Teachers’ Attitudes and Concerns Towards Integrating Students with Special Needs in Regular Classrooms: A United Arab Emirates Perspective

Teachers’ Attitudes and Concerns Towards Integrating Students with Special Needs in Regular Classrooms: A United Arab Emirates Perspective

The Journal of the International Association of Special Education 2009 10(1) 49

Teachers’ Attitudes and Concerns Towards Integrating Students with Special Needs in Regular Classrooms: A United Arab Emirates Perspective

Dr. Keith Bradshaw College of Education

Zayed University Abu Dhabi, U.A.E

Abstract

Teachers from schools across the United Arab Emirates were asked to complete two questionnaires. The first questionnaire sought data from the teachers on their experience, qualifications, classes taught and attitudes in relation to inclusion. Information was also sought on the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion, the most difficult classification of children with special needs to include into regular classes/schools, where the United Arab Emirates was, at present, in terms of the inclusion issue and where future directions for special education in the United Arab Emirates should be planned. The second questionnaire was the stages of concern questionnaire developed by Hall and Loucks (1979). The stages of concern questionnaire sought information on where a particular group was at in coming to terms with a new innovation. The stages of concern data also determine the range of strategies needed to assist the group in coming to terms with the innovation. Through their responses to the stages of concern questionnaire teachers were placed on a stage of concern ranging from stage 0 (awareness) through to stage 6 (refocusing). This ranking was based on the teachers’ responses to the innovation of inclusion. Strategies to assist the teachers’ progress through the stages of concern are discussed. Suggestions as to how these strategies can be incorporated in undergraduate special education courses and workshops for practicing teachers are also outlined.

Introduction

Educators worldwide have been developing inclusive programs for several decades. In recent months the Ministry of Education, various educational zones and a number of associations (United Arab Emirates Association of the Guardians of the Handicapped, Juvenile Association in Sharjah) in the United Arab Emirates have advocated the admission of children with special needs into regular schools the United Arab Emirates. While this is in keeping with a worldwide movement for inclusive education it brings with it many difficulties and concerns (Sharma, Forlin & Loreman, 2007). Research (Ward, 1987.; Bradshaw, 1994, 1997, Avramidis, Bayliss & Burden, 2000) has indicated the important role teachers play in this process. Of particular importance is the teacher’s attitude towards inclusive classrooms.

According to Sharma, Forlin & Loreman, (2007) “past research indicates that if educators have negative attitudes then educational reforms such as inclusive education are unlikely to be successful” (p96).

The United Arab Emirates community has longed cared for, catered for and educated children and people with special needs in the family environment and thus unlike a number of other countries inclusive educational practices are not widespread (Bradshaw, Tennant & Lydiatt, 2006)

The encouragement of education systems to adopt inclusive schools requires a substantial shift in not only educational strategies and attitudes but also a shift in community attitudes in the United Arab Emirates.

The present study, while gathering data on teachers’ experience, qualifications, gender and age, also examined teachers’ concerns about the inclusion movement in the Emirates.

The purpose of the present study was not only to gather important data on issues involving the inclusion process but also to establish starting points for mandatory Special Education courses at the undergraduate level, topics for inclusion in teacher in service workshops and whether there was a need for the establishment of graduate programs in special education.

Methods

Subjects

The study surveyed data from 250 classroom teachers across the Emirates (both Arabic and English speakers) as to their views on inclusive education. All 250 teachers returned questionnaires although in some cases not all questions were answered. The establishment of percentages for each question were based on the completed responses to that individual question. All teachers taught in primary or secondary government and private schools. Ninety trainee teachers in three universities across the Emirates were also surveyed.

Procedure

The Ministry of Education Office in each Emirate was asked to supply the names of ten schools in their zone to be involved in the study. Each school supplied the names of ten teachers to complete the two questionnaire study. The writer travelled to all schools and presented a detailed explanation as to the purpose

50 The Journal of the International Association of Special Education 2009 10(1)

of the study. The writer returned two weeks later to collect the completed forms. Two hundred and fifty completed forms were gathered from teachers across schools in all seven Emirates. Ninety two completed forms were also collected from students undertaking teacher training courses.

