten, 2010), lonely (Pavri, 2001; Margalit, Levin-Alyagon, 1994) have more difficulties to form mutual friendships and maintain established friendship (Guralnick, 1990; Tur-Kaspa, Margalit and Bridge, 1999; Guralnik, Neville, Hammond, and Connor, 2007). In addition to the above, there are particularly worrying research findings that show that children with disabilities are more frequently victims of bullying than their typical peers (Rose, Swearer, Espelage, 2012; Carter and Spencer, 2006; Kaukiainen et al., 2002).
Despite positive impact that many interventions explored in Croatia have had on the level of acceptance and inclusion of children with disabilities in peer community of inclusive classes, they are not systematically implemented (Žic Ralić, 2014).
The objective of this research is to explore social and emotional class environment where children with disabilities are included without any specific intervention focused on their social and emotional competences. The importance of this issue is highlighted in the context of inclusion quality, where creating a positive social and emotional school environment that provides all pupils with a feeling of acceptance and belonging, encourages friendship and mutual understanding, is one of the key features.
The aim of this research is to investigate the peer relations of children with disabilities and their typical peers in inclusive classes, estimated by children themselves and by their teachers. The peer relations include children’s estimation of sense of belonging and positive peer interactions, and teacher estimation of their acceptance and exclusion, relational aggression and peer problems. To explore the importance of school engagement in emotional and behavioral problems of children with disability and their typical peers in classes, the second aim is to define if emotional and behavioral problems predict children’s problems in relationships skills.
The sample consist of children with disabilities (N=34) and their typical peers (N=270) from inclusive classes, both sexes, 3rd graders, 8-9 years old, from city of Zagreb and Zagreb County, Croatia. Teachers estimate peer relations of children with disabilities and their typical peers with: Child Interaction Scale (CIS) - assessing relational aggression. Consists of seven items from the Relation Aggression part of the Children's Social Behaviour Scale—Teacher Form; GSBS-T, (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Crick, 1996).; Peer Relations Questionnaire (PRQ) - adapted version from the Child Behaviour Scale (Ladd & Profiler, 1996) for teacher assesse of children's acceptance by peers and exclusion by peers; Peer problem subscale of The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQPP). Children self-estimate their peer relations with Contentment with peer relations at school (CPRS, Žic, 2001) –explore closeness and belonging to peer community of the class and experience of positive peer interactions. Emotional and behavioral problems were measured by The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) fulfilled by teacher. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman et al., 2010) is a behavioural screening questionnaire. The version with 20 items was used, including five item subscales: Emotional symptoms (SDQES); Conduct problems (SDQCP); Hyperactive Impulsive (SDQHI); Peer problems (SDQPP).
Results: There are no significant difference between children with disabilities and their typical peers in self-estimation of closeness and belonging to peer community of the class and experience of positive peer interactions (CPRS) as well as in relational aggression (CIS). However, children with disabilities in inclusive classes have been significantly more excluded by peers (PRQ) and have had significantly more peer problems (SDQPP) than their typical peers. There is significant positive correlation between children’s relational aggression (CIS), acceptance and exclusion by peers (PRQ) and peer problems (SDQPP) for children with disabilities as well as for typical children. While the sense of belonging to class community and positive peer interactions in children with disabilities has no significant correlation with measures of relationship skills, sense of belonging to class community and positive peer interactions in typical children were found to have a significant correlation with acceptance and exclusion by peers (PRQ) and with peer problem (SDQPP). Social and emotional problems (SDQ) is statistically significant predictor that contribute to problems in relationships skills in both groups of children. The results show that despite of children with disabilities contentment with their peer relations, teachers perceive significantly more problems in their relationship skills in comparison to typical peers. Conclusion: Further efforts are needed to ensure development of a positive social and emotional atmosphere in the inclusive classroom. Moreover, these results call for further upgrading education facilities that are child- and disability- sensitive and for providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environment for all. Based on results we can assume that intervention focus on social and emotional learning could help in reducing emotional and behavioral problems as well as problems in peer relations of all children in the inclusive class.
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