Barriers in Teaching Science to Students with Special Needs: Exploration From Teachers' Perspectives


Previous research has identified the benefits of science learning to support post-school independence of children with special needs [9]. However, the portion and quality of teaching science to these students is still very limited. This study aimed to explore the barriers faced by teachers in teaching science to children with special needs in both special schools and inclusive school settings. A mixed methods approach was employed to understand the implementation of science learning for children with special needs, especially the support and obstacles faced by teachers and students with special needs. Data were collected through structured interviews and observations of science learning. Interviews and observations were conducted in 11 special classes and 9 inclusive classes when teaching science to reveal the didactic method used by the teacher and the student responses. Guided interviews were conducted with teachers (n = 20, 15 female and 5 male) to understand the teaching process and obstacles experienced. The results of the interviews and observations were validated through a focus group discussion, which was attended by 7 participants. The quality of textbooks with adjustments for students with special needs was found to be the major challenge for teachers as they explained that they have limited time to adjust the content themselves. It was also identified that there is a need for teachers to shift their mindset, as they focus on students’ learning problems as teaching barriers. This study calls for professional development for teachers, with a focus on mindset, teaching strategies and accommodation in science subjects, which would enable teachers to support students with special needs in special and inclusive classrooms.

Keywords: science teaching, students with special needs, barriers in teaching

[1] Sharma U, Forlin C, Deppeler J, Yang G. Reforming teacher education for inclusion in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Asian Journal of Inclusive Education. 2013;1(1):3–16.

[2] Singal N. An ecosystemic approach for understanding inclusive education: An Indian case study. European Journal of Psychology of Education. 2006;3:239-252.

[3] Florian L. Introduction-mapping international developments in teacher education for inclusion. Prospects. 2011;41(3):319–321.

[4] Florian L. Preparing teachers to work in inclusive classrooms: Key lessons for the professional development of teacher educators from Scotland’s Inclusive Practice Project. Journal of Teacher Education. 2012;63(4):275–285.

[5] Majoko T. Teacher key competencies for inclusive education: Tapping pragmatic realities of Zimbabwean special needs education teachers. SAGE Open. 2019;9(1):1-14.

[6] Teacher education for inclusion: International literature review. European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education; 2010. Available from TE4I-Literature-Review.pdf

[7] Schleicher A. International summit on the teaching profession. OECD Publishing; 2016. Teachingexcellence through professional learning and policy reform.

[8] Kahn S, Lewis AR. Survey on teaching science to K-12 students with disabilities: Teacher preparedness and attitudes. Journal of Science Teacher Education. 2014;25(8):885–910.

[9] Villanueva MG, Taylor J, Therrien W, Hand B. Science education for students with special needs. Studies in Science Education. 2012;48(2):187–215.

[10] Pujaningsih P. Penyiapan calon guru untuk anak berkebutuhan khusus di Indonesia: Kondisi saat ini dan Tantangan. JPK ( Jurnal Pendidikan Khusus). 2019;15(1):24–33.

[11] Mastropieri MA, Scruggs TE. Teaching science to students with disabilities in general education settings practical and proven strategies. TEACHING Exceptional Children. 1995;27(4):10–13. 1177/004005999502700403

[12] Atwood RK, Oldham BR. Teachers’ perceptions of mainstreaming in an inquiry oriented elementary science program. Science Education. 1985;69(5):619–624.

[13] McGinnis JR. Teaching science to learners with special needs. Theory Into Practice. 2013;52(1):43–50.

[14] Spektor-Levy O, Yifrach M. If science teachers are positively inclined toward inclusive education, why is it so difficult? Research in Science Education. 2019;49(3):737–766. 9636-0

[15] Lynch S, Taymans J, Watson WA, Ochsendorf RJ, Pyke C, Szesze MJ. Effectiveness of a highly rated science curriculum unit for students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Exceptional Children. 2007;73(2):202–223.

