Lived Experience of Teachers in Teaching
Students with Intellectual Disabilities in
Burka Bekumsa Inclusive Primary
DinkaYadeta1 and Dawit Negassa2*
1Department of Special Needs and Inclusive Education, Ambo University, Ethiopia
2Department of Special Needs and Inclusive Education, Haramaya University, Ethiopia
Submission: February 20, 2022; Published: April 19, 2023
*Corresponding author: Dawit Negassa, Department of Special Needs and Inclusive Education, Haramaya University, Ethiopia.
How to cite this article: DinkaY, Dawit N. Lived Experience of Teachers in Teaching Students with Intellectual Disabilities in Burka Bekumsa Inclusive
Primary School, Ethiopia. Glob J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2023; 11(4): 555818. DOI:10.19080/GJIDD.2023.11.555818
The purpose of this study was to explore lived experience of teachers in teaching children with intellectual disabilities (CWID) in Burka Bekumsa Inclusive Primary School. A qualitative approach with phenomenological design was employed to obtain the required information from regular and special needs education (SNE) teachers. The study involved six teachers who were selected purposively for having experience of teaching CWID. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews and analyzed thematically. Findings of the study revealed that the education of CWID focuses on helping them acquire some basic daily life skills such as dining, personal hygiene, greetings and basic academic skills related to counting, self-awareness and environmental recognition which involve naming body parts, objects and animals. It was found that the educational experiences organized by the teachers and the school benefited the children in developing independent life skills, communication, behavior, relationships with typical children and teachers. The study also found that teachers’ skill of teaching and relationship with the CWID was improved successively as a result of familiarity with the behavior and ways of learning acquisition among CWID. Lack of relevant training for teachers on inclusion of CWID, shortage of classroom and appropriate educational materials, lack of incentives for teachers and weak parental involvement in the education of their children were identified as outstanding problems in educating the CWID. It is recommended that skill-related trainings and incentive packages should be organized for teachers to compensate for the demanding work, basic instructional resources should be allocated, and parents should be encouraged and empowered to take part in the education of their children.
Keywords: Children with intellectual disabilities; Ethiopia; Inclusive primary school; Lived experience
Inclusive education is the process of responding to the diversity of children by enhancing participation in the classrooms and reducing exclusion from education . Inclusive education ensures quality education for all students by effectively meeting their diverse needs in a responsive, respectful and supportive manner in mainstream educational settings. Mainstream schools include children with special educational needs in the classroom with their typical peers and seek to address the needs of all children by providing quality education. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 2006), states that every child has the right to education, irrespective of their disability and without any kind of discrimination. Therefore, children with special educational needs have the right to be educated in school settings that build their independence and sense of well-being with a view to facilitate maximum inclusion and active participation in their communities . Historically, children with intellectual disabilities (CWID) are one of the groups of children with special educational needs who were denied the right to education in general and access to the mainstream neighborhood school in particular.
The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines intellectual disability as a type disability that is characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, which cover several deficits in daily life skills. This disability originates before the age of 18 . According to Turnbull & Wehmeyer  ID affects students
intellectual and cognitive functioning, impairs social and adaptive
behavior; affects language learning and use, and results in poor
academic skills. Thus, the rate of learning new information may
be very slow  and the children may require repetition, the use
of concrete materials, and meaningful examples in all learning
Research findings on the education of children with
intellectual disabilities have shown that there are tested strategies
in designing and organizing instruction for these children in an
effective manner. For instance, Turnbull & Wehmeyer  indicated
that the instructional delivery for CWID needs to be as concrete as
possible. The topics and methods to be selected for teaching these
children need to be tailored based on their intellectual capabilities
and pace of learning . King, Baxter, Rosenbaum, Zwaigenbaum
& Bates  also noted that educating CWID requires teachers
to use flexible approaches, relate the information to real life
situation, and move from the known to the unknown. The authors
further recommended that teachers should focus on few ideas in
delivering lessons that involve complex topics and structure the
tasks to be included in the learning process in order to encourage
active participation of the students.
