As is advocated in the Salamanca Statement, every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs, and those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools which should accommodate them within a child-centered pedagogy capable of meeting these needs (UNESCO 1994, viii). In China, inclusive education for students with disabilities has been highlighted and promoted by the Ministry of Education. Some regular schools have been selected as demonstration projects (inclusive schools) in which the schools are assigned to enroll students with disabilities, and specialized teachers are available as support.
In terms of inclusive education for students with disabilities, the roles of teachers have long been recognized for their great importance, not only because they are valuable resources but also because they are key actors supporting all aspects of inclusion. Consequently, teachers’ perspectives have been a great concern in the academic field of inclusive education. In this research, the author classifies factors that influence teachers’ perspectives based on literature review by Avramidis & Norwich (2002) and 55 previous studies worldwide from the year 2000 to 2018. Among all the identified factors, this study is especially interested in: 1. types and levels of disabilities, 2. teacher training, 3. leadership by school administrators, 4. contact with students with disabilities and 5. supports of specialized teachers. Participants involve 307 primary school teachers from inclusive schools (as explained above), integrated schools (where special classes are attached for students with disabilities), and other regular schools in Beijing.
1. How do general teachers in inclusive/integrated schools and regular schools perceive inclusive education for students with disabilities in general and by their types and levels of disabilities?
2. How do the experiences of teacher training, leadership by school administrators, contact with students with disabilities and supports of specialized teachers influence teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion?
This study adopts quantitative and qualitative methods. Empirical data for the research are collected through semi-structured questionnaire. Teachers’ overall perceptions towards inclusive education are captured from three aspects: inclusive education as children’s right; inclusive education as means of better learning outcomes and social skill development; and finally desirable accommodation of students with disabilities. Teachers’ accessibility to teacher training, supportive school administration, students with disabilities and specialized teachers and its perceived influence are mainly measured by fixed options. Answers to open-ended questions provide detailed experiences and concerns of inclusive education. For the inclusive schools and integrated schools, the questionnaires are mainly distributed with the help of Special Education Center of Chaoyang District. For other regular schools in Beijing, teachers are sought through snowball sampling. In total, 307 questionnaires have been collected, 135 from inclusive/integrated schools and 172 from regular schools.
Firstly, teachers in this study hold positive attitudes towards the concept of inclusion, while in terms of practice, less than half of the teachers from either inclusive/integrated schools or regular schools favor the inclusive education setting. Secondly, consistent with earlier research, teachers’ perceived possibilities of inclusion differentiate by the types of children’s disabilities. Teachers share similar opinions that students with physical disabilities are welcomed the most whereas those with intellectual and mental disabilities are the least possible ones to be accommodated in regular class. Thirdly, both quantitative and qualitative data show that teacher training and supportive administration can bring positive influences on teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion. Such effects are better perceived by teachers in inclusive/integrated schools. Finally, experiences of teaching inclusive class have great potential to affect directly teachers’ perspective on inclusive education, positively and negatively. Compared to inclusive/integrated school teachers, those in regular schools report more negative contacts with students with disabilities. Such side effect of teaching experience has not usually revealed by previous studies. In this regard, practice in inclusive/integrated schools indicates that supports of specialized teachers can effectively enhance the process of teaching and learning in inclusive settings and further promote teachers’ perceptions towards inclusion.
Many regular school teachers are exposed to instruction in inclusive settings without being well prepared and supported. Only 30.8% of the respondents in regular schools have ever received trainings on disability education, 32.5% consider their school administration welcoming students with disabilities through some kinds of support and no teacher has access to specialized assistance during or after class. Consequently, they are left lack of strategies, burden with the heavy workload and trapped with the performance evaluation system that links to children’s grade. All these facts have caused as much as nearly twice the negative experience with students with disabilities in regular schools than in inclusive/integrated schools.