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Education: We stand together, or we fall apart

by Linda of Autism and Oughtisms

There is a growing awareness in New Zealand that our education system is not delivering on basic obligations to a significant and vulnerable group of children.

This failure of the system affects all of the country’s children: When a child is not given necessary supports to access and take part in education, that affects not just that child and their family, it impacts on their teachers, on the other children in that classroom, and on wider society as the child has not been given the opportunity to meet their full potential. It reflects poorly on our country that we have allowed this situation to go on for as long as it has.

It’s so easy for those who don’t know them, to point the finger of blame at the child, at the parent, at the teacher, but the problems being experienced are not isolated incidents that can be solved in a piecemeal fashion; the problems are clearly systemic.

The stories that are increasingly coming to light are symptoms of an education system that is broken on many levels. Funding is inadequate and poorly allocated, while unwieldy bureaucratic forms and processes are very difficult for both parents and teachers to navigate. Once you’ve ticked all the right boxes, and managed to fit your child into those tight criteria, they are still unlikely to receive enough of what they need to succeed in class.

One of my children receives ORS funding, though it hasn’t meant he has access to all the supports he requires to fully join in at school. My other child—who in many ways faces more challenges that my first child does in the school setting—had his ORS application denied. That denied application took a month to write, working alongside the school and therapists to compile the document. He has autism, dyspraxia, and suspected dyslexia.

We now struggle from term to term to access the teacher aide support he desperately needs just to be in the classroom safely (he’s a danger to himself, not others) and to learn alongside his peers. He falls increasingly further behind in his learning. Next year, as he enters Year 3, he also starts his third school—we shift him from place to place trying to find somewhere adequately resourced to help him take part in the education that most children and families take for granted. This little 6 year-old boy has tested as having above-average intelligence — the waste of his potential is enormous, and outrageous.

The stories of seclusion rooms, children being excluded from school because of inadequate supports, and parents having to pay teacher aides themselves, are just the tip of the iceberg. If you want an insight to just how big this iceberg is, you need only talk to the parents and educators endlessly advocating for these children’s right to access education in New Zealand. And you have an opportunity to do exactly that, this Saturday.

On Saturday November 12th, there will be an Auckland rally following on from the very successful one that took place in Wellington in September. It will be a family-friendly event, held in front of the rotunda at Auckland Domain, from midday to 1pm. (Picnics are welcome!) This is another vital opportunity for us to share our stories—to be heard, to be seen, to be among others who have fought the fights we do every day, and who want to help end those exhausting fights. To share our vision of an education system that not only welcomes and includes all children, but that appreciates and celebrates what they are capable of if only the system was set up to help them succeed rather than watch them fail.

What we want is not impossible, and it is necessary; to have an education system that delivers an education for all.

Speakers will include:

  • Dr. Bernadette Macartney, an advocate, academic and educator, who will be the MC and will provide an introduction to the rally.
  • Etta Bolinger, a self-advocate and academic, providing a disability perspective.
  • Dr. Huahana Hickey, an academic and advocate for disability and Maori rights, providing a Maori perspective.
  • Antonia Hannah, a parent and advocate, and current co-convenor of the Inclusive Education Action Group, providing a whanau/family perspective.

I’ll be there too; not as a speaker, but as a member of the supportive crowd. Please join us.

If you would like more information about how the current system is falling short of its obligations to our children, and what we’d like to see changed, please see “Education for all - Open Letter.” That page also provides a link to videos from the last rally, a link to the petition for change, and a list of the organisations supporting this movement. The Facebook page for the upcoming rally can be found here.

Author: Linda of Autism and Oughtisms.

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