Over the years, Australia has signed several international treaties and declarations that protect human rights. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRPD), Australia agreed to ensure that all children, even those with severe disabilities, are provided access to education and training, to assist them to achieve their full potential.
All Australian schools both public and private, are legally bound by the following acts and declarations. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005, aim to provide students with disability, the same rights as other students. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, requires that all school sectors and governments to deliver high-quality education without discrimination.
The Australian Curriculum is another document that schools and educators must adhere to. It sates that all students with disability are welcome to participate in the Australian Curriculum on the same basis as their peers. The bottom line is, that regardless of children’s differences, it is a fundamental right to be educated in mainstream schools.
How does inclusive education benefit students with disabilities?
There has been over thirty years of extensive and consistent research, that proves inclusive education has a profound positive effect on students with a disability. Every human being desires being part of a social network. Forming and maintaining positive peer relationships are important foundations for psychological development and learning. When students are educated together, a sense of belonging is formed, which is a pre-requisite for learning and without a sense of belonging, learning is difficult.
There are enormous social and emotional benefits evident in inclusive settings. Students are more accepted by their peers and there is reduced stigma. The research conducted and presented in the Alana Report mentions, that inclusive education promotes greater social interactions, diverse friendships, relationships and support networks, for students with a disability. Inclusive settings provide greater acceptance by peers and students report feeling safer and less lonely.
Peers are more accepting when inclusion is the norm. Friendships are formed and the students know one another personally, often as as friends. When students know one another, they are more likely to stand up for each other.
Dr Paula Kluth and Professor Robert Jackson maintain that when students work in class together they get to know each other more in-depth, which can then lead to friendship. This can result in children with and without disabilities, playing in the playground together and playing outside of school together.
Most importantly, when students are in inclusive settings, other students can stand up and speak for students when they are unable to do so themselves, which results in less chance of abuse.
Fewer anti-social behaviours occur in successful inclusive settings compared with segregated settings, as there are always positive peer role models for social skills and desired leaning behaviours.
Positive Behaviour Intervention Supports are implemented which results in improved behavior and learning and success. Segregated settings have been proven to only widen the gap. Improved independence, self- sufficiency and improved daily living skills, have also been identified as a result of inclusive education.
Professor Robert Jackson(Bob)reports that students who are included one hundred per cent of the time do better therefore, students in inclusive settings achieve higher academically in all areas, compared with students in segregated settings.
Included students perform significantly better in literacy and numeracy and have substantially larger student growth on literacy and numeracy assessments. Students with disabilities in inclusive settings, are five times more likely to graduate on time and are twice as likely to enroll in post-secondary education. Inclusive schools set high expectations of all students which leads to greater success with education, employment and independent living.
Inclusion has important positive benefits for all students. Scott Danforth explains that in inclusive settings, you are more likely to have expert teachers, teaching their expert subjects, rather than teacher aides, or teacher who do not specialise in this area, doing their best to teach the content. Inclusive education is therefore, superior teaching and learning practice for all students.
How does inclusive education benefit students without disabilities?
Attending school alongside a student with a disability has a multitude of benefits for student who do not have a disability. The extensive research shows that in inclusive settings, the achievement of students without disabilities, is not, in any way compromised. Some studies actually show implementing inclusive practice, improves educational and social achievement for all students.
Through inclusive pedagogy, students are more likely to feel connected to their teachers and peers. All students receive more assistance, as there is often always more than one teacher to assist. Inclusion encourages and teaches students to socialise with people different to themselves and as Dr Partick Schwarz explains, peers gain incredible understanding and empathy, qualities that cannot be aroused in segregated settings.
Dr Patrick Schwarz and Robert Jackson further explain that children learn through and from one another. Often in inclusive settings, students engage in engage in peer tutoring, which provides students opportunities to master learning, by practicing and teaching others.
Inclusive settings require planning through the use of the Universal Design for Learning and differentiation practices. These practices individualise learning for all students and are embedded with supportive and child-centred teaching practices. These type of pedagogy results in best education for all students.
Many people with a disability demonstrate immense positive growth mindset. Students without disability can learn about about the outstanding achievements made by people with a disability and through reflection of their peers. Students with a disability show enormous determination, persistence and courage on a daily basis.
How does inclusive education benefit the school and its teachers?
Regular classrooms are already full of diverse learners and catering for all learners, can be challenging for teachers. Most importantly, educators should always, first and foremost assume competencefor all leaners. Inclusive education empowers educators to be more confident, innovative and collaborative in their instruction. Dr Julie Causton explains that student diversity enriches classrooms and challenges teachers to become better educators. Teachers become successful in meeting the needs diverse learners and the quality of instruction improves.
As stated by Professor Robert Jackson and Dr Elizabeth Walton, when teachers learn to teach students with disabilities they learn to break down tasks and structure learning better.
Educators assume a greater deal of responsibility for all students and deep connections formed. Inclusive settings can be of great benefit to teachers, as there is often an element of co-teaching and technology support.
Inclusive settings often bring specialists such as: speech pathologists, specialist literacy and numeracy teachers, support teachers inclusive education, psychologists, occupational therapists, education advisors, inclusive coaches and guidance officers into the classroom, who can offer guidance for all students.
Inclusive settings reflect the similarities and differences of people in the real world, through this, people learn to appreciate diversity. Inclusion promotes positive teacher attitudes and a positive school culture. Respect and understanding grow when children of differing abilities and cultures play and learn together.
High expectations for both staff and students are evident in inclusive schools and as Dr Elizabeth Walton explains these schools can be both inclusive and high performing. Children develop a positive understanding of themselves and others and collaboration amongst school staff, builds trusting relationships. All of these factors contribute towards school success.
Trusting family partnerships promote improved academic achievements and parental participation. Through inclusive education, families feel more integrated into the school community, which can lead to greater feelings of acceptance in the wider community. All parents want their children to be accepted, have friends and lead “regular” lives. Inclusive settings can make these dreams a reality.
Everyone will be touched by disability at some point in their lives through accident, disease, or the aging process. This prompts us to think about how do we want ourselves, our friends, our children or our loved ones treated by society? Do want them seen by society as fragile, broken, helpless, special, needy and not able? Or do we want them to be treated as having the right to belong, to make choices for themselves and to be a full participant in society?