This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 2
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Title: Teachers for All: Inclusive teaching for children with disabilities
Author: Lewis, I
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2013

Teachers for All: Inclusive teaching for children with disabilities

Ingrid Lewis

Many countries do not have enough well- prepared and motivated teachers. This impacts on the enrolment, participation and achievement of all children, but can be particularly detrimental to the education of children from marginalised groups. Teachers often lack training or support in teaching children with disabilities. Here, Ingrid summarises key ways in which we can better prepare regular teachers for diverse classes.

National standards for teacher training vary considerably between countries, and are often inadequate. Teacher training for regular teachers rarely provides the confidence, knowledge and skills to effectively support learners with disabilities. Recent research has highlighted five key strategies to improve the situation. Each country will place different emphasis on these areas to suit their unique context.

1. Policy-makers and teacher trainers need to understand inclusive education
Those developing and implementing policies around education and teacher training need a sound understanding of inclusive education so they can promote inclusion across all aspects of education work.

Policy-makers and teacher trainers need to:

  • understand that inclusive education is not just a separate or one-off project.
  • understand the twin-track approach to inclusive education, and prepare teachers to generally support all learners; and be confident and skilled at meeting the specific needs of students with disabilities.
  • understand the importance of inter-sectoral approaches: including children in education often requires effective links with health, social welfare, water and sanitation, public transport and justice sectors.

To achieve the level of understanding needed among policy-makers and teacher trainers, advocacy and awareness-raising efforts need to present clear and consistent messages on the above points. There should be follow-up training and support (including regular visits to schools and inclusive education projects) so that policy- makers and trainers keep learning and keep improving the pre-service and in-service support they design for teachers.

2. Inclusive education should be integrated into all teacher training
Inclusive education cuts across all aspects of education, so every teacher should how to make education more inclusive. This means learning how to improve the presence, participation and achievement of all learners, and how to support the inclusion of students with disabilities in particular.

Teachers need to embrace inclusive education from day one of their training, so that it is seen as integral to their work. Existing teachers also need to participate in ongoing professional development to help them constantly reflect on and improve their attitudes and practices. Professional development can include formal in-service training courses and informal learning opportunities like action research and teacher discussion groups. One-off or stand-alone courses on inclusive education are not enough.

Key actions needed include:

  • Address inclusive education in all pre-service and in-service teacher training and through continuing professional development.
  • Provide a mixture of (i) specific courses on inclusive education, and (ii) ’embedding’ inclusive education principles into all teacher training activities.
  • Review and revise teacher training courses, curricula and materials, with participation from a diverse range of education stakeholders.
  • Advocate for teacher training institutions and ministries to undertake such changes.

3. Teacher training must balance theory and practice
Teacher training needs to offer a balance of learning about the concept of inclusive education, and observing and implementing these theories in practice, with support from experienced colleagues. Teacher training needs to be relevant to the local context and culture, and well-managed so that trainee and in-service teachers don’t feel overwhelmed. The split between theory and practice should anticipate real-life challenges in school whilst providing teachers with skills to be reflective and analytical practitioners.

Options for supplementing teacher training with disability-specific hands-on experience include:

  • Directly involve disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities in designing and delivering training.
  • Special schools can often provide practical and technical advice and support. However, special school staff may also need training on how to support inclusive education in mainstream schools.

Cascade training mechanisms are seen as a financially efficient way of passing factual messages from one group of teachers to another. Yet they often do not support trainees to access practical learning or share experiences, and rarely provide sufficient follow-up. Such approaches need improving to provide school-based support, mentoring by experienced teachers, peer learning, and regular follow-up training.

4. People with disabilities should be involved in teacher training
There is a growing movement towards community involvement in school management and development. To be successful it must include representation from diverse groups, including people with disabilities. Yet usually those involved in planning and running teacher training do not have disabilities, or direct experience of working with people with disabilities. If teacher training around inclusion is to be practical and realistic, multiple stakeholders, especially people with disabilities, should be involved. Strategies include:

  • Ministries of Education should involve people with disabilities during policy discussions about teacher training.
  • Positive action should be taken to train, deploy and support teacher trainers who have disabilities.
  • Guest trainers and speakers from different stakeholder groups and DPOs should be included in pre- and in-service training programmes.
  • Trainee and in-service teachers should be given opportunities to work/volunteer with children and adults with disabilities.

5. The teaching workforce needs to be diverse and representative
To achieve inclusion for all children we need to look carefully at who becomes a teacher. Children who feel that their teachers have nothing in common with them, or do not understand them, may be less likely to engage in learning and more likely to drop out. A diverse teaching staff that represents male and female sections of the community, those with and without disabilities, and the ethnic, linguistic and religious groups found in the community, is therefore important.

People with disabilities are likely to face significant barriers to achieving the level of education needed to train as a teacher. Flexible policies for enrolment qualifications for teacher training, and/ or creating and funding ‘catch-up’ courses for potential trainees are needed. The accessibility of teacher training – in terms of college buildings, course materials and equipment – also needs improvement and investment.

Teachers with disabilities may face discrimination in finding a job, either during selection or from outright bans on people with disabilities becoming teachers because of strict health and fitness assessments. They are also likely to face discrimination within the workplace, from colleagues or parents, or within payment structures and professional development opportunities. Employment regulations for teachers need to be reviewed and overhauled to remove such barriers.

This article is based on a longer IDDC paper by Ingrid Lewis (EENET) and Sunit Bagree (formerly of Sightsavers), available online.

Ingrid Lewis, EENET CIC
37 Market Street
Cheshire, SK14 8NE, UK