Educational Inclusion Study revealed that it is urgent to prioritize care for students with special needs

Only 8% of the schools reported having a psycho-pedagogical office, and less than 30% have special teachers. There are 3 special teachers for every 1,000 students on average in the country, however, these are highly concentrated in urban areas.

According to the findings of the study “The Challenge of School Inclusion”, of the Educational Research Center of Panama (CIEDU), carried out through surveys, interviews, and classroom observations, in schools from all regions of the country, in Panama, the Half of the schools have had students with physical disabilities, but only 35% are wheelchair accessible.

The results urge the community to prioritize the attention of students with special needs, highlighting priorities that allow improving teaching and management practice in inclusion to appropriately attend to the diverse needs of students in the Panamanian educational system.

“The pandemic has shown and aggravated the inequity gaps within the educational system, and we must pay attention to particularly vulnerable students, for example, focusing a special effort on improving educational inclusion and attention to special needs, which were already in crisis. prior to the pandemic and will be key to helping us in the recovery”, highlighted Nadia De León, director of CIEDU.

The study highlights that in Panama 15% of students have a special need (including disability, special educational needs, and special talents), which is within the expected ranges. However, it was found that among the different regions of the country, the higher the poverty rate, the lower the reported prevalence of intellectual disability. This finding is the opposite of what was expected, and it is worrying because it may suggest an underdiagnosis that prevents adequate care. For the same reason, it is also worrying that there are regions in which the percentage of students with undefined conditions is around 5%.

At least a quarter of schools do not report data on students with special needs to the Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) or the Panamanian Institute for Special Habilitation (IPHE), the two entities in charge.

The study indicates that there is a notable lack of clarity in the roles of the two institutions in the inclusion system; and it is essential to improve communication, data management and terminology, since there are management overlaps between them and within MEDUCA. In terms of diagnosis and follow-up, a better connection between schools and the health system is also particularly important.

Nor is there enough qualified human resources to care for students with SEN, so it is important to promote the training of essential professionals for the country: psychologists, special education teachers, social workers, speech therapists, educational psychologists, specialists in learning difficulties, therapists. occupational, etc.

Only 8% of the schools reported having a psycho-pedagogical office, and less than 30% have special teachers. There are 3 special teachers for every 1,000 students on average in the country, however, these are highly concentrated in urban areas.

It was learned that classroom teachers are often involved in the detection, diagnosis, and follow-up of students with SEN even though they do not receive sufficient support and do not feel confident in their understanding of many conditions. In fact, half of the study participants indicated that they had never received training in educational inclusion, and those who have received it indicate that it has been mostly purely theoretical.

In particular, according to the surveys, the conceptual knowledge of principals, teachers and special teachers about intellectual disability and special talents was less precise than they believed. On the other hand, when teachers receive training on SEN, legislation or adaptations, their knowledge is much more precise.

The lack of training was reflected in the findings on the quality of inclusive education. According to classroom observations, schools are still failing to promote educational excellence through doable but challenging tasks connected to real life and requiring high levels of thinking. Nor is educational equity being promoted through differentiated instruction, feedback, collaborative activities among students, and equitable access to activities and resources. However, teachers do create a conducive learning environment, have good classroom management, and generate a positive attitude towards learning in students.

“We have found that there is a profound inequity in access to inclusive education,” said Dr. De León. “There is a significant percentage of students who are not receiving the specialized attention they require, because classroom teachers are assuming responsibilities that exceed their capacity, since they have not received the necessary training, nor do they have the support; and the school does not have the necessary resources, materials, or personnel. Teachers demand the support they need.

Needs that are not known cannot be met. The key actors must take action and strengthen the management of the system, as well as the initial and continuous training of human resources. The challenge of implementing an education that responds to the diverse needs of students that we have faced since 1995, when we transformed schools into inclusive education centers by law, requires committed and stable public policies that can generate school and classroom practices in benefit of every student in our country.

Educational Inclusion Study revealed that it is urgent to prioritize care for students with special needs