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‘It’s like kindling a fire’: training student teachers about special educational needs and inclusive education at a university in China

Brassington, S. L. (2018) ‘It’s like kindling a fire’: training student teachers about special educational needs and inclusive education at a university in China. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00080304


By law, all school-age children and adolescents in Mainland China are entitled to nine years’ compulsory education, and for nearly 30 years a national policy that is called ‘Learning in Regular Classrooms’ (LRC) has been in existence to accommodate special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools. However, the policy and its relevant legislation is hardly known in China even among teacher educators at top universities, and the everyday practice of inclusion in China is less covered in the literature than from some other parts of the world. With its distinctly separated systems of ‘special education’ versus mainstream education, SEN training in China is, by default, not included in the mainstream teacher education programmes despite the legislation for LRC. There is a considerable amount of literature in Chinese; however, the majority is review literature. Empirical studies are scarce, and even scarcer are about teacher education for inclusive education. With regard to the preparation of teachers for mainstream education in China, very little is known in the empirical literature in terms of how SEN training impacts on student teachers’ understanding of inclusive education and how it affects their practice. The PhD study incorporated intervention training on inclusion and SEN, and provided the training as a blended-learning course to a group of 135 student teachers at a university in China. A mixed methods research design was adopted for the study: a repeated measures design survey before and after the intervention training, plus the participants’ reflections of the training sessions throughout the intervention, and live-chat interviews with 20 volunteers after the participants finished their teaching practice. Results from the quantitative data are consistent with those from the qualitative data, which proved the validity and reliability of the study. The findings evidenced the literature and contributed empirically to the research of inclusive education in China. Firstly, before the intervention training, the student teachers had very limited understanding of SEN and little awareness of inclusive education. Data from later stages of the study, and from their perspective, indicated that it was because SEN or inclusion was not included in their teacher education programme. Although a few of them took some courses on special needs, which were provided by the Department of Special Education in their university, the courses were on braille reading or sign language for special schools only. The participants also manifested little knowledge, or even an opposite understanding, of the legislation for inclusive education in China. Secondly, before the intervention, the student teachers manifested positive attitudes towards equal rights for all children, including those with SEN; however, their attitudes were more for providing special education for children with SEN, rather than inclusion and quality education for the disadvantaged in the mainstream setting. A substantial number of participants regarded SEN irrelevant to them. The overwhelming majority of the student teachers disagreed with mainstreaming children with SEN, and a considerable number of the participants saw SEN training as irrelevant to them. Thirdly, the findings demonstrated, during the process of and after the intervention training, a significant increase in the participants’ understanding of inclusive education and a more inclusive attitude with an enhanced readiness to take action. Their increased understanding and raised awareness was reflected in the strong empathy they displayed with the children with SEN they saw in the video clips both during the intervention and in their school observations afterwards. It was also reflected in their perceived retrospective experience with disability and SEN, as well as their refreshed perception of the provision in local schools. The differences in the participants confirmed a transformative process before, during and after the intervention training. Last but not the least, the qualitative results, which was the core data, proved the practicability of the approaches adopted in the study, including the blended-learning course as intervention, use of social media as easy and reliable platforms for training and data collection, critical reflection as a transformative process, and use of video clips as a form of virtue environment. In addition to the original contributions to knowledge, these characteristics are unique to the study, which also provide valuable recommendations for future work both in research about inclusive education, and in practice of teacher education as well. Limitations of the study were also discussed in the thesis.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Tissot, C. and Bilton, H.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:80304
Date on Title Page:2017


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