Earlier this year I was privileged to speak at the Down Syndome Association of Queensland Education Conference on inclusive education, explaining what it is and why it is the best way to educate children with Down syndrome.
Yesterday I was fortunate to be sponsored by CRU (Community Resource Unit) to attend the National Symposium on Inclusive Education in Sydney. I also went as a member of the Queensland Collective of Inclusive Education. It was a very exciting event, full of international and Australian politicians, academics, teachers, advocates, parents and people with disabilities. We all came together with the same vision - to make mainstream Australian schools available for all students - no matter their disability.
The event was put on by Family Advocacy NSW.
So, why was there a need for the symposium?
* Other countries around the world have led change to create fully inclusive education systems backed up by legislation, policy and change management protocol. The symposium provided the opportunity to have these examples of implementation showcased, which highlighted the vision and commitment required for successful implementation. The event provided Australian stakeholders in education insight into the necessary steps to move towards a fully inclusive education system.
The speakers at the National Symposium on Inclusive Education were:
* Cecile Sullivan-Elder - Family Advocacy Executive Officer
* Rob Stokes, MP - NSW Minister for Education
* Alastair McEwin - Disability Discrimination Commissioner
* Roger Slee - Professor, School of Education, South Australia
* Jihad Dib, MP - NSW Shadow Minister for Education
* Jody Carr - MLA/depute Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton, Canada
* Emma Husar, MP - Federal MP and Parent Advocate
* Carol Quirk - Co-Founder Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education
* Leanne Woodley - Senior Education Consultant, Association of Independent Schools, NSW
* Yolande Cailly - Parent and Advocate
* Loren Swancutt - Current Acting Deputy Principal & Substantive Head of Special Education, Townsville, QLD,
I will be writing more about the conference but the main messages were:
* All children belong together.
* Research has proven inclusive education benefits the child with disability, the children without disability, and the pedagogy (the way of teaching) of the teacher.
* Segregation takes the form of special schools, special education centres and support units, and within classrooms where children are away from their peers.
* An inclusive education is one where students are in the regular classroom as much time as their peers. Their work is modified where necessary and supports put in place so they can access all school activities and curriculum. They go on school excursions, camps, swimming lessons etc.
* Inclusive education leads to an ordinary life after school - employment, inclusion in society, friendships etc.
* It is against the law and human rights to refuse entry of a child with disability to a mainstream school.
* We need systemic change within the Australian education system. We particularly need to stop building special schools and put that money into mainstream schools for resources, teacher training etc.
Why am I an advocate for inclusive education?
I have a child with an intellectual impairment who is enrolled at her local mainstream school, and is being fully included. I have personally seen the benefits to my daughter, the other children in the school and the teachers (who have embraced it).
Carol Quirk from the Marylands Coalition for Inclusive Education, summed up reasons for advocacy at the National Symposium on Inclusive Education with the following diagram.
2) Opportunity - Every child deserves the opportunity for learning, friends, and the rhythms and routines of school life.
3) Society - Every child deserves to live in a society where mutual respect, empathy and acceptance of disability exists.
If children are hidden away in segregated settings, and not seen as an integral and ordinary part of school, society and their local community, then the above will not be achieved. When children with disability are fully included in mainstream schools, the other children accept that disability is just another way people can be. All fear of disability is gone. This flows on to making the world a better place to live in.