Nowadays, when we talk about students with special education needs (SEN), we are no longer focusing on how special education schools treat the SENs for their learning. We address to the issue inclusive education because the public believes every child should share the same fundamental right to learn in a ‘normal’ classroom and education should be provided to cater the wide diversity of learners’ characteristics and needs (UNESCO, 1994). As a result, inclusive Education has been introduced to the Hong Kong Education system since the pilot study carried out in 1997.
Now, there are different in-service and supporting schemes for schools (e.g. the 3-tier intervention model and Learning Support Grant since the school year 2004/05) to cater the learning needs of these groups of students.
However, Inclusive education has been a controversial topic among the scholars and the educators owing to the lacking support and the contradictions with particular schools’ learning culture and parents’ expectations, in particular among Asian parents. It is believed that every student has the same rights to learn in the same context, and it is the schools’ responsibilities to provide students with special education needs with fair chances in the school for them to learn and live.
In this essay, the teacher’s role and responsibility under the current Hong Kong education systems, especially for its inclusive education will be discussed. In unveiling the attitudes that teachers share in facing the challenges, suggestions are given to provide more comprehensive teacher’s training for pre-service teacher to tackle SEN students in their prospect career.
About inclusive education
Inclusive Education, which can be defined as the system ‘about embracing everyone and making a commitment to provide each students in the community, each citizen in a democracy, with the inalienable right to belong’ (Villa & Thousands, 2005). In other words, all students, no matter they are brighter in academic achievements, looks better in appearance, or have special education’s needs are treated in the same way in order to provide them with same education chances. The inclusion of schools was first introduced to the school systems for handicapped students and later on developed to most SEN students with different psychological or physical impairments.
In this way, schools have been changed to cater the learner diversities. Physically, more equipment and machinery aids, e.g. lift and FM receivers, have to be fixed in the school for some physically impaired students’ need. In terms of the teaching content, the school has to modify the curriculum and pedagogy; the allocation of SEN students in different classes would also be considered. A lot more technical issues in relation to the administration and the teaching strategies in the school would be affected.
However, there are some opponents towards inclusive education because students do encounter problems when they are admitted to the mainstream schools. Some students still find being discriminated owing to their special need in the classroom; some feel that they could not communicate with other people in the school context (Shelton, 2006). Some even might find difficult to catch up with the study and give up. Different social problems might exist and bring about the drawbacks of the inclusion of schools.
History of Inclusive Education in Hong Kong
Prior the discussion of the teacher’s role, the historical background of inclusive education in Hong Kong is first addressed. The idea of inclusion has been started since the 1970s in Hong Kong when the government tried to mainstream learners with disabilities to public education, in accordance to the learners’ rights (Poon-McBrayer & Lian, 2002). Years after in 1997, a pilot project was funded and facilitated by the Education Department to explore the most effective way to involve SENs in mainstream schools.
After years of experimentation, the government and educational specialists, together with the schools, have developed a series of in-service and support programmes, for instance, a 30-hour introductory course on integrated education. After that, The Education Department released the ‘Inclusive Education Implementation Guide’ to endorse the importance of inclusive education foe SENs. The term and perspective has changed from ‘Integrative education’ to ‘inclusive education’ which is a more adaptive approach for the whole school to adapt to SEN students’ needs. It is suggested that special education curriculum should be built on the foundation of mainstream curriculum so that inclusive education can be later enhanced more effectively and smoothly (Education Department, 2000).
Up to now, the theorist and practitioners are still seeking the way to search and reach the consensus from among congenital differences. More stakeholders are involved in this process, which includes more educational psychologist, parents and teachers (Lo, 2003).
Importance of Teacher’s role
In learning and teaching, students has become the main character of the context under the learner-centredness philosophy has been arisen in this generation. However, teachers’ role is another important issue in providing suitable education to students. They are the direct agent who are in touch with students and can foster students’ learning during and after the lessons. Hence, the perceptions of teachers in inclusive education is worth digging into. In the early ages of inclusive education, it was found ‘that the attitude of the regular education teacher toward a handicapped child can influence the climate of the classroom’ (Stoler, 1992, p.61).
