DSQ > Fall 2007, Volume 27, No.4
Abstract

This study explores the attitudes towards inclusive education of pre-service teachers in teacher training institutions in four different countries: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Using the Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education Scale (Wilczenski, 1995) and a series of demographic variables, this study concludes that pre-service teachers' attitudes towards inclusive education differ between countries across three factors which have been labeled academic and physical, social, and behavioral. Pre-service teachers in this sample are most positive about including students with social concerns. An examination of the items in this factor revealed that these issues, such as shyness, would rarely require immediate intervention and large amounts of extra time and effort on the part of the teacher in the same way that the behavior factor would, which rated low in terms of positive attitudes internationally. Demographic variables which can be emphasized by teacher training institutions such as close contact with a person with a disability, training, teaching experience, knowledge of policy and law, and confidence levels, all had a significant impact on attitudes. This paper argues that teacher training institutions should consider for inclusion in their programs practical experiences with inclusive education in positive and supportive environments, opportunities for students to experience success and reflection, and academic content regarding knowledge of policy and law relating to inclusive education.

Introduction

The practice of including students with disabilities into regular schools has been gaining ground internationally for many years now, but is far from being fully accepted by the educational community (see Yellin et al., 2003). For over three decades, researchers have concluded that the degree to which inclusion is successful depends largely on the attitudes and willingness of educators at the school level to welcome and involve students with disabilities in their classrooms in a meaningful way (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Forlin, 2001; Harvey & Green, 1984; Sharma, Forlin, Loreman & Earle, 2006; Williams & Algozzine, 1979). Teachers with positive attitudes toward inclusion have been found to not only employ instructional strategies that benefit all students in a classroom (Bender, Vail & Scott, 1995; Brophy & Good, 1991), but have also been found to have a positive influence on the attitudes of peers without disabilities towards students with disabilities (Baker & Gottileb, 1980; Norwicki & Sandieson, 2002).

One variable that has been consistently found to have influenced educators' attitudes is training in special or inclusive education, either in a single course (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Shade & Stewart, 2001; Subban & Sharma, 2006; Sharma et al., 2006) or through a content-infused approach (Sharma et al., 2006; Voltz, 2003). These studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between training and positive attitudes. Highlighting the need for positive attitudes, Murphy (1996) argues that if pre-service teachers leave teacher preparation institutions with negative attitudes then those attitudes are difficult to change. Hobbs and Westling (1998) state that positive attitudes can, and need to be, fostered through training and positive experiences with students with disabilities.

Avramidis, Bayliss, and Burden (2000) examined the attitudes of 81 practicing UK primary and secondary school teachers towards inclusive education. Their survey found that teachers who have had experience with inclusion held more positive attitudes towards it. Similarly, in one of the few qualitative studies in the area of pre-service teacher training and inclusion, Brownlee and Carrington (2000) examined the beliefs and attitudes of Australian pre-service teachers towards people with disabilities. They found that direct contact with a person with a disability produced higher levels of comfort and more positive attitudes towards people with disabilities. Burke and Sutherland (2004) investigated the relationship between New York pre-service and in-service teachers' experience with students with disabilities and their attitudes towards inclusive education. They found a statistically significant relationship between prior experience and knowledge of students with disability and attitudes towards inclusion. Teachers and pre-service teachers with more experience and knowledge held more positive attitudes towards inclusion. While pre-service teacher education is seemingly the best point at which to try and influence positive attitudes toward inclusion, studies investigating the attitudes of pre-service teachers toward inclusive education remain limited in number and scope.

This paper investigates the relationship between attitudes towards inclusive education and demographics of pre-service teachers in different teacher training programs which span across cultures and countries. It is one of a series of papers examining pre-service teacher sentiments, attitudes and concerns about and towards inclusive education and working with students who have disabilities (see Loreman, Sharma, Forlin & Earle, 2005; Sharma et al., 2006). These studies are also cross-cultural in nature, and involve international comparisons of pre-service teacher responses in both single course programs (Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore) and a content infused program (Canada). The international context and teacher education programs have been described in previous publications (see Sharma et al., 2006).

