Inclusive education: a way to think differently about difference | Peter Walker | TEDxAdelaide

Inclusive education: a way to think differently about difference | Peter Walker | TEDxAdelaide

September 14, 2019 14 By Ronny Jaskolski


Translator: Peter Walker
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva Your business is doing well. So much so that you decide
to advertise for a new position. The applications start coming in
and they’re looking good. As you’re going through
the short-listing process, flicking through the CVs, you notice something
on one of the applications that you hadn’t noticed before. One of the applicants, Phillip,
has disclosed that he’s autistic. You hold his application in your hand, perhaps looking at it a little bit differently. What are you thinking? Does this change things for you? What if I was to tell you that how you might
look upon this disclosure is likely to be heavily influenced
by your own schooling experiences? Let’s explore this by considering one possible educational pathway
that you might have taken. You attend your local high school. It is much sought after. So much so that your family
moved into the area so that you would fall
into the enrolment zone. The school’s website promises
a rigorous learning program. And on ‘MySchool’
they tick all the right boxes, thanks to their high-stakes testing results. The truth is that not all students at the school
participated in the high-stakes testing. Some of the students
with disabilities were encouraged, ‘Well… maybe you should
stay home for the day…’ Not that there were many students
with disabilities at your school anyway. Sure, you remember those
in the inclusive unit. You know, those three classrooms
on the other side of the oval. Yeah, the ramped ones, yeah, with the separate playground
and the big fence around it, yeah. (Chuckling) And there were other students
with disabilities also, that you noticed when you were
first beginning high school. But a lot of those students seemed
to encounter difficulties, early on, with the school’s academic
and behavioural expectations. And, when that occurred,
the principal duly suspended them because, ‘It’s important that we have
consistent expectations across a school and sometimes “examples” need to be made’. When those suspensions
became longer and more frequent, the families responded
to the advice they were given and they withdrew their children and they transferred them
to the local special school. Now, let’s imagine that was your
schooling experience. That places you at this moment
with this application in your hand. ‘Phillip, eh? Autistic. Oh, gosh, what does that mean?’ You’ve got a million questions
zooming through your head. ‘Oh, my gosh. What does it mean? Umm… oh, I think I remember
watching Rain Man once. What was that about? QANTAS!? That’s not helpful… (Laughter) Umm… tantrums. Lots of tantrums! That’s right. Oh, Oh, Oh’. You decide it might be best to just slide Phillip’s application
onto the ‘reject pile’. Let’s be clear: What you’ve just done is discrimination according to the
Disability Discrimination Act. It is illegal for you to place
Phillip’s application onto the reject pile if you’ve done so because of
the disability that he has disclosed. It’s also a prime example of ableism, which is where you might systematically
preference people without disability over people with a disability. Now, the good news is
there’s a remedy for ableism, and that remedy is something that
Australia has committed to as signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities. It’s called ‘Inclusive Education’. Sound good? Let’s consider what your schooling
pathway might have looked like if it was an inclusive one. For a start, in an inclusive school, there would be an incredible sense
of belonging, for all students. And in an inclusive school, you would have incredible diversity
across all year levels. So, you would have students
from different cultural backgrounds, religious backgrounds,
different gender, different abilities, and diverse disabilities. All in the one school. And that difference wouldn’t
be considered to be problematic. It would be considered as something
that would be enriching for the school. All of the students in an inclusive school would be learning
in the same accessible classroom. They would need different support, yes, but that support would be provided in a way that doesn’t provide
an additional social barrier for those students. An inclusive school
doesn’t have a Teacher’s Aide kind of perched
over the shoulder of a student. An inclusive school also might help you
develop an understanding of what it might
mean to have a disability. You make a friend. Mariko, her name is. She tells you that she has
Asperger’s Syndrome, and you’re not sure what that means. You know that she’s not
a very good conversationalist, but she kills at chess. You meet her at chess club. When she’s playing against you,
she reads your playbook, like she wrote it. When you look around
the school now and then, you do notice that Mariko becomes
a bit overwhelmed and has a meltdown. When that happens, you give her
space, time, and dignity. She develops some friends at the school, and those friends check in on her,
