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International Practices in Special Education: Debates and Challenges
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UNESCO’s later report, Overcoming Exclusion Through Inclusive Approaches in Education: A Challenge and a Vision (2001), expanded the theme. UNESCO stated that

      schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. This should include disabled and gifted,
      children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other
      disadvantaged or marginalised areas or groups. (UNESCO, 2001)

LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK

Prescriptive legislation of the ilk of the American IDEA is not in place in Australia. However, as a nation committed to multiculturalism, Australia follows the principles of cultural diversity and a pluralist democracy. Therefore, commonwealth legislation and the policies of state governments on social justice, antidiscrimination, and equality have had a significant influence on educational provisions for students with disabilities (Westwood, 2001).

The commonwealth government of Australia showed little interest in special education until the reformist Gough Whitlam Labor Government was elected in 1972. During its 3-year rule, the government introduced a series of policy documents and legislation, including antidiscrimination laws. At the policy level, the government adopted integration as its preferred way of meeting the educational needs of children with disabilities. More significantly, it established the influential policy think tank—the Commonwealth Schools Commission—which became a major influence through its support of research and policy initiatives, as well as a vehicle for the commonwealth government’s policy of supporting integration (Winzer, Altieri, Jacobs, & Mellor, 2003).

In 1992, the commonwealth government passed the Federal Disability Discrimination Act (DDA; Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.) that came into effect on March 1, 1993. The DDA made it against the law for an educational authority to discriminate against someone because that person has a disability. Critically, a person with a disability has a right to study at any educational institution in the same way as any other student. This includes all public and private educational institutions, primary and secondary schools, and tertiary institutions such as TAFE, private colleges, and universities (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.).

In 2004, the Disability Discrimination Amendment (Education Standards) Bill 2004 (Parliament of New South Wales, 2005) amended the DDA of 1992. The 2005 amendment, known as the Disability Standards for Education, plays a significant role in educational placement in Australia in general. The amendment came into being because there was the need to mandate compliance with the disability standards mandated in 1992 and to ensure that the provisions of the draft disability standards for education were fully supported. The main aim of the amendment was to explain and clarify the legal obligations of education and training service providers as well as the rights of people with disabilities under the seminal DDA of 1992.

The Disability Standards of 2005 (Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department, 2005) set out to ensure that students with disabilities have the same rights as other students in a number of interlocking areas:

  • Educational equity. The standards give students and prospective students with disabilities the right to education and training opportunities on the same basis as students without disabilities. This includes the right to comparable access, services, and facilities, and the right to participate in education and training without discrimination.
  • Accommodations. The rights to equity are not merely formal. Education providers have a positive obligation to make changes to reasonably accommodate the needs of a student with a disability. A reasonable adjustment for students with disabilities is defined as a measure or action taken to assist a student with a disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students. In determining whether an adjustment is reasonable, an education provider should take into account information about the nature of the student’s disability, his or her preferred adjustment, and any adjustments that have been provided previously (Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department, 2005).
  • Stereotypes. An aim of the standards was to overcome discrimination based on stereotyped beliefs about the intellectual and cognitive abilities of students with disabilities. Accordingly, all students should be treated with dignity and enjoy the benefits of education and training in supportive environments that value and encourage participation by all.
  • Harassment and victimization of students with disabilities. Education providers are obliged to put in place strategies and programs to prevent harassment and victimization. They must ensure that staff and students know not to harass or victimize students with disabilities, or students who have associates with disabilities. An education provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and students know what to do if harassment or victimization occur (Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department, 2005).
  • Direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination occurs when a person discriminates against another person on the ground of a disability, and as a result treats, or proposes to treat, the aggrieved person less favorably than the discriminator would treat a person without the disability in circumstances that are not materially different. Indirect disability discrimination is when a person discriminates against another person on the ground of a disability of the aggrieved person if the person (the discriminator) requires, or proposes to require, the aggrieved person to comply with a requirement or condition that is likely to result in the effect of disadvantaging persons with disabilities.
Another key education policy document came in the form of the Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century that arose from a discussion paper (1998) reviewing the Hobart Declaration (1989) and superseded these earlier documents. In April of 1999, state, territory, and commonwealth ministers of education met as the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) in Adelaide. At that meeting, ministers endorsed a new set of national goals for schooling, which were released as the Adelaide Declaration (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2006).

A later education policy document (which now supersedes the Adelaide Declaration) was the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, 2008). It sets the direction for Australian schooling for the next 10 years and also addresses inclusive education. The education policy goals were developed by education ministers in collaboration with the Catholic and independent school sectors and following public consultation on the draft declaration (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, 2008).


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