There are two objectives for this study. First, the study investigates pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education in teacher training institutions in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and Singapore. The relationships between demographic variables and pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education in these institutions are then investigated.

Method

Participants

Participants were a purposeful sample of pre-service teachers enrolled in a teacher preparation program at a teacher training institution in one of four international jurisdictions — Australia (Victoria and Western Australia); Alberta, Canada; Hong Kong, and Singapore. All pre-service teachers were preparing to teach in regular classrooms at preschool, primary or secondary level and were surveyed at the commencement of their program or unit of study in inclusive education. All pre-service teachers except for those in Canada had enrolled in a unit of study focusing on catering for the needs of students with diverse abilities. The Canadian students were in a program in which this content was infused throughout different areas of the program. A total of 603 pre-service teachers participated in the study (Canada = 58; Australia = 270; Hong Kong = 182; Singapore = 93). Australian data was gathered at two different teacher education institutions but as there are no significant differences between the results it has been combined for this report. Although we use country names in reporting the data we acknowledge that this may not be representative of wider views in these countries.

Instrument

Data were used from a two-part instrument. Section one sought general demographic information about each participant. Section two involved the Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education scale (ATIES) (Wilczenski, 1992).

Section one: Demographic information

Pre-service teachers were asked to provide information for eight variables including age, gender, contact with people with a disability, highest level of education, previous training, knowledge of disability Act/policies, level of confidence, and experience in teaching students with disabilities. Using a Likert scale respondents are asked to rate their levels of knowledge about policy and legislation (1 = very good; 5 = none) and confidence in teaching students with disabilities (1 = very high; 5 = very low).

Section two: Attitudes Toward Inclusive Education Scale (ATIES).

Designed by Wilczenski (1992), the ATIES is a 16-item scale that measures participants' attitudes toward different aspects of inclusion: social, physical, academic and behavioural. Each item on the scale is rated on a 6 point-Likert type classification ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) The scale yields a total score, the value of which ranges from 16 to 96, with higher scores indicating more favourable attitudes towards inclusion. The ATIES has been frequently used by researchers and found to have adequate reliability and validity (e.g. Parsuram, 2006; Sharma, Ee & Desai, 2003; Sharma et al., 2006; Wilczenski, 1995).

The ATIES was re-examined in order to check the factor structure as well as to determine the reliability of the scale. Statistical analysis was conducted on the data employing principal component analysis (PCA) followed by a varimax rotation of the principal axes. The PCA revealed items loading on three factors. Two questions (items 6 and 15) had multiple loadings across factors suggesting that students clearly had difficulty interpreting them. They were eliminated from further analysis on this basis. Two further questions (3 and 5) loaded at values below .5 which was deemed to be insufficient for this study. They were eliminated from further analysis.

Table 1. PCA of the ATIES: Rotated Component Matrix(a) * Note
Component
123
a14.824.102.096
a11.816.175-.050
a07.811.133-.075
a13.723.165.206
a06.624.504.028
a10.577.280.093
a01.559-.112.321
a03.392.371.193
a04.116.800-.001
a16.142.702.264
a09.483.642.106
a05.463.464.146
a02.124-.006.813
a08-.049.440.690
a12.477.161.589
a15-.057.539.555

*
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization
a Rotation converged in 8 iterations
Return to table

The PCA in Table 1 was compared to the one conducted by Wiczenski (1995) on the ATIES and was found to differ in one important way. Wilczenski found four factors which were identified as physical (Items 3,7,11, & 14); academic (Items 5,1,13, & 10); behavioral (Items 15, 8, 2, & 12); and social (Items 4, 9, 6, & 16). If items 3 and 5 are excluded from the analysis using the justification cited above, then Wilczenski's (1995) factors of academic and physical both fall entirely into factor one on this analysis (items 1,7, 10, 11, 13, & 14). With the exception of Item 6 which has been eliminated from further analysis here based on it's ambiguity, Factor 2 matches Wilczenski's (1995) social factor (Items 4, 9, & 16). With the exception of Item 15, which has been eliminated from further analysis here based on it's ambiguity, Factor 3 matches Wilczenski's (1995) behavioral factor (Items 2, 8, & 12). For the remainder of this paper Factor 1 will be called academic and physical and Factors 2 and 3 will be called social and behavioral respectively.

