Inclusive Culture as an Indicator of the Readiness of University Specialists to Support Inclusive Higher Education

96

Abstract

The effectiveness of inclusive higher education is determined by a complex of interrelated factors, including the readiness of university staff for inclusion. Taking into account the requests of the state and society, the strategy for the development of education in Russia, the central place in discussing the readiness of university staff for inclusion should take an assessment of the level of development of the inclusive culture as an integral indicator of inclusive competence and personal readiness, which became the goal of this study. The study was implemented on the basis of the Resource Educational and Methodological Center of the North-Western Federal District for people with disabilities of the Cherepovets State University from 2017 to 2023. The pilot study involved 1680 students graduated from the Resource Educational and Methodological center from 2017 to 2023, they filled a questionnaire to assess the level of inclusive culture. The representative sample is represented by 200 employees of 28 universities of the Northwestern Federal District. The results of the study showed that an inclusive culture is a specific neoplasm, the result of professional and personal development of specialists. The level of inclusive culture differs depending on the type of professional activity, it differs in the qualitative composition of the characteristics of representatives of the administration, teachers and educational support staff. Education on the topic of inclusion has a positive effect on the personal readiness for inclusion of university staff. However, the state of inclusive competence has a significant variability of characteristics within the surveyed sample and demonstrates the need for psychological and methodological support and diverse formation for university staff.

General Information

Keywords: students with disabilities; inclusive higher education; readiness for inclusive education; inclusive culture; personnel training

Journal rubric: Educational Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/pse.2023280608

Acknowledgements. The authors thank the educational institutions of higher education of the Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, Vologda, Pskov, Novgorod regions, the Republics of Karelia and Komi for participating in the study

Received: 03.10.2023

Accepted:

For citation: Denisova O.A., Lekhanova O.L., Gudina T.V. Inclusive Culture as an Indicator of the Readiness of University Specialists to Support Inclusive Higher Education. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie = Psychological Science and Education, 2023. Vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 82 – 92. DOI: 10.17759/pse.2023280608.

Full text

Introduction

In modern society, there is an extremely high demand for professional education for young people with disabilities, which is due to the opportunity to pursue a profession to live an independent life and achieve goals. Under these conditions, various aspects of specialists' readiness for inclusion are becoming increasingly relevant research topics in both international and domestic research contexts. The applied request for such research is determined by the practice available in our country for the systematic and regular personnel training for inclusion, as well as activities on the part of regulatory and supervisory authorities. Taking into account the demands of the state and society, strategies of development of education in Russia, when conducting monitoring activities to assess the readiness of specialists to work in an inclusive environment, it is important to assess their inclusive culture as an integral indicator of inclusive competence and personal readiness to support people with disabilities, their continuous and successive professional development, employment promotion and the effectiveness of graduates with disabilities.

The concept of "inclusive culture" is a multicomponent definition, has a polymorphic interpretation (S.V. Alyokhina, Yu.V. Melnik, E.V. Samsonova, A.Yu. Shemanov [1], T. Booth and M. Ainscow [3], etc.). But, regardless of the scientific approach, inclusive culture is recognized as the fundamental basis for creating the culture of an inclusive society in which differences are respected and supported by society, and equal opportunities are provided for those with special conditions. T. Booth and M. Ainscow [3] write about three main vectors in the development of educational organizations: the creation of an inclusive culture, the development of an inclusive policy and the introduction of inclusive practice. E.S. Slusareva, A.V. Dontsov believe that professional and personal readiness are a component of an inclusive teacher's culture [20]. Nataša Tančić, Aleksandra Pavlović point out the importance of inclusive culture as a key aspect of quality work in creating an inclusive educational environment [18]. S.V. Alekhina, A.Yu. Shemanov believe that the inclusive organizational culture of the university contributes to the successful implementation of the goals of higher education [14].  I.N. Simaeva, V.V. Khitryuk, determine the importance of work on the development of inclusive culture, describe its essential characteristics [9]. S.V. Alyokhina, Yu.V. Melnik, E.V. Samsonova, A.Yu. Shemanov describe the application of a comprehensive assessment of the inclusive process as a mechanism for designing inclusion in an educational organization [1]. D.V. Afanasyev, O.A. Denisova, O.L. Lekhanova, V.N. Ponikarova states that higher education teachers’ training for professional activity in an inclusive education environment should contain a full cycle of measures to monitor the readiness for inclusive education [2]. O.B. Yanusova proposed a three-component structure of inclusive culture, in which axiological, personal and communicative, cognitive components are differentiated [13]. O.A. Denisova, O.L. Lekhanova, V.N. Ponikarova, T.V. Gudina identify four components of inclusive culture: value and motivational, cognitive, operational activity, affective components [4]. N.V. Starovoit considers the "surface" and "underwater" part of inclusive culture: the external environment (a barrier-free environment, adapted educational programs, special teaching methods, etc.) and the internal (values, norms, rules of conduct, etc.) [11]. V.Z. Kantor, A.P. Antropov, Yu.L. Project [5] describe a model of the psychological readiness of scientific and pedagogical workers to implement inclusive education. As a methodological basis for teacher readiness, the authors define methodological competence and inclusive practice as a component of professional and pedagogical culture that affects the personal and professional competencies of a teacher. V.V. Khitryuk, [12] in the structure of readiness to perform inclusive pedagogical activity, identifies information-competence, empathic (emotional and moral), motivational (setup-behavior), operationally effective components.  L. Florian, K. Black-Hawkins consider the problem of readiness for inclusion through the prism of helping teachers form inclusive competencies and master teaching strategies [16]. P. Ojok, S. Wormnæs conclude that it is necessary to increase the level of inclusive competence of specialists and fill in knowledge gaps [19]. Similar data has been obtained in other Russian and foreign studies [17, 10].