including you, to make sure she’s OK. And sometimes she checks in
on them as well. When Mariko has her meltdowns, the principal of the school
doesn’t suspend her because there’s no educational
value in suspension and because disability factors should be
considered when making such decisions. Let’s imagine that was your
schooling experience. Quite a different one. An experience where you were
with so many different, diverse pupils, different friends, different students. And here you are now: ‘Phillip, eh? Autistic.’ Yeah, you might still have some questions, but those questions might be fewer and they would be informed
by your experiences. You know that there can be
some challenges with autism. But there could be
some strengths there as well, like a really focused skill set that might be perfect for that new project
that you want to get up and going. Good for you, good for business. You put Phillip’s application
on the ‘interview pile’. Three days later,
there he is, bang on time. (Laughter) During the interview,
he doesn’t give the best eye contact, but you know that’s not rudeness. Your inclusive experience has helped you
develop an understanding. You know it’s not rudeness, it’s more likely to be
a characteristic that he has. One schooling experience
has led you to uncertainty and fear. And the other schooling
experience has led you to an understanding
and a valuing of difference. The research shows that inclusive education
is strongly beneficial for students with
and without disabilities. Academically and socially. We learn better together. Inclusive education is also about change. It’s about making change in us
and, therefore, change in our society. Now, listening to me, you might think, ‘This sounds fantastic, Peter!
Do we do this everywhere?’ Umm… we don’t always practice
what we preach. In the last census, we found out that the growth of regular
schools was about 3%; the growth in special schools was 17%. It is boom time right now
in special schooling. In South Australia, our special schools
are filled to capacity. In fact, this year we opened
our very first special school for students on the autism spectrum. Our local paper described it
as the first school for autistic students. Not even the first ‘special school’.
The first ‘school’! I think we should fact-check this. At the end of this year, this school is likely to have
about 45 students enrolled. Now, in South Australia, we have 3,400 students
with autism, in our system. It’s quite a discrepancy. So, where are the rest of these students? Well, the vast majority
are in regular schools. Some of them are in special schools. What we don’t know is to what degree they’re experiencing
quality inclusive education. And I think we should be looking
a bit deeper at their experiences. I say this because,
in a national survey this year, which looked at the experiences
of students with disabilities, it was found that one in two
had experienced bullying during school, one in three had been excluded
from school activities because of their disability, and one in five had been
either secluded or restrained during their schooling, In South Australia, students with disabilities represent
under 9% of our student population, but they represent
over 22% of suspensions. So the students who are most at risk
of being marginalized in our system are being nudged and nudged
closer to the edge. Now I think we can do
a lot better than that. I’m not here saying
inclusive education is easy, because it’s not. It takes time, and it takes
strong leadership, strong leadership
to change a school culture from one that pushes kids away
to one that holds them in. Now on the first day
that this school opened, one of the students was asked,
‘Hey, how was your first day?’ To which he replied, ‘It was awesome.
The teacher didn’t shout once’. So, what I ask is this: Do we need to be building more and more
and more and more and more special schools or should we be applying some of our time
and some more of our attention on why some of our teachers
are still yelling at some of our kids? I think we need to challenge why so many students with disabilities
are leaving regular education. Is it best for them?
And is it best for us? Phillip disclosed his disability
in that job application, but he didn’t need to do that. He disclosed it trusting
that we would look at it and it wouldn’t become a deal-breaker; we would follow the legislation
and it wouldn’t become a problem. But Phillip is only one person. We’ve got 3,400 students,
just with autism, in our state education system. That’s a lot of jobs that we need to find, a lot of meaningful educational pathways
that need to be made, a lot of people that we want
to see embraced in our society. If all of us in this hall are fortunate enough to live
till we are 80 years of age, then, by then, half of us
will have a disability. You. The person next to you. When that happens, do you want to be living in a society
that keeps disability at arm’s length, or an inclusive society? You need to think about it now, because it begins with our schooling,
and it begins with our education system. We need to start thinking
differently about difference. Thank you. (Cheers) (Applause)