The reliability coefficient for the total scale as well as the three factors were calculated for the international sample of pre-service teachers using Cronbach's Alpha. The reliability coefficient was found to be .88 for the total scale. The reliability coefficients were found to be .84, .71, and .69 for Factors 1 (academic and physical), 2 (social), and 3 (behavioural) respectively.

Results

A total of 603 pre-service teachers participated in this study. Of the total data set, a large majority (82%) were female (N = 495). A majority of 85% of all respondents were 29 years or younger (N = 514). The highest level of education for 66% of respondents was high school matriculation (N = 388), while 25% held an undergraduate degree (N = 145). A small percentage (6%) had a diploma (N = 34), and a further 4% held a postgraduate degree (N = 23). When asked if they had a family member or close friend with a disability, only 28% confirmed that they did (N = 167). The vast majority of respondents (90%, N = 537) had not received any training focusing on the education of students with disabilities. While a large number (58%; N = 348) of pre-service teachers had not previously taught a student with a disability, 42% of the cohort had done so (N = 250).

One major purpose of this study was to investigate pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education in teacher training institutions in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and Singapore. ANOVA were computed using ATIES mean scores as well as factor mean scores as the dependent variables and country as the independent variable. Post-hoc comparisons using Tukey-b were also carried out. In all cases ATIES mean scores were significantly different between countries (F (3, 579) = 69.15, p<0.001) (see Table 2). The relationship between mean scores on all factors were significantly different between all countries (Academic and Physical, F (3, 593) = 92.89, p<0.001; Social, F (3, 593) = 46.18, p<0.001 and; Behavioural, F (3, 593) = 5.01, p<0.01).

An analysis of the data in Table 2 shows that across all jurisdictions pre-service teachers are most positive about including students who have social concerns. This refers to those who are shy and withdrawn, frequently absent, or have difficulty verbally expressing themselves. Next, they were positive about students with academic and physical needs such as communication and language issues, as well as students who are behind academically and who need instruction in self-help skills. International pre-service teachers were least positive about including students with behavioral issues such as verbal and physical aggression, and those who are disruptive.

Table 2. An International Means Comparison of the Three Factors
Factor 1: Academic & PhysicalFactor 2: SocialFactor 3: BehaviouralTotal Scale
All Countries Mean (SD)3.67 (0.94)4.59 (0.82)3.44 (0.83)3.92 (0.70)
Canada Mean (SD)4.51 (0.85)5.16 (0.65)3.83 (0.81)4.56 (0.66)
Australia Mean (SD)4.06 (0.82)4.85 (0.67)3.37 (0.85)4.16 (0.64)
Singapore Mean (SD)3.24 (0.79)4.20 (0.76)3.40 (0.85)3.59 (0.57)
Hong Kong Mean (SD)3.05 (0.67)4.22 (0.85)3.43 (0.76)3.53 (0.53)

Table 2 also shows that on every factor, Canadian pre-service teachers have more positive attitudes about including students with disabilities than participants from other countries. Australian pre-service teachers are the next most positive, except in the area of behavior problems where they hold less positive attitudes than Singaporean and Hong Kong pre-service teachers. Pre-service teachers from Singapore have more positive attitudes towards the social and academic and physical aspects of inclusion than do their counterparts from Hong Kong. All countries share the most positive attitudes towards including students who have social issues. Examined individually, all countries are lukewarm in their attitudes towards students with behavior problems, with mean scores showing only slight agreement or slight disagreement regarding the inclusion of these students. The lowest mean score came from Hong Kong pre-service teachers who 'somewhat disagree' that students with academic and physical challenges (Factor 1) should be included in regular schools.

