04 SES 07 F, From The Eyes Of Children: Young Students Perspectives On Peers And Inclusion
In the last decade, the number of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in mainstream classes has greatly increased. Scholar inclusion is established by law and it’s intended to be a reality in the major part of European schools.
According to the law "No Child Left Behind" (UNESCO, 2001) all students with SEN shall attend mainstream curriculum. Nevertheless, an effective inclusion needs more than the publication of a law. It does not simply mean the placement of students in regular schools. Inclusion means to belong and to participate. Inclusive education can only be successful when all students feel truly as a part of the school community and when all agents assume them as equal in participation.
Social benefits for students, with and without SEN (Ruijs, Peetsma, & van der Veen, 2010), as well as profits in academic achievement (Peetsma, Vergeer, Roeleveld, & Karsten, 2001), have been shown. Students with SEN proved to achieve better academic results in general education than in special schools. Research shows that students with SEN have significantly better results, namely, on language and mathematics than those studying in special education settings (Peetsma et al., 2001). This is claimed to be, partly, due to the learning peer to peer (Ruijs et al, 2010) and modelation. On the other hand, when children learn faster in inclusive settings, they improve their self-control and self-esteem, as a result (Wu et al., 2008).
Besides academic advantages, social benefits for students with SEN in regular education have been argued, like acceptance by peers and the possibilities for friendships (Lindsay, 2007; Wiener & Tardif, 2004). Children who develop multiple interactions with peers, throughout early childhood, show a marked improvement across multiple areas of development (Buysse, Goldman, & Skinner, 2003). In fact, inclusion can help students to improve skills, that are evident not only during early social interactions, but also much later in life as they can benefit from the opportunity of being an effective and productive member of the society (Sucuoğlu, 2006). Together with the Salamanca Statement (Unesco, 1994) and the International Convention of People with disabilities, social participation of students with SEN, in general education and society, is an important issue in the development towards inclusive education.
This inclusive orientation is the most effective way of struggling against discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all (Unesco,1994), assuring all students equality of opportunities.
However, it’s also known that negative attitudes towards young people with SEN are among the major barriers to the development of children’s potential and to an inclusive education (Rousso, 2003).
Past research has focused on representations and attitudes of teachers (Cook, Tankersley, & Landrum, 2000; Talmor, 2007), and parents (Elkins et al., 2003) towards inclusion. However, although there are some studies on the field (Boer et al., 2013), peers’ representations are less investigated. By understanding peers’ perceptions, it may be possible to identify areas that need improvement. Peers are vital in inclusion thus their voices need to be heard in order to be meaningfully involved in inclusion process. This ongoing study makes some important contributions to understand the concepts children develop as they grow up. We hope it may contribute to planning inclusive education programmes and attitudes in promotion of acceptance of students with SEN as individuals with potential and right to full participation.
The purpose of this study was to investigate typically developing students’ perspectives regarding activity and participation of their peers with SEN, in inclusive settings. We intended to assess whether age influences their representations of these colleagues as well as if there’s an impact of previous interpersonal contact with individuals with SEN. One of the global aims was to contribute to the debate about socialization and inclusion and to understand students’ attitudes for a policy formulation, and implementation of inclusive education practices, in Portugal and in Europe. Qualitative investigation with semi-structured interviews was undertaken. Thirty participants, children and adolescents (4-14 yrs., thirteen boys, mean = 8,7 yrs.), from portuguese mainstream schools were interviewed concerning concepts about diversity, participation and inclusion, abilities, friendship and future. Some socio-demographic characteristics were collected as age, school year, and whether they had a friend or relative with SEN as well as the kind of contact they had. Eighteen children (60% of the respondents) indicated, in the survey, that they had either a close friend or a relative with a disability. The questionnaire form, used to data collection tool in the study, was applied in a quiet place, in the school they attend, through personal interview technique. Informed consent was given. Data were examined using content analysis methodology.
Younger children (4-8 yrs.) reported “being different” as something natural and undeniable, as an inherent feature of us all (e.g. “if we were equal, we would be like robots”, “that question makes no sense”; “we are all different because our parents are different”). Having a disability, for these kids, seems to have the same value as another personal characteristic as “being blond”, or “having freckles”. Older participants (9-14 yrs.) presented a polarized view, opposing “normal” students to “others with disabilities and delays” and showed to reveal disbelief in abilities and success of their peers with SEN (e.g. “it will be difficult for them to have a job”). Children who shared classes with colleagues with SEN reported activities in common (e.g. “we have lunch together”) and showed better acceptation and confidence on their abilities (e.g. “she’s better than me at creating stories”; “why should they be in a different classroom?”) compared to the ones who had never had this experience (e.g. “if they are in the same classes, teachers may not have time for us, the ones who learn well”). This also demonstrates that social contacts have positive effect on attitudes of students towards their peers with SEN (Gökbulut, Gökbulut, & Yeniasır, 2017). Encouraging more regular interactions can have a positive influence on global development of all students. Peers support or child-to-child learning may be a fruitful pedagogical strategy to promote inclusive attitudes that seem to be more negative as they grow up. School is everyone’s educative stage. In this conception, not only teachers and parents but the whole school share the responsibility for Education, including peers. As Inclusion becomes increasingly important in education policies, in many european countries, future research is needed to improve practices and to develop a culture towards a fair society and efficient participation of all.
Boer et al. (2013). Peer Acceptance and Friendships of Students with Disabilities in General Education: The Role of Child, Peer, and Classroom Variables. Social Development, 22, 4, 831–844. Buysse, V., Goldman, B., & Skinner, M. (2003). Friendship formation in inclusive early childhood classrooms: What is the teacher’s role? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18, 485–501. Cook, B., Tankersley, & Landrum, T. (2000). Teachers’ attitudes towards their included students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 67(1), 115-135. Elkins, J. et al. (2003). Parents’ attitudes to inclusion of their children with special needs. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs (3), 2, 1471-3802 Gökbulut, O., Gökbulut, B. & Yeniasır, M. (2017). Social Acceptance of Students with Special Needs from Peer Viewpoint. Eurasia J. Math., Sci. Tech. Ed., 13(11):7287–7294. Lindsay, G. (2007). Educational psychology and the effectiveness of inclusive education/mainstreaming. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 1-24. Peetsma, T., Vergeer, M., Roeleveld. J., & Karsten, S. (2001). Inclusion in education: Comparing pupils’ development in special and regular education. Educational Review, 53, 125–135. Rousso, H, (2003). Education for All: A gender and disability. New York: UNESCO Ruijs, N., Peetsma, T., & Van der Veen, I. (2010). Inclusive education and students without special educational needs. Educational Research, 52 (4), 351-390. Talmor, R. (2007). Teachers' positions towards inclusion of students with special needs in mainstream classes. In: S. Reiter, Y., Lazer and G. Avisar (Eds.), Inclusions: Learning with disabilities in education systems, 157-196. UNESCO (1994). The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality. Salamanca, Spain, 7-10 June. UNESCO (2001) The Open File on Inclusive Education (Paris: UNESCO). Wiener, J., & Tardif, C. (2004). Social and emotional functioning of children with learning disabilities: Does special education placement make a difference? Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 19, 20–32. Wu, W., Ashman, A. & Kim, Y. (2008). Education reforms in special education. In C. Forlin, & M. Lian (Eds.), Reform, Inclusion and Teacher Education: Towards a New Era of Special Education in the Asia-Pacific Region. London: Routledge
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