Based on the analyzed work and experience, inclusive culture is defined by us as an integrative indicator of the employees' readiness to provide guidance for people with disabilities, that involves understanding and accepting the place and role of inclusion in modern society, relevant knowledge, skills and abilities in this area, attitudes towards conveying positive trends towards people with disabilities, a tolerant and balanced attitude towards people with disabilities and their problems. In the structure of the inclusive culture of academic staff, two main elements should be identified as the core: the personal readiness for inclusion and inclusive competence. Personal readiness consists in the value and motivational development (the recognition of the values and principles of inclusion, the conscious choice of norms of an inclusive society, the development of motivation for professional activity and the improvement of competencies in the field of inclusion, interests and needs) and affective (positive feelings, emotions, experiences associated with an interest in implementing inclusion, the desire to effectively resolve situations in conditions of inclusion and develop the ability for adaptive and positive behavior) components.

Inclusive competence includes cognitive (a mastery of general theoretical and applied knowledge about the essence of inclusion, its implementation options, the means to develop inclusion) and operation activity (management, communication, predictive, reflective, projective skills in inclusion, formed patterns of productive coping behavior, implemented in inclusion) components.

Thus, an inclusive culture determines the willingness of employees to provide support and guidance for people with disabilities and health limitations, includes the understanding and acceptance of the place and role of inclusion in modern society, knowledge, skills and abilities in this area, attitudes towards conveying positive trends towards people with disabilities and health restrictions, a tolerant and balanced attitude towards people with disabilities and their problems.

Materials and Methods

The experimental study was implemented on the base of the Resource Educational and Methodological Center of the Northwestern Federal District for persons with disabilities of Cherepovets State University (ChSU) from 2017 to 2023. The pilot study involved 1,680 people who were trained at the REMC of the Northwestern Federal District of the ChSU. The representative sample is represented by 200 male and female respondents with different work experience from 28 universities of the Northwestern Federal District and interaction experience with people with disabilities. They are AMS (administrative and managerial staff) – 43 respondents, ATS (academic teaching staff) - 114 respondents, ESS (educational support staff) - 43 respondents. 

The research method consisted of conducting an online survey on two tests: "Personal readiness for inclusion" and "Assessment of inclusive competence", contained on the research and information portal "Perspektiva-Pro".  The content of the survey tests was developed based on the adapted questionnaire by T. Booth, M. Ainscow [3] and taking into account previously obtained data on the readiness of higher school teachers for inclusive education [2]. The tests were conducted with the partner universities of the REMC ChSU and discussed in the professional community of the REMC. The questionnaires contain 10 questions each, which allow for the assessment of the component and level development of an inclusive culture as an integral indicator of the readiness of university specialists to support inclusive higher education. The description is given at five levels: optimal, advanced, intermediate, starter, beginner.  A detailed description of the technique was published earlier [7]. The proposed questions are supplemented with data from the user's questionnaire on the portal and allows to obtain extra information about the respondents (age, gender, occupation, qualifications, education).

During the course of the analysis, percentage calculations and statistical processing of the empirical study results using a one-way analysis of variance were applied. The calculations were performed using the "StatSoft STATISTICA 10.0.1011" software.

Study Results

According to the results of the assessment of the personal readiness for inclusion, we found that the majority of university employees who have been trained in advanced training courses have an optimal level of personal readiness (Table 1).

