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Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

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Inclusive education a rhetoric or reality? Teachers' perspectives

and beliefs
Ashwini Tiwari a, *, Ajay Das b, Manisha Sharma c

Department of Teaching and Learning, College of Education, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, EDUC 2.642, 1201 University Drive, Edinburg, TX
78539, USA
Dept. of Adolescent, Career and Special Education, Murray State University, 3239 Alexander Hall, Murray, KY 42071, USA
Department of Rehabilitation, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, HSHW 1.266, 1201 University Drive, Edinburg, TX 78539, USA

h i g h l i g h t s
 The ofcial rhetoric on inclusive education has only minimal effects on classroom practices.
 A recurrent theme in the study was the idea of a special education teacher for a special education student.
 Deeply ingrained social factors such as religion and teaching to test have hindered the implementation of inclusive education policies.
 Systematic structural barriers such as lack of training opportunities emerged as a major concern.

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 16 February 2015
Received in revised form
28 July 2015
Accepted 4 September 2015
Available online 6 October 2015

The aim of this interpretive study was to examine the perceptions and beliefs of general education
teachers in Delhi, India, about the inclusion of students with disabilities (SWDs) in regular education
classrooms. In this study, with hermeneutic phenomenology as its methodological framework, 15 semistructured interviews of public school teachers in Delhi were conducted. Each interview, lasting from 30
to 45 min, was recorded and transcribed. The data were analyzed using a constant comparative method.
The following conclusions were drawn: (1) Sociocultural ideologies on disability have affected the education of SWDs, and (2) systematic institutional barriers have led teachers to accept inclusion only in
2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Inclusive education
Special education

1. Introduction
People with disabilities comprise a marginalized group in society. In some countries, such groups are barred from the social
institution of schools. In addition, students with disabilities (SWDs)
have had limited opportunities for integration into general education classrooms along with their non-disabled counterparts.
However, the gradual but steady ideological changes from mainstreaming to inclusion of SWDs have led to a global social

* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (A. Tiwari),
(A. Das), (M. Sharma).
0742-051X/ 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

movement, spurring several national policies in favor of inclusive

While mainstreaming allows SWDs to be part of a regular education classroom, inclusion ensures their full participation in
regular classroom activities by providing certain services. Mainstreaming requires the child to meet the demands of the general
education classroom, which can be difcult at times. However, the
inclusive model of education ensures that SWDs fully participate in
regular education classrooms by facilitating access to the general
education curriculum to their full learning potential (Forlin, 2012;
Hettiarachchi & Das, 2014; Shah, Das, Desai, & Tiwari, 2014;
Tiwari, 2014). The United Nations Educational, Scientic and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2005) dened inclusion as a
process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all

A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and

communities, and reducing exclusion within and from a full array
of educational opportunities. This model of education is based on
the premise that SWDs would be socially and academically successful when participating in general education classroom
During the last four decades, many countries have successfully
implemented policies in favor of including SWDs in general education classrooms. SWDs are now increasingly considered an integral part of regular education classrooms in both developed and
developing countries (Alur & Timmons, 2009; Forlin, 2012; Grech,
2011; Lei & Myers, 2011). The United Nations Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2000) has been instrumental in
implementing inclusive policies for SWDs in general education
classrooms. Some countries have followed suit by implementing
legislative and policy measures to promote a social justice framework, leading to a shift in the worldview on education for SWDs.
This shift in ideologies on inclusion of SWDs has been accompanied by policy frameworks that promote inclusive practices in
some countries. However, in many countries, the policy framework
on inclusion is not always implemented (Croft, 2013; Mcconkey &
Bradley, 2010). Often, the implementation does not translate into
successful inclusion of SWDs in general education classrooms
(Johansson, 2014; Singal, 2008, 2010). Moreover, in many countries
including India, policy frameworks on education for SWDs
embedded within Education for All seldom transform the teaching
practices in schools. For example, in a study conducted in Cyprus,
Symeonidou and Phtiaka (2009) concluded that teachers' perceptions of inclusive education in general schools are reective of the
practices of charitable organizations. Furthermore, they found that
the majority of teachers believed that SWDs be taught by special
education teachers. Similarly, in a study conducted in Sri Lanka,
Hettiarachchi and Das (2014), Shah et al. (2014), Tiwari (2014) found
that teachers perceived SWDs as mists in the general education
classrooms. These attitudes were reected in the teachers' comments and narratives. In a phenomenological study on teachers in
kinen (2013) found that teachers perceive inclusive edFinland, Ma
ucation as a one size ts all approach primarily because of the
negative attitudes towards the education of SWDs. Finally, based on a
survey study in the United Kingdom, Avramidis, Bayliss, and Burden
(2000) concluded that inclusion practices were unsuccessful largely
due to teachers' lack of training in special education instructional
methods. However, one size does not t all (Sharma & Das, 2015).
Inclusive education requires instruction to be tailored to meet the
unique needs of each individual child.
Ironically, inclusive education for all has not been realized in
spite of the policy frameworks and legislation initiatives. While
attitudes toward SWDs is key to the success of inclusive education
programs, the lack of trained staff, resources, teaching tools,
collaboration among professionals, and infrastructure also hinder
inclusive education (Alur & Timmons, 2009; Singal, 2006). Researchers argue that educators will continue to resist inclusive
education polices with no comprehensive support system to promote a broader understanding on inclusion including provisions of
services and clarity of the policy provisions (David & Kuyini, 2012;
Hettiarachchi & Das, 2014; Shah et al., 2014; Tiwari, 2014).
2. Theoretical framework
During the past four decades, researchers have examined the
factors and strategies that lead to successful implementation of
inclusive education policies and programs. Many educator-related
factors have been implicated in the success and failure of inclusion. Classroom teachers' attitudes or beliefs towards including
SWDs comprise one such factor. The research literature on this


