Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
To date, several reviews have investigated students and teachers’ experiences from and attitudes towards integration of students with disabilities (SWDs) in school physical education (PE). Under this, metaphorically speaking, “rain” of evidence, a review of reviews (or an “umbrella review”) can be used to provide a summary of research up to date. In this article, the author conducted an umbrella review to investigate students’ and teachers’ experiences from and attitudes towards integration of SWDs in PE.
Teachers in today’s schools meet heterogeneous groups of students who all have their individual needs and abilities. Current estimates suggest that approximately 15 percent of the population worldwide live with some form of disability. The social model of disability differentiates between impairment and disability. Impairment is the condition of body function and structure whereas disability is understood as the environmental response to the impairment. The social model suggests that people are not disabled by their impairment. Rather, it is barriers in the society, such as attitudes and perceptions that cause disadvantages or restrictions.
Since around the mid-2000s, the concept of inclusive education has received increased research attention. Here, it is necessary to make a distinction between the two concepts integration and inclusion. Integration represents the physical placement in which students are taught, such as the PE classroom. Inclusion, however, might be understood as a philosophy, a way of thinking and acting that embraces diversity and allows all students to experience a sense of belonging and acceptance within the classroom. This means that students who are physically placed within the PE classroom can experience different degrees of a sense of belonging and acceptance during the lessons. To put it simply, they can feel more och less included.
To compile this umbrella review, four electronic databases (Educational Research Complete, ERIC, Scopus, and SportDiscus) were systematically searched to identify reviews published in scientific peer reviewed journals between 2010 and 2020. A total of 193 documents were identified. The titles and abstracts were screened and reviewed for eligibility, and eight reviews met the pre-specified inclusion criteria and were included. The reviews were published between 2012 and 2019 and were of moderate-to-high methodological quality. The studies summarised in the reviews had been conducted in many different countries and predominantly through questionnaires and interviews. The studies investigated experiences from and attitudes towards students with different forms of disabilities, such as physical and emotional-behavioral disabilities. The reviews were read in-depth and a narrative analysis of the overall findings was conducted by qualitatively synthesising recurrent themes across the reviews.
The narrative analysis generated a number of themes for students and teachers. The findings from this umbrella review indicated that students and teachers have mixed experiences from, and ambiguous attitudes towards the integration of SWDs in PE. Some SWDs have reported opportunities for full participation and that they perceive themselves as legitimate participants that contribute to the games. In addition, they have experienced positive social peer interactions, such as having been assisted with involvement in the activities by their peers. Above all, however, the findings showed that many SWDs have negative experiences from being integrated into PE. These experiences included negative social comparisons, social isolation, and bullying. For example, SWDs have reported limited opportunities to interact with their peers during PE class, and that they have experienced yelling and name-calling. This suggest that integrated PE might not always provide SWDs with inclusive experiences.
Above all, however, the findings showed that many students with dicsabilities have negative experiences from being integrated into PE. These experiences included negative social comparisons, social isolation, and bullying.
The reason for these negative experiences among SWDs is likely complex. For example, the umbrella review indicated that teachers felt that they lack confidence, comfortability and knowledge to teach integrated PE. In addition, they have faced time constraints and lack of resources. There were also findings to suggest that teachers might be prone to focus on sports activities which seem to generate circumstances where SWDs perceive that their abilities do not fit within the idea of PE.
Although positive experiences among SWDs have been noted in previous research, the findings indicate that integrated PE might not always provide SWDs with inclusive experiences, such as a sense of belonging and acceptance. It is therefore argued that integrated PE do not always meet inclusion agendas.
The umbrella review suggest that teachers need to explore ways to bridge challenges and create opportunities for positive and meaningful experiences among all students who participate in integrated PE. Reasonably, to create such opportunities means more than merely adopting different sports activities. Rather, teachers need to feel empowered, to have confidence and knowledge, to respond to students’ individual needs and abilities, and to be open minded, creative and flexible. From a broader perspective, this also have implications for contemporary PE teacher education as future PE teachers should be educated to broaden the PE curriculum and create opportunities for positive and meaningful experiences among all students.
Copyright © Andreas Fröberg 2021