The field of special education continues to attract research due to the nature of diversities that are involved in the discharge of activities in special education. The aim of this paper is to investigate the factors that press for changes in the field of special education. The paper explores the critical developments in special education, which denote the press for reforming the field.
The findings in the paper point at two critical aspects of development in special education; the need to reform special education by encouraging the development of general learning for children with disabilities and the volatile debate about the modalities of attaining full inclusion for children with disability, considering the high level of support for inclusive learning for such students.
Therefore, the future of special education lies in the manner in which the education sector will be restructured to incorporate most of the critical models of learning that eliminate the exclusion for children with disabilities. This is facilitated by the development of policies and laws that guide the identification of the needs of children with special needs and the restructuring of general education so as to support learning competencies for disabled children.
A substantial number of people group the organization of education into two streams, one is based on a number of psychological and the other is based on social models of learning. These are normal students and students with special needs. The central question here is whether special education promotes aspects of cohesion for students with disabilities, considering the fact that it encourages the separation of students according to their learning needs. However, the argument about the separation of students with special needs from normal students impedes learning for students with disabilities.
Can special education be abolished based on the calls for the establishment of inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities? At what level can general curriculums be developed in inclusive learning? These are other critical questions when it comes to the debate about restructuring the field of special education in contemporary society. The calls for embracing inclusion in the learning environment in favor of students with disabilities is desirable, owing to theories and models of learning that show the potential for improved learning capability for both the students with special needs and for the students with disabilities.
However, it is imperative to note that a lot of restructuring is required if the inclusion of students with disabilities in the learning environment is to be attained. This paper explores the forces that drive the need for change in special education. The paper is divided into three main parts. The first part of the paper presents an analytical review of the critical area in special education that requires policy change. The second section of the paper explores the aspects of teacher competencies and how they are enshrined in the dynamics of special education. The last part of the paper explores the modalities of embracing inclusion for students with special needs.Activation of current policies and
Establishing new effective laws
Eligibility and Determination for Special Education Services
Cushing, Clark, Carter, and Kennedy (2005) bring in another issue in the special education policy arena, which is the enhancement of legislation on inclusion. It is easy to derive policy goals and objectives in special education development from the general legislation on discrimination. Merging the legislations on the social aspect of life at the state and country-level is a first step in the development of policies and educational legislation that support the inclusion of students with disabilities; not merely as a process of eliminating discrimination in education, but also by enhancing learning competencies for children with disabilities.
Contemporary legislative reforms are adapted to enhance the provision of education services to the children with special needs through the provision of an environment that supports their accommodation in general learning environments. Future developments in special education legislation show that policies in special education have close links with the general social policies, thus there should be a rationalization of legal aspects from both the educational and social angles to attain a high degree of inclusion (Cushing, Clark, Carter and Kennedy, 2005).
According to Moores-Abdool (2010, 166), very little information is picked by the audience when it comes to what is being done for children with autism in special education. Similar sentiments are replicated in other categories of children with special needs, now that most of the initiatives are centered on learning within the confines of special education.
Questions are raised about the ability of accommodating children with special needs in general classrooms, where they get attention from the regular teachers and regular students. Putting children with disabilities in general classrooms is one of the most desirable ways through which the needs of these students can be understood clearly by the education specialists, thereby giving them a chance to tailor policies that meet the learning needs of the students with special needs. (Loiacono & Valenti, 2010, 25-30).
Early Identification and Intervention
Owing to the continued press for the consideration and embracing of equality and equal rights for people with disabilities in the society, governments keep providing reforms through laws and policies that are adjusted to promote equal rights for children with disabilities. The most resounding thing is the development of a policy framework in the social environment that requires parents to bring out children who either directly or indirectly portray signs of disability (Proctor & Niemeyer, 2001, 55-60). This is regarded as a desirable step when it comes to the grouping of these children and the identification of the best modalities of learning and delivery for all children with special needs (IDEA Partnership. (2007, 5-10).
Special Education Services
A review of the progress in special education shows that more emphasis is devoted to the delivery of services to children with special needs. According to DEA Partnership (2007, 4-6), the education databases in countries across the world have inadequate information concerning the benefits and dangers of special education and regular education when compared to inclusive learning. Therefore, most of the factors of inclusive learning for students with special needs are based on a few evidence-based practice cases available in the already established inclusive classrooms.
The detection of the services that are required to enhance learning for children with disabilities is determined by a deep look into the current systems of special education. With this kind of a situation, it is imperative to observe that there is a likelihood of over-representing the needs of the students with disabilities and then overlooking the needs of regular students.