factor suggests that negative attitudes lead to low expectations of

a person with a disability (Forlin, Tait, Carroll, & Jobling, 1999,
p.209), in turn leading to few learning opportunities, impaired
performance, and further lowered expectations. Consequently, Tait
and Purdie (2000) and Boyle, Topping, and Jindal-Snape (2013)
highlighted the importance of teachers developing positive attitudes towards disability early in their professional development.
Positive attitudes can lead to higher expectations, increased
learning opportunities and increased performance of learners
(Forlin et al., 1999, p. 209).
Several theories have been proposed to explain educators' approaches to the development of inclusive education. Some important theories include the tolerance theory (Huber, Rosenfeld, &
Fiorello, 2001), the practical theory and action theory (Nixon,
Martin, Mckeown, & Ranson, 1997), and the social cognitive theory (Slee, 2004).
The present study aims to examine teachers' perceptions and
beliefs about inclusive education, in terms of the theory of reasoned
action (TRA), as proposed by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) and illustrated in Fig. 1. The TRA suggests that one's behavior is determined
by his or her intention to engage in the behavior. For instance,
classroom teachers in New Delhi will include SWDs in their classrooms based on the following factors: 1. Attitudes: One's beliefs on
the attributes and outcomes of including (or not including) SWDs in
one's classrooms, weighted by one's evaluations of these attributes
or outcomes. 2. Subjective norms: one's high regard of others'
approval or disapproval of inclusive education (normative beliefs),
weighted by one's motivation to comply with others' important
beliefs. 3. Perceived behavioral control: one's perceived control
over the implementation of inclusive education (knowledge of
In general, the more favorable the attitude and subjective norm,
and the greater the perceived control, the stronger the person's
intention to perform the behavior in question. Therefore, according
to this theory, the more favorable the attitude and subjective norms
towards inclusion, and the greater the perceived control in terms of
skills and strategies, the stronger the classroom teacher's intention
to include a child with a disability in his/her classroom.
3. An overview of inclusive education in India
Inclusive education has been practiced in India for 40 years. It
was originally implemented by the Government of India (GoI) as
the Inclusive Education for Disabled Children (IEDC) scheme in
1974. Subsequent initiatives e most notably the 1995 Persons
with Disabilities (PWD) Act and the 2001 Sarva Siksha Abhiyan
(SSA) e ensured the right of all SWDs to regular education. This
implies that children with special needs are placed in regular
education classrooms and provided with the necessary services
and support.
Although the education of SWDs was made an integral
component of Indian education by the SSA in 2001, it was later
solidied by the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE, 2009). The Right to Education (RTE) Act requires
schools to provide free and compulsory education to all students
including SWDs. Although RTE is not specically targeted at SWDs,
it has helped promote their inclusive education. Governmental
legislations such as PWD (1995) or RTE (2009) have sparked public
interest in and engagement with education reforms such as equal
educational opportunities for SWDs.
However, in many ways, these legislations and policy initiatives
have only brought about a symbolic change. Teachers tend to accept
government polices only at the symbolic level due to the rigid
bureaucratic hierarchy (Singal, 2010). However, a teacher's
compliance with the policy in principle does not necessarily


A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

Fig. 1. Theory of reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).

translate into practice.

Inclusion is considered the most efcient method of educating
SWDs in general education classrooms. Inclusion is predicated on
the collaboration between general and special educators to provide the best possible education to SWDs in general education
settings. However, wide discrepancies exist in the inclusion of
students in general education classrooms as inclusion has not
been clearly and consistently dened within policy frameworks
such as India's PWD Act. In many schools across India, SWDs
spend the majority of their instructional day with a special education teacher in a pullout classroom (Parasuram, 2006). This
pullout model might include students of various disability and age
groups. Therefore, the conceptual understanding and implementation of inclusion in India differs vastly from that in Western
developed nations such as the United States and the United
Kingdom, among others.
In a survey of classroom teachers in Delhi, Das, Kuyini, & Desai
(2013) found that many teachers did not understand the concept
of inclusion. General education teachers largely lacked the skills of
implementing effective inclusion, such as strategies to include
students in regular classrooms. Teachers were mostly found to
mainstream SWDs in regular education classrooms. Special education teachers and general education teachers worked together
minimally, such that the true needs of SWDs in general education
classrooms could not be easily communicated. Thus, general education teachers perceived special education teachers to be solely
responsible for the education of SWDs.
Das (2001) argues that a large number of teachers in India report
no training in SWD education in their initial teacher preparation
programs. Furthermore, the teachers report a lack of professional
development and training opportunities in instructing SWDs. In a
study conducted in Delhi, Sharma, Moore, and Sonawane (2009)
found that teachers tend to resist inclusion practices due to a lack
of essential tools for instructing SWDs. Policy makers have not
successfully provided training opportunities while implementing
inclusive education programs. Hettiarachchi and Das (2014), Shah
et al. (2014), Tiwari (2014) found that a lack of dissemination of
information about inclusion policies has been a major challenge in
the implementation of educational reform policies. Furthermore,
teachers were found to learn of policy initiatives through word of
mouth or the media, leading to varied interpretations of the policy.
In addition to the lack of training programs, Sharma et al. (2009)

