Difficult times, difficult students? Teaching students with learning difficulties to be teachers
Gale, Trevor and Wyer, Doug 1997, Difficult times, difficult students? Teaching students with learning difficulties to be teachers, in Diversity, difference and discontinuity : refereed proceedings of the 27th annual conference of the Australian Teacher Education Association, Yeppon, Queensland, Australia, 5-8 July 1997, Australian Teacher Education Association, Rockhampton, Qld..
The last decade of Australian higher education has witnessed significant expansion in the provision of student places, relative to the Australian population, with student enrolment figures for undergraduate award courses in 1993 totalling 453,926, compared with 287,713 in 1983. Such expansion has raised considerable speculation amongst academics about the quality of students now entering university and their ability to successfully negotiate academic learning environments, particularly since the mid 1990s when unmet demand for higher education began to diminish; the assumption often being that lower entry scores are indicative of future academic problems. This is a significant issue for Australian regional universities, which historically have struggled to attract students with high entry scores and which are likely to experience even greater competition from metropolitan universities given the prospect of 'vouchers', a possibility (re)floated by the West Review, which will enable students to be more selective in their university of choice. Moreover, these 'problems' seem compounded for teacher educators who are required to deliver greater numbers of graduates to satisfy a current shortage of teachers in many Australian States and also to 'soak up' government funded places within their institutions that other faculties have been unable to fill, while drawing from a diminishing pool of high entry-scoring applicants. Within this context, this paper addresses the possibility for teacher educators of facing classes with increasing numbers of students with learning difficulties and learning disabilities, estimated in the early 1980s by Sykes (1982) to be about 5% of university students. In raising these issues, the paper makes two broad contributions. First, it engages with the discussion within the literature concerning competing definitions of university students' learning difficulties and learning disabilities, suggesting that the debate is unhelpful and that the differences are not that important when consideration is given to how they are experienced by students. Secondly, and flowing logically from this, the paper argues that rather than simply defining learning difficulty as intrinsic to students, academic learning environments, and those who construct them, are also implicated in the determination of how difficult (or otherwise) they are for students to access.
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