Often parents of disabled children will have to make the choice about whether they want their child to go in to, or continue, in mainstream education, or to attend a special needs school. Some people argue that special needs schools are the best places for children with disabilities as they give them a much better chance of having a full, and complete education. Others argue that segregating disabled people from the rest of the community during their childhood can not only be detrimental to them, but can also be damaging to those left in mainstream education, because it fosters an image of disabled people being removed from normal society. Below are some of the possible pros & cons to each argument.
Should children with disabilities attend Special Needs Schools?
The most obvious positive is that these schools might be much better equipped to deal with each child’s specific disability. Because they are set up to cater for children who are disabled, or who have learning disability, the staff – by and large – should be experienced and knowledgeable. In practise it should remove any ignorance from the teaching. Along the same lines special needs schools may teach things that are more important for disabled students to learn, for example, an academic education is of course still important, but if somebody struggles to go out and be independent or to talk to other people, having specific lessons in this can be just as important, if not more so.
Obviously bullying can still take place in special needs schools, but it happens much less often than in regular mainstream schools. This can help children to improve with their confidence and self-belief, as well as helping them become more tolerant due to all the people around them having different disabilities and needs.
The school will probably also be more tolerant of certain things such as having time off, or having to have a specific routine that cannot be changed. This ties in with the first point about experience. Having somebody who has read about a disability can be useful, but a lot of teachers at special needs schools may have disabled children themselves, or have worked with disabled children for many years. Special needs schools (in principle) provide an environment crafted specifically to meet the needs of disabled students, so how could it be a bad thing?
The most obvious con to special needs schools is that it removes disabled children from the mainstream – but this actually has multiple smaller issues attached to it, that can be broken down. The first of these is that a lot of parents of disabled people, and disabled people themselves, will end up spending years battling to be included in mainstream life, and many see opting out of this at such a young age – possibly before an informed decision can be made by the young person themselves – is laying the groundwork for a lot of difficulties later in life.
There is also the fact that it may deprive disabled children of a lot of experiences they may otherwise have. Some of these experiences might not be easy, but it could be argued that it is not right to try to shelter disabled children from the realities of the real world that they will have to spend their lives living in.
There is also the issue of how society in general will perceive disabled children if they are separated. It is hard to argue – especially to children or teenagers – that disabled people are part of the same society as them, when they see them all as being put in one building away from so-called normal society. The argument goes that in order to breed tolerance, and eventually achieve equality, people in the mainstream need to be around disabled people from a young age, so that this becomes the norm; if there is too much separation it will become something strange and unusual.
It is also argued that although special needs schools mean well, they sometimes tend to prepare children with disabilities for a life in which they will need constant care. They say this means that instead of learning how to get by in the so-called real world, they learn how to live a good life for somebody with a disability – rather than a good life in general. The main point of this argument is that some say special needs schools define children too much by the fact that they are disabled, and also make that a bigger deal than it would be if they were left in mainstream education.
So what about leaving children with specific, or additional needs in mainstream education?
One of the most widely referenced positives of leaving a child with a disability or learning disability in mainstream education is that they will get a better grasp of the real world, and of how to interact with others. They might not be able to go out and do the things their classmates can do, but they will be around a wider mix of people, and also be able to experience a less sheltered existence.
Another widely held belief is that by not segregating disabled students from their peers it can breed a much more tolerant attitude. If people experience being around somebody with a disability day to day, then it may just become the norm; other students would be able to get to know disabled students for who they are, rather than just the fact that they are disabled.
Some parents also believe that their children become much more confident after spending time in mainstream education. They feel that there is a stigma attached to special needs schools, and that by not attaching this to their child they are helping them to become more happy, and confident in their life.
A lot of mainstream schools are simply not equipped to deal with people who have disabilities, or learning disabilities. This can result in these students not receiving the education they deserve. Also it can lead to teachers behaving irresponsibly, and sometimes even downright cruelly towards students. There are countless cases of neglect, and unpleasantness by teachers towards their disabled students.
There is also a greater risk of bullying. The vast majority of people with a disability or special needs who have gone through a mainstream education report being verbally, or physically bullied on more than one occasion. Obviously special needs schools will have bullying as well, but incidences tend to be lower.
Often the children themselves find mainstream education a challenging, and sometimes tortuous experience. This could be for a multitude of reasons. But whatever the reasons happen to be, a large proportion of students who have a disability dread having to go to school, but often when they go to a school that specifically caters for disabled students they find the experience much easier.
Looking at the arguments for, and against both inclusion in mainstream education and special needs schools, it seems that there may be two correct answers – one is an ideal situation, and one is a situation that makes the best of reality. Ideally there would be no need to split students with disabilities and learning disabilities from their mainstream peers, so it is easy to understand the people who don’t like special needs schools. But if you actually take the time to look at the reality of the situation, you can see that students with special needs might just not be able to keep up with the class, or might need a specialist kind of help that mainstream schools simply can’t provide due to budgets, or lack of training – for some people even a general special needs school might not be enough, and they might need to go to something like an autism-specific school. There is also the issue that not all special needs schools will be idyllic. Some of them will have lazy teachers, or bad practise. But that is not a criticism against the institution as a whole. It would seem that mainstream schools need to do much more to be able to support disabled, and special needs students. Whether that means more awareness among teachers and students, to more money being allocated on budgets. Not in every case, but in many the school system does let disabled students down, and this is unacceptable. But even if there are wholesale changes and improvements in mainstream education, special needs schools will still have a large role to play in catering for the specific needs of disabled students. The concept may sound like segregation, but in reality it is a segregation that the student themselves will be able to opt in to or out of, and the student can still interact with non-disabled people when they wish to. So yes, even though it would be different for everybody, it would seem that special needs schools are largely a positive thing, and that they can be incredibly beneficial to disabled students.
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