Inclusion in education is the integration of children with special needs into a regular learning environment. Inclusion is not only practiced in the United States but also in Japan, Australia and England. Students with and without disabilities are educated together in one general classroom (Downs & Williams, 1994; Kodish et.al 2010; Kusano & Chosokabe, 2001). Inclusion is often related to students with disabilities, and in many cases, it is applied to where the student sits. However, it is much more than that (Friend & Pope, 2005).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities. This is done by ensuring that every student with a disability receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This is regardless of the degree of their disability (National Resource Center, 2009).
Persons with disabilities are defined as persons with physical or mental impairment which, substantially, limits one or more major life activities. People who have a history or who are regarded as having physical or mental impairment that, substantially, limits one or more major life activities are also covered (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).
The teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion vary depending on various factors. A special trained teacher and a general teacher will have different attitudes towards inclusion of disabled children in the learning environment. The teachers’ attitudes are affected by the level of disability of a child to be included in the class set up. This teacher would want minimum adjustments that will make the disabled child be able to learn, and at the same time not interfere with the learning process of the other students. It has been suggested that "attitudes could explain human actions" (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). These attitudes affect the way teachers in an inclusive setting respond to situations, and their way of teaching. If they have a negative attitude towards inclusion, they create a negative learning atmosphere.
The level of training attained by teachers in order to be able to handle these children also influences their attitudes. Some teachers do not feel competent enough to teach the disabled children together with the able ones. Positive attitude by teachers is hugely as a result of training on inclusion of disabled children in the learning environment. The level of modification needed for inclusion also influences the teachers’ attitudes. Most of the teachers will have a positive attitude when fewer modifications are needed for the disabled to child to attend regular classes.
The planning, training and constant support that the teachers get in the school will affect their outlooks toward inclusion of severely disabled children. They need to get enough support to enable proper inclusion of the students. Once the teachers have sufficient training and support to do the necessary modifications, inclusions can be positively embraced. Research also shows that the attitude of the educators is affected by whether they have had previous contact or experience with certain types of disability. A child who attends a class that includes disabled people, and grows up to be an educator might have a better and positive attitude towards inclusion settings.
Effects of Teachers’ Attitudes towards Inclusion
The effects of inclusion of disabled children in regular settings have a great impact on all the students in that setting. The disabled children sometimes feel more comfortable being around people with similar disabilities. In a segregated class, they are able to form friendships faster than in an inclusive setting.
At the same time, in an inclusive class they are integrated into the class and form friendships with non disabled peers. Studies have shown that disabled children that attend inclusive schools or classes learn faster, and develop better socialization as compared to their counter parts that are in a segregated class. Many researchers, (Bursuck & Friend, 2002; Gouveia, 1997; Sharpe, 2001; Starr, 2001), have suggested that including students with disabilities in the general classes provides them, as well as their peers without disabilities, more positive social benefits than in segregated environments. The non-disabled students learn how to live with people with different disabilities, and to treat them with dignity. This is possible when the teachers take time to teach the rest about various disabilities that the children might have so that they all know, and appreciate each other in the inclusive environment
In a case where the general teachers have a negative attitude towards inclusion, it is bound to affect the learning of the students. It is possible to find one of the general teachers sending disabled student to be handled by the special needs teacher, as the teacher or educator does not view that student as part of the other students. This will in turn affect the child’s morale and, subsequent, performance class. However, inclusion helps the disabled students learn coping skills in life, in an inclusive setting. They are treated the same as the other non-disabled children, so they cannot avoid situations. Hence, they adapt and develop coping mechanisms.
This may also have negative effects towards their socialization whereby some may be ridiculed or even bullied, and this prevents them from forming friendships with non-disabled peers. Therefore, they may tend to stay with people with similar disabilities. This is because they tend to feel more secure in a group of people of their own kind.
The teachers can use various strategies that will promote interaction between the special needs children and the non-disabled ones. The educators can use cooperative learning, where various students explore their strengths, and this fosters the self-esteem. Differentiated instruction or teaching can also help in socialization, whereby the same content is taught, but using different methods of instruction. Tiered levels of teaching help students that have different learning speeds in the same class. The pupils are able to study at their own pace, and at the end have different methods of examination.
If there is a collaborative effort to provide training and support for the educators from different avenues, and the differentiation of modes of instruction, inclusion would be possible with a lot of positive effects on the lives of both the disabled and able child. It is extremely crucial to note that the teachers’ attitudes determine the success of the students.
Labeling of students with disabilities affects the emotional development of the students. In an inclusive setting, if the teachers are not vigilant enough to ensure this is controlled; emotional scaring of the students is inevitable. Students with special needs in an inclusive setting develop high self-esteem, and high academic achievement due to the good socialization skills. Students in a segregated class feel competent among people of similar disabilities.
Research shows that students in the special education classroom are less cooperative and less capable (Beckman, 2001). The attitudes of the teachers and students have a big impact on the success of inclusion setting in the schools. This group determines at what age a child with disabilities can be included in school environment. Parents with disabled children are a little reluctant to have their children in an inclusive setting. This is because they are not sure how the children will cope with the new environment due to their disability. Most children with special needs may have behavioral problems unlike their counter parts in class, and this may also affect the attitudes the parents and the teachers have towards inclusion. The physical limitation of some disabilities hinders inclusion as the modifications needed may be too expensive, and that limits the inclusion of such children with external physical disabilities.
Future of Inclusion
The teachers’, administrators’ and educators’ attitudes towards inclusion, especially the negative ones, can be changed. Emphasis should be put so that all students are taught in a regular classroom, and that segregation is viewed as discrimination. They also need to understand that every child’s learning experience, whether disabled or not, is different. Therefore, schools should tailor-make their methods of instruction to suit each child. They need to modify their teaching methods for all students (Cook, 2004; Cook, 2001; Kavale & Forness, 2000; McLeskey & Waldron, 2002). With the feeling of inadequacy, some teachers can learn more on special needs education. Therefore, they will be confident handling disabled children in an inclusive programme.
There should be general training on the different types of disabilities, and how to handle them. Some of the teachers may feel ill-equipped to handle a special needs child in an inclusion, but with this knowledge, they will a positive attitude which will affect the teaching and performance of the pupils. A student with special needs can function in a regular class with adequate modifications, and excel like his non-disabled peers. The whole education system should create mechanisms that enable teachers and other educators view inclusion as a positive experience. Regular training, provision of funds and support to enable the students enjoy the full benefits of an inclusive system will improve the attitudes towards inclusion (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002).
Lack of training and resources make teachers a little apprehensive towards inclusion. From studies carried out on inclusion of students with special needs, it is evident that inclusion promotes very healthy, social and intellectual growth among the disabled and non disabled students.