also cited under-resourced classrooms with a large number of

students. They found that a high teacherestudent ratio was a prime
concern for many teachers. In addition, teachers were concerned
about the lack of special education resources such as teaching and
learning materials, paraprofessionals, and training opportunities.
Singal and Jeffery (2011) state that a lack of administrative support
has prevented the successful inclusion of SWDs in Delhi. Das and
Shah (2014) used a qualitative methodology to fully understand
the concerns and barriers towards inclusive education among
teachers employed in private schools in Delhi. The authors reported
several barriers to successful inclusion, as expressed by the teachers with respect to their schools. Among others, the barriers
included a lack of trained teachers, parental pressure, negative attitudes among teachers, and a fear of reducing the overall academic
performance of the class. Concerns expressed by the teachers in
this study were in line with previous research reported in this area
in India. These concerns were related to poor infrastructure,
nancial limitations, and large class sizes.
Designing a culturally specic policy framework based on these
concerns would persuade teachers into implementing inclusion. As
discussed earlier, under-resourced Indian classrooms are one of the
primary reasons for teachers' negative attitudes toward inclusion.
Bhatnagar and Das (2014) found that the availability of teaching
tools, low studenteteacher ratio, teacher aides, assistive technology
devices, and professional support could change teachers' perceptions toward inclusion. They also found that training teachers in
instructing SWDs signicantly contributes to the success of an inclusive education program.
Das et al. (2013) claim that teachers in India tend to resist ideas
with Western origins such as inclusion in practice citing cultural
reasons. However, Bindal and Sharma (2010) found that teachers
perceive Indian society to be essentially inclusive with no need for a
separate inclusive policy. Therefore, one can argue that policies of
Western origins have been implemented in India without adapting
to the local context. Many perceive that inclusion is a Western
concept that would not work in India because it is borrowed rather
than adapted to the contextual and cultural needs (Bhatnagar, 2006;
Hettiarachchi & Das, 2014; Shah, 2005; Shah et al., 2014; Tiwari,
2014). Teachers might accept inclusion at the institutional level
due to changing global perspectives on including SWDs or due to
increased pressure from the school administration or society. However, they might not accept it at the classroom level, leading to wide

A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

discrepancies in implementation of inclusion in Indian schools.

4. Aims of the study
The overall aim of the study is to identify and articulate teachers'
perceptions and belief systems on providing educational services to
SWDs in general education classrooms. Although teachers' skills
and competencies are signicant for successful inclusion of SWDs,
their beliefs and perceptions on the same determine the effective
implementation of inclusive education programs. This study could
provide insight into teachers' preparedness to design and implement educational services for SWDs in general education
5. Methodological framework
With a methodological framework of hermeneutic phenomenology, this study primarily included semi-structured face-to-face
interviews with teachers in Delhi to understand their perceptions
and beliefs about inclusive education practices. Hermeneutic phenomenology maintains that, in addition to the description, the lived
experiences and interpretation of researchers can provide further
insights into the phenomenon (Cohen & Omery, 1994). According to
Habermas (1984), the researcher's interpretation creates a substantial base for understanding the context and the underlying
assumptions of the participants. Therefore, in this phenomenological study, a researcher indigenous to the culture interviewed
the participants, thus providing a unique perspective on the
While the researcher's perceptions primarily determine the
reliability and validity of the research design in this phenomenological study, several steps were taken to maintain research trustworthiness (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). First, the data sources were
triangulated by including teachers of different age range, educational level, and content area. Second, eld notes were used to
cross-check the themes emerging from the interview data. Third,
the participants were given a summary of the researcher's overall
impression of the interview as a means of member checking.
6. Data collection and analysis
The data for this research were collected through semistructured interviews with 15 public high school teachers in
Delhi. These high schools were located in the western and southern
parts of Delhi. Although the schools in both areas primarily serve
students of low socioeconomic background, the schools in South
Delhi tend to have a relatively higher population of students from
middle class families. Teachers in these schools reported receiving
some training in inclusive education. All of the teachers in the
sample had some experiences instructing SWDs.
The teachers were recruited via a snowball sampling technique
using iterative data collection principles. First, the deputy director
of education in Delhi was contacted for obtaining permission for
the teacher interviews. Once permission was obtained from the
central administration ofce, the principals of the selected schools
were approached to identify teachers who would be willing to
participate in the interview. Once the principals produced this list,
the teachers were directly contacted by phone or e-mail to schedule
the interview. Informed consent was obtained from the teachers
prior to the interviews. The interviews were subsequently conducted at a convenient time and venue, as indicated by the teachers. The interviews were conducted in either English or Hindi, and a
combination of both in some instances. It is important to note that,
although Hindi is spoken widely in Delhi, the citizens usually use
both Hindi and English in their daily conversation. Indians seldom