Instruments

Two questionnaires were used to gather data in the present study. The first questionnaire sought responses from the teachers’/ trainee teachers’ on their gender, experience, nationality, type of school currently teaching in, special education qualifications, experience teaching children with special needs and attitudes towards educating children with special needs. The questionnaire also asked respondents to comment on which group of children with special needs they felt were the most difficult to include (and why), what programs should be included in teacher training programs and teacher workshops as well as asking respondents to comment on special education in the Emirates at present and suggested plans for future directions.

The first questionnaire created by the writer was piloted in three schools in the Abu Dhabi Educational Zone. These schools were all used by the trainee teachers for in school practicum placements. Feedback was received from teachers and several questions were reworded for ease of understanding and completion.

The second questionnaire was developed by Hall and Loucks (1979) at the Centre for Teacher Education at the University of Texas (Austin). The thirty five item questionnaire was designed to determine what people undertaking new innovations are concerned about at various times during the innovation process. The respondents had to circle the response which best indicates their feelings at the present time. The responses were then formulated and the respondents were categorised into seven stages of concern. These stages of concern include awareness, informational, personal, management, consequence, collaboration and refocusing.

A high score on the “Awareness Stage” would indicate little concern about or involvement with the innovation being implemented. A high score on the “Informational Stage” would indicate a general awareness of the innovation and that the teacher is unworried about herself/himself in relation to the innovation. A high score on the personal stage would indicate the individual is uncertain about the demands of the innovation and her/his ability to meet the needs of the role in the innovation. A high score on the management stage would indicate the teacher is focused on the processes and tasks required of the innovation such as time required and management. A high score on the consequence stage would indicate that the teacher is concerned about the impact of the change on students they are working with, i.e. is it relevant for my students? A high score on the collaboration stage would indicate that the teacher is concerned about the coordination of the innovation and working with others in implementation. Finally a high score on the refocusing

stage would indicate that the teacher is concerned about more universal benefits of the innovation or even replacing it with a alternative. This questionnaire was chosen as it was originally designed for responses from educational professionals. It has been used many times over the past three decades and has been found consistently to be a very valid and useful instrument.

Results

Questionnaire One

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 asked respondents to complete information on gender, years of teaching, nationality, type of school, and grade currently taught (Table 1).

The results indicated overwhelmingly that the gender of the teachers surveyed was female; the vast majority of teachers surveyed had over 4 years teaching experience with the largest group having over 11 years experience. Forty three per cent of teachers surveyed were nationals (born and trained in the Emirates) with another thirty per cent being expatriates from other Arab nations. Sixty per cent of the teachers surveyed taught in government schools while another thirty one percent taught in private schools. The grade currently taught by teachers surveyed was significantly more primary grades than preparatory grades. All grades from kindergarten one through to year twelve were represented.

Questions 6, 7, 8, and 9 sought information about the teacher’s special education qualifications and experience working with students with special needs.

Question 6 asked respondents to indicate special education qualifications/training (Table 2). Sixty nine percent of the respondents had no special education qualifications. Fourteen percent had completed a course in special education. A small number of teachers had completed degrees in special education. Questions 7 and 8 asked the respondent if they had ever taught children with special needs (Table 3) and if so in what type of location (Table 4). A large number of teachers indicated that they had taught children with special needs. A majority of this teaching was done in a regular school either in a regular classroom or a special class at the regular school.

Question 9 asked the respondents if they have a special class or unit at their school (Table 5). Half the teachers surveyed had a special class/unit at the school they were presently teaching in.

