Attitudes of Pre-service Teachers towards Inclusive Education in UAE and Jordan (a comparative study)

Mohammed Al Zyoudi, AbdelAziz Al Sartwai and Hamzeh Dodin

Abstract

The aim of this study was twofold; namely, to investigate: (a) the effect of gender and nationality on the general beliefs of pre-service teachers towards inclusive education, and, (b) their perception regarding the availability of resources and teacher preparation in relation to gender and nationality. A total of 300 participants from the United Arab Emiratis University in UAE and Mutah University in Jordan participated in this study. A questionnaire developed by the researchers was used as a measuring instrument. Results indicated that Jordanian students tended to have more positive attitudes towards inclusive education than their UAE counterparts; the results also indicated that there were no significant differences due to gender. Furthermore, the results indicated that there were significant differences due to teacher preparation and availability of resources. The study suggested that most in most instances pre-service teachers have more positive attitudes towards people with disabilities and inclusion, when they have had additional training and knowledge with people with disabilities.

Introduction

Inclusion is an educational practice based on a notion of social justice that advocates access to equal educational opportunities for all students regardless of the presence of a disability. Inclusion represents the belief that students with special educational needs should be fully integrated into general education classrooms and schools and that their instruction should be based on their abilities, not their disabilities (Al Zyoudi, 2006; and Forlin, 2004), an emphasis that is becoming more prevalent (Ivey & Reincke, 2002; Hanwi, 2003; and Abedallah, 1998).

Preparing teachers for regular class teaching has undergone a major pedagogical shift in recent years. Training institutions are now required to ensure that pre-service teachers are competent to cater for the needs of an increasing range of diverse learners (Al Tarwana, 2008). This move has been furthered by international recommendations from UNESCO to include content on inclusion as part of teacher training programs (UNESCO, 1994). In preparing teachers for inclusive classrooms their attitudes, beliefs, expectations and acceptance of people with diverse needs may well be challenged.

A sizable number of studies have sought to understand teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive education (e.g. Arif & Gaad, 2008; Jung, 2007; Al zyoudi, 2006; Avramdis, 2001; Van Reusen, Shosho, & Bonker, 2000; Choles, 2000; Gordon, 2002; Kgare, 2000; Bothna, 1998; Van Staden, 2001; Hyan, 2001; Makunga, 2002; Siebalak, 2002, Al-Khatteb 2004, AlKhatani, 2003). A few have investigated pre-service teachers’ attitudes using instruments used for teacher attitude studies, mostly in Western cultural contexts (e.g. McHton & McCary, 2007; Shippen et al., 2005; Kearn & Shevline, 2006), with little in developing countries.

There is some evidence that an important predictor of successful integration of students with disabilities in regular classrooms is the positive attitude of teachers (Sharma, Florin, Lowerman & Earle, 2006; Al-Khatteb 2004; Avramidis, 2001; Mowes, 2000; Elloker, 1999; Gadium, 2002; Dover, 2002; & Mckeskey & Waldrom, 2002). Research evidence also sugggests that positive teacher attitudes towards inclusion often begins during pre-service teachers’ preparation (Jung, 2007; Avramisids, Bayliss, & Burden, 2001; Campbell, Gilmore, & Cuskelly, 2003; Shippen et al., 2005). Subban and Sharma (2007) pointed out that if teachers leave from the university with negative attitudes then those attitudes are difficult to change. Consequently, positive attitudes can and need to be fostered through both training and positive experiences with students with disabilities.

Given that very little research in developing countries has been carried out to study attitudes of pre-service teachers, the general purpose of this study was to investigative the effect of gender and nationality on general beliefs of pre-service teachers towards inclusive education.

Education Policies in UAE and Jordan

Education policies in both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan are aligned with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol adopted 2006, and coming into force in May 2008.

The UAE signed the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities and Federal Law 29/2006 mandated changes in the educational system to provide free education for people with special needs. The Ministry of Education is also adapting special education standards for inclusion in order to ensure non-discrimination evaluation, physical accessibility, economic accessibility, acceptability and adaptability in education. To smooth the way for inclusion, the Ministry of education is providing training programs for administrators, teachers, and parents of students with disabilities about including students with disabilities into regular schools. Acceptance of students with special needs is a priority (Arif & Gaad, 2008; Al Roumi, 2008).