Table 3. International Rank Listing of Items on the ATIES
ItemNFactorMeanSD
a02596Behavioural3.121.069
a01595Academic & Physical3.211.121
a12595Behavioural3.371.047
a14597Academic & Physical3.431.275
a07597Academic & Physical3.801.370
a13596Academic & Physical3.801.198
a11597Academic & Physical3.811.324
a08596Behavioural3.821.048
a10593Academic & Physical3.971.174
a16595Social4.261.146
a09597Social4.481.019
a04597Social5.03.933
Valid N (listwise) 583

Table 3 shows that the top three items on which pre-service teachers in this sample indicated the most positive attitudes were the ones included in the social factor, with the inclusion of students who are shy and withdrawn (Item 4) rating higher than any other item on the scale. Respondents indicated that they agreed (but not strongly agreed) that these students should be included in regular classes. As might be expected from the ranking of the factor, questions relating to behavior rated low in terms of positive attitudes, with students who are physically aggressive towards their peers (Item 2) evoking the least positive response from pre-service teachers when examined as an individual item.

Table 4. Correlation Matrix of Impact of Demographic Variables on ATIES
* indicates correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
† indicates correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Demographic VariableATIES
Gender-.074
Intimate contact with a person with a disability.083 *
Previous training.214 †
Previous teaching experience with a person with a disability.154 †
Perceived knowledge of policy and legislation-.226 †
Confidence levels-.188 †
Age-.005
Highest level of education completed.044

Table 4 shows a significant relationship between demographic variables and the total X score of the ATIES for previous intimate contact with a person with a disability, training, teaching experience, perceived knowledge of policy and legislation, and confidence levels in teaching students with disabilities. In all instances these demographics correlated with more positive attitudes towards inclusive education. One should, however, be cautious in interpreting the impact of these variables on attitudes as the magnitude of the correlations is moderate. Other factors such as age, gender, and levels of education had no significant impact on attitudes towards inclusive education.

Discussion

The results of this study have shown some similarities and also some significant differences between countries in pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education. They have also shown a relationship between demographic variables and attitudes towards inclusive education. These factors combined help to provide direction for teacher education programs internationally.

Using Wilczenski (1995) as an initial guide, the three factors identified in this study have been labeled academic and physical, social, and behavioral. When examined as a single group, pre-service teachers from all countries have most positive attitudes towards including students with social issues, and have least positive attitudes towards including students with behavior issues. Further, the three individual items which rated highest internationally comprised the totality of the social factor (see Table 3 above), with international pre-service teachers indicating that they were most positive about including students who are shy and withdrawn. These results have notable implications for teacher education programs. Those items which loaded on the social factor represent, at best, fairly minor inconveniences for teachers. For example, students who are shy and withdrawn are hardly likely to represent significant demands on a teacher's time and energy, and those who are absent, aside from perhaps evoking feelings of professional and personal concern, are also unlikely to be troublesome to the daily work of a teacher. The need to address such concerns is rarely immediate, especially when compared to other issues such as behavior problems like physical aggression which under normal circumstances must be dealt with at the moment when it occurs. Certainly students with the type of social issues described above would be unlikely candidates for traditional segregated special education settings in any case. This finding is consistent with the findings of Avramidis and Norwich (2002) who found that teachers held more positive attitudes towards the inclusion of students with more mild disabilities. Teacher education programs need to reinforce to pre-service teachers that simply because some students require more effort to work with does not necessarily mean that they are less worthy of being included in regular classes.