Along the same line, Emerson, Robertson, Baines & Hatton 
indicated that the outlook of the teachers and the way they handle
CWID play a vital role in the process of implementing educational
programs designed for these children. The authors particularly
underscored that teachers do not merely deliver the curriculum;
instead, they have the potential to effectively contribute to
defining, developing, and improving the whole educational
process of students. Thus, for the successful implementation of
inclusive education programs, enhancing teachers’ competence
through initial teacher training and continuous professional
development programs is vital .
A significant number of earlier studies conducted in many
countries have shown that teachers have concerns about working
with students with disabilities . For example, a recent study
conducted in Kenya showed that CWID were not taught effectively
because teachers were not trained enough . Other previous
studies also showed that teachers lacked confidence for teaching
in fully inclusive classrooms due to deficits in specialized skills
and knowledge  and feel anxious when teaching in classrooms
with diverse students .
Despite that inclusive education is being practiced in
Ethiopia following the policy direction taken by the government
of Ethiopia, the lived experience of teachers teaching CWID in
inclusive schools is relatively a new area of study as it has not yet
received a great deal of attention. Studies conducted in the area
of intellectual disability focused on urban settings, mainly on
topics related to parental experiences, attitudes of teachers and
administrators, and practices and challenges faced by schools
accommodating these children. The researchers were initiated
to conduct the study by recognizing the paucity of research
in inclusion of CWID in the county and by noticing practical
problems experienced and complaints raised by teachers in the
selected school while supervising university students assigned to
the school for practicum.
Thus, the study aimed at answering the following research
a) What is the nature of teaching children with intellectual
disabilities from the teacher’s perspectives?
b) How do teachers describe their relationship with
students with intellectual disabilities?
c) What were major challenges faced by the teachers in
teaching students with intellectual disabilities?
The qualitative approach was considered appropriate
for this study because it provides an in-depth understanding
and a rich description of the experiences of participants
. Phenomenological design, specifically transcendental
phenomenology, was employed. This design is helpful when the aim
of the study is describing the phenomenon using the participants’
experiences, perceptions, and voices. According to Creswell &
Guetterman , in the transcendental phenomenology, what
the study participants experienced are revealed through textural
descriptions; whereas how the participants experienced the
phenomenon is unveiled though structural descriptions.
Participants of the study include 6 teachers of children with
ID selected by using purposive sampling technique. Accordingly, 2
special needs education teachers and 4 subject teachers who have
more than one year of experience in teaching CWID were selected.
Semi-structured interview guide was used to obtain
information on the lived experience of teachers teaching CWID.
The interview included questions that focus on different areas such
as demographic information, experiences on nature of teaching
CWID, relationship with CWID and challenges encountered in
teaching CWID. Probing questions were asked where necessary
to obtain further information, clarify a point, or expand on ideas.
Field notes on the experience of teachers were also made during
each interview to check the trail.
The participant teachers were contacted, and their consent
issued three day before the interview session. Cooperative teacher
was assigned to assist interview sessions with participants.
Interview sessions were conducted in Afan Oromo; took 20- 30
minutes for each. Following the completion of all interview sessions, the interviews were transcribed and translated into English with utmost care. Finally, the data was coded, arranged
and filtered into different themes intended for ultimate analysis.
The study employed Moustakas  phenomenological
model using phenomenological reduction. The researchers
set aside their prejudgments and undertaken the research
interview with an unbiased, receptive presence. After reading
and rereading the transcribed interviews the researchers checked
the originality or authenticity of the transcriptions and coded
the transcripts. Then, important statements were clustered into
categories and frequently emerging words or phrases used by
the study participants helped in developing themes. Then, to
reduce and come-up with overarching themes, comprehensive
cross coding or merging of similar themes were carried out, and
verbatim quotations were used to reveal the experiences of the
participants by using their voices. Finally, the researchers have
made reflections on the experience, combined description of the
essence of phenomenon.