use Hindi solely to communicate. Each interview, lasting for about

30e45 min, was audio-recorded and later transcribed. Participants
were ensured anonymity and not compensated for their
The data were analyzed with a constant comparative method.
During the data collection process, the data were continuously
compared and contrasted for emerging codes from the interviews.
Subsequently, coding was performed using NVivo software. Some
of the initial codes were deleted, as they did not directly address the
research question. A few of the initial codes were merged for their
similarities to produce broader codes. The codes were further
rened and merged into themes. Themes emerged from interpreting the data at the end of the analytical process.
7. Findings
This study was conducted to examine teachers' perceptions and
beliefs about inclusive education in Delhi, India. The teachers in this
study were in the age range of 30e55 years with a general teaching
experience of 5e20 years. All teachers in the sample had at least a
master's degree. Furthermore, one had a doctoral degree in education. The study included participants from different subject
areas: three mathematics, three chemistry, two physics, two history, one business, two English, and two Hindi.
As indicated subsequently, the data indicate that teachers'
overall knowledge of inclusive education policies is limited. The
teachers also had conicting perceptions of inclusion. In addition,
teachers were found to ignore the policy on inclusion due to lack of
institutional support and knowledge on classroom-level implementation. Only a few teachers in the study perceived inclusion as a
favorable option for the education of SWDs.
8. Ideological beliefs regarding disability
Many teachers reported that inclusion is a concept based on the
principles of morality and ethics. Teachers' perceptions of inclusive
practice are inuenced by their belief systems and normative
practices. Four teachers cited examples from religious texts to
justify the practice of inclusion in ancient India. A teacher further
elaborated the idea by stating:
We have one blind student who is like Sur Das [an ancient Indian
saint with visual impairment]. We treat him with respect and
dignity. He has a great voice so, we encourage him to be a singer.
Most teachers do not support the inclusion of SWDs in mainstream classrooms, as they perceive SWDs as special. Therefore,
these students are excused from classwork or homework.
Furthermore, SWDs are urged to follow stereotypical vocations; for
example, visually impaired children are often viewed as singers.
In the absence of tools necessary in instructing SWDs, many
teachers are protective of SWDs. Teachers allow SWDs to sit in the
library or other places to avoid bullying from their peers. Two
teachers in the sample cited reasons such as bullying as a justication to ask SWDs to sit in a place other than regular education
classrooms. In many instances, all SWDs in a school are made to sit
together in one classroom while being supervised by a special education teacher. A teacher reasoned such arrangements as follows:
SWD are vulnerable and weak. They could not retaliate against
troublemakers. Therefore, we asked all SWD to sit in one
classroom. That way we could avoid any potential harm to them.
Many teachers reported that students with special needs are not


A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

as capable as their peers without disabilities when working within

inclusive classrooms. Five of the teachers cited the Hindi word
nishakta as the reason for not allowing full participation of SWDs in
classroom activities. They view disability as requiring sympathy
and kindness. Four teachers reported that as SWDs would never be
able to fully function in society, inclusion in schools could not help
them. Five teachers stated that SWDs need special attention, which
is only possible in special education classrooms. These teachers
expressed their concerns on the social interaction between students with and without disabilities in inclusive settings.
Many teachers cited humiliation of SWDs by their peers or
teachers as a barrier to successful inclusive practices. Teachers
perceive that SWDs could not defend themselves in situations of
bullying or violence. Furthermore, SWDs are often targeted by
teachers who use corporal punishment on students. It is important
to note that corporal punishment has been banned by Indian legislative and judicial systems. However, corporal punishment continues to be a popular disciplinary method in Indian schools
Hettiarachchi and Das (2014), Shah et al. (2014), Tiwari (2014). In
this regard, Hettiarachchi and Das (2014), Shah et al. (2014), Tiwari
(2014) argues that SWDs are disproportionately punished in Indian
schools. A few teachers indicated that sending SWDs to special
schools would prevent this disproportionate use of corporal
A number of teachers dened SWDs as students with either
physical or mental disabilities. Interestingly, teachers do not
consider learning disability a type of disability. They perceive
learning disabilities to be caused by lack of motivation and guidance. Some teachers classify a student as an SWD based on any
apparent form of physical or mental disability. It is not surprising
then that the PWD Act did not include learning disability as a
disability category for service delivery. The absence of learning
disabilities in legislations (e.g., PWD Act, 1995) is reected in
teachers' lack of understanding of the same. Nevertheless, teachers
interpreted the term disability based on their own experiences. A
teacher elaborated on this idea:
Our [students] have become lazy and [unmotivated]. Teachers
have to be strict and yet [loving] to encourage students to work
hard in schools. Those student who do not work hard are
categorized as learning disabled and [slow learners]. Learning
disability is an [familial] problem. Teachers need to [push]
learning disabled students with the help of families.
Teachers construct disability in a narrow framework often
including physical and social characteristics based on their prior
experiences with SWDs. A middle-aged chemistry teacher
explained this: We had a student last year who was intelligent.
However, that student did not [speak]. I was told that he is a [SWD].
However, I am not sure if he was [handicap]. On further investigation, this student was found to have autism spectrum disorder
(ASD). Clearly, this teacher could not identify the student's needs,
which could be attributed to his limited training and narrow
conception of SWDs.
Half of the teachers in the sample viewed disability as a condition requiring a medical treatment approach rather than an
educational model. The teachers perceived disability as a condition
to be supervised by medical doctors. A teacher stated, we have a
student in wheelchair who requires the services of a physiotherapist. We do not have resources to provide physical therapy in our
school. Therefore, I think it is disadvantageous for that student to
continue with our school. In this respect, another teacher added
that handicapped students need to walk, talk, behave and read and
write functional words, which is only possible in a special school.
The teachers also perceive that SWDs are disadvantaged by

