Principals' and Teachers' Perceptions of Learning Disabilities: A Study from Nara Prefecture, Japan

Article excerpt

Astract. In this study, perceptions of learning disabilities were obtained from 128 principals and 123 teachers in the Nara Prefecture, Japan. A factor analysis indicated that five factors underlie perceptions of learning disabilities: changes in the family and social situation, insufficient knowledge of and support for learning disabilities, teachers' abilities and professional development, teachers' situation and governmental issues. Teachers' situation was perceived to be the main factor, whereas the least important factor was governmental issues. Teachers mainly indicated agreement on the factor of insufficient knowledge of and support for students with learning disabilities. Principals were more aware of governmental issues than teachers.

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The field of learning disabilities has developed dramatically in Japan in the last decade. The first definition of learning disabilities was developed in 1999 (Committee on Guidance/Education Planning for Children with Learning Disabilities, 1999). In 2000 and 2001, the Enrichment Project for the Support System for Students with Learning Disabilities was implemented. Since this project began, progress has been made in developing a screening system, frameworks for providing followup support for students with learning disabilities and improved networking between schools and specialists (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2002, 2003a).

Today a support system for students with learning disabilities is being developed (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2003b; Ueno, Muta, & Konuki, 2001; Yamaguchi, 2000). The development of a support system is part of a series of changes in education, the greatest reform being a change of name from "special education" to "special support education" and associated implications. This change reflects the addition of students who need support in the general education classroom, such as students who have learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and those with high-functioning autism such as Asperger syndrome, to the group of students who are entitled to specialized assistance (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2003b).

Brief History of Support for Students with Learning Disabilities in Japan

"Special education" in Japan used to refer to students with significant low-incidence disabilities, who typically attended special schools or special classes, and who comprised approximately 1.3% of the total school population (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2003b). Now "special support education" also refers to students who are found in the general education classroom, and there is an emphasis on supporting the needs of these students. These students comprise about 6% of the total school population (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2003b). Consequently, special support education covers 7-8% of all students (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, 2003b).

In the past, there were as many students with significant disabilities in general education classes without special support as students in special schools or classes (Abe, 1998; Tsuge, 2001). There were several reasons for this situation: (a) the lack of differential identification between mild mental retardation and learning disabilities; (b) it was thought that general education was the appropriate placement for these students; and (c) parents' requests (Miyamoto, 2000). In terms of reasons (a) and (b), it is important to realize that Japanese teachers traditionally have believed that education should be provided for the "whole person," which included mental health, social and personality development, as well as cognitive improvement (Okano & Tsuchiya, 1999). Furthermore, elementary teachers believed that academic achievement is not as important as non-academic achievement (Okano & Tsuchiya, 1999) and, unlike U. …