1+5+N: Using a Three-Level Resource Room System to Promote Inclusive Education (Learning in Mainstream Classrooms) in China
Placing more and more learners with special educational needs in the mainstream and providing equitable and qualified education for all learners is a priority in China’s educational reform. In order to improve the quality of inclusive education, the National Special Education Reform Programme was created in 2014 by China’s Minister of Education. The current project is one of the National Programme’s sub-projects, carried out in the Shuangliu District of Sichuan province. A collaboration between the University of Padua, Sichuan Normal University, Shuangliu District Special Education Center and local schools, this project aims to help sampled schools to develop inclusive education through a Three-Level Resource Room System.
The current case study aims to:
- develop a Three-Level Resource Room System in Shuangliu District;
- help sampled schools build resource rooms;
- improve teachers’ professional development in terms of inclusive education in sampled schools, using the established resource rooms;
- provide more opportunities for learners with disabilities in sampled schools to participate in school- and classroom-level activities, using the established resource rooms;
- establish a group of professionals for inclusive education in Shuangliu District through the 1+5+N Project;
- create an inclusive education policy proposal to submit to the Minister of Education for development as national policy.
Short description of geographical location, the setting/situation and size/scope:
Shuangliu District is located at Chengdu, Sichuan province, in the southwest of China. The population is about 600,000 and the area is 466 square kilometres. As in other parts of China, more and more learners with disabilities are now placed into mainstream schools to receive education in Shuangliu District.
Shuangliu District has a long history of educating learners with disabilities in mainstream schools. However, with more and more learners with disabilities attending, pre-existing school systems cannot meet the challenge, as some learners with disabilities cannot learn in general classes and some attend without learning. In order to solve the problem and provide an equitable and qualified education for all learners, the local education department worked with Sichuan Normal University, Shuangliu District Special Education Center and local schools to apply for the National Special Education Reform Programme, created by China’s Minister of Education. In 2015, Shuangliu District passed the National Examination and the Minister of Education approved the project.
The 1+5+N Project: Using a Three-Level Resource Room System to Promote Inclusive Education (Learning in Mainstream Classrooms) in China was established in 2015 and related reforms were made by a group of professionals from Sichuan Normal University, Shuangliu District Special Education Center, the local education department, sampled schools and the University of Padua (which joined later).
Currently, there are two main policy challenges faced by the Shuangliu District to improve inclusive education.
The first is the lack of resource teachers in mainstream schools. Unlike in western countries, there are no resource teachers or special professionals in mainstream schools and all the work related to learners with disabilities is undertaken by the classroom teacher alone. In an earlier investigation, the majority of sampled schools complained about this and hoped to develop a system to provide resource teachers or special professionals in mainstream schools.
The second challenge is that classroom teachers lack related professional abilities in terms of teaching learners with disabilities. There is currently limited content on inclusive education and special education in the pre-service general teacher training programme. General teachers therefore have very little knowledge of inclusive education and special education. When placing a learner with a disability into the mainstream classroom, the classroom teacher cannot do anything except pay them more attention. So, the majority of learners with disabilities are just sitting in the classroom without learning. During our first investigation, the sampled schools’ director was frequently asked how training opportunities for classroom teachers could be provided to enable them to teach learners with disabilities.
The above two challenges were the main barriers to promoting inclusive education in Shuangliu District. Based on in-depth investigation, our project: 1+5+N: Using a Three-Level Resource Room System to Promote Inclusive Education (Learning in Mainstream Classrooms) in China was created to address these two challenges and make Shuangliu District’s schools more inclusive.
This initiative was created mainly due to two key factors.
Shi is Director of the Shuangliu District Special Education Center. Shi is an inclusive education and special education professional in Sichuan Province. She researches inclusive education practice elsewhere and undertakes reforms to improve inclusive education in Shuangliu District. In 2010, Shi understood that the lack of resource teachers in mainstream schools was a big barrier to the development of inclusive education. After discussions with the local education department and some school headteachers, she carried out a reform to build resource rooms in some schools. She also allocated professional special teachers from the Shuangliu District Special Education Center to the newly-created resource rooms, to help mainstream schools to train resource teachers and classroom teachers in inclusive and special education. Because of insufficient money, the project’s influence was limited. However, this original initiative laid a solid foundation for the next big project when the proper opportunity arose.
The second event is the National Special Education Reform Programme, which was created by China’s Minister of Education in 2014. Shi used this programme as an opportunity to start the resource room project again.
The current project was passed and approved by China’s Minister of Education in 2015.
How was the initiative/policy implemented?
