Should special needs students be mainstreamed? The debate surrounding this issue has been raging for some time, seemingly without resolution. In the meantime this situation is causing untold psychological damage to the special needs student, who must feel that he or she is becoming simply a pawn in a game being played out by adults who, ultimately, fail to treat them with the respect they deserve.
In the author’s view this is a debate that needs to be addressed and finalised. Similarly, whilst there are those who oppose mainstreaming special needs children, my view is that are numerous reasons why this policy should be adopted.
The most obvious reason for mainstreaming special needs children is related to the issue of separation. There are psychological and practical issues that evolve as a result of separating the education of special needs children from those who are without disability. From the psychological aspect, separation impacts upon both the special needs and able student. It is likely that the special needs student, due to a condition beyond their control, will automatically have low self esteem and feel that life has treated them unfairly. Separating them from other students for educational purposes will only serve to increase their adverse feelings. In addition, separation can lead to the situation where the special needs student feels at best that they are a second class citizen or, at worse, that they have no value.
Furthermore, separation of special needs students has an adverse effect upon those without such needs. Without integration other students will not be able to learn how to appreciate and deal with the special needs of others, nor come to accept students who are less able, physically or mentally, than they are.
Education is about learning and, if one considers this logically, mainstreaming special needs students serves that objective as it improves the learning of all students in relation to understanding and appreciating that, despite physical and mental abilities, every student has something to offer. More importantly they will learn that, beyond the ability there is a person who should be respected and treated as an equal.
In the modern world we are working hard to eliminate all forms of discrimination, whether this is attached to class, gender, disability or race. It is therefore both inconceivable and illogical to consider that the issue of mainstreaming special needs students should be an exception to this process. Where is the fairness in saying that we will legislate against discrimination related to disability but allow it to continue in the case of education? If those with disability have equal rights to the rest of the members of society, which they categorically do, then those rights apply to them at any age, including their student years.
Mainstreaming of special needs students is, by definition, a process of integration. It therefore follows that the educational institutions and their tutors need to develop policies and practices that fully embrace this concept. Too often in the past this has not been the case. One of the issues that appear to be inhibiting true integration of special needs students is the underlying ethos in this respect. In the past the underlying objective of these policies has been based upon approach the issue from the aspect of the special needs student can’t do this, rather than considering the question how can the special needs child do this.
Educationalists need to engage with special needs students and those that care for them in a manner that seeks positive solutions to problems in a manner that fosters integration in the mainstream educational system, rather than continue segregation, albeit in a different setting. In other words mainstreaming of special needs students should be an active process, not just seen as a method of paying lip service to a complex issue.
A fundamental aspect of education is to teach children how to integrate within society and, furthermore, how to act in a socially responsible manner. It is not possible to teach social responsibility if we separate one group of students from another. All we are doing by this process is to increase the divides and discriminatory tendencies.
In conclusion therefore, if we learn how to create fair and true integration of special needs children within the mainstream education then perhaps we can go some way in removing the discrimination and stigma that still tends to attaches to these young people