On the book “Integration, Separation, Cooperation. A contribution from the perspective of curative education”

by Marianne Wüthrich

Whether integration into a regular class is the best solution for every child from a human and educational point of view has been the subject of controversial debate for years. It is pleasant to get an insight from a curative education perspective with this book by Riccardo Bonfranchi, Renate Dünki and Eliane Perret, which puts the child and its right to education and social participation at the centre. It is not only aimed at parents and trained or future curative teachers, but also at teachers in mainstream schools as well as interested citizens, and last but not least, those responsible for education.
  A look at the history of special and remedial education reveals that initially individuals campaigned for education for all and also set up schools for children and young people for whom the education system of the time did not see itself as responsible (e. g. schools for the blind). This historical introduction, which also addresses the change in perspective of today’s education, is followed by a brief legal classification. It takes up international conventions, their interpretation and legal implementation. Building on this, the reader gets to know children with different cognitive impairments through many illustrative case studies and gets an impression of the demanding daily work of special education professionals. A “stopover” at the end of each chapter facilitates understanding of the educational and social contexts presented.

Two important legal aspects

As a lawyer, I would like to single out two important legal aspects:

  • “School for all” in the sense of the relevant international conventions does not mean that all children must be educated together, but that every disabled child has the right to an education according to his or her possibilities – which unfortunately is often not the rule in poorer countries (p. 22f.).
  • According to Swiss law and the school laws of most cantons, the establishment of small classes is possible and should not be rejected for dogmatic or financial reasons if it would be useful for the adequate education of children with disabilities or severe behavioural problems (p. 23f.).

The authors state that the support of a cognitively impaired child or adolescent in a small class or a special education school is often “more professional and therefore more targeted”. They also firmly reject the frequently cited argument of a better sense of social belonging for the disabled child in the mainstream class, because the constant comparison rather has a weakening effect on the child’s personality, trivialises its problems and violates its dignity (stopover, p. 33).
  Using very appealing learning situations, it is shown how in curative education practice “the topics are carefully structured, vivid, action-oriented and linked to the respective background of experience” (stopover, p. 42). The class teacher in a regular class does not have the necessary time for this.

Enabling children to lead a life
that is a self-determined as possible –
a common task for parents and school

Chapter 5 deals with the great importance of common cooperation between parents and curative teachers for a positive development of the child. Using the example of a child with Down’s Syndrome, the difficult situation of parents who have to decide between a mainstream school or a curative education school is addressed. The authors show great understanding for the fact that many parents hope for a more “normal” development of their child from integration into the mainstream school. For this reason, some decide to transfer to a curative education school only after several years, which can complicate or delay successful development in individual cases.
  In this case, the child was treated very lovingly in the regular kindergarten, but did not receive the necessary support, but got used to the fact that the kindergarten teacher and his friends took a lot from him. In the curative education school, the child then received an “education designed to respect his special needs” and soon made his first progress.
  An essential goal of education – as for all young people – is also for cognitively impaired young people the ability to lead their lives as adults as self-determined as possible. The authors use differentiated case examples to show how young people are guided to find their way in everyday life, for example on public transport, and how demanding vocational preparation and placement can be. If it is not possible to find something suitable on the regular apprenticeship market, there are also many apprenticeships in Switzerland in a sheltered setting. However, in order for the transition to a self-determined adult life to succeed, an early start to adequate schooling is essential.
  In the “stopover” on page 76/77, the authors criticise the fact that there are more and more special support programmes for so-called “highly gifted” children, while – especially at the primary school level – small classes and specialised remedial schools for children with disabilities are being closed. Where is the respect for the “equality” of all children?

Cooperation or partial integration instead of inclusion

Finally, the authors also take up other types of schools that can be enriching for all the children involved: “The question arises whether there might not be opportunities for joint activities and encounters. Because the concern to bring people with and without disabilities into contact with each other is meaningful and must be promoted.” (p. 79) The two case studies show that joint projects or the hourly presence of a child with special needs in a regular class in his or her residence can be a joyful experience. It goes without saying that the success of joint projects depends primarily on the commitment of the teacher teams involved. “Cooperation and partial integration projects demand a great deal of human effort. Therefore, they cannot be prescribed!” So say the authors (p. 82). In any case, it is worthwhile to think further about such goal-oriented approaches.

Better understand children with
behavioural or learning problems

Under this title, the team of authors also takes up this large group of children who are often perceived as the main culprits for disrupting the needs of “normal” pupils. The authors, on the other hand, look at the problems from the point of view of the so-called “troublemakers”, who often get a raw deal in the integration classes because they are not supported according to their needs.
  This is because they need a calm learning environment and clearly structured lessons, but above all a “close, supportive relationship with their teacher” (p. 87). For these children, too, adequate support in a small class can be the better way. However, it must never be a matter of separating so-called troublemakers in order to “get rid of the problem”. The authors cite the cooperation between a special school and a regular class in the same school building as a model for the future (p. 89ff.).

“Integration, Separation, Cooperation” is a scientifically based textbook committed to curative education ethics, which is also very informative for non-specialists. The authors do not shy away from naming common prejudices and undesirable developments of school reforms. In doing so, they always set out from the child.  •

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