Education State for Excellence – Is that true?
Education is marketed as a key to successful transition to adult life from school years. Education is also marketed as an ingredient to a good quality life and a bright future. I have been privileged to access education in my young and adult life so I could peruse my wonderful career, my quality of life and my bright future. So are millions of other citizens of the world!
But what is in store for our students with disabilities? In 2015, The Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) released ‘The Education State’ publication that clearly details the State Government’s vision for Educational Excellence and reduction of the impact of disadvantages. To support this, a commitment of $3.9 billion dollars over four years to support students and families was declared at the 2015-2016 Victorian Budget. While I am fully supportive of this funds injection into Victorian schools, I am not entirely convinced that a proportionate of these funds will be enough to support schools that accommodate students with disabilities.
The Victoria State aims to market itself as an educational state for excellence in order to continuously grow Victoria State’s image. Yet in my line of work, every day, I see students with disabilities struggle to fully participate in curriculum and schools continuously being under-resourced to meet their full educational needs.
According to DET Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools (March 2016), in 2015 there were 23,936 students with disabilities enrolled in Victorian Schools. This makes 4.2 % of the total student cohort. This means 4.2% of the total student cohort may or may not access sufficient educational support to excel in learning. I have witnessed in my own eyes young adults with disabilities graduating from Victorian schools to an unknown territory with minimal basic living skills and greater isolation. They do not fit into higher educational institutions and end up enrolling in recreational day services just to have something to do in their everyday life. In these instances, their parents continue to act as primary caregivers for the rest of their life. Why should this be case? What meaningful quality of life is that for those young adults who potentially could have been our future leaders? Surely some of these young adults could have achieved better transitional outcomes if they just had the opportunity to access maximum support in their schooling years.
Having said that, DET does offer Program for Students with Disabilities funds for every student with a disability enrolled in either state mainstream or specialist school. The level of funding for each student is determined by the level of support requirements the student presents with. Even with these new additional funds, schools are still struggling. Parents and students arrive to graduation time and start panicking thinking ‘where to now’? Parents’ main concern is about child’s quality of life and near impossible bright future if their child can’t perform basic living skills. They are often left feeling isolated and tools-less not knowing what to do next. Whose responsibility is that to prepare those children to a successful transition to adults’ life? Is that the parents’ responsibility? Is that the education system’s responsibility? The answer is perhaps both. However, the process begins with parent looking up to the educators, “the experts” “the excelling education system” to help them to prepare our children to an adult life. So by the time they graduate from school, simple foundations have been already instilled in so that they can continue their life journeys with a backup support from their parents. The Australian Human Rights Commission also argue that there is a very much a need for more adequate and comprehensive services to assist students with disabilities throughout all transitional phases.
I do not believe that the message of the ‘The Education State’ is a true depiction of the reality out there. I do accept that the Victoria Government will continue to address the impact of disadvantages to its best of ability. However there is much more to be done in order to create the Educational Excellence image. This reform was based on two months of solely community consultations with a range of stakeholders seeking their perspectives. It is unknown if representation of each consumer group accessing education was adequately in those community consultations.
DET should conduct a much more thorough research to back and support the Educational Excellence Pitch. A greater understanding of, a depth insight into the reality out there is very much needed. Research strategies such surveys, visits to schools, longitudinal and multi-cultural studies are necessary. It is imperative that policy makers understand why those schools continue to be under-resourced, what additional resources do they need. They must find out why some consumers, such as students with disabilities, do not achieve successful transition to adults’ life. Sadly, the reality is that they also do not have a bright future or a bright life ahead. This is not a good image for Victoria as an Education State for Excellence.
Access to Education for Students with a Disability: Barriers and Difficulties, 2016. Australian Human Rights Commission (www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/access-education-students-disability-barriers-and-difficutlies )
Education State: Schools, State of Victoria (Department of Education and Training) 2015. (www.education.vic.gov.au )
Program for Students with Disability. Department of Education and Training, 2016. (www.education.vic.gov.au )
Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools, Department of Education and Training, 2016. (www.education.vic.gov.au )