This article is a synthesis of the research entitled “Educational Trajectories of Children and Adolescents with Disabilities in the Formal Education System”, selected in the fourth edition (2021) of the Juan Pablo Terra Research Project Competition “Leave No One Behind”.
The general aim of the study was to learn about the educational trajectories of students with disabilities in general and special education centers, their passage through these institutions, referral procedures and intervention modalities. The research was conducted using a mixed, quantitative and qualitative approach and methodology. The aim was to identify and quantify the educational experiences of students with disabilities at the metropolitan level.
We are then interested in presenting the main findings and the questions that arise from them.
In terms of school formats, different educational offerings were identified in formal institutions, whether special or general schools. Among those of special education, workshops were identified as a complementary form of the pedagogical offer, as well as learning planning focused on pedagogical and promoting social activities. At this point, the first tension is identified: why does the seminar offer appear with more emphasis on special education than general education? Are not the most open educational offerings that go beyond the pedagogic, considered a fundamental and privileged part of all subjects, with or without disabilities? Shouldn’t general education have more educational spaces that go beyond the hegemonic school format and that aim at the integral development of the subject?
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In terms of intervention, one of the modalities identified is shared schooling – students who attend general education and special education and share enrollment between the two institutions–. This mode of intervention, which is transformed into a hybrid educational offer between institutions, does not seem to be sustained over time, either because it damages the family organization when the siblings attend another school, or because the family perceives greater listening and empathy in the special education and ultimately wants full admission in that field. It is then worth asking: why is the shared school not privileged as an inclusion strategy? Why does the final choice of families seem to be special education rather than mainstream? What does the former offer that the latter does not seem to offer as a strategy for inclusion and accompaniment?
Some teachers claim they lack training in including students with disabilities. Shouldn’t this situation allow dialogue with other participants involved and thus exchange strategies to be able to include each subject? Is it possible to have teachers trained to deal with all disabilities? Or does an attitude of openness to the other, a different other, fundamentally change the way of thinking about inclusion or close it off? Is it fair for students to depend on the will of the teacher to be included in the classroom? Shouldn’t it be an institutional proposition or state policy that all institutions accept children regardless of their situation? Large class sizes in regular schools make it difficult to include students with disabilities. Who collaborates in these processes? Are there ‘quotas’ for inclusion? And once they are covered, who is responsible for admitting these students? How is a general education boy or girl profile determined and who determines it?
Several situations have been identified in which students with disabilities do not have offers for educational continuity after finishing primary school, both in regular and special education.
The strategy of some general education institutions for students with disabilities is to reduce the teaching hours. Is this the strategy par excellence? Does the reduction of teaching hours, without other educational alternatives, mean the exclusion of the subject?
In terms of intervention strategies, several situations have been identified in which students with disabilities do not have suggestions for continuity of education after finishing primary school, either in regular or special education. Families explain that they have to defend the right to education for their sons and daughters and that the road is difficult.
From what has been investigated, it is recognized that the family is one of the key actors in the process of admission of students with disabilities to special education centers. However, this entry is usually not a decision of the families, but rather a possible option after their sons and daughters have been rejected in general education centers. Rejection of students with disabilities from mainstream education centers has been found to cause distress.
Why do families and their sons and daughters go through this process if people with disabilities should have access to inclusive, free and quality education on an equal footing with other people in the community they live in? Why is Common Education failing to roll out inclusive offerings for all of its students? Why is there no fluid exchange from general education with families about the strategies used by the various actors involved as a central strategy in the inclusion process?
It was found that families should give priority, within the needs of their son or daughter, to some treatments, interventions or accompaniment, as the state benefits are not sufficient to cover all the recommended external assistance. Other families pay for some of the care they need because they have the financial means to do so, so a new tension arises: how does being able to rely on anyone with a disability affect the personal, academic, and social development of people with disabilities? a prop?
On the other hand, families declare that education centers offer and in some cases require them to include chaperones for their sons and daughters, identifying generally positive consequences in school life from the inclusion of this figure. However, another tension arises: can education centers require assistants and chaperones, not just offer them? What characteristics do children with disabilities have who are required to attend educational centers with assistants and chaperones?
In conclusion, but knowing that there are more questions than certainties and that there is a long way to go in terms of inclusive education in Uruguay, we share the voice of the mother of a high school student with autism: “There were questions that were answered in time. […] For example, a typical question you are asked when you go with an autistic child to enroll them is: is it abuse? And so […] there we pose […] What is violence? […] No one blocked our way and by the end of the years they always felt very strengthened and even very proud to have gone through this educational process with him”.
Leticia Albisu and Patricia Orlando are Masters in Education.