Developing inclusive practice
Richard Rieser observes barriers in the Malaysian and Ukrainian Education Systems
I recently attended conferences to develop inclusive education in both Malaysia and Ukraine. Although the history and culture of the two countries are very different there are similar misunderstandings of what inclusive education means in terms of pedagogy (methods of teaching) in both countries.
Ukraine has a complex history with many different cultural groups. It was part of the Tsarist empire in the 18th Century and then, after its own revolution, part of Soviet Russia until 1991 when it seceded and moved closer to the European Union. Ukraine did maintain some independence in the Soviet years, but as far as education was concerned the Soviet system of segregation and defectology (an extreme version of medical model thinking developed under Stalin) dominated. Families were encouraged to give their disabled children to the state to go to either special schools, internats (orphanages for those children and adults deemed ineducable with learning difficulties, which were more like hospitals than schools) or left at home with their parents. As a result mainstream teachers had little or no experience of teaching disabled children, and schools, curricula and assessment systems were designed for non-disabled children and students. Work by NGOs such as the Step by Step Association over the last 16 years has opened up Ukrainian society, especially encouraging parents to support inclusion. Ukraine has a population of 44 million, 16,700 general academic schools (of which only a fifth are private), with 3.8 million schoolchildren and 445,000 teachers. Only 154,000 pupils are identified with SEN; the majority must be at home and in institutions.
Since 2000 there have been many legislative attempts to become more inclusive. These have largely foundered on negative attitudes and teachers claiming not to be trained. Now, President Poroshenko in September 2017 introduced a new law – Features of Access of Persons with Special Educational Needs to Educational Services. This sets forth the right to education of people with special educational needs and gives them the opportunity to receive education in all educational institutions, including free of charge in state and municipal educational institutions, regardless of the “determination of disability”. The changes provide for remote and individual forms of education, and the creation of inclusive and special groups for such individuals in general education schools. The law also provides direct funding to schools with teachers deciding what it will be spent on to avoid corruption and provide freedom for schools to determine what they teach along Ministry guidelines.
I visited School 41 in Central Kiev, a multi- storey 6-15 year old school with no access. Since last April they have had a ‘correctional teacher’ and unit with 11 children identified with speech and language, autism and learning needs. This is in a school with 470 students and 67 teachers. The needs of the children struck me as very low level. They spend some time in unit and most with their age appropriate class supported by teaching assistants. Mainstream staff seemed considerably resistant to increasing the number of disabled students or their degree of impairment. Eleven schools in central Kiev had such classes and a programme of teacher training was under way.
The Malaysian Federation of sixteen states was formed from British colonially ruled Malaya and North Borneo when the country was given independence in 1963. Many Chinese and Indian people were settled alongside Malays by the British to work on plantations and build up an infra-structure. Since these times Malaysia has concentrated on developing its people with a strong and successful education system to match its transformation from an agricultural to an industrialised and prosperous country. The current population is 31 million people with 7,772 primary and 2,407 secondary schools providing twelve years in free state education.
For a long time, apart from a special blind school and one for deaf children, disabled children went to school only if they could fit in. The British medical model of special education was slowly adopted with first segregated special school and later School Special Education Integration classes. These dated from 1996 following the Salamanca Declaration, but were based on a medical assessment of educability. More recently all children are entitled to go to school and, under the influence of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Malaysian Government is developing an Inclusive Education Programme (IEP). In 2016 30.3% of identified children with SEN were in mainstream classes and more than two thirds of schools were involved with training of teachers. However, before a student can move into a mainstream class they have to satisfy a team of professionals that they grasp the 3 Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. In 2016 all pre-school children will be screened for special needs and then directed to special school, special class or IEP mainstream classes. The Malaysian Education System is highly competitive with weekly tests and an overburdened curriculum with only 14% of students making it to upper secondary. Most drop out and earlier those not academically inclined are enrolled in sports and co-working courses. Guidance has been produced called Inclusive Pedagogy Implementation Guidance.
School Chouskat Laurt, Taiping,Parat, has five special classes with six teachers and four teaching assistants. Most disabled students at the school have learning difficulties and had not mastered the 3Rs. Students screened from the special ed classes who achieve the appropriate skill level join the inclusive education programme.
The UNCRPD Committee General Comment No 4 on Article 24 has some useful advice about adaptability to help address the pedagogic shortcomings found in Ukraine and Malaysia.
“26. The Committee encourages States parties to adopt the universal design for learning approach, which consists of a set of principles providing teachers and other staff with a structure for creating adaptable learning environments and developing instruction to meet the diverse needs of all learners. It recognizes that each student learns in a unique manner and involves: developing flexible ways to learn, creating an engaging classroom environment; maintaining high expectations for all students while allowing for multiple ways to meet expectations; empowering teachers to think differently about their own teaching; and focusing on educational outcomes for all, including persons with disabilities. Curricula must be conceived, designed and implemented in such a way as to meet and adjust to the requirements of every student, and provide appropriate educational responses. Standardized assessments must be replaced with flexible and multiple forms of assessments and the recognition of individual progress towards broad goals that provide alternative routes for learning.”
Worryingly both Malaysia and Ukraine have ratified the Convention where inclusion is a principle, and have framed legislation to implement it, but they interpret that only those students deemed suitable for the mainstream can be included, in both cases leaving the majority of disabled children out of inclusive mainstream settings. The whole point of the ‘paradigm shift’ at the heart of the UNCRPD is to shift from viewing the problem as with the person to viewing the problem as changing the barriers of curriculum, teaching methods, assessment and environment. On top of this there is an immediate duty on both school systems to put in place reasonable accommodations. Much advocacy is needed more than ever for real inclusive education based on Social Model thinking.