Monday, 18 January 2016

Of Gatekeeping and Other Things

Given that I've been working in the field of education of students with disabilities since 1971, I've put a fair bit of blood, sweat and tears into the activity.

The irony for me is that I fell into the field almost accidentally on return from Vietnam. In the space of a few months I went from involvement in an activity that was completely futile to something that had a positive result for me and those I was working with.

On the upside, I've found it immensely fulfilling and perhaps along the way my humble contribution has made a positive difference to the lives of many of these kids. The fact that I'm still doing the work and still enjoying most of it is testimony to the fact that on the whole, opportunities are improving for this vulnerable cohort of the population, but there is still a long way to go.

On the downside, families with children with disabilities still have a convoluted and difficult road to follow to gain access for their kids to the same privileges and opportunities taken for granted for the parents of kids who aren't diagnosed with a disability.

In forty plus years I've seen the opening up of schooling to all children, irrespective of disability. In 1971 there were still kids considered "ineducable" who were relegated to training centres. I've seen the move towards training of most teachers in support for kids with special needs. I was one of the first teachers to be taken off stream for a year's training in this in 1976. I've seen the opening up of regular classrooms to students with disabilities, and was one of the first Advisory visiting Teachers appointed in 1974.

Having seen all this positive activity, there are still many barriers presented to these kids and their families. As recently as 2004, as a special school principal in Toowoomba, a city replete in what are euphemistically called  "private" schools, I would attend meetings of principals from both the private and public sectors.

It was always interesting to ask the private school principals if they had enrolments of students with disabilities. The stock answer was always "No" usually with the clarification "We don't cater for them".

It always got interesting when my next question was "Why not?". I never got a straight answer, and that was usually the end of the conversation.

That particular barrier (the enrolment exclusion) still exists, as has been highlighted by the report of the Senate Committee -

Access to real learning: the impact of policy, funding and culture on students with disability.

This particular barrier is highlighted in the report -

1.14 The practice known as 'gatekeeping', whereby families of students with disability are informally and unofficially discouraged from enrolling their child at their school of choice is another major barrier. For many families, merely enrolling their child in a school was the first of many battles they have to fight in order to ensure their child receives anything like an adequate education.

Absolutely correct - and there is no situation which illustrates this more clearly than that operating in Toowoomba. I daresay, it's not much different anywhere else.

The "private*" schools are quite happy to accept taxpayers money, but aren't prepared to offer places to the sons and daughters of all taxpayers, about 7% of whom have children with disabilities. 

*(These schools should more accurately be called "subsidised" schools, because that is, in fact, what they are). They receive vast amounts of taxpayers' money.

Also worth considering are some of the recommendations of this bipartisan committee -

Recommendation 1
4.75 The committee recommends that the government contribute to schools on the basis of need, according to the Gonski Review.

4.76 The committee recommends that the government fund all students with disability on the basis of need by reversing its cuts to final two years of the Gonski Reforms.

Such recommendations are interesting in the light of recent announcements about Gonski.

Anyway, these issues remain close to my heart, and I intend to pursue them at every opportunity. 

These kids and their families could do with your help, gentle reader.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

My Country's Shame

Milad Jafari  - Pic Courtesy Catholic Leader

There's plenty happening around the asylum seeker situation at the moment to warrant a post on the subject.

As usual, most of it can only be categorised as shameful.

First, there's the revelation that Save the Children workers were booted from a detention centre on a lie. This, of course, is hardly surprising given the government's sensitivity to criticism, but it's worth examining the chain of events to fully understand the evil being done to both asylum seekers and the Australian taxpayer.

On October 3rd 2014, The then Immigration Minister Morrison claimed (and I quote) Save the Children staff were "coaching asylum seekers to manufacture situations where evidence could be obtained to pursue a political and ideological agenda in Australia". 

Ten of these staff were unceremoniously deported from Nauru.

Subsequently, two inquiries have been conducted into these allegations.

The Moss Review finding relevant to the conduct of Save the Children employees was -

The review obtained information from Wilson Security intelligence reports, interviews and other material. None of this information indicated conclusively to the Review that particular contract service provider staff members had engaged in these activities.  
(Review into recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing in Nauru -   Executive Summary p 5/6)

A Senate Review which followed, found, inter alia -

conditions in the centre were "not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there".

So, in summary, people employed under contract to ensure the welfare of asylum seekers and their children have been unjustly turfed because of government paranoia about how the situation looks in the media, and the place isn't safe for its inmates. (And it looks like you and me, the taxpayers, will be asked to compensate them.) 

So forgetting, for a moment that those interned have no idea of release dates, no hope for the future, and absolutely no rights whatsoever, the camps are unsafe places.

This is being carried out, gentle reader, in your name.

Then, of course, there is the continuing obscenity that is the Mojgan Shamsalipoor case which has been dragging on for months.

Again, the separation of a married couple and the likelihood that the deportation of the wife may result in her being harmed, possibly killed, is being conducted in your name.

If "stopping the boats" was the goal of these policies, it has largely been achieved. Why then, are people continuing to be treated in much the same way as the Nazis treated Jews in World war two?

The most significant difference between these camps and the notorious camps of WW2, is the lack of gas chambers, although they are being called a "solution".

Interesting, isn't it, how that "solution" word has turned up in history in relation to the treatment of specific groups of people. The "Pacific Solution", I think, was the phrase John Howard was content to use.  

Let's not beat about the bush, these places (Nauru, Manus and Christmas Island), are quite simply, concentration camps.

I never thought I'd live to see my country running concentration camps.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...