In Japan, there has been a sharp increase in the number of children who are considered to be in need of special needs education and receive education in “special needs schools” or “special needs classes” separate from “healthy” children. Despite a declining birthrate, the number of such children has more than doubled over the last decade. This situation has been observed even though the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulates that such children should receive education in a regular school in their community on the basis of “inclusive education.” Both the children who are considered to be in need of special needs education and their parents wish for them to learn with other children in a regular class in their community.
Owing to the National Assessment of Academic Ability that began in FY 2007, schools are now more focused on improving students’ academic abilities. Under these circumstances, experts have become increasingly concerned that children who cannot adapt to mass teaching may be defined as those who require special needs education without careful consideration. During school education in Japan, medical information about disabilities is widely taught; therefore, people tend to think that certain children cannot study in mass teaching classes because they manifest the characteristics of disabilities. However, whether such children can receive inclusive education would differ depending on the class atmosphere, for example, whether it is a relaxing atmosphere or a class bound by rules.
Under the current circumstances, universities are required to provide an “introduction to special needs education” class in their teacher-training courses from the academic year 2019 onward. This is something we should be deeply concerned about. Let me explain briefly: It is necessary to complete a teacher-training course primarily in a university to become a kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, or high school teacher. “An introduction to special needs education” has now become mandatory and is a subject commonly introduced in the teaching courses for kindergarten to high school teachers. Universities are currently working on providing information on the content defined by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on what should be taught in these teaching courses. In the introduction to special needs education, the importance of understanding disabilities based on medical knowledge is stressed because the characteristics of disabilities must be understood according to the type of disability. If those who are planning to become teachers are given medical knowledge and then return to school as teachers, they may suspect disability in more cases based only on the manifestation of certain behaviors without carefully looking into the background of the children’s problems.
Out of such concerns, I wrote this book as a sub-text for “An Introduction to Special Needs Education.” Some children may feel restless or become violent with other children, but these behaviors are not necessarily the characteristics of disabilities. Teachers must carefully explore what is troubling them. Through a workshop, we discussed what teachers should do to create a space where children can learn together while respecting their individual differences. Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the University of Tokyo in the academic year 2018, and some undergraduate students from the first semester, participated in the workshop. Through this book, I urge you to think with us about the steps necessary to fulfill the mission of public schools, which is to respect individual differences and learn together, by tracing the thoughts of the students who graduated from the University of Tokyo.
(Written by KOKUNI Yoshihiro, Director of Center for Barrier-Free Education and Professor, Graduate School of Education / 2019)