Transition Services and Related Supports
According to DEA Partnership (2007, 4-6), the transformation in special education is a policy issue that requires policy considerations to enhance incremental progress for the regular students and the students with special needs. One of the main considerations that receive a lot of attention from researchers is the need to transform special education through the introductory systems that ensure that children with special needs interact with normal students.
Thus, it can be argued that the attainment of effective learning for children with special needs requires the preparation of special teachers and the offering of adequate support in terms of technical and material support for learning. According to Forlin, Keen and Barrett (2008, 251-252) and Proctor and Niemeyer (200, 56), the problem of exclusion in special education is more serious for mainstream teachers, whose attitudes also inhibit the attainment of learning and communication abilities of children with special needs.
Teacher Preparation Program on Special Education
Preparation Programs for Future Special and General Education Teachers
The dilemma in education today concerns the ability of fostering an environment that supports the collaboration in leaning when it comes to the general schools and the special schools. This sentiment comes from one of the most critical factors in the field of special education, which is, the recommendation that points at the need for developing programs of inclusion in special education.
Thus, most of the programs in education in the United States and other countries across the world depict the invention of programs that focus on preparing teachers for attending to the needs of normal students and students with special needs. This is a pointer at the development of schooling environments that support both the students with special needs and the regular students (Johnson & Merrill, 2000, 3-5).
Preparation Programs for Current Special and General Education Teachers
Forlina and Chambers (2011, 17) observe that one of the challenges in the advancement of special education is to prepare teachers to deal with students with special needs. The question here is whether the teachers in the normal learning environment can be deployed in the collective learning environment. Preparing teachers for inclusion is a comprehensive activity that requires an understanding of the nature of disabilities that are inherent in a given learning environment. While it is difficult to incorporate teachers from the general learning environment in an inclusive learning environment, it is easy for teachers in the inclusive learning environment to fit in the collective learning environment (van Laarhoven et al., 2007, 440).
The shortage of teachers is one of the main problems that are inherent in special education. According to Brownell, Ross, Colón, and McCallum (2005, 242-245), the competency of teachers is one of the prerequisites for the attainment of success in special education. Looking at this development from the policy perspective, the authors argue that the policies that appertain to special teacher education have to be developed in a manner that is consistent with the progress in health in society.
This denotes the emergence of some complex forms of disability that require certain competencies on the side of the teachers. The complex nature of special education depicts a lot of challenges appertaining to the development of highly skilled teachers. This leaves the critical question of the ability to develop teacher competencies highly important. (Brownell, Ross, Colón & McCallum (2005, 249).
Preparation Programs for Current Education and Schooling Professionals
Riveros (2012, 603-605) ascertain the worth of professional models of learning that embrace the collaborative model in teacher practice. Again, this denotes the need in the education sector, where exclusion is not desirable, especially when it comes to the development of effective policies for the support of education. Based on the model of professional learning communities, Riveros (2012, 605) argues that teachers in special education can become effective if they engage in a learning cycle that promotes deep learning.
The definition of achievement under such a learning environment is measured in terms of the achievement that is made by the students. Learning outcomes are enhanced when students participate more in learning, instead of being passive participants in the process. Rethinking the development of professionalism among teachers requires the consideration of students, where they are put in the center of learning. Besides the teachers, the students and other people that support learning have also been considered as far as the development of competencies and skills that support learning for special children is concerned (Riveros, 2012, 605).
Enhancement Inclusion of Students with Disabilities into General Classrooms
Implementation of Individual Educational Plans
Idol, (2006, 77), observe that the concept of inclusionary schools has gained support from the research that indicates the probability of improving the learning abilities through the inclusion. According to Cross, Traub, Hutter-Pishgahi and Shelton (2004, 170), inclusion as a process of learning for children with special needs can be seen as a practice that enhances therapeutic processes in the learning cycle of the students with disabilities. Together with adaptations, therapeutic processes are important in promoting competencies for children with disabilities. The ability of the disabled children to develop skills that would help in the general classrooms is enhanced by improved collaboration in learning environments (Johnson & Merrill, 2000, 3).
Moore, Gilbreath, and Maiuri (1998, 8), illustrated in their article that the therapy through the inclusion of children with disabilities enhances the socialization opportunities for the students with disabilities.
According to Idol (2006, 77), an evaluation of the special education denotes mounting support for the deployment of the students with special needs in general classrooms, pointing that the only area of difficulty is the ability to develop competencies among the teachers to effectively instruct students in collective classrooms. However, there is a lot of optimism about inclusive learning, especially about the raising of the communication competencies of the students with special needs through peer-tutoring models that are 54applied in inclusive classes.