Table 1. The Level of Personal Readiness for Inclusion of University Staff

Levels of personal readiness for inclusion

University employee group

AMS

ATS

ESS

respondents

%

respondents

%

respondents

%

Optimal level

35

81

98

86

40

93

Advanced level

8

19

16

14

3

7

Intermediate level

-

-

-

-

-

-

Starter lever

-

-

-

-

-

-

Beginner level

-

-

-

-

-

-

Total

43

100

114

100

43

100

 

In general, the respondents accept the values of inclusion, recognize and accept the need to change themselves as individuals and professionals, and recognize the need for a broad discussion of inclusion issues. The rest of the university specialists showed an advanced level of personal readiness for inclusion. The respondents understand the importance of inclusion, but their attitudes towards it are not always clear and vary from situation to situation. They are ready to selectively interact in solving issues of increasing the availability of education and providing better educational spaces for students with disabilities. Intermediate, starter and beginner levels of personal readiness for inclusion are not noted. The average number of points scored by respondents for each question of the "Personal readiness for inclusion" questionnaire is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. The Average Score of Responses to the "Personal Readiness for Inclusion" Test

University employee group

The average score of responses to the test "Personal readiness for inclusion"*

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

AMS

4,6

4,7

4,4

4,8

4,4

4,3

4,7

3,9

4,6

5,0

ATS

4,8

4,7

4,5

4,6

4,5

4,3

4,7

3,7

4,7

4,6

ESS

4,7

4,7

4,5

4,8

4,7

4,5

4,8

3,8

4,7

4,6

*maximum value is 5 points

As can be seen from the table, the lowest results for all three groups of respondents were obtained in response to Question 8: "Do you think that you can influence an increase in the accessibility of the environment in your organization (institution, enterprise) for people with disabilities?" This question had the lowest average score. The maximum score from the administration representatives was obtained in response to the question "Do you think that inclusion is useful to society as a whole?", from the teaching staff - "Do you think that people with disabilities have the right to study and work together with others in the same collective?", from educational support staff –"Are you interested in gaining knowledge and mastering your skills in inclusion?" and "Do you think that education and work are a resource for the inclusion of people with disabilities into society?".

A comparison of the samples using a one-way analysis of variance showed that the differences between ATS, AMS and ESS are not included in the region of significance (indicators F = 0.61 and p = 0.54, respectively). In other words, despite the general similarity in the level of personal readiness for inclusion, the qualitative composition of the readiness components does not significantly differ between administration representatives, university teachers and educational support staff.

The results of the "Assessment of inclusive competence" test are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Inclusive Competence Level of University Staff

Inclusive competence assessment

University employee group

AMS

ATS

ESS

respondents

%

respondents

%

respondents

%

Optimal level

2

5

18

16

7

16

Advanced level

14

32

42

37

15

35

Intermediate level

15

35

39

34

15

35

Starter lever

10

23

10

9

4

9

Beginner level

2

5

5

4

2

5

Total

43

100

114

100

43

100

 

As we can see, for the most part, advanced and intermediate levels prevail in approximately the same percentage among all respondents. About a third of university staff, regardless of their position, has comprehensive knowledge about special educational needs and special educational conditions for people with disabilities. In general, they are familiar with legislative acts on the education of persons with disabilities at different levels, have certain ideas about methodological resources, the features of using organizational forms, special and assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. However, information about the education of people with disabilities is quite generalized, although systematized.  Another third of the employees are characterized by an insufficient knowledge of inclusive higher education, they are superficially familiar with legislative acts on the education of persons with disabilities and health limitations at different levels, have an incomplete understanding of methodological resources, the features of using organizational forms, special and assistive technologies for the education of persons with disabilities. In general, the list of professional competencies of these university staff is not a guarantee of their readiness to guide people with disabilities.

The average number of points scored by the respondents for each question of the "Personal readiness for inclusion" questionnaire is shown in Table 4.

Table 4. The Average Score to the Questions of the "Inclusive Competence" Test

University employee group

The average value to the questions of the "Inclusive competence" test* *

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

AMS

3,1

2,8

3,1

3,3

2,9

3,1

2,6

2,6

2,6

3,1

ATS

3,4

3,2

3,5

3,6

3,3

3,4

2,9

3,1

2,8

2,8

ESS

3,5

3,1

3,3

3,6

3,3

3,5

3,0

3,2

2,9

2,8

*maximum value is 5 points

As can be seen from the table, the differences in inclusive competence are least pronounced between ATS and ESS. Both categories of employees are quite familiar with the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities in the educational process and rate their level of assistive technology use for people with disabilities the lowest. Higher scores prevail among university administrations in answering the question about the knowledge of the rights of persons with disabilities, the understanding of their special needs, creating special conditions, and the mastery of assistive technologies. Administration representatives rate their competencies least of all in matters of career guidance and the employment of persons with disabilities, as well as the search for resources for the comprehensive education of people with disabilities. A comparison of the respondents’ samples using a one-way analysis of variance showed that the differences between ATS, AMS and ESS in terms of inclusive competence are within the region of significance (indicators F = 0.3.43 and p = 0.03, respectively). Significant differences between AMS, ATS and ESS were revealed on Question 3 of the “Inclusive Competence” test: "Rate your level of awareness of the special needs of people with disabilities and health restrictions" (F=3.29 at the significance level p=0.04). Significant differences were also revealed between AMS, ATS and ESS on Question 8: "Rate your awareness level in organizing and finding resources for the education of people with disabilities" (F=3.66 at the significance level p=0.03). Thus, the inclusive competence of university staff has differences in its characteristics depending on the type of professional activity of university staff.