Question 10 asked respondents to describe their views on educating children with special needs (Table 6). The most popular response was that it was a good opportunity to work with children with special needs (41%) Another significant response was that having children with special needs in the school was a great benefit to all children (36%). The least number of responses was for wanting to know more about children with special needs. Question 11 asked the respondents to indicate which area of children with special needs do they think are the most difficult to include in the regular classroom (Table 7). The teachers indicated that children with behaviour problems were the most difficult to

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include in regular schools followed by students with intellectual disabilities. Children with physical disabilities and children with learning disabilities were seen as the least difficult to integrate. Question 12 asked the respondents to indicate which subject area dealing with the education of children with special needs should be included in teacher training courses and teachers’ workshops (Table 8). Programming for children with special needs was indicated as the subject area teachers wanted included in teacher training courses. Children with behaviour disorders, gifted and talented children and an awareness of disabilities were also clearly indicated as topics to be included.

Question 13 asked teachers to respond to how they viewed special education in the United Arab Emirates at present (Table 9). Most teachers indicated that special education was nonexistent or at the developing stage. In contrast a number of teachers indicated that special education was at an advanced level.

Question 14 asked teachers to indicate important issues for special education in the United Arab Emirates (Table 10). Disability awareness and community attitudes were clearly indicated

Discussion

The teachers’ responses to questionnaire one indicated a number of issues. Firstly the teachers surveyed were generally female, nationals, taught primary grades, were experienced in the classroom and worked for government schools. The teachers surveyed had little special education training even though most indicated they had taught children with special educational needs in their careers. The majority of this teaching was done in the regular class/school.

Most of the teachers surveyed indicated that having children with special needs in the class was a good opportunity to work with children with special needs. Despite this the teachers indicated that they did not want to learn more about children with special needs.

Children with behavioural problems and physical disabilities were seen as the most difficult students to integrate into the regular classroom.

Programming for students with special needs was seen as an important topic for further teacher training courses as was children with behavioural problems and gifted and talented students.

Most teachers surveyed indicated that special education was nonexistent or at the developing stage in the United Arab Emirates. The topics considered most important for the development of special education in the United Arab Emirates were programs focusing on disability awareness and community attitudes.

Questionnaire Two (Stages of Concern)

As mentioned previously teachers were asked to respond to the 35-item questionnaire constructed by Hall et al. (1979). The results of these responses were converted into percentiles using

the Table supplied by the authors (Table 11). The percentiles were then graphed to see which stage of concern was the highest and which stage of concern was the lowest as indicated by teachers across the United Arab Emirates (Table 12).

The results of the stages of concern questionnaire indicated that the highest percentiles recorded by the teachers were for the first stage, awareness. The second highest response from teachers was for the second stage, the informational stage. The lowest stages indicated were for the consequence stage and the collaboration stage.

Table 1

Demographics for Questionnaire One Information Percentage Number 6

Gender Male 15% – Female 85% – Teaching Experience Less than 3 Years 14% – 4 to 10 Years 37% – 11 or More Years 49% – N/A 0% – Nationality Emirati 43% – Expatriate (Non-Arab Country) 27% – Expatriate (Arab Country) 30% – Type of School Taught At Government School 60% – Model School 8% – Private School 31% – N/A 1% – Grade Level Currently Taught KG – 30 1 – 24 2 – 32 3 – 42 4 – 45 5 – 33 6 – 7 7 – 4 8 – 3 9 – 4 10 – 6 11 – 2 12 – 4

52 The Journal of the International Association of Special Education 2009 10(1)

Table 3

Percentage from Questionnaire One that Have or Have Not Taught Children with Special Needs Taught Children with Special Needs Percentage

Yes 63% No 37%

Table 2

Special Education Qualifications/Trainings Qualification/Training Percentage

Ph.D. 4% Masters 0% Bachelors 9% Diploma 4% Course 14% No Qualifications 69%

Table 4

Location of Classes Where Children with Special Needs were Taught Type of Location Percentage

Regular Classroom 25% Special Class at a Regular School 41% Special School 1% Other 1% N/A 32%

