Inclusion refers to the combination of students with various abilities in a single classroom setting for instance, combining students with special needs with those in regular educational program (Friend & Bursuck, 1999). The topic of inclusion is among the major issues that have generated serious debate in the education sector, with some people supporting it, others against it, while the rest are confused. For schools to change and be able to accommodate a much broader approach that ensures successful learning of both students with special needs and regular students, schools need to undergo significant restructuring. Inclusion goes beyond a mere reconfiguration of the special needs services; it involves a total overhaul of the whole education system. That means that major changes have to be made in the roles and relationships of teachers of special and regular education students, as well as, the rules and regulations that guide the way things happen in the school and classroom. Therefore, it is very useful to understand the issue and its consequences before considering such a restructuring effort. This paper focuses on the pros and cons of including students with special needs in a regular classroom setting.
Pros of Inclusion
According to Friend, and Bursuck (1999), including students with special disabilities in a regular classroom setting gives them an equal opportunity to learn as their counterparts without disabilities, offering them the same education experiences, which makes them equally competitive in the job market. Another advantage of inclusion is the fact that it enhances interaction and socialization among disabled and non-disabled students, who are of a similar age, thus increasing their social skills. It is a fact that a majority of students with special needs are often isolated, because of their conditions, which makes them feel so different from the rest. Therefore, when they are included in regular classroom settings, not only is their social and communication skills improved, but their self-esteem as well. The authentic educational setting also provides an opportunity for regular students to assist their counterparts with special needs in their academic work, making it easier for those with disabilities to catch up with the rest of the class. This has a positive impact in their academic performance. Inclusion also helps to improve the cognitive development of students with disabilities.
Not only does inclusion benefit students with disabilities, but those without as well. This is because of the authentic learning environment that it creates. The regular students will some day grow up and be part of the society, where they will be encountering people with disabilities in their communities, places of work, homes, churches etc. If normal students are not taught to interact with students with special needs, in their earlier years, they might develop fear for them, which might lead to their isolation in their future. To avoid such things from happening, it is vital to expose them early enough to people of all races, abilities, gender, as well as religions. Therefore, inclusion teaches students about compassion, patience, tolerance and acceptance (Friend & Bursuck, 1999).
In addition, inclusion makes it possible for all students to benefit from various teaching methods, learning styles, and class schedules. In most schools, the number of teachers is hardly enough to give attention to all students, explaining the poor performance of some students, due lack of personalized attention from the teachers. Inclusion will mean that more paraprofessionals and support will be added to schools, which will enable teachers to have sufficient time to attend to their students’ needs sufficiently. In addition, the various support equipments in schools for students with disabilities, such as adapted bathrooms, wheelchair ramps, and the various classroom arrangements, will benefit both students with disabilities, and the members of the community (with disabilities) who go to the school for PTA meetings. Inclusion also enhance work cooperation between teachers of regular students and those with special needs, creating a conducive environment, where they are able to discuss and agree on the strategies that will maximize effective classroom instruction beneficial to all students (Kochhar, West, & Taymans, 2000).
Inclusive educational settings create a stimulating environment for students with disabilities for instance; they develop creative skills when they see the ideas of other students. During their interaction, they make friends, whom they not only play with, but learn together with. Learning together with normal students, gives them a sense of belonging; it makes them feel no different from other students, thus boosts their self confidence, and esteem. Inclusion also helps both regular students and students with disabilities to appreciate the similarities and differences among them, and learn the fact that each and every student is unique.
Teachers also benefit from inclusion for instance; inclusion improves the appreciation and awareness of teachers about the individual differences in their students, and it also gives them an opportunity to teach a varied group of students. Their learning and understanding of child development is also increased. In addition, teachers also need to learn the teaching techniques and approaches, to enable them deliver effective instruction to all students. Therefore, inclusion gives teachers an opportunity to improve their teaching skills (Kochhar, West, & Taymans, 2000).
The cost effectiveness of inclusion is also a major advantage of enrolling disabled children in regular schools. Most schools with special needs are relatively expensive owing to the various learning equipments that they require, in addition to the special education skills that the teachers must have in order to attend to the students effectively. Therefore including students with special needs in a normal classroom is cheaper in the long run, and the students have equal learning opportunities as those without disabilities. According to Kochhar, West and Taymans (2000), a study done in 1989 found out that employment rate of disabled high school graduates from segregated programs was 53%. This is in comparison to the 73% employment rate, of the disabled graduates from integrated programs. Another study done in 1988, discovered that classrooms where students with special needs are integrated with, regular students are more cost-effective, in comparison to special needs education programs. This implies that, in a time like this when, the effect of economic crisis is being felt globally; parents of disabled children have the option of enrolling their children in regular schools, to relieve their budget shortfalls.