According to Spooner, Dymond, Smith and Kennedy (2006), the enhancement of inclusive education through the merging of the special classes with normal classes requires the development of curricula that match the merging of the students. The improvement of instructional methods that are used in teaching to foster learning abilities goes hand in hand with changes in the curriculum (Wehmeyer & Agran, 2001, 327).
According to Dettmer, Thurston, and Dyck (2005, 38), the developments in the field of special education focus on three key issues. The first one is the merging of general and special education into a single system. The second point is the incorporation of students with special needs in mainstream classrooms. The third point concerns the efforts to strengthen the learning abilities of students with moderate and mild disabilities, as well as boosting the learning abilities of students who underachieve, yet they are not disabled. Students with learning difficulties often gain certain competencies from their peers when placed in inclusive classrooms.
Hart and Malian (2013, 4-7), ascertained that the teaching of students with disabilities goes far much behind the development of learning competencies, but it involves the development of several competencies like communication and behavior. When it comes to students with mental disorders, there is a need for the development of learning models that shape behavior and the communication competencies of the students, which enable them to gain the relevant learning skills.
Therefore, research denotes the need for the development and enforcement of policies that can support the establishment of collective classrooms that can accommodate students with special needs. Such policies have to be developed in such a way that they can encourage the development of technical competencies that are critical in encouraging collaboration in inclusive classrooms (Leonard & Leonard, 2001, 384). According to Wehmeyer (2003, 271), recent developments in special education show a shift in how people view students with mental disabilities. Mental disability is seen from the perspective of enhancing their interactional competencies.
Idol (2006, 77-93) conducted an evaluation of special education from the perspective of including students with special needs in general classrooms. The overall findings of the evaluation pointed to the support for incorporating the students with special needs in general classrooms, with only a few areas of training and development that required restructuring to support inclusive learning.
While there is massive support for inclusion, there are still differences between researchers in the field of special education on how to go about the preparation of the inclusive classrooms so that all the students in the classrooms can benefit from such a learning environment. As it is today, a lot of mechanisms of inclusion for students with disabilities are still at what can be described as the pioneering stages. It means that there are a lot of loopholes as far as the attainment of an efficient, inclusive learning environment for students with special needs and the normal students are concerned (Morrier, Hess & Heflin, 2011, 119-120).
It is worthwhile observing that the field of special education within the entire educational sector is one of the most complex fields of education, moreover when it comes to addressing the critical issue of learning and education development. The research conducted in the paper highlights a number of issues that need to be properly addressed to attain a unidirectional approach to improving learning and learning competencies in special education.
The first thing as far as the discussion of emerging issues in the field of education is concerned is the probability of embracing continued exclusion of children with special needs by virtue of placing them in separate learning environments. Based on the historical perspective of events in the field of special education, it is observed that special education was developed as a result of the increase in the number of children with special needs and the difficulties that were involved in the attempt to attend to the needs of such students in regular classrooms. Just as the name suggests, children with special needs required a special kind of skills and support tools to enhance their learning by boosting their learning abilities.
Now, it is important to observe that there are two broad categories of students with special needs, with the various subcategories listed under each of the two broad categories. The two broad categories are students with mental disabilities and students with physical disabilities. Before elaborating on the categorization, it is imperative to observe that the burden of accommodating children with special needs in regular learning environments was deemed an issue of paramount importance.
This can be elaborated on in two points. The first one concerns the difficulty of enhancing the pace of learning for children with special needs, meaning that they were often lost when placed in general classrooms. The second point is that the normal students had problems with accommodating the disabled children. In most cases, aspects of exclusion were inherent in the learning environment.
Implementation of General and Special Education Teachers Collaboration
According to Idol (2006, 77), inclusion means 100 percent incorporation of students with special needs in general classrooms. An observation that comes from the assertion is that general classrooms have to be developed in order to accommodate the students with special needs. At this point, it is imperative to observe that there are still a considerable number of challenges as far as the achievement of full inclusion is concerned. Most of the challenges revolve around the variations in the level and prevalence of special needs, as well as the competency and skill requirements for teachers who are supposed to enhance learning in the general classrooms (Hart & Malian, 2013, 4-10).
According to Dettmer, Thurston, and Dyck (2005, 37-39), students with disabilities learn better when placed in a collaborative learning environment. There are a lot of critical things that support learning for students with disabilities when they are placed in a collaborative environment, rather than placing them in separate classrooms. Taking it from the analogy of the traditional learning environment, instruction is only meaningful when it is advanced within groups. One of the important things as far as a collective learning environment is concerned is the development of certain patterns of relations that allow people to acquire skills and competencies from each other.