attending regular schools.

The teachers perceived that inclusion in its current form will not
be effective in the Indian context due to its Western origins. Inclusive education in Western countries such as the United States
has evolved with legislations to eliminate discrimination based on
students' background. Gradually, a number of legislative measures
were taken to protect the educational rights of SWDs in schools.
The ndings of this study conrm several studies (e.g. Bindal &
Sharma, 2010; Das, 2001; Das et al., 2013) that posit inclusive education as a borrowed concept in Asian countries. An experienced
language and arts teacher explained this as follows:
Inclusion of [SWD] is a western idea. The [notion] of educating
all students in same classroom is [utopian]. We have a long way
to go. First Indian schools needs to work on dissolving the barriers based on caste. Second comes education of [SWD]. We do
not need to blindly follow what America is doing in their
schools. Our education system has always been one of the best
in world. We need to stop following English system of education.
The teachers in the sample are opposed to Western-style legislations in India that protects the educational rights of SWDs.
When asked about the PWD Act, the teachers stated that these
legislations and rules do not apply to every context. Furthermore, a
few indicated that although the law has suggested that every
teacher try to educate all students regardless of their background,
they could make exceptions when needed. This was conrmed by
the statement of a senior mathematics teacher: American schools
are [resourceful]. It might be easy for them to educate [SWD] in
regular schools. Education of SWD in regular schools is not yet
possible in India. Just because [Indian] government has signed
legislation does not mean that teachers will include [SWD]. The
teachers in the sample indicated that inclusive education will see
changes over time.
9. Systemic institutional barriers to inclusive education
Six teachers in the sample expressed their concerns with systematic barriers such as large class sizes (Hettiarachchi & Das, 2014;
Shah et al., 2014; Tiwari, 2014). The teachers added that inclusion of
SWDs in overcrowded classrooms could only produce basic results.
During the course of the school visits, it was found that the
teacherestudent ratio in some schools were 1:50. Such overcrowded classrooms do not enable teachers to pay close attention
to SWDs. A teacher stated, I agree with the idea of [inclusion].
However, it is unrealistic to expect that students will learn in our
overcrowded classrooms. The large class size does not allow regular education teachers to work specically with SWDs in general
education classrooms.
Some teachers reported that their schools have an itinerant
inclusion teacher. Due to their training in special education, an
itinerant teacher travels to a group of schools in a geographical area
to provide special education services to SWDs. The itinerant
teacher's work prole includes working with general education
teachers to design strategies of working with SWDs. Four teachers
in the sample stated that they did not have the appropriate skills for
instructing SWDs, as itinerant teachers do not collaborate with
general education teachers.
A teacher reported that itinerant teachers visit the school only
once in a two-week period. The teacher added that the itinerant
teacher usually pulls out SWD and works with them in small
groups or one-to-one basis. Another teacher stated, although, I
would like to [work] with [SWD], I have no idea what to [expect].
Our inclusion teacher never works with students in general education classroom. The teachers were critical of the itinerant

