Our children’s contact with others – with needs different than their own – teaches tolerance, sensitivity, respect for the dignity and otherness of others. These are the qualities necessary to become a mature member of society.
Integration classes in schools
Integration in schools invariably arouses great emotions. He has many supporters among educators, parents and representatives of the authorities. However, we will also find its opponents. I am in the first group and my position is supported by the experience of many years of working as a teacher in a school with integration departments.
The organization of the inclusive class differs from that of the other class divisions. There are fewer students – from 15 to 20, most often 5 children with special education certificates. There are two teachers in most of the lessons – one is tutor, the other supports children with certificates. Often, however, teachers exchange assignments at different times in the lesson. It happens that the supporting teacher, seeing problems with the performance of a task by a healthy student, helps him or her. It all happens rather naturally and there are no rigid procedures. This way of working makes the students feel more supported, which translates into the atmosphere in the classroom. The same core curriculum for general education is implemented, and specialist teachers adapt the methods and forms of work to the individual needs of students. Healthy children who go to integration teams are also most often selected on purpose. The child’s disposition, social maturity, empathy and openness to other peers are important.
Benefits for a healthy baby
For a healthy child, contact with disabled colleagues is an experience that shapes attitudes for life. Being directly in various situations, not only at school, with people with disabilities, the sick, with impaired development, teaches tolerance, develops empathy, shapes a sense of responsibility, and teaches you to appreciate your own strengths, e.g. that you are healthy, physically and intellectually well developed. In everyday situations, the image of society is also shaped, which, after all, consists not only of healthy and well-doing citizens. This image stays in man for adult life and supports his social maturation.
A separate aspect in the range of benefits is the ability to help, which even adults often lack. I am thinking here both about reactions to an epilepsy attack, fainting associated with diabetes, and about establishing relationships with people on the autism spectrum, who often have difficult contact with others.
It is invaluable to learn the patience and tolerance that are simply necessary to be on a team-building team. With unchanging pleasure, I recall my memories in which the hyperactive, very energetic, disturbed, and impatient students that I remembered wait in front of the narrow stairs (the school building in which I worked was full of architectural barriers) until they were overcome by a physically disabled friend or memories from trips during which students prepared their own meals, how a dozen or so people check the weight, caloric content and glycemic index of products and advise a girl with diabetes. The best “bodyguards” for a boy with Asperger Syndrome were students with behavioral problems. I think many adults would have a hard time finding themselves in similar situations because they have neither the knowledge nor have they ever had to act in such circumstances.
So there are many benefits. Contact with children with special needs teaches tolerance, sensitivity, respect for the dignity and otherness of others. The emotional and social development of a child who has the opportunity to spend time with them on a daily basis, and often also supports them in everyday tasks, allows them to develop empathy, responsibility and social sensitivity.
Concerns of parents of healthy children
Among the many “threats” to healthy children, mentioned by the opponents of integration, there are real difficulties, such as the presence of students with difficult behaviors in integrated classes or lowering the level of education due to children with low intellectual potential. However, there are even imaginary or absurd ones, e.g. the possibility of contracting autism. It is difficult to find an answer to absurd thinking if one does not want to accept knowledge and facts. On the other hand, a very current problem of many schools with integration departments are students with special education certificates due to social maladjustment. Since they require a lot of support, they are often placed in an integration group under the pressure of the leading body. They have problems with norms, they do not show empathy, they can be cruel towards other students, and their classmates with disabilities become easy targets of their hostility. However, even then, education is provided by two teachers. In non-integrated classes, there are also behavioral students, and the teacher is alone for a much larger group of students. The same applies to concerns about the level of education. It is easier to maintain a high level in a class where the leading teacher has the support of another than in a team where there are students with very different needs and possibilities, and the teacher has no support. This is confirmed by research: in integrated classes, students often achieve higher results than in other classes at school.
For doubts – a conversation
If a parent is afraid to send their child to an integrated class, they can try to reduce or even allay their fears. It is good then to go to the school head and talk about how the work in the integration departments is organized. Ask about forms of support for healthy children. You can also inquire about the experience of working in integration teams of teachers who will be in this class. Such interviews are also important for principals and teachers in schools where integration is nurtured. They show the parents’ point of view, allow them to answer questions not asked by some, and thus support integration. Every child is entitled to the best education the school can give him. There is a place at school for every child. For the disabled and the sick, integration classes are a chance to stay in an environment that will prepare them for life among able-bodied citizens. For healthy students – an opportunity to acquire competences that open up thinking about society as a very diverse environment, in which there is a place for every human being, with all its richness. Integration in schools must be nurtured. Teachers need confidence in their professional competences and therefore appreciate their reliable, effective and very difficult work. Parents need support in dispelling fears and concerns about the future of their children and reliable information about all the benefits that their child may have from integration.