Resch et al. (2010, 139-140) ascertain the validity of engaging the parents in the enhancement of learning for students with disabilities. Parents occupy the center stage in the development of children, thus one of the elements of inclusion for children with disabilities is the involvement of parents in modeling learning for children with disabilities.
According to Worcester et al. (2008, 509-510), parents have a role of enhancing the acceptance of children with disabilities in the society through the development of a landscape that supports interaction between the normal and the disabled students. At this level, it is worth to adapt a quote from Will (1986), who asserted that “An appropriate mechanism for assuring the parental involvement would be parent advisory boards to assist schools in determining ways to more effectively involve parents in their children’s education” (414).
A high level of interaction between the normal and the disabled children denotes acceptance, forming a basis on which the peer models of learning can be established. The level of acceptance attained in the realms of disability acceptance in the society plays a vital role in the attendance of the goals of inclusion as most of these goals are modeled based on the social aspects of development and coexistence in the society. According to Smith (2006, 331-332), peer interactions combine with parental advocacies to increase the level at which inclusive learning is done in schools that embrace inclusion for children with special needs.
Analyzing the developments in special education based on the earlier findings, one can easily note that a substantial number of specialists in the education and social sectors support the idea of inclusion for children with disabilities. They often base their rationale on the various social and psychological theories and models of development. These models and theories often point to the critical aspects of learning and competency development for students with special needs when placed in a learning environment that includes normal students.
In addition, the rationale extends to the issue of the linkage of academics to other aspects of development in society, like social development. Here, the students are supposed to understand the society from the broader lenses of variations and the development of accommodating behaviors towards all people in society. Now, it makes sense to point out that the subject of inclusion in special education is broader than it is considered by people in society. This argument comes from the observation that the idea of inclusive learning is based on the improvement of learning competencies, as well as shaping the manner in which students socialize in society.
The support for inclusive learning finds roots in the development of different models of learning through research. These models are deemed supportive of learning and behavior development for both the normal students and students with special needs. However, questions are still raised by researchers concerning the development of inclusive classrooms that fully support learning and character development for the normal students and students with disabilities.
Implementation of Assistive Technology
Russel, Bebell, O’Dwyer, and O’Connor (2003, 297) recommended the use of technology as a tool for improving learning when used in the educational environment. To what level new or modern computer technology can be deployed in a system of education that embraces inclusive learning? An assessment of the models of technology deployment in education denotes the prevalence of challenges in technology adoption. This applies to learn environments that are not inclusive. Thus, the development of learning competencies might become a difficult thing to attain when deployed in a learning environment that is collective.
As such, there is a need to tailor technology in an intense way to make it applicable in an inclusive learning environment, owing to the fact that learning in such an environment cannot be easily attained when the aspects of technology are not deployed appropriately. Wong, Li, Choi, and Lee (2008) observed that technology, when applied in education, can only be meaningful when it enhances the competency levels of the learners and the teachers. The other observation is that technology results in the attainment of educational goals when it is deployed based on the social models that support learning and learning competencies (Alquraini & Gut, 2012, 42-49).
Implementation Transition Related Services
Lee, Wehmeyer, Soukup and Palmer (2010, 213-220) found out that there is a resounding level of variability between the teachers and the students in special education and regular education, which calls for the merging of these variables for the sake of developing highly functional curricula. According to Agran, Alper and Wehmeyer (2002, 123-130), performance standards in the general curricula that are developed with the purpose of inclusive learning should be developed based on the level of disability. Again, this reiterates the complexity of inclusion for special education, where needs vary based on the category of disability and the severity of the disability (Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose & Jackson, 2002, 8-10).
The development of special education was accompanied by the need to embrace the training of special teachers who can effectively address the educational needs of the students with disabilities. According to Florida and Chambers (2011, 17-20), the competency required for the development of an inclusive learning environment is the facilitation of training that embraces peer learning. This is favorable for students, considering the fact that incorporating them in a collective learning environment promotes their learning abilities.
Scheuermann, Webber, Boutot, and Goodwin (2003, 197-206) observed that one of the main challenges in special education is the increase in the level of competency among the teachers who instruct students with disabilities. There are different forms of pieces of training that teachers undergo in special education. However, none of the models of training have proven to be fully effective in special or exclusive classrooms. An example that is given here is the training of teachers for students who have autism, as well as the students with Asperger Syndrome Disorders (Renzaglia, Karvonen, Drasgow & Stoxen, 2003, 140).