A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

teacher model, urging that itinerant teachers share their strategies

with them. Furthermore, these general education teachers are
willing to instruct SWDs in inclusive classrooms based on the
guidelines provided by the special education teacher.
Although the pullout service delivery model continues to be
popular in India, some schools have begun experimenting with the
co-teaching model of service delivery to SWDs. However, general
education teachers have expressed their reservations about the coteaching model of education. Three teachers in the study stated
that they do not agree with the model of co-teaching practiced in
their school. Furthermore, a teacher stated, my inclusion teacher
comes to the class and sits with SWD. He has [no idea] about the
[content]. He could not even answer to the questions asked by
[SWD]. The co-teaching model of education in inclusive classrooms cannot be successful if special education teachers are not
familiar with the content. Co-teaching is the concept underlying
inclusion. In the co-teaching model of service delivery, two teachers
(e.g., a general and a special education teacher) work together in
the same physical setting to educate all students, including those
with disabilities, to run a classroom smoothly (Friend & Cook,
2013). Co-teaching is widely used to promote inclusion of students in regular education classrooms.
However, the teachers in this study expressed their dissatisfaction with the co-teaching model. The major complaint with coteaching is the lack of specic strategies to work with special education teachers. As a result, general education teachers perceive
the education of SWDs as an exclusive function of special education
services. Thus, SWDs may simply sit in a general education classroom until the special education teacher arrives.
The provision of equal opportunities to students to realize their
full potential appears to be a distant goal in the current scenario. A
wide gap continues to exist between general education and special
education services. General education teachers perceive special
education teachers as an interference with their lesson. During the
data collection process, it was observed that special education
teachers were not encouraged to remain in the general education
classrooms. Rather, the general education teacher would ask the
special education teacher to pull out the SWDs. Special education
teachers were often found to work with SWDs in a library or in a
computer laboratory. A general education teacher explained the
following concerns with co-teaching:
I do believe that all students are equal. However, I am concerned
about the quick transition of [special education students] to
regular education classrooms. [Not every] special education
students could be beneted from the regular education. We
need to be realistic about education for SWD. I do not see any
meaning in integrating those students in general education
classroom who cannot read and write much.
Another teacher elaborated on this idea: they talk about strategies such as modifying [lesson plans] to include all students in the
general education classrooms. However, such strategies will negatively affect those students who are high functioning. I could not
justify modifying content just for a few students. I think it might be
just easier to educate SWD in special classes. The teachers perceive
that inclusion might only work for some SWDs. Almost half of the
teachers prefer including only high-functioning SWDs in general
education classrooms. These teachers clearly stated that only students with mild disabilities would benet from general education
curriculum to some extent.
9.1. Limited funding for inclusive education
As a social group, disability has not benetted from the


government-sponsored social welfare schemes in India. Ironically,

the welfare schemes from the GoI cannot cover the additional expenses for the well-being of SWDs (Singal, 2006). Parents of SWDs
spend more money than do parents of students without disabilities.
The teachers in the current study strongly agree in this respect. The
teachers are in favor of increasing government funding for the
education of SWDs, as well as the scholarship money. The teachers
perceive that funding will help parents of SWDs bear the additional
costs of living.
A majority of the teachers stated that scholarship money could
be used by parents to care for SWDs. The teachers were indifferent
when asked whether parents of SWDs should spend the scholarship money on buying teachingelearning materials to educate
SWDs. The teachers support the idea of scholarship money not
being spent on education alone. A middle-aged teacher explained
his stand: [SWD] will never be able to gain meaningful employment even after getting educated in the best schools. So, parents of
these students should save money for future. Although this study
did not include parents, the teachers were found to have concerns
about the economic burden of parents of SWDs.
Inclusive education encourages a close partnership between
families and schools. In many occasions, however, parents in India
are seldom involved in the education of their child with disabilities
(Thirumurthy & Thirumurthy, 2007). Parents often enroll their
child in a special school far from their homes. This is contrary to
legislations that state that neighborhood schools should try to
accommodate the needs of SWDs to the fullest extent. Only parents
who are aware of their rights are provided these services. A young
teacher explained this with an example: last year we admitted a
student with [physical and mental disability] under parental
pressure after parent threatened us to go to education ofcer if we
denied admission to their child. As evident by this statement,
some schools admit SWDs under parental pressure. Although unfortunate, in India, parents with means often work the system to
their advantage.
Another teacher further explained this idea: our education ofcer pressures us to admit SWD without any discrimination. However, parents do not understand that regular schools cannot meet the
needs of a SWD. We do not have enough resources to work with
[SWD]. Teachers disagree with schools meeting the needs of SWDs.
In fact, teachers opine that SWDs must adapt to the needs of the
school, as described by a middle-aged teacher: Last year we had a
student with physical disability who used wheel chair. Our school
did not have a ramp. So we asked the parents to [help] with mobility
of their [child]. The parents were able to send an [aide]. Therefore,
this child was able to continue the school here. It is evident that, in
this case, the parents were asked to meet the needs of the school,
which would in turn meet the needs of their child.
9.2. Over-reliance on testing
Traditionally, the Indian high school system is driven by
teaching to the test. A vast majority of high school students in
India prepare for engineering and medical college entrance exams.
The teachers and parents team up to prepare students for these
entrance exams. Parents enroll their children in schools noted for
their high student turnout to medical or engineering colleges. The
exam-driven environment of these high schools has shifted
teachers' attention to students who could potentially pass the
entrance exams. Students deemed incompetent for college
entrance exams are not given proper attention, as stated by a
popular mathematics teacher:
We have an important task of preparing our students for the
entrance exams. [SWD] could never qualify for these entrance


