The social justice in education module made a significant impact on my attitudes and behavior towards children with disabilities and special educational needs. This is one of the concept that I have not come across in my teaching career in the past seven years.
The Special educational needs and disability can be defined as, “A child or a young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him/her. Children have a learning difficulty if they have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age or have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in mainstream schools. (Special Educational Needs & Disability Code of Practice, 2014, 0 – 25).
A disabled person is someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial & long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. (Equity Act, 2010).
During my past teaching career I understood special educational needs as the educational requirements of disabled children. I believed the learning difficulties arise only due to the lack of interest on studies if they do not have a visible difficulty. My personal opinion on disabled children was to include them in a special schools and classrooms without intenerate to the mainstream schools as it can be distraction to the normal students. Therefore I believed they should not be included in the main stream of the education, hence include them in separate special schools to follow special curriculum (Palmer & Harley, 2012). The support needed by the disabled children and their parents were overlooked as they were segregated. I have advised parents of the children who had learning difficulties to provide additional tuition to improve subject knowledge. Now I feel really ashamed about my attitudes and thinking in the past towards SEND children. My ignorance and negative attitudes towards them had given bitter experience of learning. I confess that I never thought about the world of disabled person from their point of view. The segregation of disabled children from the society made greater impact on parents to encourage them keep away from the community who should receive equal opportunities. I can feel the pain of those parents where they have no support from any authority. In Sri Lanka, where I come from does not have any special acts and regulations relevant to special educational needs and disability.
However in UK, there are special laws and acts exist to create equal opportunities for SEND children such as 2015 SEND code of practice (0-25), Equality Act of 2010 and Children & Families Act of 2014. In addition to that in 2009, UK has signed the UNCRPD where the article 24 states all the disabled children have right to participate in all forms of main stream education. The “Inclusive Education” is one of the important concept in UK education system which I have not came across in the past. The inclusive education is the education system that includes everyone with non-disabled and disabled people (including those with special educational needs) learning together in mainstream schools, colleges and universities (ALLFIE Organization).
When considering the SEND children in Sri Lankan context, I can see now there are lack of knowledge and support about SEND children is one of the main issue. The disability people were completely isolated from the general education system and the community leaving them helpless. There are no laws and regulations exist in Sri Lanka to mandate SEND children to receive education (Muttiah et al., 2016). Despite the free education system, the disabled children face continuous challenges in accessing education due to insufficient facilities, special schools and lack of trained teachers (Furuta, 2006). Mostly the students with disabilities were isolated from other students and included in special schools or classrooms but with limited resources.
When considering the inclusion in education, Finland is one of the best country in the world with inclusive education system. The education system provides system for disabled students to study in the mainstream schools with additional support. The general and intensified support provided for children who need regular support in their education. The intensified support is available based on pedagogical/medical assessment for children when the general support is insufficient. This will enable them to accommodate SEND children in the mainstream effectively providing equal opportunities for all the children within the mainstream which is similar to embodiment model of disability discourse.
However even there are acts exists in UK to provide support for SEND children and families, the reality looks far from that. As an example the parents with disabled child in UK have right to make school preference for their child, the school or local authority can refuse mainstream placement using 1996 Education act. This grey area of the law put more pressure on parents to go for legal support for the justice. According to the survey conducted by the Alfie organization, during the pandemic 54% of parents with disabled child did not receive sufficient support from the local authority or from school to help home schooling leaving them limited access to the education.
From the Sri Lankan perspective, major restructure required in education system. The laws and regulations should be introduced to protect the rights of education for all the children regardless of their ability to perform. One of the main issue is the parents negative attitudes where they unwilling to provide access to the education for the disabled child (Kalyanpur, 2008). Therefore, the parents should be educated as well as creating positive impact among the communities towards SEND children. Providing more resources to facilitate the SEND children to have access to the mainstream education system is necessary as well as providing teacher education to teach SEND children.
Sometimes the concept of “Inclusive education” is misunderstood as it consider providing the extra support for SEND children to fit into the existing system (Diane Richler 2019). But the main strategy of the inclusive education system should be to change of existing system to provide equal opportunity for everyone regardless of their disabilities. Therefore I believe the education policies should be identified by looking at the world from disabled person’s point of view to understand their requirements to fit into the society where they can benefit from equal opportunities. It is necessary to understand every child’s self-expression and let him/her influence the other human being (Mayall, 2002). In this way can achieve the social justice on SEND children to some extent.
- Devlin, H. (2018), ‘The thousands of autistic girls and women going undiagnosed due to gender bias’ [online], Available at : https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/14/thousands-of-autistic-girls-and-women-going-undiagnosed-due-to-gender-bias [Accessed on 19 Nov. 2020]