Table 5

Whether Respondents have a Special Education Class or Unit at Their Present School Answer Percentage

Yes 50% No 45% N/A 5%

Table 6

Respondents’ View on Educating Children with Special Needs Response Percentage

Great Benefit 36% Good Opportunity 41% Able to Assist 7% Good Benefits 5% Student will have Great Effect 2% Know More about Special Needs 3% N/A 6%

Table 8

Respondents’ Opinion on which Subject Area dealing with the Education of Children with Special Needs should be included in Teacher Training Courses and Teacher Workshops Response Percentage

Awareness of Disabilities 12% Programming 46% Learning Disabilities 6% Behaviour Disordered 11% Physical Disabilities 1% Gifted and Talented 0% N/A 12%

Table 7

Respondents’ Opinion of what Area of Children with Special Needs is Most Difficult to Include in the Regular Classroom Response Percentage

Learning Disabled 12% Intellectually Disabled 28% Physically Disabled 13% Behaviour Disordered 36% N/A 7%

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Discussion

The results indicated that teachers scored highly on stage 0, Awareness. This indicates that teachers have little concern about the innovation, in this case, integration. According to the authors when interpreting a high score on stage 0 cautions is needed. The results could mean two things depending whether the teachers are actually involved in the innovation (inclusion) or not. The authors suggested that for teachers not involved in the inclusion of students with special needs, which is the overwhelming

number of teachers surveyed, “a high peak score on stage 0 reflects awareness of and concern about the innovation” (p. 31). The teachers surveyed also responded highly to stage 1 the informational stage. This would suggest that the teachers surveyed have intense concerns about the innovation (inclusion) and concerns over the details of the innovation.

The teachers surveyed scored lowest on stage 4 the consequence stage and stage 5 the collaboration stage. This would suggest that the teachers surveyed have “no concerns about the relationship of students to the innovation” (Hall, George and Rutherford, 1977, p. 54). The teachers surveyed indicated little concern about the consequences of the innovation on the students. A low score for stage 5 suggests little concern for getting ideas about the innovation from others

These four results suggest a number of things. Firstly the teachers surveyed have real concerns about the innovation (inclusion of children with special needs into the regular classroom). They are concerned about not knowing enough about the innovation. Everything appears fine so why change. Generally a high stage 0 would indicate little interest in change. This is supported by a high score on stage one which suggests the teachers indicated they do not want to do anything differently. Having low scores on stages 4 and 5 would suggest that because the teachers have little knowledge about the innovation they have little awareness, and hence little concerns about the complexities which could evolve from implementing the innovation.

Trainee teachers indicated more awareness of the innovation of inclusion. They scored highest in stage 1 which indicated a willingness to learn more about the innovation.

Recommendations

Most teachers surveyed had none or very little special education training. The training of teachers in special education is vitally important. Teachers cannot be expected to include children with special needs into regular schools without the appropriate training and support. This training should be at both the undergraduate level and the post graduate level (and also include also teacher in service workshops). Teachers were particularly interested in programming, behaviour strategies and intellectual disabilities. Children with behaviour disorders appear to be an issue of concern with teachers and there is a need for courses on behaviour problems to be included in undergraduate programs.

The results of the present study indicated that teachers have real concerns over the prospect of integrating children with special needs into regular classes. There is clear evidence that teachers need to have the issue of inclusion clarified for them. They need clear information about the change and to be shown how management and instructional strategies need to be varied from the present practise.