Jordan signed the Convention in 2007, and ratified it on 31 March, 2008. The Convention was then integrated in the domestic legal system through its publication in the National Gazette of Jordan, and replacing an earlier law with the Law on Disabled People Rights (no. 31 of 2007) which, amongst other provisions, recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities to education (Article 24) (Ministry of Social Development, 2008). With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to: bullets

  • The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;
  • The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;
  • Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.
  • States parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. (Higher Council for Disabled People, 2008; Ministry of Social Development, 2008)

Approaches to Teacher Preparation

The model for pre-service teachers training in UAE and Jordan combines theory and practice. They receive preparation to teach students with disabilities either in general education or special education programs. At the final year the placements serve to provide the pre-service teachers real life experience as a practicing teacher within a school.

In Jordan and the UAE, as elsewhere, general and special education training traditionally have been separated from each other. These two streams of teacher preparation are known to have different focuses and priorities, with marked disparities in content and pedagogical approaches. Brownell and Carrington (2005) and Sharma, et al, (2006) reported that general education programs were found to have little focus on the provision of knowledge and training in the area of managing children with disabilities. In contrast, special education preparation programs had pronounced emphasis on inclusion and diversity, and differed in teaching philosophy as compared to that of general education teacher preparation.

How to bridge that gap has been the subject of some consideration. A variety of factors make it difficult to recommend specific content for general education programming appropriate for the practice of inclusion (Al-Tarwana, 2008; Hamre & Olyer, 2004). In the absence of sound research evidence, recent restructuring of pre-service teacher preparation programs in countries which adopted the inclusion model have been motivated primarily by prevailing government policies that encourage the increased participation of children with disabilities within regular school settings. This move towards educational inclusion has seen several pre-service general teachers’ preparation programs include components traditionally limited to special education (Al Roumi, 2008; Sharma, et al., 2006).

Though seen as generally beneficial, the introduction of special education content into general education teacher preparation programs has met with conflicting responses, with studies contesting the number of courses needed to effect changes in teacher attitudes toward inclusion. For example, Shippen et al. (2005) and Pace (2003) have reported that the inclusion of a single course on students with special needs is sufficient to improve teacher attitudes, while others (e.g. Al Tarwana, 2008; Romi & Leyser, 2006; Martinez, 2003,) revealed that a single course makes no significant difference. Other studies include general education courses, as well as the incorporation of field experience to ameliorate fears pertaining to inclusion of children with disabilities (Alkhatteb, 2003)

Recognition of the potential impact of pre-service teacher preparation has sparked several studies, in which models have been proposed to improve pre-service teacher education for inclusion in the schools (Mastropieri, et al., 2005). The collaboration between schools and universities as a model of pre-service teacher training has also been explored by several researchers (Al Tarwana, 2008; Naicker, 2002) where field experience of pre-service teachers has allowed for exposure to teaching within an inclusive classroom.

While it is important that restructuring of teacher preparation programs consider the formulation of effective models to deliver content on inclusion, it is equally essential that these programs take into consideration the training needs of existing teachers. Several studies have reported that their areas of need include content on classroom management strategies, adaptation of curriculum and materials, and the roles and responsibilities associated with cooperation between general and special education teachers (Abdallah, 1998; Alkhattteb, 2003; Al Zyoudi, 2006). The needs indicated by existing general and special education teachers should be incorporated into pre-service teacher training in order to address and alleviate potentially similar concerns by future teachers. An examination into the attitudes of current teachers towards their teacher preparation experiences for inclusion may also prove beneficial in better determining the subjects relevant to practice in the inclusive classroom. Attitudes toward the perceived adequacy of pre-service training for inclusion would also contribute to the formulation and development of teacher preparation programs that would better cater to, and address the needs of teachers (Alzyoudi, 2006, Jung, 2007; Arif & Gaad, 2008).

Several studies (e.g. Jung, 2007; Elhoeris & Alsheikh, 2006) have examined attitudes of teachers and pre-service teachers towards the integration of children with special needs into regular schools across the UAE. Their studies indicated common concerns such as teachers’ time taken away from the rest of the students, class size, lack of training and resources. The above studies also, indicated that teachers are often not prepared to meet the needs of students with significant disabilities. Therefore, these studies made serious recommendations for future practice focusing on initial teacher education

The specific purpose of the present study is to measure attitudes of pre-service teachers towards inclusive education in two developing countries by providing a comparative perspective. The following research questions were posed:

  • What are the general beliefs of pre-service teachers towards inclusive education in relation to gender and nationality?
  • What are the perceptions of pre-service teachers regarding resources for inclusion in relation to gender and nationality?
  • What are the perceptions of pre-service teachers regarding the preparation they have received during their study in relation gender and nationality?

Method

Participants

A total of 300 undergraduate students studying in the Faculties of Education at the UAE University in UAE and Mutah University in Jordan completed the survey questionnaire. All were enrolled in a four-year BA of Education degree program, and were studying special education, early childhood or elementary education. All had completed six semesters of study. Participants were predominately female (92 %), and all were between 18 and 24 years. Pre-service teachers apply to the undergraduate teacher education program in the faculties of education after graduating from high school. They receive preparation to teach students in general and special education programs.