When examined on a country-by-country basis the Canadian students held the most positive attitudes across all three factors, although the results are consistent with the international pattern of being most positive about students with social issues, and least positive about students with behavioral issues. The pattern is the same with the Australian students. While the behavioral factor did not evoke the least positive responses from pre-service teachers in Hong Kong and Singapore as it did with the Australian and Canadians, what is striking is that while all countries differed significantly between each other on the ATIES as a whole and between each factor, the difference on the behavioral factor is by far the smallest. All countries indicated responses between agreeing somewhat or disagreeing somewhat that students with behavioral concerns should be included in regular classrooms. This level of agreement between countries is not evident in any of the other factors. Further to this, the single item on the ATIES which all countries were least positive about was the one relating to the inclusion of students who are physically aggressive towards their peers. When individual items in Table 3 are examined, verbal aggression towards others was not seen to be as nearly as much of a concern by pre-service teachers as physical aggression towards others, drawing a distinction between possible physical and psychological harm. This suggests that pre-service teachers internationally and in each of the national contexts considered in this study are worried about the prospect of including students with behavior concerns, especially those who are physically aggressive. This is consistent with research by Sharma et al (2006) and Subban & Sharma (2006) which highlights international concerns about including students with behavior difficulties from both in-service and pre-service teachers. The more favorable attitudes of pre-service teachers towards students who are verbally rather than physically aggressive is understandable in terms of the need for immediate intervention when physical aggression occurs, however, the psychological harm that occurs as a result of verbal aggression should not be underestimated simply because it does not require such an immediate response. Pre-service teachers need to be made aware that both forms of aggression need to be adequately dealt with in any classroom. This topic warrants more research and attention internationally in teacher education programs if attitudes in this area are to improve.

Pre-service teachers in Hong Kong and Singapore also tended to slightly disagree that students with academic and physical problems should be included in regular classroom. Pre-service teachers from all countries were also much less positive in their attitudes (ranked second from bottom in Table 3) on the subject of including students with significant academic delays (Item 1; 2 years or more behind academically). These students often require significant amounts of extra effort from teachers if they are to be successfully included, and it might be that the idea of these extra demands makes pre-service teachers less positive about including students with significant academic delays. On the 'academic and physical' factor there is a clear division between the Asian pre-service teachers and their Canadian and Australian counterparts. It is quite possible that this can be explained through an examination of the cultural and educational backgrounds of students in Asia. The idea of inclusive education is relatively new in both Hong Kong and Singapore, and as such, most university level students have rarely experienced peers with cognitive and physical disabilities in their own schooling. Students in Hong Kong (who demonstrated the least positive attitudes towards the inclusion of students with academic and physical disabilities) are the products of a system where students are 'streamed' according to ability. It is almost self-evident that under normal circumstances university students are those who experienced academic success at school, and therefore the likelihood that they would have been streamed into a group with others with cognitive or severe physical disabilities is small. By contrast, inclusive education has been practiced for a longer period of time in Canada and Australia (Loreman, Deppeler, & Harvey, 2005), and as such many pre-service teachers shared classes with students who had cognitive and physical disabilities in homogeneous groupings when they were at school. Research, and the results of this study suggest that intimate contact with people with disabilities both improves comfort levels with people with disabilities in general, and also improves attitudes towards the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classes (Carroll, Forlin, & Jobling, 2003). These results are reminiscent of findings by Moberg, Zumberg, and Reinmaa, (1997) who compared prospective special education teachers from Estonia, Finland and the US. They found that participants from Finland were most positive about inclusive education. Participants from Estonia were the least positive about inclusive education. At the time of the study, Finland had implemented inclusion policies for over 25 years, compared to Estonia where inclusion was a relatively new phenomenon.

This study found that certain demographic variables had considerable impact on attitudes towards inclusive education, a finding which has concrete implications for the sorts of experiences teacher training institutions provide to their pre-service teachers. Variables which are uncontrollable such as gender and age had no impact on attitudes towards inclusive education. Of the variables which can be manipulated, only highest level of education completed did not have a significant impact on attitudes.

Direct contact with a person with a disability, described on the instrument as "I have a family member and/or close friend with a disability", had a significant impact on attitudes towards inclusive education. This is consistent with the findings of Carroll et al (2003) who found that direct personal contact with people who have disabilities through a program where people with disabilities would serve as guest lecturers and in rolls akin to mentors in a teacher education program, improved the comfort level of pre-service teachers around people with disabilities. It is important to note, however, that contact with a person with a disability does not necessarily produce more positive attitudes. A study by Yellin et al (2003) concluded that mere exposure to students with exceptionalities may not be enough to change attitudes in a positive way, but rather it is the quality of those experiences which produce the real change.

