Children with disabilities in the Japanese school system : a path toward social integration?

Mithout, Anne-Lise

Japanese children with disabilities have traditionally been educated in special schools, specifically dedicated to one type of disability, and often isolated from the rest of society. However, in 2006, in the course of the general reform of education, special education was reformed to promote the principle of “inclusive education” – that is, education in mainstream schools along with non-disabled peers – and, in a broader sense, education meeting the needs of all children, regardless of their particularities in terms of abilities, command of the Japanese language, ethnic/social/family background, etc. This paper aims at assessing the results of this reform after almost ten years of implementation. To what extent has the 2006 reform contributed to improving the integration of disabled or less-abled children into Japanese society? Based on quantitative and qualitative data, the argument shows that it has achieved mixed results in practice, with large variations depending on the type of disability considered. The observed evolution can be interpreted as an extended individualization of pedagogy in mainstream schools, still enrooted in the framework of strong control processes. Even though new structures are created in order to meet everyone’s needs, the implemented approach remains based on a willingness to externalize difficulties, rather than the promised radical transformation of schools toward the recognition of a general diversity.

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