Similarly, the attitudes of teachers of the regular education toward any kind of SEN can influence the climate of the classroom. When the teacher can treat every student fairly, accept the difference of every one and be positive to the difference, students would find the learning climate easier and have better learning atmosphere in the classroom. Hence, better teaching and learning efficiency is expected.
Moreover, ‘teachers’ support for inclusion in their classrooms is crucial for its successful implementation since they are playing an important role in implementing and facilitating any innovation at the classroom level (Ching, 2007, p. 162)’. Since teachers are the ones who teach in the classroom, the whole concept of inclusive Education would be meaningless if they do not support. Only when teachers share the same vision with inclusive education, they would perform consistently with the policy in order to pursue the best quality of teaching and learning in Schools. Factors that would affect teachers
With teachers’ support to the inclusive education, they have to tackle with a few changes in relation to their work. They are the namely the curriculum and pedagogical changes (MacDonald and Hardman, 1989). In catering learners’ diversity, teachers are expected to vary the level of tasks for different lessons. Learners’ diversity can be of very wide range because there might be the existence of gifted and mentally retarded students (in extreme cases) in the same class.
Curriculum should be changed to be more flexible for both high and low achievers to learn the most efficiently with reference to their own ability. Teacher should also varies the different teaching methods to cater for students’ need. For students in autistic spectrum disorder, teacher might consider their difficulties in getting along with a big group of new friends and offer him/ her a quitter place in the classroom. Less group work is assigned in particular lesson so that every students will gain the sense of achievement in the lessons.
In addition, teachers have to be more sensitive and careful to students’ unusual behaviours owing their special needs. For examples, some ADHD students could not control themselves to sit properly in the classroom. If teachers have grasped the basic knowledge of the symptoms of different SEN, they would feel easier to go through the lesson and hence design suitable strategies to tackle these students. Difficulties that teachers would encounter
However, it is never easy for teachers to reach these needs. In terms of teachers’ training, many on-job teachers expressed their worries in handling SEN students because they did not have enough training (Slavica, 2010). With only the 30 hours introductory course, teacher might not have enough understanding of the different education needs. This might lead to the mismatch of teaching methodologies in tackling students’ needs. This situation might still exist in the current teachers’ training programmes. In Stoler’s (2010) research, it was stated that ‘regular education teachers normally do not take these classes (courses about SEN), due to time constraints in completing the degree requirements in their content areas. As a result, regular education teachers are out of their areas of expertise when students who would normally be taught by special education teachers are placed in their classrooms.
Most schools do not attempt to fill this gap in the regular education teachers’ background by offering in services and seminars on teaching and coping with the special needs student’ (p. 61). This situation is similar to the Hong Kong context as there are no specific undergraduate programmes for special education and SEN course is not the graduation requirement of the degree. Though student teachers might have been immersed to the teaching environment with the existence of SEN students, some might not have adequate training to tackle with them, and the case would be similar after graduation.
On the other hand, some teachers owns the understanding of different strategies to handle SEN students and are coherent with the view of inclusive education, but still, they would face some difficulties when they tried to apply new types of inclusive teaching methods to their teaching. They would be challenged by ‘the traditionalism of their students, parents and colleagues in the Chinese culture’ (Forlin, 2010).
Students in the Chinese society tend to be more high achieving and they expect more direct teaching than other students in the world. They might be reluctant to adapt to new learning methods because that might give them the impression of lower learning efficiency. The lacking understanding from parents and regular students would be a very strong barrier for teachers to carry out lessons in an inclusive setting school.
Concerning to the teachers’ training, it has been found that pre-service training would be the best time to address teachers’ concern, and their negative attitudes towards learners disabilities and their perceptions about inclusive education can be changed and modified at this stage (Ching, Forlin and Lan, 2007). Teachers should be trained since their early age of teachers’ training. It is suggested that appropriate field experience should be provided to pre-service teachers so that they can expect what they will finally face in their prospect careers. They can be exposed to the types of diversity, prejudice and disadvantages that they have not encountered before (Kosnik & Beck, 2009). If they are learning from the observation in the field, their experiences can enhance their skills in teaching (Ching, Forlin and Lan, 2007).