A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

exams. I do not think that teachers should be forced to invest

same [energy] in education of SWD as general education [students] at secondary levels. We need to be realistic about the
[educational] prospects of SWD. SWD could never go pass high
Another teacher, a reputed physics teacher in the school community, further explained, I have invested a great deal of time
teaching [learning disabled] students. However, even after so much
effort they could not learn [fundamental] skills. SWD could not pass
the entrance exam. They should be sent to [vocational training]
centers. The teachers in the sample expressed their frustration
with the inability to bring SWDs on par with their regular education
peers. The teachers perceive that educating SWDs cannot produce
desirable results in terms of successfully passing entrance exams to
colleges or universities, leading to either an indifferent or negative
attitude toward the education of SWDs.
A few teachers stated that they chose the teaching profession to
signicant contributions to the lives of students. However, their
idea of changing lives is narrow, focusing almost exclusively on
the education of general education students. For instance, a
middle-aged teacher stated, I chose to become a teacher to teach
students academic skills and [behavioral skills]. I have difculty
educating SWD for that these students take longer to grasp the
skills. The overall dissatisfaction of this teacher suggests that
teachers opt for a teaching profession for a sense of accomplishment. However, the lack of progress of SWDs is demotivating, as
nearly half of the teachers in the sample stated that they do not feel
rewarded for teaching SWDs.
Interestingly, like students from lower castes, SWDs have also
been categorized by some teachers as a marginalized group
requiring society's aid. The teachers perceive inclusion as a symbolic
gesture of empowering SWDs. A total of four teachers stated that
SWDs should attend general education classes to present the inclusion of SWDs with their peers. However, as in students from a lower
caste, SWDs are discriminated against by their general education
peers in classrooms. General education teachers often warn regular
students from interfering with SWDs. SWDs often sit in the classroom without actively participating, as general education teachers
do not encourage their participation in classroom activities.
10. Discussion and conclusion
According to the TRA, the more favorable the attitude and
subjective norm, and the greater the perceived control, the stronger
the person's intention to perform the behavior in question. Careful
scrutiny of the data indicates that although the teachers in this
study appear to have supportive attitudes toward SWDs, in the
absence of a positive subjective norm (normative beliefs) and
perceived control (lack of knowledge and skills to implement inclusion), they presented a decit view of SWDs. Overall, general
education teachers in Delhi are dissatised with the implementation of inclusive education.
Further, the ndings of this study were in line with the literature
from India, which suggests that successful inclusion is determined
by developing and sustaining positive attitudes of educators and
key stakeholders, as well as providing adequate support services
both within and outside classrooms and opportunities for professional development of teachers. The teachers in this study presented a decit view of SWDs, which was reinforced by
institutional barriers (for example, large class size, lack of training
and support, or reliance on the pullout model). In light of these
ndings, it is reasonable to assume that meeting teachers' classroom needs could change their underlying belief system about

educating SWDs in general education classrooms. A number of

researchers including Bhatnagar (2009), Shah (2006), and Sharma
et al. (2009) identied similar concerns expressed by the teachers
in India. Although research indicates that teachers in India are in
favor of the inclusion of SWDs (Bhatnagar, 2006, Sharma et al.,
2009), this promising perception may falter in the absence of
other factors essential to the success of inclusion.
Inclusive education in India has evolved in the last four decades.
Inclusive education is entering the ofcial rhetoric while being
promoted within the Indian educational policy framework. The
rhetoric has inuenced teachers' perceptions and beliefs on the
education of SWDs in general education classrooms (Singal, 2008).
The teachers are resigned to government-sponsored polices on
inclusive education. In fact, they do not appear to accept or embrace
inclusion whole-heartedly.
The ofcial rhetoric on inclusive education has only minimal
effects on teachers' classroom practices. During data collection,
most teachers agreed to the policy in theory, although they did
not seem to agree with the policy framework in practice. The
general education teachers perceive education of SWDs as the sole
responsibility of the special education teachers. As Indian society
has relied heavily on special schools and the medical model of
education for decades, teachers view the education of SWDs as
being outside the scope of the general education curriculum.
Furthermore, deeply ingrained social factors such as religion and
the teaching to test-oriented approach has hampered the
implementation of inclusive education policies (Buckingham,
These attitudes of general education teachers could also be
attributed to the novelty of inclusive education in India, which
educators in India may not be ready to fully embrace this new
educational model. In Western developed countries, inclusive education has been supported by an adequate supply of resources to
meet the instructional needs of SWDs. In this respect, India is still at
a developing stage, and policy makers and educators in India are
divided over following either the Western model or a local model
adapted to their unique sociocultural and economic structure.
Socialecultural factors have been identied as a recurrent
theme throughout the study. We believe that addressing the systemic barriers will lead teachers to change their belief systems
about inclusive education. Therefore, the GoI is committed to
providing inclusive educational opportunities for SWDs, despite
the challenges related to systemic barriers and socialecultural beliefs. This is reected clearly in the numerous policy and legislation
initiatives passed in the last four decades. Since the implementation of Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC) scheme in
1974, the GoI has set the tone for including SWDs in neighborhood
public schools. This initial agenda was further reinforced by the
passage of the National Policy of Education (1986), PWD Act (1995),
SSA (2001), the Action Plan for Inclusion in Education of Children
and Youth with Disabilities (2005), Inclusive Education of the
Disabled at Secondary Stage (2009), and the Right of Children to
Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009). All of these initiatives
strengthened the inclusive education agenda of the GoI, resulting in
greater SWD participation in neighborhood inclusive classrooms
than three decades earlier.
However, on closer inspection, the SWD participation in inclusive education programs is dismal. According to the GoI, only about
1.6 million SWDs in the country are served under the aegis of inclusive education (Ministry of Human Resource Development,
2007). India is a country of nearly 1.25 billion people. The GoI reports about 30 million SWDs in India (Chief Commissioner of
Persons with Disabilities, 2007). In this regard, Sharma and Das
(2015) maintain that the efforts made by the government
have only been able to touch the fringe of the problem considering