All other demographic variables were found to have a highly significant impact on pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education. These include previous training, previous teaching experience, perceived knowledge of policy and legislation, and reported levels of confidence in teaching students with disabilities. Each of these findings is consistent with the literature in this area, and each can be acted on by teacher education programs.

The highly significant impact that training has on attitudes towards inclusive education is not only evident in this study, but is also well documented in the literature in terms of its influence on pre-service and in-service teachers. Studies conducted by a range of researchers including Avramidis and Norwich (2002), Center and Ward (1987), and Subban and Sharma (2006) have demonstrated a positive correlation between training and positive attitudes. Clearly, universities need to consider the impact training has on attitudes. It is becoming increasingly difficult for teacher training institutions who do not prepare their students to work in inclusive environments to defend this practice, and findings such as this make it harder still.

Previous experience teaching students with disabilities is conceptually connected to the idea of having direct contact with a person with a disability, however, the addition of the role of teacher in this variable as opposed to family member or friend seems to have produced a highly significant impact on attitudes, as opposed to the significant impact when the intimate relationship did not involve a teacher/student relationship. The positive impact that teaching students with disabilities has on attitudes is also well documented in the literature, as is the impact of practical experiences with inclusion and students with disabilities (Avramidis et al, 2000; Brownlee & Carrington, 2000; Burke and Sutherland, 2004).

The highly significant impact of perceived knowledge of policy and legislation on attitudes is an important element for teacher preparation institutions to consider when devising content for their education programs. An examination of the international and local policy or legislation is a key element of any program wishing to promote positive attitudes towards inclusive education. It may be that pre-service teachers are more positive because they know exactly what is expected of them, and what sort of support they might expect in an inclusive classroom. It might also help to delimit the sometimes hazy concept of inclusion (Loreman, 1999; Loreman & Deppeler, 2002) and contextualize the theory to the classroom.

Teacher preparation programs also need to provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to experience success in working in inclusive environments, as in this study confidence levels were found to have a highly significant impact on attitudes. Success naturally leads to increased confidence, which in turn leads to improved attitudes. This confidence is likely to be best achieved through successful classroom teaching experiences. Teacher education programs need to consider practicum placements in schools and classrooms where inclusion has been embraced as a philosophy and practice, and where appropriate supports exist to help ensure a successful experience for pre-service teachers. This practice is consistent with the findings of Zanandrea and Rizzo (1998) who found that high degree of competence in teaching children with disabilities is associated with more accepting attitudes toward inclusion. Opportunities to reflect on success in practical teaching situations would also make an important contribution to improved confidence and future success (Loreman et al., 2005).

Conclusion

This study examined the attitudes towards inclusive education of pre-service teachers in teacher training institutions in four different countries: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Using the ATIES scale (Wilczenski, 1995) and a series of demographic variables (Sharma et al, 2006) this research concluded that attitudes differed between countries across three factors including academic and physical, social, and behavioral. Pre-service teachers were most positive about including students with social issues. An examination of the items in this factor revealed that these issues, such as shyness, would rarely require immediate intervention and large amounts of extra time and effort on the part of the teacher as would the behavior factor which rated low in terms of positive attitudes internationally. Demographic variables which can be catered to by teacher training institutions such as intimate contact with a person with a disability, training, teaching experience, knowledge of policy and law, and confidence levels, all had a significant or highly significant impact on attitudes. This paper provides teacher training institutions with concrete suggestions for improving their programs. If pre-service teachers are going to enter the field with positive attitudes towards inclusive education then teacher training programs need to consider providing opportunities for direct interaction with people with disabilities, instruction on policy and legislation relating to inclusive education, and opportunities for pre-service teachers to gain confidence in practical teaching situations with students with disabilities.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Chris Forlin, Umesh Sharma, Tim Loreman



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