As people, we all judge; that’s fact, even if you think you are the most open-minded individual. Before you protest, pause and think about it. We label people privately in our minds: the slow learner, the funny kid, the smart one – it isn’t THAT bad, although pigeonholing can have detrimental effects on the young learners.

In Schools

Schools these days have separate programs for students with different abilities and needs. They have plans for the students that they’ve labelled “gifted,” the “talented” versus the “regular” students. Special Education is there for the students who require extra attention and support. While they do serve the purpose of catering the needs of the students, they can be a barrier too.

You have to understand that labelling serves as a psychological tool and it is directly linked to one’s self-esteem, especially if the label’s connotation is negative. For example, children who require support and special education are often labeled as “slow” – or more blatantly “special needs, ” and it connotes that the people in these kinds of classes are inferior compared to others, and should be treated as if they had lower intelligence and cognitive abilities. Now as adults and educators, we all try hard to manage our students equally. However, can we honestly say that the same thing happens when it comes to their peers – or even people outside of the school environment?

On the flip side, attaching labels such as “talented” or “smart” to a developing child can create an inflated sense of self, leading to an ego much bigger than they can handle. When you label a child and say that she should be separated from her peers because of “superior intelligence”, she will be looked at differently, and the way she will act towards adults and other children will change as well.

Another thing to consider is the children who are label-free (labeled, they will be the “regulars”). How do they feel compared to their peers? If a child is smart, but not “gifted” enough to be part of the special class, it can create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

There are exceptions, of course. Some schools opt to teach everyone the same thing and just forgo having special classes, or even defining different groups of children (Inclusive Classes). These are said to be beneficial for all students in the class.

However, the fact remains that labels are here to stay, and groupings according to intelligence will remain. You might have been judged or labeled as a child, whether you are aware of it or not. You may have carried these labels into adulthood without even knowing it. Now, your student might be one of those who gets picked on and labeled, unfair as it is, but it simply carries on. Labels might make people easily distinguishable, but one should be mindful of using them.

How Special Education Labels Help

Labelling isn’t all wrong though. The world of special education is relatively young compared to the institution of general education itself. In 1970, the law “Education (for Handicapped Children) Act” was passed and recognised the need for special education for those who have learning difficulties. Since then, many new laws have been made to support the millions of people finally receiving the training and the support that they need and deserve.

On a final note, labelling is here to stay, and there are many pros and cons associated with it especially in special education. Children with special needs benefit greatly from it as they receive the proper care and resources to optimise their abilities. However, as adults (teachers, parents, carers, etc.), we have to make sure that our children understand that labelling is strictly to be used to help others achieve educational success, not to pull other people down. We should all be mindful of it.

Labels don’t define people, especially young students – they just prove that we all learn differently.

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