Carers Alliance recognises the right of the child to be provided with the tools to learn and become capable and cultivated members of our society.

In regard to the education of children with disabilities and/or learning difficulties  we support:

  1. Choice in schooling
  2. Equitable funding irrespective of the educational setting with funding following the child to ensure flexibility and choice (including home schooling)
  3. Universal design for learning

The Shut Out report  released in August 2009, authored by the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council,  was scathing in its condemnation of the lack of innovation and flexibility in the education of students with disabilities and the prejudicial funding policies across all jurisdictions which discriminates against students with disabilities based on the educational setting.

The Council recommended that the educational needs of students with disabilities should be funded equitably irrespective of the educational setting and that the funding follow the child with disabilities.

Universal design for learning has not been given any consideration in either curriculum development in teacher training courses nor has it been piloted anywhere in Australia.  Such innovation would meet the requirements of the much vaunted notion of social inclusion coming from a school setting:

1.       Social inclusion means acceptance of diversity
2.       Changing an education system that unwittingly creates barriers to diverse learning needs of students (with or without diagnosed disabilities) in the modern classroom.

Our current education system was established last century and probably so too would have been the curricula of teacher training institutions. That means that diversity of learning needs has been accommodated by merely ad hoc additions as needs are identified rather than in a way that is planned and inclusive.

In light of this the system needs to be turned on its head basically and while we accept that may be asking too much we think that if we are to have transformative change it should be in all institutions which fundamentally affect how people with disabilities live their lives. Shortcoming in the modern classroom will continue unless something dramatic is done to socially include by providing educational inclusion.

Universal Design for Learning is a natural extension of universal design for architecture and the built environment and universal product design. Some view  inclusive learning as: presence (the where )  participation (quality of learning experience) and achievement (outcomes of learning).

Universal design for learning looks at 3 things too:

Representation (methods and materials -the what of learning where the content is not dumbed down but there is a variety of modes of presentation and access)

Expression (the how of learning – how the student can express understanding of the curricula, eg using electronic formats such as PowerPoint or verbal responses onto an MP3 device.  I also see this as using a variety of methods to measure and assessing how a child has learned as well as what the student has learned)

Engagement (the why — which goes to motivation or why a child wants to learn and how to harness that spirit of inquiry into useful learning)

Universal learning design is already naturally practiced within formal childcare and pre-schools.

These facilities also undertake educating and training in a social sense,  there is flexibility and a natural guidance by the childcare system which which takes into account that the children are at differing developmental stages and ave different capacities for expressive and receptive communication- either non-verbal or just developing speech, their level of mobility and physical capacity is also at widely different stages.  Early childhood systems accept and makes allowances for all those degrees of skill acquisition.

However, by the time children reach school that fluidity and acceptance of difference seems to evaporate and the system becomes rigid and unable to respond, adapt or even recognise anything other than “the average”.

While education systems follow an outmoded method of allocating funding based on their notion of a students “deficiencies” based on disability, some educators and many parents of students with disabilities believe it is in fact the education system which is disabled, and needs to accommodate the diverse needs of a broad spectrum of learners, rather than blaming the student for being different.

Carers Alliance supports the Universal Design for learning.

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