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Article

Chris Forlin and Kuen Fung Sin

Following the UNESCO initial statement in 1994 that inclusive schools were the most effective way to counter discriminatory approaches and attitudes toward students with a disability, international legislation and policy has evolved to challenge exclusionary practices and focus attention on equal opportunities for all learners. Inclusion in education is now accepted as a basic right and the foundation for a fairer and equal society. In opposition to earlier dual systems of regular and special education, inclusive education presents a changed paradigm in the way that learners with diverse needs are educated. Specifically, generalist teachers are now required to be able to cater to the needs of the most diverse student populations both academically and socially within regular classrooms. In most regions, there has been a rather slow and lagging change in teacher preparation to support these new developments. It is frequently documented that new graduates and in-service teachers are not well prepared for managing inclusive classrooms and understanding differences among students. Many teachers will say that they require more professional learning opportunities about inclusive education than they currently receive. When teachers are appropriately trained, have positive attitudes toward including students with diverse abilities, and have access to appropriate resources and support, there are many good practices that become evident. Conversely, inadequate teacher education and a lack of suitable resources often inhibit teachers from developing the appropriate beliefs or attitudes necessary for becoming inclusive practitioners. As the demand for better training of teachers about the inclusion of students with diverse abilities increases, the question that arises is what constitutes best-practice professional learning for upskilling teachers about inclusive education? While a variety of existing practices ranging from in-school support to system-wide approaches are employed globally, identifying which to use must be grounded in the context and specific needs of individual teachers and schools. This article provides a review of the range of models of whole-school methods, including focusing on teacher competencies, developing school and university links, engaging in collaborative scholarship, and establishing professional learning communities. System support is also examined, as this is critical to effective training. The Hong Kong model is cited as a good example of a collaborative government system/university partnership toward upskilling teachers about inclusive education. This model provides a realistic approach to addressing this issue when a longitudinal plan has been implemented to upskill regular class teachers in inclusive education, using initially an off-site training program followed by a school-based whole-school approach that may be of interest to many other systems. Consideration is also given to the training needs of education assistants who work in inclusive classrooms and their roles in supporting students. The importance of lifelong professional learning should underpin decisions regarding what model or approach to adopt, as student and teacher needs will undoubtedly change over time.

Article

Fuk-chuen Ho and Cici Sze-ching Lam

Hong Kong has adopted a dual-track system of the education for students with special educational needs (SEN). The system provides a diverse school education to cater to the individual needs of students. In principle, students with SEN are encouraged to receive education in ordinary schools as far as possible. Students with severe SEN or multiple disabilities, however, can be referred to special schools for intensive support services upon the recommendation of specialists and with parents’ consent. Before the launch of the pilot scheme of integrated education in 1998, students with SEN were mostly placed in special schools. The change from a mono-track system to a dual-track system caused concerns for teachers in ordinary schools. This is because integrated education is more than placing students with SEN in ordinary classrooms. It involves a total change in the way schools and teachers operate. Teachers require the skills and background knowledge to support a diverse range of students in the classroom through ordinary classroom practices, and the ability to meet the needs of every student as an individual. In Hong Kong, most teachers have particular concerns about the short duration of training in professional development, the difficulties in the design of the curriculum and assessment differentiation under the three-tier support system, the practice of collaboration among different teaching teams, and the change of administrators’ perceptions on the education of students with SEN. The central authority and the school community should work collaboratively to deal with these pressing difficulties.

Article

The manner in which special educators and allied health personnel communicate and coordinate their combined services for children with complex conditions (such as autism and severe communication impairments) is considered to be an important factor in educational outcomes. For example, speech-language pathologists play a crucial role in supporting teachers by assessing a child’s communication potential, designing and then implementing collaborative communication intervention programs. However, clinicians trained to administer standardized expressive language assessments may be somewhat unsure where to start when asked to assess a child who presents with nonsymbolic communication skills. These highly specialized workplace situations are likely to evoke circumstances where professionals may need additional one-to-one guidance. The need for continuing professional development has long been recognized by the education sector when developing effective educational provision for children with special needs. To that end, tertiary institutions have a commitment to support the continuing education of their graduates once they begin their careers. Unfortunately, not everyone can invest the years that full-time or part-time postgraduate courses of study demand. Due to a reduction in postgraduate completion rates, universities have recently accepted that offering micro-credentialing (i.e., continuing professional development in small, intensive chunks) is now a part of their mandate. Blended learning is a viable model for such professional development because this approach provides access to an online community where collegial sharing and discussion can occur. It can also offer face-to-face sessions that may strengthen community building and instant access to a network of professionals for training and development, in an anytime and anywhere professional learning environment, resulting in the fostering of a collaborative professional community.