Perceptions and Practices of Inclusion in Malaysian Integrated Preschools
This study examines perceptions and practices of inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) in Malaysian integrated preschool programmes. Integrated programmes in Malaysia refer to educational settings in which units of special education classrooms are set up within existing regular school compounds. I aim to determine the state of inclusion in Malaysian integrated preschool programmes; educators’ and parents’ perceptions of and support for inclusion; and factors influencing the implementation of inclusive practices in these settings. Situated within a pragmatic research paradigm, my study adopted a two-phased sequential mixed-methods research design. The first phase involved regular and special classroom teachers’ self-reports of inclusion in their school, through a survey by questionnaire. In the second phase, data gathering was carried out in three case-study preschools, which, based on questionnaire findings, were preschools that demonstrated differing levels of inclusion (i.e., high, moderate, and low). Information sources in each site involved interviews with the school principal, regular and special classroom preschool teachers, and parents of preschoolers with and without SEN, as well as observations of daily events and examination of relevant documents in the preschool settings. The perspective proposed by the bioecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1995, 2005; Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998), which strongly advocate that human development involves a combination of interactions between proximal processes, personal characteristics, context, and time, served as a useful conceptual framework for examining and elaborating on inclusion in this study. Questionnaire and case study findings presented substantial evidence that integrated preschool programmes in Malaysia were neither practising nor promoting inclusion. Whilst there were some efforts towards partial inclusion of children with SEN, educators’ and parents’ views, as well as findings across my case study sites showed that preschools generally engage these children in socially integrated activities, otherwise segregating them totally to activities confined to their own classrooms. Furthermore, educators lamented that there was lack of information and guidance training from the Ministry of Education in relation to inclusion and SEN. Parents on the other hand were barely involved in decisions about the nature of their children’s preschool’s inclusion. These issues were exacerbated by the absence of a clearly delineated policy governing inclusion. Nevertheless, the study found that the ways in which inclusion (or non-inclusion) practices were implemented in each case study site was reflective of the individual school’s philosophy towards inclusive education. The principals’ role, the regular and special classroom teachers’ shared perspectives on inclusion, parental involvement, and the preschool’s physical and instructional environment gave each preschool an individual “inclusive-identity”. Accordingly, this information provided empirical evidence to support the usefulness of the bioecological systems perspective, especially in understanding how interacting factors within and beyond the school setting can influence how inclusion is perceived and practiced. Thus important implications for policy and practice are identified in this thesis, including the need to develop mandates in support of inclusion; in particular the re-examination of initial and in-service teacher education programmes, opportunities for teacher trainees’ practical experience in teaching children with SEN, encouraging collaboration between regular and special classroom teachers, support for principals to develop their leadership concerning inclusion, educating parents and the wider community on inclusion and SEN.