An inclusive adult education program for students with mild to severe developmental disabilities: A pilot project in Finland
Timo Saloviita, University of Jyväskylä
An inclusive, zero-reject adult education program supported students with mild to severe developmental disabilities in their participation in mainstream education in Finland in various institutions, such as vocational schools, institutes, and university faculties. While not formally enrolled as students of these institutions, they were allowed to participate. Their curricula were individually adapted, and they received support from program facilitators and student volunteers. Experiences of the first 15 students in the program indicated that students themselves, their families, and the program facilitators, although evaluations differed with settings, evaluated the program and its results positively.
When students with disabilities complete their compulsory education in the Finnish comprehensive school at the age of 17, their educational alternatives are limited when compared with that of their non-disabled age-mates. According to the most recent reliable statistics available (Tilastokeskus, 1989), the relative number of students with intellectual disabilities or delayed development was at 2.3% at the upper comprehensive school level, but that number dropped to 0.7% among students who went to vocational schools. This means that the majority of disabled students did not pursue vocational education. The same also seems to be true internationally. People with disabilities continue to be under-represented in post-secondary education as well as in employment (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 1997; The Roeher Institute, 1996).
Furthermore, when students with disabilities enter vocational education in Finland, most often they enter into special environments, such as special schools or special education classes. This was true for 83% of students with mild intellectual disabilities or delayed development, 90% of students with physical disabilities, and 99% of students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities in vocational education (Tilastokeskus, 1989).
The special environments in vocational education represent an extension of the segregated environments in the comprehensive schools, where 91% of all students with disabilities or delayed development entered special education classes in the fall of 1998 (Tilastokeskus, 1999). On a political level, the concept of integrated education has received acceptance. Finland, for instance, was one of the countries of the United Nations General Assembly which signed The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 1994). According to this declaration, “general education authorities are responsible for the education of persons with disabilities in integrated settings” (United Nations, 1994). Clearly, there exists a gap between the stated policy of integrated education and the practice of education, both at the comprehensive and the vocational schools.
Little has been written on inclusive post-secondary education. In the United States, school districts have provided increasing opportunities for students with disabilities to attend college and other post-secondary education programs (Hall, Kleinert, & Kearns, 2000). However, these opportunities have been mostly confined to students with mild disabilities. Students with severe disabilities typically remain in high schools until the age of 21, or until they reach the limit of their eligibility for special education (Hall, Kleinert, & Kearns, 2000). Probably, therefore, only a few examples have been presented on their inclusive programs at the post-secondary level (Doyle, 1997; Hall, Kleinert, & Kearns, 2000).
A well documented inclusive post-secondary program that has been running since 1987 is the “On Campus” program in Edmonton, Canada (Bowman & Skinner, 1994; McDonald, MacPherson-Court, Frank, Uditsky, & Symons, 1997; Uditsky, Frank, Hart, & Jeffery, 1988). This program, funded by the Edmonton Regional Office, was founded by active parents and officers of the Alberta Association for Community Living. Unlike other reported programs, the On Campus program does not operate in the junior college environment, but surprisingly, rather in the university setting. It supports students with moderate to severe developmental disabilities in participating in adapted university studies in the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta. It employs four program facilitators and two personal assistants. It supports eleven students, some of whom have profound developmental disabilities. According to the program facilitators, “university is an environment that encourages growth and self-development while making changes and adjustments along the way. It is a valued place to move along with one’s peers from one stage of life to another” (Bowman & Skinner, 1994). A study done which evaluated the On Campus program reported several positive findings (McDonald et al., 1997). According to the students and their parents, the program had positive effects on the lives of its participants, both socially and academically. For instance, almost all students developed friendships at the university and reported an improved self-perception and self-esteem. The On Campus program was strongly supported by the On Campus students, their families, their student peers, and those faculty members who had included On Campus program students in their classrooms (McDonald et al., 1997). During the last few years, the On Campus program in Edmonton has stimulated the start of similar programs around Canada (in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Charlottetown), and also in Adelaide, Australia. Most are operating in university environments (Tim Weinkauf, personal communication, 31 October 2000).
The On Campus model in Finland
In Finland, a student has the right to freely aspire to any vocational education program he/she is interested in. Vocational education can be arranged as special education where necessary adaptations are guaranteed. According to the law, the student who receives special education has a right to necessary supports, such as personal assistants or assistive devices (Act 630/1998). A loophole, however, exists in that vocational schools have no obligation to arrange special education unless specifically ordered by the Ministry of Education. Thus, they are mostly free to reject students on the basis of their disability (Act 630/1998).
