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Special education

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The education for people with special needs will be the subject of my post. I will start to present the legislative amendment on special education that took place in 2008, then I will discuss economic reasons that might explain this policy-shift and finally I will attempt to gather these issues with society’s choices.

In 2008, the two main Portuguese political parties approved a legislative amendment that intended to pass a considerable part from students with special needs from institutions focused on special education to “standard” schools, according to proposers in a logic of “inclusive school”. By then, a large number of parents, teachers and investigators have warned about the risks of these changes: they feared that a large number of children with special needs were left behind by the newly defined classifications. That is, afraid that some of the students needing a special treatment would be treated like the others. And recent data seems to justify their fears: accordingly to the largest Portuguese teachers union federation, “more than twenty thousand students stopped having special education”, while several parents associations accuse the Ministry of Education of disregarding its own responsibility in the education of these children. I will not discuss whether the proponents really believed in the possibility of building an “inclusive school” by this legislative amendment or if this was a manner of reducing public expenditure, but what seems to be true is that special education is now worse-off and until now no measures were taken to overcome this situation.

Now I will present some economic aspects of education. Is there any economic reason why governments spend huge amounts of money on education? Although it is hard to measure the economic efficiency of it, education can be seen as an investment, as long as we assume that the more educated one gets, the more productive one becomes. This is one of the arguments often used to explain the differences amongst rich and poor countries, although we should consider that the investment on education is also dependent of the richness of countries, and richer ones can afford higher investments. The vision of education as an investment provides support to give lower support to students with more difficulties on learning (who are, so, a less profitable investment). Thus, in strictly economic terms, it seems logical to reduce the investment that was made on students with special needs if the investment that was being made was larger than the return it gave afterwards.

However, education is more than only a way of improving workers capabilities: it provides the tools for an independent life and allows for reducing social and economic inequalities. In this sense, even if we are incurring in a (monetary) unprofitable investment, shouldn’t we allocate more resources to people who have special needs (and consequently are not very productive), but who we think that deserve to have a place in the society? In this sense, there is room for discussing what we value in a society, given the costs of it: for analyzing the trade-off between economic efficiency and social justice, we cannot only look at one side of the story.

Samuel Cardoso, 624


Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

One thought on “Special education

  1. Before all I have to say that the question that rose from your comment is very important and raises an important question, not only in an economic point of view but also in an ethical one.
    I understand your point of view when referring to the economic point, regarding efficiency. Of course, for the Portuguese government to apply such a measure they believed that the investment they were making for the special needs students was not having its expected return and as Portugal was beginning to experience the first signs of an international crisis, then such measure had to be taken so that some money could be saved. (In a pure economic point of view context)
    But is not putting those students in the same class as regular students also creating inefficiency? Putting all those students together will harm both kinds of students. By one hand, the special needs students won’t have the support that they need so that they can have a proper understanding of the subject (assuming classes are given in a normal way), on the other hand if teachers pay attention to those students (even in an unconscious way) probably what will happen is that it will slow the pace of the class and will harm those who have a normal understanding of the subjects and their capacities won’t be maximized.
    So if this happens, the investment that is made in education will not be efficient. I believe that although the investment made previously is higher, it will achieve better outcomes. We cannot only look at numbers and at the national budget, we also have to think how to maximize educational efficiency, because although a higher spending in education is not directly correlated with higher educational performance, I truly believe that this is one of the exceptions. Not only will we be helping those with special needs to have a better education and learn at their own pace and with a higher surveillance, like the regular students will have no impediment to maximize their performance, if the educational system is well designed. Education is one of the main drivers for a better future and that is something that politicians and society cannot forget.

    Renato Poirier