Undergraduate programs in special education need to focus on issues such as disability awareness, community attitudes, programming for children with special needs. In service

Table 9

Respondents’ View on Special Education in the United Arab Emirates at Present Response Percentage

Advanced 24% Developing 32% Satisfactory 6% Non-Existing 30% N/A 8%

Table 11

Questionnaire Two: Stages of Concern Ranking of Stages of Concern Highest Lowest Concern Concern

Awareness 67 1 Informational 16 2 Personal 3 1 Management 6 7 Consequence 0 44 Collaboration 1 18 Refocusing 3 11

Table 10

Respondents’ View on Important Issues for Special Education in the United Arab Emirates Response Percentage

Teacher Training Courses 21% Disability Awareness 37% Community Attitudes 31% Others 6% N/A 5%

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Table 12

Which Stage of Concern was the Highest and which stage of Concern was the Lowest as indicated by Teachers across the United Arab Emirates Five Item Raw Scale Total Raw Score Total Stage 0 Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Stage 5 Stage 6 Score Percentile

0 10 5 5 2 1 1 1 23 12 12 5 1 2 2 1-42 3 29 16 14 7 1 3 3 43-55 6 37 19 17 9 2 3 5 56-60 9 46 23 21 11 2 4 6 61-66 12 53 27 25 15 3 5 9 68-72 15 60 30 28 18 3 7 11 73-74 18 66 34 31 23 4 9 14 75-78 21 72 37 35 27 5 10 17 79-80 24 77 40 39 30 5 12 20 81-83 27 81 43 41 34 7 14 22 84-86 30 84 45 45 39 8 16 26 87-89 33 86 48 48 43 9 19 30 90-92 36 89 51 52 47 11 22 34 93-95 39 91 54 55 52 13 25 38 96-98 42 93 57 57 56 16 28 42 99-101 45 94 60 59 60 19 31 47 102-104 48 95 63 63 65 21 36 52 105-107 51 96 66 67 69 24 40 57 108-110 54 97 69 70 73 27 44 60 111-112 57 98 72 72 77 30 48 65 113-114 60 98 75 76 80 33 52 69 115-118 63 99 80 78 83 38 55 73 119-122 66 99 84 80 85 43 59 77 123-125 69 99 88 83 88 48 64 81 126-127 71 99 90 85 90 54 68 84 128-132 74 99 91 87 92 59 72 87 133-136 77 99 93 89 94 63 76 90 137-141 80 99 95 91 95 66 80 92 142-144 83 99 96 92 97 71 84 94 145-150 86 99 97 94 97 76 88 96 151-156 89 99 98 95 98 82 91 97 157-161 92 99 99 96 98 86 93 98 162-173 95 99 99 96 99 90 95 99 174-189 98 99 99 97 99 92 97 99 191-245 99 99 99 99 99 96 98 99

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programs for experienced teachers need to focus on the issues such as clarifying the innovation, generating possible solutions in adapting to the innovation and increasing interest in the innovation. This can be done by presenting clear information about the innovation and to give examples of best practise used elsewhere.

Some aspects in our world are of high priority. “Some appear to leap out at us demanding our attention “(Hall, 1976 p 4). Inclusive education and special education are such aspects. In the United Arab Emirates there is a need to give these issues the attention in they demand.

References

Avramidis, E., Bayliss, P., & Burden, R. (2000). Student teachers attitudes towards the inclusion of children with special educational needs in the ordinary school. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(3), 277-293.

Bradshaw, K. (1991). The Social Integration of Behavioured Disordered Children. Australian Journal of Remedial Education, 23(1), 24-26.

Bradshaw, K. (1997). The Integration of children with behaviour disorders: A longitudinal Study. Australian Journal of Special Education, 21(2), 115- 121.

Bradshaw, K., Tennant, L., & Lydiatt, S. (2004). Special Education in the United Arab Emirates: Anxieties, attitudes and aspirations. International Journal of Special Education, 19(1).

Hall, G. (1976).Concept paper, Research and Development Center for Teacher Education, University of Texas at Austin.

Hall, G., George, A., & Rutherford, W. (1977). Measuring Stages of Concern About the Innovation: A manual for the use of the SOC Questionnaire. University of Texas, Austin.

Sharma, U., Forlin, C., & Loreman, T. (2007). What concerns pre-service teachers about inclusive education: An international viewpoint? Korean Journal of Educational Policy, 4(2), 95-114.


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