Even though educational institutions have a right to reject students with disabilities, there still remains a possibility for an inclusive education. Thus, the On Campus program, has secured the opportunity for persons with developmental disabilities to participate even where he/she is not formally entitled to student status. Instead, he/she participates in mainstream education supported by another, outside organisation, with the permission of the host institution (Uditsky et. al., 1988).
This model can be applied in Finland, too. Education in Finland is public, which means that anyone can enter classes in comprehensive schools, vocational schools, or universities, and follow the teaching without formal enrollment as a student. Naturally, the guest student must be accepted by teachers and other students. However, the guest status of a student with disabilities may be acceptable for the host institution even if the institution is unwilling to give her/him formal rights as a student.
The aim of this paper is to describe the experiences of a Finnish inclusive adult education program for students with mild to severe disabilities, which applied the reported guest approach. This program, named “Kampus”, functioned for five years from 1995 to 2000.
A word should be said about the Finnish school system. Basic education consists of nine years of compulsory schooling, from the age of seven to 15. Education for students with severe disabilities is longer and is compulsory between the ages of 6 to 16. Secondary education consists of three years and is the main road to university or its alternatives – vocational schools, which are sometimes called institutes, and polytechnics.
Description of the Kampus Program
Kuhankoski school, one of the oldest special vocational schools in Finland, began an inclusive adult education program in 1995, according to the model provided by the On Campus program in Canada. This was preceded by two years of small-scale experimentation by the author, aided by his university students. Right after the start of the program, the author also visited Edmonton and studied the functioning of the On Campus program.
The Finnish program employed two facilitators and had six places for students. The facilitators of the program were from the staff of the Kuhankoski special education school. One of the faciliatators was a teacher and one was a rehabilitation counsellor. They were closely advised by the author. Formally, the students were enrolled in the Kuhankoski special education school, which received funding from the state based on the number of students enrolled. The students in the Kampus program were individually placed within regular educational institutions in accordance with their own choice. We used MAPS, a person-centered planning process (Falvey, Forest, Pearpoint & Rosenberg, 1994; Forest & Lusthaus, 1989) to help the students and their families decide about future studies and possible locations for the study programs. Unfortunately, few institutions were willing to accept students with disabilities, even if they had guest status. It also became evident that only a few institutions provided an accepting climate for students with disabilities. Therefore, the Kampus program was limited to only a few institutions. We found the most accepting environment in the Jyväskylä Institute of Health and Social Care. Even if the universities provided a climate of acceptance for disabled students, there were still some disadvantages. The social grouping in universities was often loose and this made it difficult for students with disabilities to develop social ties. Also, the university students were older than the Kampus students. Therefore, our students most often preferred to study in a vocational school.
After an institution allowed a student with disabilities to participate, the facilitator asked for one or more volunteers among the non-disabled students to support the Kampus student in class. This was adopted from the On Campus program in Canada (Bowman & Skinner, 1994) because Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, and MacFarland (1997) have shown that facilitator acting as personal assistant may become a barrier between the disabled student and his non-disabled peers. We avoided this by using student volunteers whenever possible, and facilitators avoided entering classes if at all possible.
Individualized education plans were written for all students with disabilities, starting with general goal setting by the participants and their relatives in the MAPS meetings. Detailed objectives were worked out by facilitators and the teachers of the institution in question. A weekly timetable was developed for each student which contained the classes he/she was to participate in. An essential part of each student’s studies was work training. It took place at the same time that the regular students were at work or had breaks in the study schedule.
Participants in the Kampus Program
During its first four years, 15 students participated in the Kampus program. The last term of 1999-2000 was left out of this report because of some changes that were made in the original model. Background data on the students and their placements are presented in Table 1. Of the participants, four were men, and 11 were women. Their ages ranged from 16 to 51 years and the median age was 18 years. All students except one were from special education classes. The exception had previously received no formal education at all. Seven students were from special education classes for students with mild disabilities or delayed development. Six students were from special education classes for students with moderate to severe mental retardation, and one was from a special education class for students with physical disabilities. Placement in the inclusive Kampus program was not based on prior testing or diagnosis. Two of the students had personal assistants because of weak sight and lack of independence respectively. The duration of studies ranged from one to three years, and was typically about two years in length. The duration was dependent on the typical length of studies at the host institution. Nine different educational institutions were used as hosts, as seen in Table 1.
Students participating in the Kampus program during the years 1995 – 1999.
