Psychology, Psychology in the world, Research in the School

Autism, school education and teachers’ beliefs

Dr Helen Kaye from the School introduces a new article about research conducted in Indonesia.

In a recent article, together with Kieron Sheehy, a Psychologist and Professor of Education in WELS, and two research colleagues, Dr Budiyanto and Khofidotur Rofiaha from the State University of Surabaya (UNESA) in East Java, I published findings on teachers’ beliefs about the education of children with autism in Indonesia. 

A little background to the research: at the start of this century the Indonesian government promised a basic education for all and this was followed by directives that inclusive schools should be provided that would admit all children regardless of any disability they may have. The OU and UNESA in partnership subsequently set up “The Inclusive Indonesian Classrooms” project which seeks to develop strategies that facilitate inclusive education and develop teacher training in pedagogical and practical issues. One purpose of the research reported here was to inform the direction the project should take.

This article reviews cultural beliefs around autism in Indonesia and specifically examines teachers’ awareness of autism, their experience of teaching children with autism as well as their knowledge and use of the vast array of teaching approaches that could be used in the classroom. Data were collected from 136 attendees attending a national teachers’ conference in East Java. Participants returned questionnaires which explored their knowledge and experience of autism as well as their beliefs about how children learn.

The results suggested that while over half of the teachers had experience of teaching children with autism, they had not received specific training in doing so, and were unfamiliar with the teaching approaches that might be used. The teachers reported that they would value opportunities for training in teaching children with autism, specifically practical training which was directly relevant to their classroom practice. “Lesson Study” was mentioned as a potential method. Here students observe a “research lesson” which entails a teacher teaching a full, and diverse, class about a particular topic area. Subsequently, the observers collaborate in discussing the lesson in small groups with opportunities to explore issues with the teacher through a chaired discussion. The group systematically examines and evaluates the research lesson including aspects such as lesson planning, differentiation, behaviour management etc and shares its conclusions with others.  

Since the research was carried out, an exciting development has been the expansion of lesson study approaches in teacher training in Indonesia.  Several large lesson study events have taken place, two specifically with an autism focus.  These events have had around two hundred teachers attending, reinforcing the finding from the study that there is a genuine desire for training. The popularity of lesson study also suggests that the approach fits with the Indonesian cultural context, which as the paper also considers may not be the case with all approaches.

The data from the survey also suggested that up to 17% of teachers believe that a child’s autism could result from the breaking of cultural taboos by their parents, or as a result of karma. There was also evidence that the stigmatisation of the parents of autistic children by their community is widespread, and that teachers of autistic children are likewise frequently stigmatised. Our earlier work found that a stumbling block to using techniques designed to facilitate teaching children with additional educational needs was the fear of increased stigmatisation of both children and teachers.

A technique, “Signalong Indonesia” (SI) was developed for use by all children in inclusive classrooms.  SI and its benefits are described by Budiyanto; Sheehy; Kaye, and Rofiah (2018). & Sheehy; Budiyanto; Kaye and Rofiah (2019). Recently the Inclusive Classroom project has initiated work to address stigmatisation associated with autism. The team has created and evaluated the use of Signalong Indonesia supported Big Books (picture story books) in 7 mainstream kindergartens i.e. those without any pupils with autism or other special educational needs. As well as producing positive effects for children’s learning SI is accepted as “normal” and valuable by parents, teachers and children.  The aim now is to introduce inclusive pedagogy as part of mainstream practice so that the enrolment of a child with autism or another additional educational need does not necessitate a change to accommodate them. If all teachers and all children use the same tools then the opportunities for stigmatisation are reduced, and the classroom will be truly inclusive. The project is currently running in approximately 274 kindergartens across Indonesia from Papua to Sumatra!

The Big Book project. Each pin represents 10 kindergartens currently using Signalong Indonesia 

You can read more about Helen Kaye’s work here:

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