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Practices in Special Education: Debates and Challenges|
Legislation and Its Intent
The rights of students at risk and with disabilities in Australia are protected by the Education Act (1989), the Anti-Discrimination Act (1991), the Disability Services Act (1992), and the DDA of 1992 (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.).
The DDA of 1992 was designed to protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination, including discrimination in education. Jackson, McAfee, and Cockran (1999) observe that “the DDA is only necessary because we have to make something right for a group of people for whom the right thing is not being done voluntarily” (p. 20). However, they concluded that, despite this intent, discrimination against students with disabilities in Australia still exits. Surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate that discrimination remains a significant problem at all levels of education and in particular for children with disabilities wishing to be included in mainstream education.
Jackson and colleagues (1999) further note,
Despite these noble intentions it is apparent that there is limited awareness of the DDA in education systems at all levels. In school systems in particular the right thing is still not being done even though there is awareness of the law at senior levels. It is our conclusion that very large institutions with very large budgets and a history of getting their own way have shown that they will not do the right thing, despite the law. (p. 20)Given the enduring history of discrimination in education, they call for multiple strategies to address discrimination. School systems “will not do the right thing in future unless principles are clearly defined, their performance is independently monitored and very powerful contingencies are placed on compliance with the law” (Jackson et al., 1999, p. 20).
Teacher Skills and Teacher Training
Teacher resistance and tension continue to be significant factors. A body of research finds that teachers in Australia experience pedagogical difficulties when teaching students with disabilities. They find the inclusion of students with special needs to increase in their workloads and cause stress. And, “While educational integration is advancing rapidly, policy makers, parents, and practitioners must still grapple with systems unready to meet the multiple responsibilities of inclusive schooling” (Winzer, 2006, p. 37). Combined with the issue of inadequate training for pre-service teachers in preparing classroom lessons that would meet the full range of inclusive schooling for students with disabilities, there is the issue of shortage of teaching resources.
Education policy and pedagogy for inclusive schooling for students with disabilities in Australia has a rich history of some 4 decades. Influenced by globalization and education reform and reflecting social justice, human rights, and inclusion, schools in Australia have adopted the global pedagogy of inclusive schooling for all (see Zajda, 2010).
Inequity in the classroom for students with disabilities continues to be a major issue globally. In order to achieve social justice in schools, learning opportunities need to be created that reinforce equity for all students. This is the essence of inclusive pedagogy and human rights education. Nevertheless, there exist inclusions, not a sole identifiable vision of inclusion. Efforts to bring about fundamental change cannot be quantified into a generic recipe (Winzer & Mazurek, 2010a).
This chapter reviewed recent education policy and pedagogy initiatives in the area of students with disabilities. It discussed education policy for students with special needs within the nexus of social justice, human rights education, and inclusive pedagogy. We conclude that education policy and pedagogy in Australia, while progressive in its intent, has much to achieve if we are to have authentic and meaningful pedagogy for students with disabilities.