A. Tiwari et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 52 (2015) 128e136

the number of SWD in the country (p. 7).

Inclusive education programs in India have seen lower levels of
SWD participation as they are still in their nascent stages, in spite of
four decades of policy formulation and implementation. Therefore,
factors associated with the successful implementation of inclusive
education need to be explored and understood in depth. It is
imperative that the perceptions and beliefs of classroom teachers
be examined in greater detail. This study only included a small
number of teachers in Delhi. Furthermore, it used a qualitative
methodology, which has several inherent limitations. Therefore, a
mixed-method research is warranted for further insight into the
perception of a large number of teachers across different regions of
the country.
Nevertheless, this study provided some unique contributions in
understanding the teachers' perceptions and beliefs about inclusive
education in Delhi. The teachers perceive that inclusive education
will add further responsibilities to an already-busy teaching
schedule. The primary reasons for such perceptions include sociocultural beliefs and systemic barriers. The deeply ingrained belief
about disability and a meritocratic education system has hindered
the implementation of inclusive education in India.
11. Implications and recommendations
It is imperative that GoI take bold steps to translate its ambitious
vision of inclusion into reality. This will require setting realistic,
measurable, and time-bound goals along with a plan to ensure the
delity of program implementation. Based on the teachers' responses in this study, it is clear that there is a severe shortage of
scal as well as personnel resources in schools. The government
must immediately prioritize the allocation of the much-needed
resources to schools lest policy initiatives threaten to fail. In this
respect, in a landmark move, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) passed an executive order on 8 July 2015, mandating
all afliated schools to employ a special education teacher to meet
the needs of SWDs (Times of India, 2015). This a bold symbolic
gesture by the government that can set a precedent for future endeavors. In addition, we recommend that GoI and nongovernmental organizations in India take appropriate measures to provide
adequate paraprofessional and support staff, reduce class sizes,
create barrier-free school buildings, and create opportunities for
parental training to improve the landscape of inclusive education.
There are implications for teacher education institutions in India
as well. These institutions should consider revising and revamping
teacher preparation programs as well as equip in-service teachers
with the necessary knowledge, skills, and competencies to instruct
SWDs with professional development programs (Buckingham,
2011; Hodkinson & Devarakonda, 2009). In-service general education teachers must be given meaningful, learning opportunities
covering a range of disabilities and emphasizing collaboration
skills. Preservice teachers must be ensured placements as interns
instructing students with a variety of disabilities; in addition,
courses on instructional methods must be remodeled to include
context-specic accommodations, and the number of teacher
preparation programs providing dual certication in general education and special education must be increased. These steps might
begin to address the pervasive gaps in pedagogy that currently exist
in general education classrooms in India and help attain the goals
set by the GoI four decades ago. Furthermore, teacher preparation
programs should incorporate intensive eld-based practices into
preservice programs to facilitate inclusion. The literature indicates
that an additional special education practicum component in the
preservice general education teacher training positively changes
teachers' attitudes toward SWDs (Boyle et al., 2013; Stella, Forlin, &
Lan, 2007; Swain, Nordness, & Leader-Janssen, 2012). Only by


improving preservice and in-service education can the needs of

classroom teachers be met in this changed educational landscape.
12. Limitations and future research
One of the primary limitations includes the use of hermeneutic
phenomenology as a methodological framework to understand
teachers' perceptions and beliefs related to inclusion. We present
two suggestions for future research to overcome the methodological limitations of this study. First, we strongly believe that an
ethnographic study will be particularly effective for a holistic understanding of the phenomenon of interest. Second, future studies
could examine the widespread perceptions of teachers in detail
through mixed-method studies in different geographical locations
across India. This is particularly important as India is a large country
with varying sociopolitical ideologies. In addition, future research
should also explore the effect of teachers' background variables on
their perceptions and beliefs. The background variables may
include age, gender, educational qualications, teaching experience, training received in special education, prior interactions with
people with disabilities, class size, administrative support, location
of school, type of school taught (public vs. private), and socioeconomic status of students. Furthermore, key informants such as
school principals and administrators, teacher educators, and policy
makers should also be included in future studies to understand the
perceptions and beliefs of all stakeholders.
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