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Between the lines: A critical realist discourse analysis of inclusive education policy development in Malaysia from 1996 to 2018

Enhancing access to equitable and quality education for children with special educational needs in Malaysia has been a vexing policy issue. Within these debates, its inclusive education policy has been nationally promoted as a solution to this equality crisis, but not without widespread critique. This thesis adds voice to this growing concern by arguing that the IE policymaking process in Malaysia is imbued by several contradictory considerations that are contingent upon the relationships between key policymakers and its local politics, culture, and the economy. Given the complex nature of IE policymaking, this research explores the development of inclusive education policy in Malaysia over three reform periods from 1996 to 2018. Of particular interest, this study investigates how inclusive education is conceptualised, the key discourses and intertextual relations that governed its conceptualisation, and the extent to which contextual factors have influenced key policy actors’ decisionmaking in the development of inclusive education policy over time in Malaysia. The research hinges on a critical realist ontology and critical theory to provide critical explanations of the workings of invisible structures and power in influencing inclusive education policy development in Malaysia. It draws on critical realist discourse analysis through the pairing of the discourse-historical approach and the strategic-relational approach as both conceptual and analytical lenses. Within this theoretical and methodological framework, a historical case design is employed to explore the transnational and contextual reasons for why and how international standards of inclusive education travel across levels and evolve with the passage of time. Document analysis and semistructured interviews are employed to collect data. In total, five key inclusive education policy documents are analysed and interviews with six key policymakers are conducted. The analyses of this study suggest that the conceptualisation of inclusive education experienced a subtle shift from an othering framework to selective inclusion. While more categories of disabilities are statutorily included in the inclusive education policy documents, access and opportunity to study in suitable schools for children with special educational needs continue to be determined based on their potential. Additionally, this study indicates that this conceptualisation over time is considerably influenced by the medical, charity, lay, rights, and neoliberal discourses of inclusion. It found that such discourses have implicit and explicit intertextual relations to both local and international policy pronouncements. Furthermore, the study implied that the evolution of IE policy in Malaysia is influenced by the strategic decisions employed by powerful social actors to fulfil the wider as well as local cultural, political, and economic conditions. These conditions include the desire to achieve Western modernity, legitimating disabled bodies into a social order, and the reproduction of neoliberal-ableist ideologies triggered by the need to gain a developed nation status and climb the international academic ranking. This research is of importance as little has been written about how inclusive education policy moves across levels from the global to the Malaysian context and across time. It holds a significant methodological implication, as it contributes to the establishment of critical realist discourse analysis as an effective analytical framework for research into inclusive education and policy analysis. It also offers a platform to advance recommendations for policy and practice for policymakers, academics, and stakeholders “on the ground” concerning the education of children identified as having disabilities or special educational needs in Malaysia.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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