Inclusive Education vs. Inclusive Education

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A lot of people have been asking me which country is more inclusive of special education students, New Zealand or the US. Okay, one lady that runs some early child care centers who stopped over for tea asked me, but that’s not the point.

They’re different.

(*Reminder: This is not intended to be a sweeping comparison of the countries’ education. Just my limited personal experiences and observations.)

In the Schools

In the US, you have to have to have accept a student into your school regardless of their disability. There are different settings in special education, leveled 1-8 and the higher the setting the more restrictive the environment. About a billion assessments are done and a billion more conversations are had to determine which setting the student is placed in and the decision is ultimately up to the parent. This model can be either super inclusive at the lower settings but super exclusive at the higher settings (setting 3 is a separate classroom in a mainstream school and setting 4 is whole other school altogether).

In NZ, schools are supposed to accept all students regardless of disability. HOWEVER schools often admit to families that they just aren’t able to provide the amount of service that their disabled child would need, so, “Oh sorry, but you’ll probably be better off sending your child to a special school with other disabled children. Kthxbye!”  (That doesn’t always happen, but I’ve got it on sound advice that it does. The school that I’m at is one that welcomes and supports students with disabilities.)

Although the school that I’m at welcomes students with disabilities, it has its limitations. For example, it doesn’t have any elevators. This means that our student with cerebral palsy has to take the stairs every day.


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There is one super old motorized chair that you only see in infomercials, but even that’s next to impossible for him to maneuver alone.

In the Classroom

In the US, I have been privileged to work with truly exceptional teachers. These teachers take ownership of our special ed students’ learning wholeheartedly. The management and differentiation skills that they employ not only work for our students, but benefit all students. And it’s the little things – having the schedule posted, writing the learning objective on the board, having individual conversations with our students when things need to be modified. They make the learning accessible to our students taking their specific disabilities into consideration. (This is certainly not the case in all US schools. For all I know, my experiences could be the exception and not the rule.)

The special ed students here in NZ are in mostly mainstream classes, because there are no leveled settings like in the US. This is great if the students have teacher aids with them (and the ones here are absolutely wonderful at what they do). But I think some teachers are hesitant to accept our students without in-class support (as many teachers in the US are, too).

Oh and students with intellectual disabilities at this school do their English and Math from a separate curriculum from a remote correspondance school that I’ll get into later.

So. Which one is better? Who knows. Neither. Both. I don’t know that there is a system that has totally figured it out yet but I look forward to bumping into one some day that has.

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