Instrument and Procedure

A survey instrument of 20 items was developed by the researchers based on previous studies (e.g. McHton & McCary, 2007; Scruggs et al., 2007; Shippen et al., 2005, Kearn & Shevline, 2006). It was administrated to the participants during the academic year 2008/2009. The instrument consists of two sections: the first asks for demographic information such as gender, nationality and college; the second invites the rating of pre-service teachers to 20 statements using a 5-point Likert-type classification ranging from 1(strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) with the mid-point 3 (undecided) (Table 1). The scale yields score values ranging from 20 to 100 points, with higher scores indicating more favorable attitudes. The content validity of the scale was assessed by a panel of educators and experts in the field of special education.

The instrument examined the following three dimensions:

  • General beliefs: This dimension was assessed by 8 items (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8), with scores having the potential to range from 8-40.
  • Availability of resources: This dimension was assessed by 7 items (8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 19 and 20) with scores potentially ranging from 7-35.
  • Teacher Preparation: This dimension was assessed by 5 items (10, 13, 14, 17, and 18), with scores ranging from 5-25.

Table 1. Survey instrument of teacher attitudes towards disability

Item

1

2

3

4

5

1

I respect students with disabilities as individuals with differences as I respect all children in my classroom

2

I believe all children are capable to learn in inclusive setting

3

I am aware that the individual capabilities of students

4

I believe that I can employ classroom management

5

I expect the best from all students in the classroom and I am aware of their capabilities

6

Students with disabilities should be excluded from mainstream classes as they disrupt other students

7

I think it is impossible to try and accommodate too many differences in one classroom

8

I am comfortable communicating with special education teacher

9

I help students to find appropriate avenues to express their feelings

10

Pre-service training is necessary to teach effectively

11

No sufficient equipments to facilitate learning for students with disabilities

12

Most schools use education corners

13

I think you need to be a special kind of teacher to teach students with disabilities

14

Education has a first duty to look after the interest of students with disabilities

15

Most schools do not have related services (i.e. speech and language specialist, occupational therapist)

16

Most schools are not prepared to include students with disabilities

17

There is a gap between theory and practice

18

The period of practicum is too limited

19

I would prefer to teach in special school if I have the choice because it has more facilities than regular schools

20

It is necessary to make modifications in the school to meet the needs of each student with disabilities

Instructions: Dear pre-service teacher, Please rate the following from 1 to 5 where 1=strongly agree, 2=agree, 3= undecided, 4=disagree, and 5=strongly disagree

Reliability

The internal reliability of each of the dimensions was determined by using Cronbach’s Alpha. Results indicated high Alpha coefficient reliability scores for the three scales of 0.84, 0.83, 0.79 and a total score for the scale as a whole of 0.86.

Results

To answer the first research question on general beliefs of pre-service educators towards inclusive education by gender and nationality, an independent t-test was conducted on gender and nationality separately. As for gender differences the mean of the general beliefs for male participants was 29.97 (SD = 10.07) and for female participants 30.60 (SD = 10.06), with a t of 0.433 (p = .665). In other words, there were no discernable differences.

The results when examined on nationality were completely different. The mean general belief score of the UAE group was 21.66, (SD = 5.24) and for the Jordanian group 38.90 (SD = 9.19), with t = 16.112 (p < .000). Jordanian students were found to have more positive beliefs than those of UAE.

The second question asked about perceptions of pre-service educators regarding resources for inclusion in relation to gender and nationality. Again there were essentially no differences between male and female participants, but significant differences based on nationality. The mean rating of male participants was 19.09 (SD =8.47), and of female participants 18.65 (SD = 8.55), with t = 517 (p = .605). In contrast, mean scores on perception of the availability of resources of the UAE group was 13.09 (SD = 4.99), and the Jordanian group 23.84 (SD = 7.42), with the t = 15.62 (p < .000).

Results were similar for the third research question on perceptions of pre-service educators regarding the preparation they have received during their study. Again, there was little gender difference (t =.338; p <.735), with mean male score 13.26 (SD =6.44) and the female score 13.06 (SD = 6.60), but there was a significant difference based on nationality (t = 14.23, p <.000). The UAE group mean score was 9.88 (SD = 3.58), and the Jordanian group mean 16.45 (SD =5.78).

