Development of Social and Psychological Readiness for Professional and Working Life in Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Keywords: inclusive learning environment, correctional school, intellectual disabilities, social and behavioural component, joint activities, identifying future profession, employment.
Journal rubric: Special Psychology
Article type: scientific article
Funding. This research was funded by the President of the Russian Federation [Presidential grant for the development of civil society No. 20-2-004720 within the framework of the scientific project No. 20-01-00001].
Acknowledgements. The author would like to thank I.V. Ananiev, the President of the Regional Public Organisation for the Support of the Disabled People "Radost", for his assistance with the data collection for the study.
For citation: Bystrova Yu.A. Development of Social and Psychological Readiness for Professional and Working Life in Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2022. Vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 54–61. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2022180206.
The primary task of modern Russian and international education is the socialization of students and their independent selection of a life path, primarily a professional one. This is especially much concern about the vulnerable groups of students with disabilities, in particular, those with intellectual disabilities (ID). The idea of integrating such graduates into society as fully-fledged citizens capable of mastering a profession and working on their own, takes its roots from the scientific works of domestic psychologists and speech pathologists which were dedicated to the role of labor in the development of a personality with intellectual disabilities (I.D. Bekh, V.I. Bondar, G.M. Dulnev, B.I. Pinsky, K.M. Turchinskaya). [3; 5; 11; 13; 16]. According to the valid educational plans of correctional schools of the 1960s, vocational training and practice took from 8 to 14 hours a week [11, p. 10].
Modern psychology and defectology generally examine the readiness of an individual for professional and labor activity from the point of view of a positive attitude of the person to work, his or her desire to work, their focus on the engaging into a certain professional activity [1; 2; 4; 6; 7]. It is worth noting that the educational environment of correctional schools quite successfully helps to develop these qualities in pupils. The main emphasis is placed on the development of independence, discipline and practical skills as a result of direct involvement in the process of performing labor operations in the real-world context [1; 2; 3; 5; 11; 13; 18; 19].
However, school graduates and graduates of vocational schools with ID have always been the outsiders in the labor market since they were not fit for work. As of today the situation has remained almost unchanged — a long-term study of former graduates of correctional schools and colleges aged 18 to 35 showed that most of them, having learned the rules of conduct and algorithms of common labor and even professional operations during training, act in accordance with them, however as long as the requirements and situations are accessible to their understanding and do not contradict their immediate needs (I.V. Ananiev, Yu.A. Bystrova) .
The modern labor market is characterized by multitasking, a rapid change in conditions and algorithms of activity, and requires the employee to be a good team-player and work well under supervision . This situation aggravates the problem that psychologists are facing nowadays when trying to developing in students with ID those personal strengths that will allow them to independently learn the realities of a full value existence in a working team. From this point of view socio-psychological readiness for professional and labor activity should be considered as an integrative quality of a person that contributes to the successful completion of work tasks. Labor efficiency depends not only on professional knowledge and competencies, but also on flexible skills regulating interpersonal relations, organizing joint activities, group communication, etc. [1; 2; 4].
The task of the educational environment is to create and launch mechanisms of the development of the personality of a student with ID, which will subsequently allow him to actively change his activities in a way that he might not only be able to find a job with support, a follow-up or independently, but also work in a team and under guidance, take responsibility for his actions. The key principle of the cultural-historical theory of L.S. Vygotsky, according to which the psychological mechanisms of personality development are interaction and dialogue in external-objective activity, appear to be the most appropriate from the point of view of methodology of approaching this problem [8; 9]. The matureness of the communicative and organizational basis of activity allows the individual to solve the issues of joint completion of tasks, i.e. how to achieve a common goal, in what way, agree on the distribution of funds and resources, control the accuracy and effectiveness of the task, intermediate operations and the final product, prevent conflict situations. The communicative and organizational foundation of labor activity is laid at all stages of development of the personality — first in the game, then in school, therefore, the individualꞌs socio-psychological readiness for work is formed by the environment in which he or she found themselves at the earlier stages of development [5; 14; 15].
The hypothesis of the study about social situation of development (homogeneous educational environment of a correctional school) presents an obstacle to the formation of such communicative and organizational foundations of activity that allow a person with ID, having mastered a profession, to work in a heterogeneous environment of the open labor market. The mechanisms launched in one socio-cultural environment give impetus to the development of certain qualities and competencies of an individual with ID, which, unfortunately, are not sufficient for him to be integrated into another socio-cultural environment and successfully function in it.
The tasks were formulated based on the hypothesis of the study, i. e. to identify and clarify the main contradictions in the influence of the educational environment on the development of interpsychic foundations that allow a student with ID to master the communicative and organizational basis of professional and labor activity and subsequently work successfully in a team.
