Resources, Resources Everywhere, But…
If one were to make a wordle of all the words related to Inclusive Education, the word funding is likely to be a standout - a word that is seen as panacea for making education equitable to all children and young persons, even by those who are fully aware that supply will always outweigh demands. No doubt there are pockets of creative local solutions that one hears from school communities and parents from time to time, but in my quarter century of working in education related fields, they are few and far between and even more rarely, ongoing. The refrain of ‘lack of funding” is an extremely potent barrier that prevents sustainable solutions to be discussed and implemented.
It is hard and unethical in my opinion to be in a state of inertia. It is time we confront this barrier heads-on as an intellectual society and examine solutions to equity with resources that abound in every community. On the one hand the notion of local schools for local kids is entrenched in the New Zealand psyche, yet we do not harness the people resources within the community effectively. In fact, a BBC footage that I saw recently around community involvement in a major social issue was a catalyst to writing this blog. It was about Iceland reducing its teen drinking culture drastically in a decade – with no strong outcries about lack of funding. All parents in a community volunteered to stem the excessive drinking and related skirmishes by teenagers, by monitoring and ensuring that young people were safely home by 10.00 AM. A curfew surely was imposed, which no doubt will be seen as a violation of a young person’s right by some quarters in progressive Aotearoa New Zealand. But ending up in a prison with no positive outcomes both for them and society at large, is what we want to continue as an alternative for our young people?
Returning to our school contexts, how difficult will it be to tap into community resources? In one of his recent speeches, Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft referred to a signboard in Blenheim airport that had the slogan that a young person in sport was a young person out of court (not exact words). Now I do not propose that all children should play sports, although it is tempting to do so. However, what I can say with some degree of certainty is that every child and young person has a niche, and if we can nurture it within school, within their wider school community – parents, caregivers, artists, retirees with abundant talent in a range of field such as music, fine arts, creativity, computers etc., who are often willing volunteers - wouldn’t the learning of all children and young persons be meaningful? We are big on role models, but seem to have a narrow definition of who they ought to be. For a growing mind, anyone who connects with them and their interest is a role model. In proposing community as a resource, I am not oblivious to issues of safety and vulnerability of children. But, we do have enough checks and balances and legal processes to ensure their safety when used with vigilance. It also begs the question, aren’t educational settings a safer environment for many children given our domestic violence statistics and youth crime rates?
This brings me to one important and final point about our educational institutions. If equity is about every child having an opportunity to learn and thrive, then the curriculum, and more importantly the structures that deliver it, must be flexible. While we should pride ourselves on our world renowned early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki, the value based NZ Curriculum and a bilingual Marautanga Curriculum, the structures that deliver it are still steeped in traditional modus of operation. For example, it always gives one a sense of assurance to see an organized classroom, where the daily activities are written down against the time of when they are to occur on the black/white board. The stability such structures provide to most students is espoused in every teacher’s pedagogy. And most students do wander to the board to check out their time-table as one of their morning rituals. But what about those young people for whom such advanced organisers are incomprehensible, or irrelevant? This blog is written for the likes of such vulnerable children and young persons, and to see a way forward to allow them opportunities to actively engage, learn and feel valued in their community.
A well know Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurthy once said – the solution for every problem lies in the problem itself. Therefore, extending our understanding of ‘resourcing’ and looking and thinking laterally, in addition to what we now imply as resources under funding, is a way forward to avoid the trend of learners currently and historically marginalized, to continue. I do hold hope that the review of tomorrow’s schools will bring about a transformational change in the way we conceptualise what and how we learn. I will sign off my first blog by saying that I am an eternal optimist and when there is a way, the will must follow. I hope that everyone takes a leaf from this principal from Manawatu in terms of repositioning what we value as educational outcomes.
Vijaya is a Senior Lecturer at Massey University, Institute of Education, where she is involved in coordinating and teaching postgraduate specialist teacher training in ASD, Educational and Developmental Psychology and others at a post graduate and under graduate programmes. She is a registered psychologist and a teacher. Her research interests are in the field of inclusive education, Autism, emotional and behavioural difficulties, student disengagement and pedagogy. She is keen that her research activities are centered on being useful to wider communities and support the cause of equity and diversity.