Cons of Inclusion
Including students with disabilities in a regular classroom environment may have advantages, but not everyone is happy about the issue. As Lipsky and Gartner (1997) states, inclusion requires a total restructuring of entire educational system, and if implementation of the system is done without proper restructuring, educators are left with no appropriate resources, support or training that are necessary for effective teaching of students with special needs. As a result, students with special needs do not get the correct and specialized care and attention that they need. In addition, the education of regular students is constantly disrupted. He continues to argue that inclusion makes no sense with regard to the pressures from the public, and the state legislatures for higher academic standards to be developed, so that students’ achievements can improve.
Inclusion leads to expansion of the ability range of students in the classroom, requiring teachers to direct more attention to those with special needs, and as a result, it decreases the energy and time that they direct to the students in the class. The aftermath is that teachers are unable to meet their goal of greater academic achievement and accountability. A survey that was conducted in West Virginia, by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), found out that 78% of those interviewed think that inclusion does not benefit students with disabilities; another 87% also think that the process does not benefit even regular students (Lipsky & Gartner, 1997). Their major concerns were that students with special needs dominate an excessive amount of resources and time of the teachers, and they sometimes create a violent environment in the classroom, thus disrupting the learning of regular students. They also attributed the failed efforts of a majority of inclusion efforts to lack of funding to cater for the learning equipments needed by students with special needs, and the lack of special education training of regular teachers. This is in addition to the ignorance of some school administrators and teachers about inclusion.
Since more costs are required for special needs education, than regular education, there is a public concern that school administrator’s adoption of the inclusive system is driven by the need to save costs rather than offer what is best for students with special needs. In the end, the students do not get proper attention, time or resources, to enable them learn effectively. The argument of the administrators is that by putting together all students within the same learning environment, the high costs of additional personnel, classroom, equipments and materials are reduced.
Parents of students with disabilities also have their reservations concerning inclusion. Their wish is for their children to be given appropriate and customized teaching and equipments. They are concerned that there will be loss of advocacy, when the primary responsibility of their children shifts from the hands of special education teachers to teachers of regular students. In addition, they fear that inclusion of children with special needs in regular institutions, will lead to dilution of resources and educational programming (Lipsky & Gartner, 1997). For instance, the teachers have to divide their attention to all students in the classroom; thus students with disabilities who often require more attention are left unattended. Special education advocates, also claim that the education programs in some regular schools are not appropriate for students with special needs, and including them in those schools, is not a good idea, since it is the students who are affected most cases. In addition, the present special education system came about due to the non-adaptability of normal classrooms, and nothing has been done to make the classrooms more adaptable to students with special needs, therefore, inclusion will only work against students with disabilities.
The deaf community is also against inclusion arguing that the system is not appropriate for children with hearing problems (Salend, 2001). According to Salend, communication is vital to the social and cognitive development of all children. The use of sign language is very important in order for deaf children to receive full social and cognitive development. However, teachers in regular classrooms do not have the required skills to teach using sign language. In addition, a majority of deaf students are not able to speak effectively or lip-read in a normal classroom setting, and therefore, they cannot realize their full potential when included in regular classroom settings. Research shows that deaf students enrolled in special schools for the deaf, where they share a common culture and language, exhibit greater academic performance, in comparison to deaf students in regular classroom settings.
In addition, the research found out that even with the assistance of a sign-language interpreter, deaf students still miss out on numerous experiences that the inclusive setting is assumed to bring such as, opportunities of interaction with their peers and a feeling of belonging among others. When learning has to be done through an interpreter, it makes the academic, social and emotional development of such children very difficult. In addition, informal communications during interactions with peers, or involvement sports, cannot be well facilitated through an interpreter. As a result, a majority of inclusion opponents advocate for enrolling students with special needs in the respective schools, where, they are given tailor-made education, suited to their various needs.