In terms of the implementation, there were primarily four phases:
- Phase one: organising meetings for selecting sampled schools and developing an overall schedule.
During the first phase, Shi, as the manager of the project, organised meetings with researchers from higher education institutes, local education administrators, school headteachers from Shuangliu District and social volunteers. After about 15 meetings, a general schedule was produced, and related work was also allocated.
According to the schedule, the first step was to establish the first-level resource room centre, which is the main resource room for the whole Shuangliu District. It is also the meaning of the ‘1’ in ‘1+5+N’. Founded by the local government, Shuangliu District Special Education Center is the district’s main resource room centre, providing professional help to other resource room centres.
- Phase two: selecting the second level of resource room centres and building the working network among schools.
After investigation, five sampled mainstream schools were chosen as the second-level resource room centres. These five schools receive direct help from the Shuangliu District’s main resource room centre, and then they in turn help the other mainstream schools in Shuangliu District. Finally, the ‘1+5+N’ Three-Level Resource Room System was built.
- Phase three: resource room centres used to cultivate resource teachers and train classroom teachers.
During this phase, documents detailing how to build the resource rooms, how to train teachers and the founded system were created to guide the work.
- Phase four: asking school headteachers and teachers to provide feedback to promote the project.
Who worked on and sustained the initiative/policy (key partnerships)?
Key partnerships include:
- Director of the Shuangliu District Special Education Center
- Researchers from the University of Padua, Sichuan Normal University and Chongqing Normal University
- Education officer from the Shuangliu District education department
- Ten headteachers from Shuangliu District mainstream schools.
When did the initiative/change/policy development take place (give dates)? What was the timescale?
The initiative began in February 2015.
The timescale was as follows:
- February to March 2015: Related meetings of the project and setting the main project schedule
- April 2015: Shuangliu District’s main resource room centre was built
- May to December 2015: Five second-level resource room centres were built
January 2016 to present: Collecting feedback, improving the project and writing the policy proposal to the Minister of Education.
The key outcomes of the project are:
- At policy level, a systematic inclusive education policy proposal is being developed to submit to China’s Minister of Education.
- At the school level, one main resource room and five second-level resource rooms have been established as a foundation to promote inclusive education throughout the Shuangliu District.
- At teacher level, 20 resource room teachers were trained, with high ability and knowledge in terms of inclusive education, special education and medicine. Through the resource rooms, more than 500 mainstream classroom teachers and school headteachers have been trained.
- At learner level, during the project we conducted some interviews with learners both with and without disabilities. Their feedback was positive. Learners with disabilities reported that they received more guidance than before; for example, some stated that classroom teachers now ask them to answer questions during the class and give them guidance after the class. This was impossible before the project as the classroom teachers did not know how to help learners with disabilities.
The impacts are:
- ‘1+5+N’ Project has formed a specific way to promote inclusive education and, as a model, attracts other schools to visit and learn. It also receives positive feedback from the Sichuan government.
- ‘1+5+N’ Project was reported in some local and national newspapers. As a model, China’s Minister of Education shares the Shuangliu experience at a national level.
After nearly five years of development, the biggest challenge is now how to make the resource rooms a normal part of whole school-level work. There is still some thinking that resource rooms are an additional part of the whole school-level work and some teachers even have negative attitudes towards this kind of work.
The most important lesson from this project is working with multi-level stakeholders. Promoting inclusive education is a complicated process which inevitably involves change to or re-design of pre-existing school arrangements or systems. For that reason, multiple stakeholder groups are needed to meet the complex interests of the different stakeholders.
There are two levels to assess the current project:
- The director, Shi, organised meetings and investigations in the schools to collect feedback from school leaders, teachers and learners. At the same time, an evaluation questionnaire was created to collect related information to assess the project.
- The Minister of Education organised a professional group to evaluate the project. The result was positive and the project was marked as a model in the government’s policy report.
There are mainly two aspects of future development:
- to summarise the project to form a systematic inclusive education policy proposal and submit it to the Minister of Education. The ‘1+5+N’ Project will be given as an example to promote inclusive education and to share the experience.
- to develop an inclusive curriculum for all learners. Currently, after four years’ development, the hardware is not the main barrier to inclusion, although there is still work to do. However, the software, especially the curriculum for learners with disabilities in mainstream schools, is poor. Therefore, the next step is to build a professional group to design an inclusive curriculum for all learners.
Lishuai Jia, PhD Research Student in Education Science Faculty, University of Padua, Italy.
Caixia Shi, Director of China Shuangliu District’s Special Education School