Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-ecological Model


2.5 Theoretical framework

2.5.1 Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-ecological Model

Social theory can provide an interpretive lens for understanding complex issues in the society. Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model describes a system with multiple

environments that surround an individual and creates an interpretative lens for examining inclusive education for schoolchildren. According to Bronfenbrenner (1994), the ecological systems theory explains how different aspects of the environment may influence the

development of an individual. The development of an individual includes both its objective properties and the way the individual subjectively experiences these properties. The


HEI Human Environment Interaction

model ICFCore Sets

for individuals with NDCs

environment can be divided into different levels of systems: micro-system, meso-system, exo-system, macro-system and chrono-system. The model places the student with NDC experiencing inclusive education at the center of several distinct environments, with reciprocal interactions with the factors in all levels. The factors from all levels affect the growth and development of the individual, in this case students with NDC, e.g., procedures and interventions in school, direct influence, and policies and laws, indirect influence. Human development is shaped through the process and reciprocal interactions between an individual and the immediate environment (Bronfenbrenner, 2005; Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000). The bio-ecological model is used to better understand how the students are linked to the school environment and how effects from all systems can influence the development and outcome for students with disabilities.

Figure 3. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 2005).

Evaluation of inclusive education cannot ignore the level of process and practice in the educational system. It is necessary to involve various levels of evaluation in order to broadly understand the phenomenon and what affects the reality for students with special needs. This study takes its point of departure from Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model where the child or youth is viewed though the complex layers of the environment (Bronfenbrenner, 2005), as illustrated in Fig. 3. Bronfenbrenner’s model holds a key proposition: in order to develop optimally, the child requires active participation in progressively more complex interactions with individuals, objects and symbols in the learning environment. This interaction with the environment occurs on a regular basis and over time, and the child develops. The development is dependent on the environment; however, the child is not a passive recipient but takes an active role in their own experiences and development

(Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The development of students with NDC is not linear, and there are

Chrono-system changes in systems over time

Macro-system National Agency of Education Steering

documents School Law

Exo-system Policies Curriculum for compulsory


Meso-system Parents Teachers Local policies and


Micro-system Home and school

CHILD the active agent

different patterns of development over time. As students age, their needs will change and the school situation can be even more complex.

Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model is a multi-layered approach that is constructed into systems; the first layer is the center, where the child is at the center and an active agent, with personality traits, temperaments, motivations and genetic inheritance (Bronfenbrenner, 2005).

The second layer is the micro-level that involves family but also individuals from school. The third layer, the meso-level, involves schools and contexts in which they operate, and it

consists of social structures, events and processes which indirectly affect the student, e.g., teacher education and professional development for teachers. The fourth level, the exo-level, is the neighborhood, the contextual factors that also affect the child, e.g., the availability of physical surroundings or policy documents that impact the curriculum content. The fifth layer, the macro-level, refers to larger and more abstract influences on the child’s

opportunities to develop, such as values and attitudes and the art of the political and legal educational system. Finally, the chrono-level changes over time and refers to the time and historical period in which the child lives and develops (Bronfenbrenner, 1994;

Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Measurements and analysis of inclusive education in this paper has its focus on the micro- and meso-levels, and thus for interpretation all levels from the model are used. The micro-system: home and school

The bio-ecological model incorporates both temporal concerns and biological components (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994). In this model, the child is in the center, and according to Bronfenbrenner and Morris (2006), is the active agent and interacts with the immediate environment. Students’ most immediate environment is the home and the school setting, and in this context, in the students’ microenvironment, relations are shaped and fostered, and the more encouraging and nurturing these relationships and places are, the better the development of a healthy life (Bronfenbrenner & Morris 2006). These phenomena, the nature of individual school and home micro-systems, are important in understanding and exploring interactions between the child and the environment. Bronfenbrenner (1979) describes the micro-system as a pattern of activities, social roles and interpersonal relations. The meso-system is described by Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 25) as a system that comprises the interrelations among two or more settings in which the developing person actively participates, such as school, peer group or family, and acknowledging their impact on the individual. There are strengths and

limitations to the theory by Bronfenbrenner, where one key strength with using the systems to access education issues is the focus on transition difficulties across contexts. A students’

initial transition from home to school or moving from primary to post-primary school are dependent on whether the child or youth enters the setting in the company of one or more persons with whom he or she has participated in prior settings or alone (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). According to Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 288), the developmental effects of a transition to another context are a function of the match between the developmental trajectory generated in the old setting and the balance between challenge and support in the new setting.