Due to lack of training in special education, teachers in regular classrooms feel that they are unprepared to teach students with special needs, owing to the recent emphasis on high academic performance and accountability. That lowers their self-confidence, affecting their ability to deliver instructions effectively (Salend, 2001). In addition, including students with special needs puts a strain on teachers in regular classrooms, with regard to their time, energy and attention. Since, the students with disabilities require teaching programs, and styles that take their various special needs into consideration, it therefore means that the teachers have to spend additional time during preparation of planning lessons, in such a way that students with special needs, will find it easy to comprehend what they are being taught. Also, inclusion means that more students are added into the classroom, making it hard for the teacher to manage a bigger class, especially when he was used to managing a small number of students.
Inclusion also takes away the teachers time from other regular students, and as a result, the academic performance of regular students can be affected in the long run, all because the teacher has to spend more time with disabled students. Also, due to the too much time that a teacher has to spend with disabled students, regular students may get the impression that students with special needs are taking everything away from them, and that may lead to resentment towards disabled children. They will be discriminated against and isolated by the regular students.
Another point to consider when planning including a disabled child in a regular classroom environment is whether they will feel comfortable learning among other normal students. This is very important to enable them concentrate in class, and benefit to the maximum from education being offered to them. Most of the times, such students feel different from the rest, when included in regular classrooms, and consequently, they tend to keep themselves in isolation. In addition, they cannot miss some unruly and stubborn students who enjoy teasing them in regular classrooms. That can make them feel uncomfortable in class, to the extent that they loose concentration of what is being taught to them. In the long run, their they feel more lonely, and different, and their academic performances are affected, defeating the idea of inclusion, of enhancing socialization, and giving students with special needs the opportunity to equal education as the regular students (Salend, 2001).
Assuming that more teachers (including those for students with special needs) are recruited in a school in order to be able to handle the large number of students brought about due to inclusion, there is still inadequate time between the lessons for both teachers of regular students, and those of students with special needs, to work together to plan and strategize on the best methods of instructing all the students, in such a manner that all students are attended to appropriately. In the end, the purpose of inclusion is not achieved. Besides, some schools do not have the required resources to invest in the additional educational assistants, specified training in special education techniques, or learning styles or environmental aids, for instance, suitable desks, Braille, and other educational materials required by students with special needs. This is a great impediment to the successful implementation of the system in regular schools, forcing teachers in regular classrooms to utilize only what is available within the schools to teach all the students. This cannot be sufficient to disabled students as they need customized education to cater for their various needs.
Disabled students also experience academic disadvantages when included in the normal classroom. While such students are able to use a similar curricula as other regular students, their general pace of learning is slow, especially, their understanding, hence, making it difficult for them to cope with the rest of the class (Wood, 1993). As a result, they may feel odd, like something is wrong with them, and that might have a negative effect on their academic performance. The lagging behind, when coupled with the lack of extra time from the teacher to pay individual attention to them, only makes things worse for them. Some parents of children with disabilities, also have had bad experience with their school teachers and administrators, hence they are very reluctant to enroll their children in regular schools, because they do not trust their children in the hands of such teachers.
Inclusion is an extremely controversial and disturbing issue in the education sector. The topic of including students with special needs in regular classroom setting has drawn mixed reactions from various groups, with some supporting it, others against it, while the rest do not have a stand on the issue. Those in support of inclusion argue that, it gives disabled children an opportunity to interact with their peers, thus improving their activity and social skills, in addition to having the same educational experience as regular students. On the other hand, opponents of the issue, say that teachers in regular schools, lack the skills required to deliver appropriate instruction to such students. This is coupled with the fact that, disabled children are not given the individualized attention they need in regular schools, and this has a negative effect on their academic performance.
Successful implementation of inclusion in regular schools largely depend on the available resources, appropriate training of teachers, sufficient time to prepare and plan lessons, as well as the administrative support. When inclusion is successfully implemented in regular schools, research indicates that it is beneficial to both disabled and non-disabled students. However, when the program is introduced when a school does not have the resource and proper training to handle disabled children, research shows that, the program negatively affects both the regular and disabled children in the classroom. Due to this latter case, many students, parents, and other education advocates, have become pessimistic about the success of inclusion, showing reluctance, and unwillingness in making an effort to make the program work. It is important for parents of students with special needs to carefully consider the pros and cons of inclusion, prior to making that important decision of enrolling them in segregated or integrated schools.