A former teacher of mine was, for some years, the head of the visually impaired teaching programme in Western Australia; and brilliant she was. She introduced a number of radical changes in a system which needed, seriously, to be over-hauled.
There was a time when children with learning disabilities were separated from their contemporaries, and teaching programmes were shaped for their particular degree of disability. It was not always successful, since intellectual capacity differs in all groups – disabled or not. I think back to my own secondary school days and I was always in the classes which did languages, physics and chemistry, and the four maths.
The classes under my group did a mixture of subjects, including technical, drawing, book keeping, and a general maths and science. My group was classified by the Education Department as professional, the other as commercial. It worked successfully for the day.
In recent, and someone would say, more enlightened times, children with learning disabilities are enrolled in mainstream education. In the mid-1960s, I trained to be a remedial teacher, which, in those days, meant working with children with a learning difficulty. I qualified but my career took a different course. I spent little time in the classroom; however, the years of training have not been wasted.
A colleague of mine is a school principal. The question of assimilating the learning disabled is a real problem.
There is no denying: a child with a disability can be most disruptive in the classroom. Often times, it is impossible to pacify the deeply disturbed child, particularly if they are incapable of articulating the cause of their anxiety, or explaining their simple needs. Their sometimes irrational behaviour becomes a distraction for the rest of the class, and makes the providing of quality teaching nigh-on impossible. It has been argued, correctly, that a general trained teacher is not qualified to deal with such a complex situation. The degree of disruption affects the teacher as much as it does the students. Both groups, the abled and the disabled, have a right to a full and comprehensive education; however, I am not certain that one should be permitted to impact on the other. The gifted child who is keen to learn must not be allowed to become bored and switch-off from learning – which can, and does happen, if the environment is not appropriately charged and the child constantly is not stimulated. The teacher/student responsibility is enormous.
The mixing of those students with and without a learning problem does make for its own range of serious hurdles. I do not pretend to have the answer.
Schools are meant to be an educational institution – a place of learning where information is disseminated in an organised and engaging manner. That becomes an impossibility if one, or more, of the students has an intellectual or behavioural problem. It is unreasonable to expect a single teacher – sometimes with a class of 30-students – to be providing specialised supervision for one or two of their children. At the same time, it does not mean they should be treated in a manner which is barbaric in its concept.
The ABC reported: A mother whose autistic son was strapped to a restraining chair in class was asked if she would prefer a “more aesthetically pleasing chair” when she confronted the school about the seven-year-old’s treatment.
It’s one of nearly 250 cases of mistreatment of disabled children in NSW state schools in the past two years detailed in a government document obtained by 7.30 under Freedom of Information.
Last year, Thomas Maker-North was strapped into two different types of chairs at Manning Gardens Public School at Taree on the NSW mid-north coast. Thomas has autism, is non-verbal, can’t go to the toilet on his own and has an intellectual disability.
His mother Georgina Maker-North said she was horrified when she discovered the chairs: “It’s something we thought was happening in the ‘70s and went away in the ‘70s and we don’t hear about it anymore. Since this has happened I’ve discovered it’s quite common,” she told 7.30. Ms Maker-North asked for a meeting with the school: “When I saw the chairs it was shown like it was a great show-and-tell piece: ‘they were fabulous’,” she said.
“The words that were used when I looked — and I was gobsmacked — was, ‘would it better if we got some more aesthetically pleasing chairs?’ Any parent of a child would be appalled to think such actions might be happening in classrooms across the country. It is the sort of thing which one read about in the Victorian-era, Cole’s Funny Picture Book, and which illustrated graphically the draconian punishments meted- out to children in what we thought were the dark-ages.
One can only hope things will change, and sooner rather than later. We need to create an education system which satisfies all students. The one we have at the moment is ‘broke’ – let’s fix it! Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.