Participants were requested for their willingness to participate
in the study by filling out a consent form prior to the interview
sessions after description of the nature of the study. To ensure
confidentiality and anonymity, the researchers denoted the study
participants by pseudonyms, and this was used throughout the
study. Moreover, permission was sought and obtained for the
interviews to be audio taped. The collected data was transcribed,
translated, analyzed and reported with confidentiality and
without revealing the identity of the study participants.
Seven major themes were developed, which include: nature
of education, benefit from inclusion, training sought, relationship
with CWID, commitment, challenges and required improvement
Theme 1: Nature of education
According to the finding of the study, education of CWID
mainly focuses on helping them to develop basic daily life skills like
dining, personal hygiene, greetings, personal and environmental
awareness. In academic areas, CWID learn basic numeracy and
literacy skills counting, naming parts of the body, days of the week,
household materials and objects in the surrounding environment.
Teachers explained that in teaching these children, they use
different materials and models to help them learn effectively.
In teaching CWID we use tangible materials to help them
understand the issue (SNE1)
Always we write the day of the week on colorful a paper and
post it on the door so that the students can read and recite (RT1)
I teach them how to hold tea cup, drink and eat appropriately.
In addition, I teach them how to clean themselves after the meal
Respondents stated that vocational education is important
but missing due to constraints of materials and resources.
There is no resource center and materials for equipping these
children with vocational skills which are beneficial for the CWIDs
Theme 2: Benefits from inclusion
The teachers opined that the CWID were benefitted from the
education and support provided by the school. Five teachers from
the total six indicated that these students were benefited from
the educational service provisions from the school. Accordingly,
they explained that they observed improvement in the CWID in
terms of behavior, communication, relationships with teachers
and students, and learning.
Majority of CWID did not approach other students and teachers
when they were admitted to school, but gradually they started to
make connections with others (SNE1)
In addition to education we have school feeding program served
during the break time. The school feeding program is used to attract
the children to the school and we also use it to train CWIDs in basic
life skills. Nowadays, I am observing that CWID are exhibiting
improved skills in terms of personal hygiene and independent dining.
I have also seen that some of them have shown advancements to the
level of counting numbers (RT3)
Also, teachers mentioned that staying at school by itself is a
big opportunity and it is a benefit for these children. Inclusion
enabled the CWID to see the world outside of their home and
enable them to grasp basic daily life skills and a little bit of
academic knowledge. Moreover, it lessens the burden of parents
by taking care of CWID at school.
What matters is not only the education and support they get
from the school, but also the lessening of burdens imposed on
However, one of the teachers was of the opinion that the CWID
did not get benefit from the school and mentioned that their
presence alone doesn’t guarantee that they are advantageous.
I do not see the expected change from students after they
enrolled in this inclusive school (RT4)
Theme 3: Training
Two teachers have been trained in Special Needs Education
(SNE) and taken the courses related to teaching CWID, whereas
four teachers have taken only common courses during their preservice
training. All the teachers, including those trained in SNE,
revealed that they were not equipped with adequate knowledge
and skills that enable them teach CWID.
I took only a common course when I attended the summer
program. The course deals with many types of disabilities. So, I don’t
feel that it enabled me to deliver the services expected of me (RT1).
During my BA study in Special Needs Education, I have taken
many courses theoretically. But I was challenged to put them into
practice. I think there is skill gap to address this group of students in
inclusive school (SNE1)
Teachers also expressed the need for additional training
for more practicality of endeavor. All the respondent teachers
expressed their need for practical-oriented continuous in-service
training. Moreover, all the remaining four subject teachers sought
more in-depth training different from the one they have taken as
a common course.
I need to have more detailed instruction on how to support
CWID specifically. Also, it is better if the training is related to the
subject I teach (i.e., Mathematics) (RT3)
Theme 4: Relationship with CWID
The study disclosed that teachers developed a positive
relationship with CWID in the inclusive school. Except one regular
teacher all the other respondent teachers stated that they have
built good relationships with the children. The teachers reported
that working with the children helped them become familiar and
deliver lessons free from frustration.