Implementation Accommodation and Modification on General Education Curriculum and Setting
One common thing about the students with disabilities is that their conditions make it quite daunting to acquire and develop learning competencies, thus the need for special support. The support is the virtue of using physical tools to enhance learning or the modeling of behavior through the deployment of social and psychological models. The application of these models of learning requires special training for the trainers of students with disabilities, thereby promoting the development of special education training.
However, the establishment of schools for children with special needs has kept resulting in questions of modeling the required social attributes that are supposed to be enhanced through education. Such questions have resulted in the calls for the development of models of learning that can enhance the establishment of general learning environments for both the students with disabilities and normal students.
It is common to come across the term inclusion when talking about special education in the contemporary education environment. Inclusion, as used in special education, refers to the establishment of a learning environment that accommodates the normal students and the students with special needs at the same time. This brings out two vital questions, which are:
- Why should inclusive learning environments be developed?
- How inclusive learning environments can be fully developed?
It is vital to introduce the two main objectives of inclusion for students with disabilities before analyzing these two questions. These goals include the increase of learning and behavioral competencies for the students with disabilities and the heightening of the real meaning of education by presenting learning from the perspective of responsibility on the side of the students. This enables students to develop accommodating behaviors in society.
According to Johnson and Merrill (2000, 11), the right curricula in inclusive learning can be attained when collaboration between the regular teachers and the special teachers is enhanced, where each side learns from the other. In other words, inclusive learning can be achieved through the development of a continuous process of curriculum development, where best attributes of learning are extracted from the regular classrooms and the special classrooms and the establishment of complete and efficient curricula for inclusive learning is achieved.
Whether the full incorporation of students with special needs in inclusive learning classrooms can be attained is an area of research that still poses a lot of questions for researchers. A critical look at the issues presented in the paper depicts the incremental efforts to establish learning environments that meet the needs and expectations of the normal students, and most importantly the students with special needs who are supposed to enhance their learning competencies from the normal students. However, research still points to the need for educational infrastructure to develop supportive learning models for inclusive learning.
The most resounding challenge when it comes to the establishment of inclusive learning environments is the ability of developing classrooms that cater to most, if not all the learning needs of the normal students and the students with special needs. This is a broad challenge for researchers, who still find that most of the models of learning that have been advanced, like peer-tutoring, support learning and behavioral competencies for the students with special needs, instead of supporting the learning competencies for the two categories of students in the general classrooms.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Several things can be outlined based on the points presented in the paper. First is the pressure to review special education because of the supposed weaknesses in promoting learning in special classrooms. Following this point is the increased calls for enhancing inclusion as one of the modalities of embracing non-discriminatory trends against the students with disabilities. The last point is that inclusion finds a lot of support; however, there are a lot of infrastructural issues in education that need to be dealt with to enable full inclusion to take place. These include the preparation of students for inclusion, as well as addressing the technical competencies on the side of the teachers and the general classrooms in which the children with disabilities have to be deployed.
A number of recommendations can be derived as critical pointers to areas and paths that need to be pursued in special education, based on the analysis made here on the issue of promoting inclusion for students with disabilities. The first thing when it comes to inclusive learning is the need to review special education, according to the technical needs of the students with disabilities. This observation finds support in the developments in special education, which denote the press for inclusion without the establishment of necessary supportive infrastructure for such inclusion.
The other thing that needs to be done is the establishment of the modalities of personnel development for inclusive classrooms before rolling the real process of inclusive learning for students with disabilities. In most cases, technical hitches emerge in general classrooms when the teachers are not adequately equipped with the skills that can help them to discharge their work in collective learning environments. The implication here is that inclusive learning calls for the adjustment in the skill area for specialists to foster efficiency in the discharge of learning and behavior development for students in collective classrooms.
Inclusive learning can be hardly achieved when the students are not prepared for inclusion adequately. The preparation referred to here is the psychological and social orientation of the normal students so that they can accommodate the disabled students. Such steps are more essential in learning environments that did not initially support any students with disabilities.
The last thing that can be noted as far as the development of special education is concerned is the need for the maintenance of certain aspects of exclusion within collective learning environments. This should not be regarded as an exclusion element, but it ought to be regarded in terms of facilitating the successful attributes of inclusion in general classrooms. However, such a process can only be successful when inclusion is not considered in a blanket manner, meaning ignorance when it comes to the analysis of the inclusionary aspects in collective classrooms. A rationale for deploying exclusion at a limited level can be embraced in areas where the threshold for inclusion is not met, as long as the main goals for inclusive learning are attained.
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