Inclusion of students with disabilities best for all: study

Students with and without disabilities can benefit from learning together rather than apart, a new report has said.

The Inclusion in Education: Towards Equality for Students with a Disability issues paper, released yesterday and written in conjunction with Children with Disability Australia (CDA), drew on more than 170 research papers on inclusive education.

The report author, Dr Kathy Cologon, said there was no research evidence that teaching students with a disability in separate schools or classes had benefit over  all students together.

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The review found that inclusive education benefited students with a disability academically and socially, built a greater sense of community among all students, and gave teachers increased personal satisfaction and professional growth.

Though schools specifically for students with a disability had benefited their students  over the years, the next step in social change was necessary, Dr Cologon said.

‘‘I think it’s really important to make clear that special education was a revolutionary idea in and of itself,’’ she said.

‘‘Before it [special education] came into being, the overwhelming number of people who experienced disability couldn’t access education in any formal sense. So the move to special education was revolutionary and brought about positive change for so many people.

‘‘Social change is an ongoing process and the next logical step is inclusive education.’’

She did not believe there was a future for schools that only accepted students with a disability or classes that separated students with a disability.

The paper suggested policy changes, including a review of both mainstream and segregated schools to ensure they provided inclusive education as per Australia’s obligations under United Nations conventions, and making inclusive education part of the training for all educators.

Dr Cologon acknowledged there would be challenges in completing an overhaul, but said it was necessary to ensure all students had equal access to education.

 For example, where a student needed a one-on-one teaching aid in the classroom, this should be to help them participate in the class rather than to isolate them from the lesson and other students.

Stephanie Gotlib, executive officer at CDA, said inclusive education would help to ensure that every child could actively participate in their learning.

‘‘We really have to look at the attitudes towards students with a disability if anything is going to progress,’’ she said.

‘‘I think there’s some really important considerations around training for all those involved in education and disability and really looking at how we can modify education to provide every student with the opportunity of inclusive education.’’

Dr Cologon hoped the paper would inform future education policy and funding models for students with and without a disability, and would be used as an advocacy tool for organisations dealing with disabilities.

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