EducationPlace in Kampus
11995-98F17EMU1Vocational school 1
Institute of social care
31995-96M24EHA2 University (sports)
41995-97F35-Institute of social care
51996-98F17EHA2Vocational school 2
81996-97M22EHA2Vocational school 3
91996-97F51EMU1Institute of social care 2
101997-98M16EMU1Vocational school 2
111997-99F16EMU1Institute of social care
121997-99F18EMU1Institute of social care
131997-99F17EHA2Institute of social care
141998-99M18EHA2Institute of social care
151998-99F18EHA2Institute of social care
1 EMU = special education class for students with delayed development
2 EHA = special education class for students with moderate to severe disabilities
3 EVY = special education class for students with physical disabilities
Outcomes of the Kampus Program
Outcome data was systematically collected from questionnaires filled out by the program facilitators on each student. The questions on the questionnaire were open-ended and focused on the students and their studies.
Selection of students. The Kampus program did not select its students on the basis of their skills. Even those with significant disabilities were accepted if a personal assistant could be obtained for them. Two such students were accepted to the program. Applications for five accepted students were initiated by their parents who were interested in inclusive education. Most Kampus students were referred by professionals, such as, former special education teachers (4), social workers (2), day care centre workers (1) or the staff of Kuhankoski school itself (3). Only 20% of the Kampus students came from the town of Jyväskylä where the program was based. Most students came from the surrounding rural districts with smaller populations.
Goals sought for students.
Social goals were most frequently sought by participants and their relatives. These included the development of social relationships with other people and the strengthening of their self-esteem. The second most frequently sought goals were those of self-regulation, self-control, and the functional skills needed in the community and in every-day life. Academic and working skills were less often identified as priorities for the students. This is interesting because it is the opposite of the goals of schools, where the attainment of academic skills is the most important objective (Weisenfeld, 1987).
Participation in classes.
The degree of participation of the students in classes depended on their level of disability. Some took part in all the same classes as their non-disabled peers. Those with more severe disabilities did not participate in those classes which were considered too theoretical. In the latter case, alternatives were found such as work experience or visits to explore the city. The participation of students depended very much on the adaptations that facilitators were able to make. For example, a student could participate in the lessons on foreign language if the curriculum could be tailored to such a students capabilities.
Three Kampus student succeeded in becoming full time students at their host institutions. One of these successes occurred at a vocational school (no 1), another at a commercial institute (no 7), and the third at a people’s institute (no 6) – a uniquely Finnish institution. For these three students, support from the Kampus program continued after the termination of the official program, because such support was necessary and it could not be provided by the host institution itself.
Acceptance of the Students by Non-Disabled Peers.
According to the facilitator’s questionnaire responses, the attitudes of non-disabled peer students towards Kampus students varied from full through superficial acceptance, and in some cases, to negative feelings. Kampus students with mild learning difficulties were, for the most part, readily accepted as equal members of their class. Students with severe disabilities met more obstacles. Sometimes they were seen as outsiders or were only tolerated or superficially accepted.
Because the integration of students with disabilities in regular schools is very rare in Finland, the non-disabled peers and their teachers were, as a rule, in a new and confusing situation. This was evident from the interview data as seen in teacher comments such as: “Actually, I don’t know what, then, is the final aim of this, this Kampus project”, and peer comments such as: “I have no idea of the purpose of the Kampus program. The whole system is unclear to me” (Takkunen, 1997). Despite these feelings of confusion, the teachers and students did find some meaning in the program – especially in its social dimension as seen in comments such as: “…but, yes, absolutely in her point of view, in my mind, it is very important… to be in a normal environment, where others of the same age are… to obtain the normal models of behaviour… for instance… It is, naturally, to try out contact with other people and, and eat with others, and this kind… social interaction.” (Takkunen, 1997).
Although we found no examples of true friendships developing between Kampus students and their peers without disabilities, however, various helping behaviours and equal status social interaction did occur.
Most students with disabilities encountered a truly new situation when they entered the Kampus program after being in sheltered special education environments. The first term typically started with training in functional community skills such as how to use public transportation, how to move independently in town, how to use traffic lights, the telephone or money, or how to tell time. During their studies, students made progress in functional self-help skills and self-regulation. Most students made progress in academic reading and writing skills, which were regularly taught. One student (no 6) who came from a special education class for learning disabled students even learned to read for the first time in the Kampus program. The students also made progress in physical, information technology, and various vocational skills. Only one 35-year-old student with severe disabilities was reported to have made hardly any progress at all during her two years of study.
