Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 41, No. 4, 369–384, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this study, concept map exercises were used to trigger student teachers’ thinking about the inclusion of students with disabilities in the regular learning settings.
A concept map is a diagram that describes the relationship between concepts or ideas. In this study, the concepts or ideas describe aspects of student teachers’ thinking regarding inclusive education and regarding learners with disabilities.
The study was conducted by a team of Tanzanian and Norwegian researchers.
The participants were 226 student teachers of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
By the time of data collection, they had attended two lecture sessions about some basic ideas and principles of inclusive education which were part of a special education course titled Counselling and Special Needs Education.
The data consist of the concept maps drawn by the students. Before drawing the maps, the students received a brief introduction to concept maps and were given a few examples and trial exercises. Then, the 226 students were organised into groups, with a maximum of five participants in each group. Each group was asked to perform the following exercises:
(1) Draw a concept map showing your thinking about advantages and disadvantages of inclusion of pupils who are blind in a regular school,
(2) Draw a concept map showing your thinking about a teacher’s tasks in an inclusive class,
(3) Draw a concept map that shows your thinking about how to make a school inclusive.
The results show that the construction of concept maps by small groups of student teachers has the potential to engage students in lively discussions, and to contribute to creative and reflective thinking.
An analysis of the content of the 134 maps that were constructed identified ten main themes about inclusive education. Three of the themes dealt with pupils’ well-being, particpation in school activities and learning. Two dealt with a teacher’s situation. Five dealt with school resources and policy issues.
Conceptualising a disability
Behavioural and emotional problems seem not to have been regarded as disabilities by the student teachers; instead, they have been regarded as additional problems facing pupils with diseases, disorders and injuries functional limitations.
Reflections on inclusive education
Furthermore, the participants identified many positive aspects of inclusive education.
The advantages mentioned in the maps focus mainly on pupils (their emotional aspects, participation and interaction, and learning), and on equal rights.
Largely, the assumed disadvantages also refer to emotional aspects, such as the possibility of a pupil with a disability to be stigmatised, isolated, discriminated against and bullied.
The findings indicate a readiness among these students to reflect upon the meaning of school difficulties, and an understanding that problems may be interactional rather than individual. Some of the maps also indicate the participants’ awareness of the role inclusive education plays in facilitating inclusion of people with disabilities in society within and outside schools.
Assumptions regarding emotional and academic outcomes for pupils with disabilities
In addition, more than a half of the groups include the establishment of good relationships among pupils as teachers’ tasks. They also indicate awareness about potential stigmatisation, labelling and even hatred in schools.
The student teachers had different assumptions about emotional and academic outcomes of inclusive education. Emotional issues were prominent in the student teachers’ maps, indicating an anticipation that inclusive education will have positive consequences for pupils’ emotional well-being and development, while only slightly more than half of the maps refer to more advantages than disadvantages with respect to learning for pupils with disabilities.
The importance of teacher competence and teaching approaches
Almost all the maps indicate a recognition of teacher competence as crucial in making a school inclusive and an awareness about the scarcity of competent teachers.
Competence in selecting appropriate materials and methods was considered important.
Resources and policy issues
The participants’ seemed to be aware of the importance of the physical environment, including material and equipment. They expected insufficient availability of such resources in schools. The results underline the need for locally authored and affordable textbooks that may refer to locally available and affordable material and equipment.
The results of this study indicate the participants’ readiness to learn how to adapt methods, material and approaches to pupils with different functional limitations. They also indicate the necessity of raising awareness among student teachers about low-cost materials and equipment, locally authored and produced text books and materials.
The maps indicate the importance of discussing the concepts disability and inclusive education with student teachers. Inclusive education must be recognised as a way of organising a learning environment that contributes to pupils’ learning, well-being and feeling of belonging to a school. While emotional aspects were very vibrant in the maps, aspects of learning were not.
The results indicate that the student teachers are aware that they may be required to teach learners with disabilities in classrooms with insufficient infrastructure, materials and equipment. Cooperation between parents and teachers, among teachers, between teachers and assistants, and with resource persons in the community are not mentioned in the concept maps, which indicates that these topics need to be addressed during lectures.