In earlier times, when I hear about CWID from distance, I
considered them as extremely violent and rebellious. But, after
I came to know them, I removed such an attitude, and started
approaching them with sympathetic feeling (SNE2).
When I enter their classroom or find them outside playing in
the field, I call them by their names and I am delighted when they
respond me appropriately. I am a mother with kids and my feeling
towards these children is not only like a teacher, but similar to how
I feel towards my own children (RT4).
From the perspective of the study participant teachers, the
CWID exhibited improved relationship and trust towards their
teachers. According to the respondent teachers, when the school
initially started admitting them, the CWID had a tendency of
keeping themselves away from people in the school including
their teachers. But this was changed for the better, particularly the
relationship CWID have with their teachers and typical students.
When we started practicing inclusion, CWID used to stay away
from me. Even when I call their name, they used to keep silent. But
now this has improved dramatically. What makes me surprised
is that some students shared with me the disagreements they
experienced with their parents and asked me for mediation. We
negotiated and solved the conflicts (SNE1).
Theme 5: Teachers’ commitment
The study found that teachers’ dedication for their work is
at risk due to lack of incentives and support and high workload.
However, despite all the constraints, four of the respondent
teachers mentioned that they were happy to work with CWID.
I enjoy my work; teachers have shouldered all kinds of burdens;
the other stakeholders are not helping us and giving value for our
Recently we are facing challenges to assign subject teachers
to inclusive classrooms due to teachers’ lack of interest to work in
inclusive classrooms due to high workload (RT1).
Theme 6: Challenges
In teaching CWID, the teacher respondents reported that they
experienced challenges mainly related to high workload, shortage
of trained special needs educators, lack of transportation for
the CWID, low level of parental involvement, poor identification
and assessment practices, lack of adequate classrooms and
instructional materials, absence of vocational education, lack of
appropriate training and lack of community ownership.
I spend much time with CWID teaching them how to take care
of themselves, but no one considers my effort as valuable (SNE2).
We cannot teach students for the whole day because we have
constraint of trained teachers to handle the classes. Also, parents
do not follow-up what is going on in school with their students; they
just bring them to school and take them home (RT2).
CWID could get more benefit from skill-based type of learning;
unfortunately we do not have it due to lack of resources. Students
who were identified to have special educational needs are not being
supported by trained personnel (SNE1).
This inclusive school should own by community and different
stake holders should be engaged, but practically missing from our
Theme 7: Required improvement
Respondent teachers mentioned the need for allocating
adequate resources, incentivizing teachers, organizing relevant
capacity building trainings for teachers, encouraging and
empowering parents to take part in the education of their
children, employing trained teachers and mobilizing resources for
implementation of vocational education.
The school should be owned by the community including
parents; the community alone cannot make the school inclusive
The school has to seek resources to facilitate the school for
CWID. Teachers need to be acknowledged for their work (SNE1).
The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience
of teachers in teaching students with intellectual disabilities in
Burka Bekumsa Inclusive Primary School. The study found that
the essence of the lived experience of the participant teachers
could be explained in seven major themes; namely, the nature of
education for CWID, benefit from inclusion, training, relationship
with CWID, teachers’ commitment, challenges and improvement
The results of the study identified education of SWID focuses
on helping them to capture some basic daily life skills like eating,
drinking, cleaning oneself, greetings and teaching fundamental
knowledge related the like of number, days of the week, etc. In
the teaching of student’s teachers explained, as they use different
materials and models to help them to learn effectively. Similarly,
studies support the focus education for SWID expected to
enhance day-to-day living skills for these students. Living skills
include various skill sets, which include walking style, eating
style, handwriting, personal care, and taking care of personal
belongings (Coyne et al., 2012). This is in line with Turnbull &
Wehmeyer’s  suggestions to use concrete materials; provide
the children with hands-on materials and real-life experiences,
facilitate opportunities to try things out and focus on teaching
life skills such as daily living skill, social skills, and occupational
awareness and exploration, as appropriate and involving CWID in
The current study found that CWID were benefited from
education and support from school and improvements were
practically seen on the way they behave, learn, communicate and
interact with typical children and teachers. In line with the finding
from the present study, earlier literatures emphasized the benefit
of inclusive education in academic performance, social interaction,
behavioral outcomes, development in communication, and school
The present study identified teachers were developed a
positive relationship with CWID in inclusive schools and reported
that after working with these students, teachers become familiar
with them, and students develop the same state of affairs.
