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Doctoral defence in education science - Anna Björk Sverrisdóttir

Doctoral defence in education science - Anna Björk Sverrisdóttir - Available at University of Iceland
Wed, 15/12/2021 - 13:00 to 14:00


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Title: Education of students with intellectual disabilities at the upper secondary school level in light of theories of inclusive education and social justice

The doctoral project is about the education of students with intellectual disabilities

at the upper secondary school level in light of theories of inclusive education and social justice.

The dissertation focuses on programs for disabled students at upper secondary school. The purpose was to examine challenges, contradictions, and opportunities in connection with the education of disabled students in Icelandic upper secondary schools with regard to theories on inclusive education and social justice. Data comprises official documents related to students' education at the upper secondary school level, and interviews with students, parents, and professionals within the school. Official data were analyzed using historical discourse analysis, while interviews were read with regard to Foucault's theories of discourse, power, power relations, and resistance. Deleuze and Guattari's theories of line of flight and becoming were also used, as was Young's theory of the five faces of oppression and social justice.

Findings indicate that the structure of the Icelandic upper secondary school system, in relation to the education of students with intellectual disabilities, has more in common with integration than inclusive education. Furthermore, the system, as it is structured, creates and maintains inequality and social injustice that affects not only students with disabilities, but a larger group of students. Discourse in official documents indicates that the system is based on ableism and that students with disabilities are generally regarded as different and less able. This is also reflected in the way the school system responds to students by labeling them with a medical diagnosis and distinguishing them from others based on their individual support needs. Students' narratives shed light on their various ways of escaping the label that accompanies the medical diagnosis and constructs students as static "special education” students. The findings also confirm previous conclusions about the importance of enhancing a common understanding about what inclusive education means. In addition, the concept of support needs to be defined. Focus needs to be placed on what it entails and how it can be implemented in an inclusive way for students, as is highlighted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Anna Björk Sverrisdóttir is a social educator. She completed a bachelor's degree in social education from the Iceland University of Education in 2003 and a master's degree in education studies in 2010 from the University of Iceland. Anna Björk has worked in a broad field as a social educator. After graduation, she worked for a long period of time in kindergarten as a special education administrator. For a time, during her doctoral studies, she also worked as a residential administrator and later as a counsellor in social services. In 2012, she received a 3-year grant from the University of Iceland's Anniversary Fund to pursue doctoral studies at the university. During her doctoral studies, Anna Björk also became a member of the NordForsk Center of Excellence Justice through Education in the Nordic Countries (JustEd). She participated in research on the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on school and leisure activities, which was carried out in consultation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and the Directorate of Education, among others. Anna Björk has been teaching part-time at the University since 2011 and in 2019 she was hired as an adjunct lecturer in social education at the Department of Education and Diversity. Anna Björk is married to Hilmar Bjarnason, a layout designer at Marel, and they have 3 children: Sindri Már, Katrín Unnur and Konráð.

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Doctoral defence in education science - Anna Björk Sverrisdóttir