The social skills of the Kampus students developed as well. Because the Kampus students had special school backgrounds, they often were unaccustomed to following the rules found in mainstream society. For example, offensive sexual behaviour, such as public masturbation was a problem at first. Some students were shy about talking with other non-disabled students. A frequently reported achievement was the growth of self-confidence and the ability to interact with others. In general, facilitators rated the Kampus program as successful with respect to the attainment of social, functional, vocational, and academic skills.
Disabled Students’Attitudes toward the Program.
According to the questionnaire responses of the facilitators, most Kampus students enjoyed their studies and were highly motivated. Only one student (no 2) interrupted her studies because of mental health problems. She was able to return to them two years later. One student (no 4) was not able to express her opinion verbally, but was nonetheless able to participate in the program for two years.
Perceptions of the Families of the Kampus Program.
The fathers and mothers of the Kampus students expressed their satisfaction with the program. One family even said that the Kampus program “saved the future” of their child. In this case (no 6), the student was denied admission to a regular school, but later returned to mainstream education through the Kampus program. After learning to read in the program, the student was able to finish comprehensive schooling and obtain qualification for future studies in regular educational institutions. In general, families were satisfied with the progress their children had made in social and other skills.
Perceptions of the Facilitators.
The facilitators evaluated the program positively. In their opinion, the program improved the skills of the students, promoted their self-confidence and social development, contributed to their qualification for future studies, and provided enriching experiences. For only one pupil (no 3), was the program regarded as unsuccessful. The student occasionally had severe aggressive behaviour, and his participation was discontinued before the end of the term after he refused to take part in relaxation training that aimed at enhancing his self-control. In spite of this failure, even this student enjoyed his studies greatly. With better resources it may have been possible to find positive solutions for him which would have enabled him to continue participating in the program.
After Completion of the Program.
After completion of their studies in the Kampus program seven students continued their studies elsewhere – three as regular students in normal educational institutions, three in special education classes in regular vocational schools, and one in a special vocational school. Two students began unpaid work in mainstream work places, and one received a paid position through subsidized and supported employment. One student was able to move from his parents’ home to live independently.
The Kampus program was evaluated positively by students themselves, their families, and the facilitators. The teachers and students of the host institutions had more mixed opinions of the program, as was evident from a study done one year after the program’s implementation (Takkunen, 1997). In interviews, the teachers and students presented both positive and negative feelings about the program. Since not all host institutions were equally accepting the program slowly moved to those institutions which were found to be most welcoming. The uncertainty of the teachers and students in the host institutions concerning the value of inclusive education was understandable in the light of the structure of the Finnish school system. Teachers and students typically had no prior personal experience with students with disabilities in regular classes.
An inclusive, zero-reject education program was a curiosity in Finland. It is an indication of the relative freedom from prejudice that a traditional special vocational school was ready to start the program. Nevertheless, a considerable degree of tension may have been inevitable. By its mere existence the inclusive program called into question the basic assumptions of other traditional programs. The question could be asked: if students with severe disabilities could successfully study in regular environments, why are special education classes or special schools needed at all? This concern may be why the program did not receive the active support of many local professionals from the disability field. In the end, the integrity of the program was destroyed during its last year by restoring special grouping on a part-time basis. The Kuhankoski school terminated the program after five years. However, the idea was not extinguished as a model of the Kampus program was adopted by the Vocational School for the Deaf in Turku. This program with one facilitator and three students has begun its third year in the local institute of social care.
In summary, the Kampus program replicated many, but not all, of the positive findings reported by the On Campus program in Canada (McDonald, et al., 1997). The development of friendship relationships between disabled and non-disabled students could not, however, be replicated by the Kampus program. In order for inclusive programs to be started and to survive, support both from parents and professionals is necessary. In the Kampus case, the program was terminated largely because of insufficient support from disability professionals. This may be linked to the fact that demand for inclusive education on the part of families was not as prominent in Finland as it is in Canada. This may be why the Kampus program was not as successful as a similar Alberta program was reported to have been.
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This study was supported in part by a grant from the Oskar Öflund Foundation. The author wishes to thank Mrs. Sari Jussila, Mrs. Anna-Kaarina Liukkonen, Mrs. Satu Nummi, and Mrs. Ritva Puupponen for participating in data-collection.
Address correspondence to: Timo Saloviita, Department of Special Education, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, FIN-40351 Jyväskylä, Finland. E-mail: email@example.com