How inclusion through social participation paves the way for special needs students in mainstream schools.

April 27, 2022

Key Takeaway: This study suggested that inclusion requires more collaborative learning environments and student-centred pedagogy. The authors also highlighted the importance of acknowledging a child’s individual strengths because “when the students’ individual needs were not recognised, it shaped their perceptions of themselves as students.”—Frankie Garbutt

In this qualitative study, Vetoniemi and Kärnä (School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland) investigated the social participation of students with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools. They claim “in order to achieve a thorough understanding of how inclusive education policies affect SEN pupils’ everyday lives at school, we need to listen to their experiences of inclusive schools.” The empirical data of this article are based upon narratives of pupils with learning and physical disabilities. 

Social participation “is the right to full and fair access to activities, social roles and relationships alongside non-disabled citizens” resulting in the “interaction between the individual and the environment.” The study outlines the rationale behind the methodology: “the study was based on the idea of narrating as a way for human beings to make meaning of themselves and the world (Bruner, 1986),1 narrative inquiry provided a means to gain an authentic in-depth understanding of SEN pupils’ experiences of social participation in inclusive settings.” 

The participants in this study were 13-to-15-year-olds with physical and learning disabilities who were able to articulate their narratives in the form of interviews. In these interviews, participants were encouraged to speak freely about their experiences. 

The author’s findings from these discussions mirrored previous findings that claim “being physically integrated in a school does not ensure full participation.” SEN students often described negative experiences and emotions related to school due to lack of support or other barriers, yet their strengths (hobbies, interests, motivation) allowed them to feel a sense of belonging and competence as well as empowerment.

From their data, the authors inferred that schools ought to pay closer attention to students’ narratives, acknowledging and playing to students’ strengths as well as negotiating how barriers can be overcome. This would effectively put inclusion policies into practice in mainstream schools in Finland, if not in all classrooms globally.

They concluded that “ultimately, inclusion takes place inside classrooms, and teachers hold the key to building up a socially rich and inclusive environment in their classrooms. The results indicate that there is a need for in-service training and efficient cooperation between all teachers.” 

Summarized Article:Vetoniemi, J., & Kärnä, E. (2021). Being included–experiences of social participation of pupils with special education needs in mainstream schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25(10), 1190-1204.

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt—Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Additional References:

  1. Bruner, J. S. 1986. Actual Minds, Possible Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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