From Ching, Forlin and Lan’s (2007) research on unveiling the change of mind after pre-service teachers are introduced to an SEN course, they found that continuous training is required. It is important for in-service teachers to go for continual profession development to alleviate their sense of adequacy in SEN. This is valid for the current teachers as well, as some teachers who started teaching for decades might not have the professional knowledge to cater special psychological behaviours, despite their experience and handling students’ emotions and misbehaviours.
Providing continuous professional development for them would be beneficial to both novice and experienced teachers to refresh their understanding of their students. They can therefore provide more suitable learning activities for students to attain higher teaching and learning efficiency. Teachers’ attitudes
Going back to teachers’ attitudes to inclusive education, it is mainly driven by two big areas, one is the teachers’ teaching philosophy while the other is the teacher’s understanding of inclusive education.
For the teacher’s own teaching philosophy, it is suggested that not all teachers in tended to be a teacher in the beginning of their career, but they did owing to different practical reasons, for example, having higher salaries than other jobs in China (Feng, 2010). They have no particular feelings towards teaching SENs, it is stated that if there is choice, they won’t choose to but it is acceptable. For this group of teachers’ attitude, we cannot bother too much.
However, some teachers, both in-service and pre-service ones, would tried their best to teach for students’ good, but they hesitate and feels negative to adapt to the inclusive education owing to the lacking understanding of different SENS. And they would finally prefer not to teach the schools with more SEN students.
As stated in the previous paragraphs, adequate preparation during the teacher’s training is essential for teachers to be psychologically ready to face different SEN students in their classroom. The better they can understand them, the more confident and positive they are. With the accumulation of experiences, teachers are hoped to be more positive in addressing to this issue. What’s more: broader sense of inclusive education and suggestions
After all, we as teachers should not narrow our perspective in teaching to only ‘mainstream’ students. The term ‘inclusive education’ can be broadened to a wider sense that we should not only accommodates academic difference owing to SEN. We also should be ‘sensitive to differences of gender, class, race, ethnicity, language, physical ability and so on’ (Kosnik & Beck, 2009, p. 104). Every student has their own uniqueness in characters as well as learning styles. In order to provide the best education quality to students, we should not only look at the academic performances that students perform.
Enhancing teacher and students relationship is one of the ways for teacher to understand their students more. In general, it is crucial to effective teaching, and it is far more important in inclusive education (Kosnik & Beck, 2009). SEN students take more time than other students to build up close relationship with others, including the teachers, and they do not tell their own feelings to others easily as well. Therefore, teachers should build up close relationship with them on the basis of trust, so that they can share their feelings and needs with you for better implementation of teaching methods in the lesson. Teachers can hence develop better connection with them and hence be able to provide prompt and immediate help.
It is of paramount importance for teachers to be well-prepared for learners’ diversity and understand the uniqueness of students. Impose more appreciation than judgment on students, and they will find the students’ problems easier to handle.
In short, with the introduction of inclusive education since nearly 15 years ago in Hong Kong, the school management, teachers, parents as well as students are striking for the balance among different benefits of students. Teachers tend to be quite passage and negative in this policy owing to their lacking experiences and knowledge in catering the needs of SEN students. The also face the traditional pressure from regular students and parents. It is strongly suggested that teachers should be exposed to the inclusive education setting since their pre-service era, this could help them better adapt to the prospective working condition and accumulate more teaching experiences.
It is hoped that their attitudes can be changed with the adequate amount of preparation given. After all, it is believed that teachers should have a broader sense of understanding inclusive education because everyone in the world is unique and worth appreciation. By building up close teacher-students relationship, teachers can provide suitable teaching and learning activities and offer timely help to every single students’ need. It is hoped that inclusive education can finally benefit all the parties in the system.
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