Discussion

The aims of this study were to investigative the effect of gender and nationality on general beliefs of pre-service teachers towards inclusive education, and the perception of pre-service teachers regarding the availability of resources and teacher preparation by gender and nationality. The literature reviewed suggests these factors to highly interdependent, and thus it is impossible to isolate these variables. The effect of teacher preparation for inclusion is known to have significantly affected pre-service teachers’ attitudes in both Jordan and UAE. Teacher efficacy in implementing inclusion directly affects their practices and attitudes toward including students with disabilities in general education (Sharam, et al., 2006; Pace, 2003).

Given the general cultural context of Jordan and the UAE, it was assumed that gender would affect the general beliefs of pre-service teachers; however, the findings of this study indicated no significant differences based on gender. This result amplifies findings in previous studies ( Alghazo et al., 2003, Arif & Gaad, 2008) that both males and females had negative attitudes towards people with disabilities in both Jordan and the UAE. One reason for the negative attitudes of males and females could be that pre-service teachers in this study had not been informed that students with special needs would be included in their classrooms and that, as general educators, they do not prefer to be responsible for teaching students with disabilites in the regular classroom. Other reason could be attributed to the fact that the number of male students in this study was small.

However, there were significant differences attributable to nationality. Although, both Jordan and UAE societies share many similarities, yet there were significant differences in pre-service teachers’ attitudes from the two countries. It is important to note that the cross-cultural literature supports the notion that practicing teachers and pre-service teachers differ in their disposition toward inclusion, more specifically in terms of the structure of their education systems. Jordanian pre-service teachers had more positive attitudes than their counterparts in UAE. This result could be attributed to the fact that UAE as a nation is relatively new, having been established in 1971; hence, much of its effort has been devoted to creating new programs and services in all aspects, particularly in education. These efforts are still in early stages and need more time to prove their effectiveness. In contrast, Jordan has a long history of providing education for all students. Education in Jordan has received much attention and improvement including preparation of teachers, programs and curriculum. These developments play a major role in improving the quality of services and programs which reflects on improving pre-service teachers attitudes towards inclusive education. This interpretation seems supported by Sharam et al., (2006) who concluded that pre-service teachers from Western countries (i.e. Australia, and Canada) had more positive attitudes toward students with disabilities than their Eastern counterparts (i.e. Hong Kong and Singapore).

There were also significant differences in general beliefs and the availability of resources. Pre-service teachers in the UAE considered the absence of appropriate materials and equipment as barriers to successful inclusion. Pre-service teachers in this study were critical of the services provided for students in general education classrooms. On the other hand, in Jordan, pre-service teachers showed positive attitudes towards inclusion, because they found appropriate resources that facilitated successful inclusion. This result is supported by Alzyoudi (2006) who found a strong relationship between sufficient resources and successful inclusion.

With the increase of educating students with disabilities in general education classrooms in the UAE, general education teachers will encounter students with disabilities during their carrier in teaching. This requires that teacher education programs prepare future teachers to accept students with disabilities and to provide them with the necessary skills to work effectively with those students. This concern along with other quality concerns was realized by the UAE University in seeking accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The college of Education at UAEU now requires that all students take an introductory course in special education entitled Education of Exceptional Children.

Conclusion

It is clear from the preceding discussion that the sampled participants are generally positive about inclusive education. Pre-service training in inclusive education and continued professional development are of paramount significance if inclusive education is to be successfully implemented.

The resourcing of schools is essential if anxieties around the implementation of inclusive education are to be addressed. The fact that the literature seems to reveal both negative and positive attitudes towards inclusive education is indicative of the fact that a lot of work needs to be done nationally and internationally. It should be acknowledged that Jordan is one of the leading countries in the Middle East in terms of the implementation of inclusive education. Community mobilization and advocacy work are needed for the UAE population to be able to adapt into this new concept of inclusive education.

An observation has been made that teachers, students and parents are not fully aware of inclusive education. It seems as if there is an assumption that students would readily accept inclusion. Such an assumption could be inappropriate since some students might have negative attitudes towards inclusive education. Therefore, teacher education program must focus on promoting positive attitudes to improve pre-service teachers attitudes toward inclusion. First increasing the knowledge base of educators about students with disabilities and methods to meet their specific learning needs and use of successful inclusive teachers as guest speakers could be a good strategy to promote positive attitudes toward inclusion.

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Contributors:

Dr. Mohammed Al Zyoudi
Associate professor of special education
Faculty of Education, Special Education Department
UAE University
Email: Alzyoudi@uaeu.ac.ae

Prof. AbdelAziz Al Sartwai
Professor of special education
Faculty of Education, Special Education Department
UAE University

Dr. Hamzeh Dodin
Associate professor of psychology
Faculty of Social Science, Psychology Department
UAE University


 

International Journal of Disability, Community & Rehabilitation
Volume 10, No. 1
www.ijdcr.ca
ISSN 1703-3381