Discussion surrounding children with special needs is almost always bounded by sensitivity, to say the least. This is made more complex by the fact that discussion regarding the education and inclusion of such children among wider society is even more sensitive, and is a topic that many try to avoid addressing. This is not political correctness, this is just compassion at work. Yet one must remember that this lack of discussion is harmful. It must also be noted that this is not necessarily a left-right issue. The recent remarks made by Senator Pauline Hanson regarding children with disabilities have caused sadness and uproar, and this is understandable.
It is the natural wish of all parents to see their children prosper in society and belong in this world, something parents with disabled kids especially strive for. However, such emotional aspects should not be used as a barrier to prevent discussion regarding special needs children and their treatment in public education. This is where Pauline Hanson has been instrumental. Children with disabilities should be segregated from normal children when it comes to the classroom environment.
The mainstream media has sensationalised what was a nuanced and respectful delivery of her views by Pauline Hanson. The Senator did not irrationally blurt out a statement asking for disabled students to be segregated. This is what she actually said: “I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children in the classroom – whether they have a disability or whether they are autistic – that is taking up the teacher’s time. These kids have a right to an education, by all means. But if there is a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention”.
Regular classroom teaching can actually be perilous to children with disabilities in a number of ways. The number of students present in regular classrooms means that children with disabilities do not get the special attention they would receive under specialised learning. This is further exacerbated by the fast progress made in regular classrooms, which result in children with disabilities being confused and misunderstood about the content being taught. The focus on group-work and class discussion further prevents special needs students from receiving an optimal education. They need specialised learning.
One may argue that the teacher can simply focus more on the special needs student. But this ignores the normal students who need a different style of learning, which can be hindered by the teacher taking time away from the majority of the class. It is important to remember that disabled students are not the only students that need to be cared for. Mainstream students should not be forgotten. It is wrong to commit time and resources to disabled students at the expense of mainstream students, which is something that everyone can agree with.
Studies comparing the impact of special education on special needs students are varied, with some showing that integration of disabled students into classrooms yields positive benefits for disabled students, while other findings reveal that it is detrimental for other students. It may depend on the type of disability. Various studies also suggest that including students with disability in mainstream classrooms does not impact negatively on normal students. These studies have been only carried out using quasi-experimental methods, and they do not account for the fact that mainstream students could be given more challenges and harder work if disabled students are absent in their classrooms.
The inclusion of special needs children in mainstream classrooms is a complex and sensitive topic that needs scrutiny. The fact remains that, while studies suggest that inclusion of disabled students have no negative impact, this does not mean mainstream students are not denied the opportunities and challenges they would receive had disabled students continued to be placed under special education. Education departments and schools cannot give mainstream students the education they need as they have to take into account the presence of disabled students. Specialised learning is also safer disabled children as it provides an environment that better caters for their needs.