The methodological basis of the study has been represented by the ideas of L.S. Vygotsky about the social situation of development, which states that the mechanisms responsible for psychological development of a child with ID are launched by the social environment with its specific system of signs, values, interactions, and dialogics . As well as the thesis on the development of higher mental functions in collective activity and the appropriate change of this activity influenced by the improvement of mental functions, independent choice of means and methods for achieving the goals [6; 12; 13; 14; 15; 17].
The study is based on the method of comparative analysis, which makes it possible to trace the influence of the educational environment (inclusive educational environment; educational environment of correctional schools) on the development of the communicative and organizational foundation of activity as a socio-psychological willingness to work.
The study involved regular school graduates with ID (inclusive educational environment (IG) — 240 students) and speciality schools (educational environment of a correctional school (CG) — 252 students), 250 students without intellectual disability residing in Russia, Ukraine and Poland (Moscow, Leningrad, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kherson regions and Lodz province).
All graduates selected for the study can boast certain basic concepts of communicative and organizational activity and personal qualities acquired during training, which will subsequently allow them to make a professional choice and work or on the contrary may not be sufficient for employment in the open labor market [4; 7; 18].
This study is based on the communicative-organizational component of readiness for professional and labor activity. We have defined the levels of its development — sufficient, average and minimum according to the following indicators [1; 6; 7]:
1) ability to analyze social situations;
2) ability to evaluate and control oneꞌs own activities and behavior;
3) ability to work productively in a team.
Students with ID are unable to fully comprehend the content of the forms and questionnaires, therefore we have selected for this study projective techniques or real-life cases, that can be understood easily, suitable for studying the communicative-organizational component of their willingness to work and involving qualitative assessment of the studied phenomenon.
1. The proprietary technology for studying the level of representations, comprehension and analysis of social situations, which has passed evaluation test during the defense of a PhD thesis . The methodology consists of a set of projective stimulating situations that best of all reflect the general professional scenario and success rate of the graduate among others: choice of a profession; communication within a team; separate housing; well-being; acquisition of a source of income . Materials for the implementation of the study were provided to students in the form of photographs and videos, role play games. The study was carried out individually. The algorithm for evaluating the results is defined in the study guidelines . The processing of the results was carried out according to qualitative indicators that help to identify assessment trends and patterns, comparison and explanation of the situation by students themselves.
2. A special technique based on the case method — simulation of real-life situations resembling professional activities in the open labor market . The case was based on techniques that help to launch psychological mechanisms of a person with ID: the problematization technique (the choice of real-life situations of three types — based on an undefined course of action; undefined means of action; with undefined conditions of action); dialogue technique, group interaction technique (joint planning and execution of actions). The study has been carried out with reliance on the zone of proximal development of students under specially organized supervision [8; 9]. We have made sure that all actions of the respondents and the speech report were recorded in the protocols. The participants in the experiment were offered to perform a problem-solving task, which required finding a solution. The task was to assemble a certain construction based on a finished sample and consisting of several parts. Joint activity is an important new formation for school aged children and forms the basis of the team interaction as a flexible skill necessary for the future professional activity . It is known that development of the team work of students with ID goes with significant complications [6; 16; 18]. Therefore, special attention has been paid to observation of the team interaction. The technique included 4 series of tasks:
Block 1 — the goal, means, conditions (individually) are known, the way to complete the task is unknown; block 2 — the goal, conditions are known (individually), but the means and methods of implementation have been changed; block 3 — the goal is known, the methods are known, but the conditions for implementation have been changed to a team of four people with ID; block 4 — the goal is known, the methods, the conditions for implementation are changed — students with ID are asked to work in a group with peers without mental disability. The group consisted of 4 people — 2 and 2.
When analyzing comparative data, a low level of understanding of social situations has been noted among respondents from the CG in comparison with the IG; students from the CG can be characterized by fragmented achievement, poverty of assessment and misunderstanding of crisis situations, situations of frustration or conflict. CG respondents find it easier to evaluate situations of the individual’s success (a new job, renovations in their own apartment, physical and emotional well-being). All this proves that educational work in a correctional school is aimed to create positive lifestyle of a student as well as a standardized image of a positive personality.
As a result of the study 55.16% of students in the CG and 15.87% in the ID demonstrated distortion of the social ideal, that is, a minimum level of understanding of situations, especially negative ones. Thus, while watching a video clip about the life of jobless and beggars they were unable to understand what is wrong with it, they found such a life appealing, comfortable and attractive. Students are unable to differentiate certain intricacies of the situation. At the same time 84.13% of ID students demonstrated ability to appreciate the positive, and 47.61% both positive and negative aspects of various situations. Thus, a sufficient level of assessment of various situations has been identified within 47.61% of the IGs and only in 6.75% of the CGs.