[16] McGrath AL, Hughes MT. Students with learning disabilities in inquiry-based science classrooms: A cross-case analysis. Learning Disability Quarterly. 2018;41(3):131–143. 0731948717736007

[17] Therrien WJ, Taylor JC, Hosp JL, Kaldenberg ER, Gorsh J. Science instruction for students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. 2011;26(4):188–203. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2011.00340.x

[18] Maryanti R, Bayu A, Nandiyanto D, Hufad A, Sunardi S. Science education for students with special needs in Indonesia: From definition, systematic review, education system, to curriculum. Indonesian Journal of Community and Special Needs Education. 2021;1(1):1–8.

[19] Ediyanto E, Kawai N. Science learning for students with visually impaired: A literature review. Journal of Physics: Conference Series. 2019;1227(1):12035.

[20] Hudha MN, Triwahyuningtyas D, Rafikayati A, Fajaruddin S, Maryani I, Widiaty I, Nandiyanto ABD, Hamidah I, Permanasari A. How is STEM learning for children with special needs in Indonesia? Journal of Physics: Conference Series. 2019;1402(4):1–4.

[21] Scruggs TE, Mastropieri MA. Science learning in special education: The case for constructed versus instructed learning. Exceptionality. 2007;15(2):57–74.

[22] Scruggs TE, Mastropieri MA, Boon R. Science education for students with disabilities: A review of recent research. Studies in Science Education. 1998;32(1):21–44. 03057269808560126/

[23] Zakia DL, Sunardi S, Yamtinah S. Pemilihan dan penggunaan media dalam pembelajaran IPA siswa tunarungu kelas XI di kabupaten Sukoharjo. Sainsmat: Jurnal Ilmiah Ilmu Pengetahuan Alam. 2016;5(1):23–29.

[24] Spooner F, Knight V, Browder D, Jimenez B, DiBiase W. Evaluating evidence-based practice in teaching science content to students with severe developmental disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 2011;36(1–2):62–75.

[25] Brooke H, Solomon J. Passive visitors or independent explorers: Responses of pupils with severe learning difficulties at an Interactive Science Centre. International Journal of Science Education. 2001;23(9):941-953.

[26] Knight VF, Spooner F, Browder DM, Smith BR, Wood CL. Using systematic instruction and graphic organizers to teach science concepts to students with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. 2013;28(2):115–126. 10.1177/1088357612475301

[27] Mastropieri MA, Scruggs TE, Butcher K. How effective is inquiry learning for students with mild disabilities? The Journal of Special Education. 1997;31(2):199-211. 002246699703100203

[28] Jimenez BA, Browder DM, Spooner F, Dibiase W. Inclusive inquiry science using peer-mediated embedded instruction for students with moderate intellectual disability. Exceptional Children. 2012;78(3):301-317.

[29] Onwuegbuzie AJ, Leech NL. Post hoc power: A concept whose time has come. Understanding Statistics. 2004;3(4):201–230.

[30] Weiner B. Attribution theory, achievement motivation, and the educational process. Review of Educational Research. 1972;42(2):203–215.

[31] Marino MT, Gotch CM, Israel M, Vasquez E, Basham JD, Becht K. UDL in the middle school science classroom. Learning Disability Quarterly. 2014;37(2):87–99.

[32] Rao K, Smith SJ, Lowrey KA. UDL and intellectual disability: What do we know and where do we go? Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 2017;55(1):37–47.

[33] Bancroft J. A methodology for developing science teaching materials for pupils with learning difficulties. Support for Learning. 2002;17(4):168–175.

[34] Ediyanto E, Suhendri S, Rofiah NH. The challenges of Indonesian science teachers in teaching students with special educational needs in inclusive school. AIP Conference Proceedings. 2020;2215(1):040005.

[35] Creswell J, Clark VLP, Gutmann M, Hanson WE. Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research. Tashakkori A, Teddlie C, editors. SAGE Publications; 2003. Advanced mixed methods research designs; p. 209–240.

[36] Miles MA, Huberman AM, Saldana J. Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. 3rd edition. SAGE; 2014.

[37] Bamberger M, Rao V, Woolcock M. Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research. Tashakkori A, Teddlie C, editors. SAGE Publications; 2010. Using mixed methods in monitoring and evaluation experiences from international development using mixed methods in monitoring and evaluation: Experiences from international development; p. 209–240.