A young girl with a physical disability aged six, looking at the other children without a disability playing happily in the school yard. This girl was staring at the children through heavy gates. She was in a unit for students with a disability located on the grounds of a mainstream school. She was only permitted to mingle with the other students at lunch.
I was this young girl. It was extremely painful. I felt as though I was in a cage.
My disability was amplified.
Fortunately, through the tenacity of my mother and other professionals, I was fully integrated at a local catholic school. This was the opening to a whole new world. I had significantly more opportunities than I would have had at a segregated school, such as attending university.
As integration into a mainstream school played an important role in my life, I was alarmed when I read an article by journalist Luke Michael Showing that mainstream schools are currently discouraging the inclusion of students with a disability.
Michael wrote a national survey has revealed more than 70% of students with disability have been discouraged to enroll in mainstream schools. He wrote, Stephanie Gotlib, the CEO of Children and Young People with Disability Australia claimed the results show that the mainstream education system continues to resist the inclusion of students with disability.
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Mainstream Schools Discourage Inclusion of Students with Disability Monday, 6th November 2017 at 4:12 pm A national survey of students with disability has revealed more than 70 per cent of students have experienced instances where their enrolment and inclusive participation in mainstream schools has been discouraged.
Craig Wallace, disability activist has direct experience of being segregated at schools. A few years ago, there was a debate regarding whether students with disability should be included in mainstream schools. Craig attended a ‘special’ school for a little while. He wrote they were sad places with low expectations. He claimed that students fail to thrive in segregated settings.
An article written by Catia Malaquias writes that research indicates that students with disability who were included in mainstream schools had better social and academic outcomes than students in special schools. Research showed people with disability who were included in mainstream schools are more likely to be employed or living independently later in life, compared to people who attended a segregated school.
Dr Kathy Cologon conducted an extensive literature review and found that inclusive education helps students with disability build friendship and have higher levels of interactions than students in a segregated setting.
However, despite the positives of students with disability in mainstream schools, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows between 2003 and 2015, there was a shift toward students with disability attending special schools, and away from attending special classes in mainstream schools.
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) show that the outcome of being educated in a segregated environment can place people with disability on a ‘treadmill’ to a segregated life.
While inclusive education has been shown in most cases to outweigh segregation settings, it involves a concerted effort by teaching staff. Dr Phil Foreman wrote that inclusive education relied heavily on the attitudes of principals, teachers and staff.
When I was integrated into mainstream school, some of the teachers showed negative attitudes toward my presence in the classroom. There was a day when a teacher instructed us to draws angles. I raised my hand and said I’m sorry but I’m unable to draw. The teacher snarled ‘what are you doing in this class then?’. This was in front of my peers, I was humiliated!
An article by Linda Graham and Kate de Bruin and Ilektra Spandagou showed that Dr James Morton, who is a parent of child with autism, criticised universities for failing to prepare teachers to teach students with disability. Teachers must be equipped to educate students with varying disability.
However, the responsibility cannot fall directly on the teachers. AFDO claims Governments must ensure that teachers and school communities have sufficient funding for disability support or other resources. Thus, teachers will be able to meet the diverse needs of all their students
My life changed dramatically when I was placed into a mainstream school. The sad young girl I described has become an educated woman with an abundant life. My hope is that every child with a disability is accepted and feels valued in the community.
If society is serious about the inclusion of people with disability, they must ensure schools embrace all students so they can reach their potential.