An analysis of the judgments of CG students showed that practically not a single student in this group was able to specificate the image of their own desired future, to name the deadlines for achieving their goals. For example, when answering the question: “Think of the important events that have already taken place in your life, and which should definitely take place in the future?” students mentioned their desire “to live well”, “to earn a lot of money”, “for that no one gets drunk”, “to have a cool car”, etc. instead of naming events as such. The following were mentioned among their plans for life following the graduation from the school “to watch all the episodes of oneꞌs favorite monster movie”, “to meet relatives from another city”, etc. At the same time, 47.61% of IG students have demonstrated a sufficient level of temporal orientation and that of the interaction modality. This, in our opinion, is due to their experience of communication with peers without intellectual disability and the assimilation of samples of the logic of their judgments.
Hereby we present the results of the special methodology based on the case technique:
Block 1. While performing individual construction tasks the students were asked to assemble a mechanical ballpoint pen from its parts (components) based on a sample. Almost all students of the CG still at the stage when the instruction was announced, declared that they would be able to cope with the task. They have referred a simple and familiar object as a result of activity to a simple task of performing an activity. Students began to act, often incorrectly, but decisively and confidently, using familiar algorithms. Only 6.75% of students have put their skills under doubt and asked for help. When performing tasks according to the developed algorithm, some difficulties have emerged with the quality of the final product; following the third or fourth assembly, 69.84% of the students in the CG lost control over the results of the task and produced a faulty product, often refusing to adjust it. This suggests that individuals with ID perceive the performance of a task as a process, and not as a result of their activity. A different picture emerged among IG students. These were respondents studying in an inclusive educational environment starting from the start of the school. While performing individual tasks the students demonstrated no significant differences in the achievement and application of the algorithm. At the same time, 87.08% of IG students required clarifications before starting the task, in the process they turned to the observer for help, and when pointed out their errors made an effort to amend them.
Block 2. The observer removed one component from the general cycle — a cap on which the hook is fixed. Due to the fact that the algorithm was constantly changing, the students failed to memorize it completely, therefore, having started work, 80.15% of the subjects in the CG could not understand why they have failed to complete the task. They simply quit their job abruptly giving reasons: “it didnꞌt work out. “ The majority of IS students (84.12%) turned for help and during conversation tried to find out why they failed.
Block 3. Teamwork. The observer announced that the team would have a common goal to assemble a certain number of construction sets, but did not offer an algorithm for the team work. The students of the CG continued to work each with their own batch of components without trying to rationalize the process, even after the observerꞌs suggestions to separate the types of work. They worked side by side, but not together. At the same time, each of them carried out the function of control over the members of the group similar to that of the teacher performs in the classroom. Being unaided, they failed to find any other means of interaction, the students practically did not communicate with each other, did not share details, and in case of difficulties stopped working. The results of the experiment showed that only 6.75% of students in the CG were capable of carrying out a constructive dialogue during group interaction.
When forced to work in a group, the students of the IG at the beginning completed the task each on their own but following communication with each other and the observer’s prompts, streamlined their work, distributed the full cycle of the task to assemble and pack the construction sets between their peers.
Block 4. Students with ID were offered a possibility to work in a group of peers without mental disability. The group consisted of 4 people — 2 and 2. At the final stage a new task of concurrence and competition between the teams was added to the test. The results of the research have shown that 55.16% of students with CG turned out to be incapable of evaluation and management of their own behavior during group interaction, demonstrated emotionally unstable behavior, dropped their work over strict requirements, quarreled with each other.
47.61% of students with IG during the team work in a group of peers without mental disorder chose not to act as team leaders but demonstrated readiness for group interaction, expressed their own opinion, listened to that of the team leader. Another 36.51% of students with IG completed their tsk with an average score.
During the comparative study of the results of the observance over students with KG and IG, we have defined general levels of communicative and organization component of readiness for professional band labour activity (Table 1).
The minimum level was found in 55.16% (CG) and 15.87% (IG) — students failed to demonstrate ability to joint activity or work in a team, instead demonstrated estrangement, lack of desire to communicate to peers, did not follow common norms and rules of social behavior, were prone to conflict, aggression, resentment, and often acted impulsively (Table 1).
The average level was found among 38.09% (CG) and 36.51% (IG) — the students periodically demonstrated the ability to team interaction, the ability to work under supervision, sometimes if desired they even demonstrated leadership qualities, albeit fragmented, they failed to get actively involved into interpersonal relations, did not always comply with the general norms and rules of social behavior. Their group work did not help to solve the situation, and demonstrated instead their ability to communicate in a group.
