The researchers Bjørg Mari Hannås and Natallia Bahdanovich Hanssen have studied the special education offered to children in Norwegian ECEC institutions.
The researchers were interested in looking at how ECEC personnel describe their own special education practices and those of the ECEC institution when working with children with language difficulties. The study is part of Hanssen’s PhD work.
Want to help so much, but simply cannot manage
What has become clear to the researchers is that many different types of professionals work with children’s language problems in Norwegian ECEC institutions. Assistants, ECEC teachers and special education teachers all share this responsibility.
All of them felt inadequate, stating that they did not have the expertise required to help the children. They wanted to help, but did not quite know how.
The employees felt the children were suffering, and it felt like a defeat.
Long wait for outside help
Staff members at ECEC institutions find it hard to accept that it is so difficult to access special education expertise.
Both unskilled staff and trained teachers feel they have a pressing need for outside guidance, but it is difficult to get access to speech therapists and special education teachers. The waiting time for help is long, meaning there is little continuity in language learning, in their opinion.
Norway needs to upgrade the special education expertise available to ECEC institutions. A lack of expertise on the part of the employees, combined with little outside guidance, leads to the employees feeling despair and frustration, according to the researchers.
The principle of inclusion is at risk
The researchers believe that the heavy emphasis placed on the principle of inclusion may have served to fragment special education measures.
‘This means that those who struggle do not get the same attention as everyone else. When they fail to master the same activities as the others, they feel left out. The principle of inclusion is at risk’, remarks Hannås.
‘The problem needs to be taken seriously’, she adds.
Comparing Norway and Belarus
The researchers compared Norwegian ECEC institutions with Belorussian ones. The choice of Belarus was natural, since Hanssen comes from there and speaks the language.
Ten employees with experience of working with language acquisition were interviewed in each country. The employees came from five different ECEC facilities in each country.
Norway and Belarus are very different. Like Norway, though, Belarus is concerned with efforts to prevent language difficulties in ECEC settings. The numbers of children receiving special education assistance are about the same in the two countries. Language difficulties are the most common challenges related to special education in ECEC institutions in both countries.
Different in both practice and ideology
In the researchers’ experience, the practical and ideological approaches to special education are very different in the two countries. In Norway, the idea of inclusion stands strong. Belarus is just at the start of a process towards more inclusion.
Norway’s sets great store by children’s participation in ECEC pedagogy. Belarus does not focus to the same extent on affording children great freedom to develop.
In Norway, children with language difficulties are often taught in large groups where everyone engages in the same language activities. Considerable attention is devoted to allowing the children themselves to decide what to do in the groups.
In Belarus, teaching takes place in smaller groups and is more individual. The structure and guidance for the teaching content are also clearer.
Another important difference between the countries is the expertise, the researchers point out.
ECEC personnel in Belarus have higher, more specialised expertise than staff in Norwegian ECEC institutions, and only those with this special expertise can be in charge of language learning.
‘Those who work with special education language learning in Belarus do not struggle with a sense of inadequacy the way childcare workers do in Norway,’ Hanssen remarks.
What has become clear to the researchers is that many different types of professionals work with children’s language difficulties in Norwegian ECEC institutions.