Discussion and Conclusions

According to the obtained data and the implemented research, inclusive culture is a specific newly formed structure that includes the results of the professional and personal development of university employees and is expressed in the personal and competence readiness to support and promote inclusive higher education. In the structure of the inclusive culture of university staff, two main elements should be distinguished as the core: the personal readiness for inclusion and inclusive competence. Personal readiness consists of the value and motivational development (the recognition of the values and principles of inclusion, the conscious choice of norms of an inclusive society, the development of motivation for professional activity and the improvement of competencies in the field of inclusion, interests and needs) and affective (positive feelings, emotions, experiences associated with an interest in implementing inclusion, the desire to effectively resolve situations in conditions of inclusion and develop the ability for adaptive and positive behavior) components.

Inclusive competence includes cognitive (a mastery of general theoretical and applied knowledge about the essence of inclusion, its implementation options, the means to develop inclusion) and operation activity (management, communication, predictive, reflective, projective skills in the field of inclusion, formed patterns of productive coping behavior, implemented in inclusion) components.

Inclusion training of university staff, carried out within the framework of the Resource Educational and Methodological Centers for the Education of Persons with Disabilities, created on the base of educational institutions of higher education, has a positive effect on the state of the inclusive culture of university staff. The highest results among trained employees were noted in the personal readiness for inclusion, which can be assessed as a resource for further progressive development of inclusion in universities. The vast majority of administration representatives, teachers and educational and support staff accept the values of inclusion, recognize the equal rights of persons with disabilities for education and work, are ready to change themselves, taking into account these norms and values. They have developed the motivation for professional activity and increasing competencies in inclusion, strive for the effective resolving of the problems of inclusive higher education.

At the same time, the state of inclusive competence has a lower level of development compared to personal readiness. It is characterized by differences in the component composition of administration representatives, academic teaching staff, educational and support staff of universities.  Significant differences were revealed between AMS, ATS and ESS in the final score of the inclusive competence assessment of (F=3.43 at the p=0.03 significance level). In general, ATS and ESS are most in need of developing practical skills in using assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and administration representatives are in need of mastering cases and outside-of-the-box solutions in career guidance and the employment of people with disabilities, as well as finding resources for inclusive higher education. Despite the general similarity of the level characteristics of the inclusive culture of university staff, the qualitative composition of the components of personal readiness for inclusion and inclusive competence differs depending on the type of professional activity.  In general, the integral characteristic of an inclusive culture, which consists of a complex characteristic of the state of its structural elements, allows not only to determine the current level of employees’ readiness to support and promote inclusive higher education, but also underlies the design of strategies and tactics in the field of inclusion.  This should be taken into account not only when designing additional educational programs for specialists, but also when building a strategy for the development of universities in the field of inclusion. The data obtained proves the need for the systematic inclusion training of university staff, actualizes the requirements for the variable training of specialists in inclusive higher education, taking into account available resources and deficits. The "problem issues" highlighted in the research process make it possible to identify the central vector of the work on designing the content of targeted professional development or professional retraining programs to prepare specialists at a university to work in an inclusive education environment.

Thus, an inclusive culture is the result of professional and personal development. Its level differs depending on the type of professional activity and among administration representatives, academic staff (teaching staff), educational and support staff at the university. The development of an inclusive culture at the university has a positive effect on the personal readiness for inclusion. However, inclusive competence has a significant variability of characteristics and demonstrates the need for psychological support and methodological guidance for university staff in conditions of variable training.

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Information About the Authors

Olga A. Denisova, Doctor of Education, Professor, Head of the Chair of Correctional Education, Cherepovets State University, , Director of the Resource Training and Methodological Center of the North-West Federal District for the Education of Persons with Disabilities at Cherepovets State University, Cherepovets, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0236-9181, e-mail: denisova@inbox.ru

Olga L. Lekhanova, PhD in Education, Associate Professor Department of special education deputy Director resource educational and methodical center, Cherepovets State University, Cherepovets, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0882-4632, e-mail: lehanovao@mail.ru

Tatiana V. Gudina, Doctor of Education, Professor of the Department of Defectology Education, Cherepovets State University, Cherepovets, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6896-6918, e-mail: gtv1968@mail.ru

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