A sufficient level — 6.75% (CG) and 47.61% (IG) — of students actively worked in a team, immediately joined in joint activities, observed general norms and rules of social behavior.
The conducted study confirmed our hypothesis that the homogeneous educational environment of a correctional school can become an obstacle to the development of such basic activities that allow a person with ID, having mastered a profession, to work in a heterogeneous environment of the open labor market. We have identified communication and organizational problems identified in 55.16% of graduates of the correctional school:
— weak analysis of methods to complete the task with a known final result, adaptation of the solution to already known algorithms;
— the intricacies of applying already generated algorithms of labor actions in amended conditions;
— the intricacies of assessing the modality of the social situation;
-the intricacies of adapting to new social relations, inability to regulate one’s behavior in accordance with the requirements of the environment;
— inability to use the dialogue for problem solving;
— overestimation of oneꞌs capabilities;
— mild reflection, regulatory and control function during various activities.
Another 38.09% experience such problems periodically, most often in unfamiliar or competitive environment.
Levels of development of the communicative-organizational
component of readiness
for professional and labor activity of students with ID (%)
Capability to analyze social situatons. Ability to evaluate and manage one’s own activity and behavior. Ability to work in a team.
It is worth noting that such problems are observed only in 15.87% of graduates studying in the inclusive educational environment. Separately, we will highlight the reasons that impede readiness of graduates of an inclusive school for professional labor activity:
— lack of confidence and desire to get help or support from an adult should the slightest difficulties arise;
— inability to independently assess the level of complexity of the tasks they are facing;
— shifting responsibility for performance of the task.
In the absence of a positive example in the work and a clear leader in a homogeneous environment, the students of the IG group, capable of social interaction (36.51%), begin to demonstrate the same passivity in work as the students of the CG group. This indicates that, due to the peculiarities of the development of the volitional sphere and impaired thinking, individuals with ID are unable to communicate effectively and require constant mentoring in their work. Therefore, we can see that the mechanisms of social interaction, which took shape in an inclusive environment are only partially preserved in a homogeneous one, which may also indicate their superficiality.
Thus, the educational environment of correctional schools may hinder the process of development of the communicative-organizational component of readiness for professional activity among students, because its homogeneity, to which L.S. Vygotsky referred [8; 9; 17], does not provide an opportunity for the development of collective cooperation and joint activities that would allow students with ID to launch collective logical thinking, find new ways of activity and thereby control their behavior in the group. That said, the low level of problematization of learning, the lack of a productive dialogue with the teacher and peers without mental disability, lack of positive examples of the causal explanation of substantive activity make students overestimate their strengths, make mistakes and quit activities.
An inclusive educational environment aimed at providing psychological guidance to the student, as demonstrated by the study, helps develop a personality ready for a constant dialogue in problem solving. However, it should be noted that the dialogue is often counter-productive, but turns into a request for help in the absence of independence in the decision-making process, anticipation of prompting from a teacher, tutor or peers. Nevertheless, the doubts and indecision in the activities of IG students generated at the stage of new tasks make them search for the right solution and course of action. While independently found solution to the problem when interacting with team members already represents a step forward in the problem of the readiness of people with ID to integrate into society.
Young people with ID following graduation from educational institutions are not ready for full integration into society employment and work in a team. Given the significance of the defined problem for the Russian society, a comparative study was organized and conducted related to the impact of the educational environment of a correctional school and an inclusive environment on the development of the communicative and organizational foundations of the activities of students with ID based on the case method.
The study makes and proves the hypothesis that the emergence of this problem is due to the influence of a homogeneous educational environment of correctional schools, which despite the attention it gives to the development of a positive attitude to work, discipline and independence in labor activity, does not form the ability to communicate, work together and regulate behavior in accordance with it.
The leverage that activates the thinking and search activity of students with ID is the learning environment that helps develop their social competence, triggers the mechanisms of group interaction in a heterogeneous environment to expand the boundaries of their social experience and transfer skills to new conditions of activity. Such learning conditions can be created by an ideal model inclusive educational environment. The study also highlighted a number of problems characteristic of an inclusive educational environment, such as lack of independence in the activities of students with ID, the instability of their skills for effective group interaction.
The results of the study can form the basis for the creation of special programs that would help to develop a communicative and organizational component of the readiness of students with ID for professional and labor activities in an inclusive educational environment, taking into account the best practices of correctional education in the formation of a positive attitude towards work and independence in labor activity.
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