By Catia Malaquias

February is national inclusive education month in Canada.

So it was good timing when earlier this month the Canadian provincial Government of New Brunswick received, from a field of over 100 countries, the prestigious 2016 Zero Project Award for Innovative Policy – for its Policy 322 on inclusive education.  The Zero Project is a global initiative working for zero barriers for people with disability, with reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Policy 322, established in 2013, is a legally-binding policy that seeks to ensure that all schools in the public education system of New Brunswick are inclusive and recognises that inclusive education is the foundation for ensuring an inclusive society:

“Inclusive education practices are not only necessary for all students to develop and prosper, but also critical to building a society that is inclusive of all people and their basic legal, civil and human rights.” [clause 5.3]

Policy 322 is not disability-specific – rather it acknowledges that inclusion benefits all students – not just students with disability.

A key aspect of Policy 322 is that it prohibits segregated schooling of students with disability:

“The following practices must not occur … (1) segregated, self-contained programs or classes for students with learning or behavioural challenges, either in school or in community-based learning opportunities … .” [clause 6.2.2]

Policy 322 was implemented as a priority of the New Brunswick Government.  The Minister of Education, in mandating the development of Policy 322, stated:

“We are beginning a new era in inclusive education.

Supporting each of our schools to become inclusive positive learning environments, with the proper support and training, gives the ability of each student to reach his/her full potential. Inclusive positive learning environments promote social cohesion, belonging, active participation in learning, a complete school experience and positive interactions with peers and others in the school community.

An inclusive education system supports the learning of each student in inclusive settings through 21st century pedagogical strategies, methods, accommodations and approaches that are effective and respectful and encourages high expectations and achievement for each.

Every child is unique.  His/her strengths, abilities and diverse learning needs must be recognised as his/her foundation for learning, and his/her learning challenges must be identified, understood and accommodated.” [Minister’s Message in response to recommendations of the Strengthening Inclusion, Strengthening Schools report (2011)]

In Australia approximately 25% of primary school students with disability generally, and 50% of students with intellectual disability, are educated separately from the general student population, in segregated special schools or special units co-located with regular schools.  The Australian Senate Inquiry Report, released last month, was a scathing assessment of the Australian education system for students with disability and recognised widespread deficiencies in regular schools enrolling and making adaptations for students with disability.

By comparison, Italy closed its special schools in 1977 and today more than 99% of students with disability in Italy are educated in regular classrooms and report a very positive over-all school experience rating of 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.   Italy was short-listed for the 2016 Zero Project award for its 1992 inclusive education framework legislation, including reforms in 2015.

The Zero Project advances the Italian inclusive legislation framework and New Brunswick’s Policy 322 as inclusive education policy models to be considered by other countries.  In fact, education authorities from Quebec, Switzerland and Spain have already visited New Brunswick schools to learn how teachers put Policy 322 into practice.

It is increasingly being recognised that in maintaining parallel segregated education systems for students with disability, Governments stunt the natural transition of regular mainstream education systems to genuinely inclusive systems for all – thereby delaying the full socio-economic participation of people with disability and the realisation of more inclusive societies for all.

Congratulations to New Brunswick for the strength of your leadership.

For more information on the implementation of Policy 322 you can contact New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Mr. John McLaughlin, or Mr. Gérald Richard  You can also read more about New Brunswick’s path to Policy 322 here.

[Cover photo © Rick Harris]

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