Including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in primary school: Strategies and Approaches
Learning disabilities is a complex and multifaceted field in research and practice. The heterogeneity and diversity of learning disabilities, their ever-increasing frequency in student population, and the lack of clear-cut evaluation criteria for the diagnosis of the children affected are issues which preoccupy every parent, teacher, therapist, and researcher involved in the field. At the same time, these issues complicate the definition of learning disabilities and cause confusion around the educational, emotional, and social development of these children (Sevdali, 2013). According to Sevdali (2013), children with special educational needs (SEN) may manifest one or more characteristics from a spectrum of symptoms, the most common being difficulties in writing, reading, oral expression, and math skills. In addition, they may experience a lack of attention, difficulty in organizing information, disorganization under conditions of stress and tension, hyperkineticity, hand coordination difficulties, and difficulty in understanding concepts or words. They may also find it hard to find their orientation in space and to perceive time sequences, such as the order of days, months, and hours. Determining the exact cause of Learning Disabilities is a very difficult task, as multiple factors, both endogenous and exogenous, often co-exist. Endogenous factors are primarily responsible for the creation of Learning Disabilities and the most common ones include an acquired trauma, genetic / hereditary effects, and environmental influences, such as allergic reactions to foods and food preservatives (Sevdali, 2013). Exogenous factors are not hereditary, but mostly relate to the environment within which a child grows. These include physical impairments (e.g. visual and auditory), traumatic experiences, family pressures, insufficient teaching, and low self-esteem. Exogenous factors are not primarily responsible for Learning Disabilities, but they may play a significant role in their deterioration (Sevdali, 2013). Children with SEN need to receive an ongoing and coordinated interdisciplinary intervention from several specialties in an evolutionary course, namely from infancy to adolescence, in a timely and effective manner (Sevdali, 2013). In Cyprus, as well as in many other countries, the treatment and support of children with SEN is secured by law. More specifically, in September 2001, the Ministry of Education and Culture implemented a law of 1999, which stipulates that the necessary assistance should be provided to children with special needs for their overall development in all sectors. Therefore, the state has the obligation to provide these children with full special education from a special education teacher until they complete their education (Neophytou, 2016). Yet, despite the current legal framework, Cyprus is far from having achieved the full inclusion of children with learning disabilities in mainstream schools. The existence of special schools which are exclusively organized for these students as well as the operation of special units within mainstream schools which are attended by students with SEN for specified teaching hours corroborate this statement. This study turns the spotlight onto the Cypriot teachers of regulars and special schools and attempts to approach the issue of full, partial, or zero inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schools through their own perspective. The aim is to give an answer to a crucial question: according to teachers, should children with learning disabilities attend a mainstream school, a special school, or a combination of both? In attempting to conclude on the ideal educational environment for these children, the study uses data derived from a questionnaire distributed to teachers who deal with such students.I hope that this work will raise awareness around the field of Learning Disabilities and will provide answers to some important questions which preoccupy parents, teachers, and therapists. The results of this research will lay the basis of a most beneficiary educational environment, which will bring out the best in these children and will help them secure a better future. This should be achieved through the implementation of differentiated teaching and the ongoing upgrading of the educational material.