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Around the World: Educational and Social Perspectives|
Australia is a nation of six federated states and two territories, each of which is responsible for its education system, curriculum, and practice. Australia also has some private and independent schools for deaf children (see Power, this volume). These were originally developed by charitable “missions” in each state, Catholic education authorities, and, more recently, by parent and other organizations to create oral education alternatives when public schools adopted communication philosophies involving signing.
The state systems have had official policies of placing deaf students in regular classes since the 1940s. However, more recently, there has been evidence in most states of a change toward policies of inclusion with considerations of the accommodations that local schools should make to include students with a disability, a learning difficulty, or a learning difference (these terms are used in various state policies, not always distinctively). The Australian government has no set national curriculum and does not provide specific directions to schools about the nature of education services for students with a hearing loss. Each state has therefore developed its own set of policies and practices within national education curriculum guidelines and has agreed common goals of schooling. Legislation is of a generic nature and is built around principles of social justice, including access, participation, and equity of outcome. In 1992, the national government passed a Disability Discrimination Act, and each state has separate anti-discrimination legislation. These laws are designed to be largely educative and preventive in focus, but necessarily are protective of the rights of people with a disability or cultural difference against forms of discrimination. Australia is required to comply with the United Nations International Convention of the Rights of the Child and has significant national and state policies in the area of “multiculturalism.” The National Language Policy (Lo Bianco, 1987) includes the recognition of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) as a community language and recognizes the status of the Deaf community (Hyde & Power, 1992).
In a study involving deaf students and their teachers in all Australian states, Power and Hyde (2002) and Hyde and Power (2004) reported that a significant majority (83%) of deaf students in Australia attend regular schools and are placed in regular classes with auditory-oral conditions of communication. In attempting to measure the integration of these students in their regular classes, they found that more than two thirds of the students were considered to be performing at an academically “competitive” level (Mirenda, 1998) when compared with their hearing peers, yet only one third of the deaf students were rated at the same level in their social participation and development of personal independence.
The transition from policy to the practice of inclusion among Australian states remains questionable, particularly because there is no clear research evidence with respect to the efficacy of the outcomes of stated inclusion policies for the students. This lack of evidence particularly applies to the research findings with respect to deaf students’ social and personal development in regular schools. Those measures of students’ independence and participation in social and academic activities in schools that are available are usually determined from the perspectives of the schools and the teachers and make assumptions about the factors that are considered to be most relevant to the students themselves, an issue demanding intensive research (Hyde & Power, 2004).
European perspectives vary, but in education of deaf students, Scandinavian perspectives have had international influence in maintaining a focus on sign language use and on schools for the deaf. The case of Norway is illustrative. Norway’s current ideology of inclusive education stems back to the 1960s and is best understood in the broader historical and social changes to its welfare state (Flem & Keller, 2000; Vislie, 1995). A reorganization of special education began late in the 1960s and was based on the principles of equality, integration, normalization, participation, and decentralization. New laws established the ideology of “integration” and what was called “adjusted” education. In the 1975 Integration Act, provisions relating to special schools and specific regulations for the administration of special education were eliminated (Flem & Keller, 2000). Since 1975, local municipalities have been responsible for the education of all students and for upholding their right to be educated in their local schools. The Act of Education of 1998, Section 1-2, emphasizes “adjusted” education as a legal right for all students (Kirke-, Utdannings- og Forskningsdepartementet [The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs], 1998). The national curriculum for compulsory education states that compulsory schooling is based on the principle of one school for all. “Compulsory schooling shall provide equitable and suitably adjusted education for everyone in a coordinated system of schooling based on the same curriculum” (Kirke-, Utdanningsog Forskningsdepartementet [The Royal Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs], 1998, p. 56).