Creating familiarity with CWID contributed teachers to deliver
what they have, and they can without fear. Studies also support
teachers influenced by their SWID emotionally and socially and
in another way, teachers may have influenced the students in
different ways like academically and socially  In the same
way study, another identified the existence of more positive
attitudes, and more willingness to teach learners with intellectual
disabilities among teachers . Moreover, another support the
role of close proximity of teachers appears to increase students’
social interaction . This shows that the more teachers become
familiar with SWID develop a tendency to know and accept them.
The present study revealed challenges related to lack SNE
trained human resource, lack of transportation to bring CWID
to school and from school, poor family involvement, poor
identification and assessment practice, lack adequate classrooms,
missing vocational education, lack of appropriate training and
lack community ownership. Supporting this finding, SWID were
not taught effectively because teachers were not trained enough.
Again, teacher training, staff development, and professional skills
are core elements to developing schooling and improving teachers’
competence, especially for the inclusive education programs to be
successful. This implies that training of teachers plays a pivotal
role in inclusion of CWID. Another study also indicated that
inclusion of CWID was impaired by teachers’ attitudes, teachers’
collaboration skills, the nature of the student’s disability, and the
implementation of inclusive practices [21-24].
Also, the study identified poor parents’ involvement as one of
the major factors affecting the inclusion of CWID. Regarding this,
previous studies suggested that teachers are expected to work
together with the parents and ensure collaboration with parents
through regular contact and exchange of information about the
status of the students at school and at home . The teachers also
expressed concern about the lack of vocational education in the
school and its impact on CWID. Regarding this, existing literature
suggest that education for CWID should mainly involve practical
activities and vocational training .
The study concludes that education of CWID focuses on
helping them to capture some basic daily life skills such as dining,
personal hygiene, greetings and teaching basic academic skills like counting, naming days of the needs, lack of resources, lack of vocational training, lack of adequate classroom, lack of incentives
for teachers and poor family involvement were identified as salient
challenges in teaching week, self and environmental awareness.
Good relationship of teachers with CWID has been improved with
increased familiarity with each other.
It is recommended that emphasis should be given to provision
of relevant training for teachers to offer appropriate education
for CWID. Schools should work towards promoting community
engagement including parents to realize inclusion of CWID. School
has to mobilize and avail necessary resources to facilitate inclusion
of CWID. Teachers should collaborate with the parents of students
with ID to exchange information about the progress of CWID. The
school has to find ways of providing incentives for teachers who
are working with CWID. Other education stakeholders need to
play their roles in supporting the school’s move toward practicing
inclusive education much more by welcoming and addressing the
needs of CWID within the regular classrooms.
1. Tell me the education services/support provisions for
CWID in your school.
2. How do you describe the focus of education for CWID?
Adaptive and functional skills or common academic routines?
3. Do you think CWID benefited by being admitted to an
inclusive school and educated in an inclusive classroom? If yes,
how? If not, why not?
4. How do you explain about your knowledge and skill in
teaching CWIDs? How did you acquire the knowledge and skills
you have about these children? If you have participated in some
kind of training, by whom and for how long? Was it relevant and
useful for your work?
5. What additional supports would have improved your
educational experience with CWID? Include both academic and
6. How do you describe your relationship with CWID?
Fear/acceptance/proximity and the like.
7. As a teacher of CWID, is there a time when you felt giving
up? Were you frustrated, were you angry? If so, tell me about these
occasions or incidents.
8. Do you enjoy working with CWID? If yes, please explain.
If not, why?
9. What are the challenges you encountered in working
with CWID? What measures should be taken to overcome the
10. Finally, may I ask you to add if you have any additional
experience with CWID?