Education for All rally at Parliament, 23 September 2016
The Education for All network is made up of disabled people, families, educators and service providers. As an active member of this network, NZEI Te Riu Roa has been able to work with others to lobby government to increase funding and support for inclusive education.
In September 2016 we held a rally at Parliament to let government know that they must invest in education, rather than just tweak education, and that their Special Education Update was a totally inadequate response to the issues in the system. The rally called for a well-resourced education system that supports the rights of every learner to fully participate and succeed.
Inclusive NZ released an open letter to then-Minister Hekia Parata asking for a full commitment to inclusive education, and a matching petition gathered over 3400 signatures from members of the public.
See some videos from the rally below.
Bernadette: So what are we here for? We're here together because we're part of Education for All and we're a large proportion of New Zealanders.
The government estimates -- they estimate because they don't keep proper figures -- that there are 100,000 children and young people with disability or learning support needs attending early childhood education and school at the moment in New Zealand. One hundred thousand.
For these children and young people a learning disability is the most common type of challenge, but this group is very very diverse, like everybody.
Every one of these 100,000 children has a family, a centre or a school, and lives in a community. It's time the government made a commitment to all of us, all these people in inclusive education.
I am Maggie Rose and Sally's mum, they're both here. Maggie is 20 and in year 14 at high school. Since Maggie was born 20 years ago her dad, who's also here, and I have been constantly advocating, organising, and often arguing and fighting for her and other disabled children and people to be fully respected and included.
As a parent I personally coordinate the parent support group at my children's high school, I'm part of the schools inclusive practices working group, I help to organise my daughters' education. I am also an early childhood teacher. Along the way I got a doctorate in inclusive education. Over 20 years I have sat on countless special education advisory committees, written and presented submissions to inquiries and reviews, been to millions of conferences, and... I've lost my place.
Forums and meetings. I don't work because I haven't got the time or the emotional capacity to do paid work and do what I do to care for and support my child and my family and the world.
We are actually all incredibly reasonable patient people and we are all experiencing the same sense of frustration, and sometimes despair, at the situation that we find ourselves in and our children in. And I am not just talking about families here, I am talking about educators, as well. And disabled people, schools, teachers, early childhood centres, teacher educators, tertiary institutions.
We currently have a system that makes it very hard for us to provide an inclusive education for everybody, wherever you live in New Zealand. Educators and families are trying to make the best out of a very bad situation every day and congratulations, hats off to you and all of us for doing that and for everybody here getting together.
Sometimes we are pitted against each other by the government -- teachers and families. Well hello, teachers are families and families are teachers and we get along very well together every day, thank you very much.
Okay I'm going to hand over in a moment to Rachel Noble. Just before I do I just want to summarise what we believe that we all have a right to.
Every child and adult has a right to fully participate, succeed and benefit from education and that's lifelong education, early childhood through to tertiary.
Everyone has the right to participate in society.
The whole system needs to change. It's not just one little fix-it sort of issue and then we're all better. No more tinkering, no more taking of support from one child to fund another. No more making us compete against each other for meagre resources and support.
We deserve a well funded responsive and workable system. Our education system must be supported and resourced to cater for every child and young person regardless of their learning needs.
Bernadette: Now I'd like to introduce Etta Bollinger who is a writer and a student, she's a sociologist and she's a fine actress as well. Haere mai, kia ora Etta.
Bernadette: She's also a bit younger than most of us who have been speaking.
(off screen) What are you saying?
Bernadette: Sorry. You're younger than me.
Etta: Kia ora Bernadette. Kia ora tātou. Ngā mihi nui ki te whānau hoa, ki to tātou whānau, ki tātou katoa.
I was once told that it was a beautiful thing that I was getting a degree.
This comment came from the mother of another young woman with a similar level of disability to me. And in fact with cerebral palsy which is what I have. And yet she was shocked that I would have these natural aspirations for myself.
In my 23 years as a person and having spent most of that in the education system I am still constantly taken aback that my achievements -- achievements that would just be normal expectations for my able-bodied twin sister -- are called exceptional.
It reinforces for me the appallingly low standards that we seem to have for disabled people's learning opportunities and for their full citizenship. It reinforces that we do not expect them to contribute to society or enrich our lives as citizens of this country. And that has to stop. I am an honours student. That is the other part of the reason why I am here.
I remember as a five year old, being worried what would happen when I was going to school on my own, and it was teacher aide support that allayed this anxiety. Sure it was difficult, but what worked was when teacher aides had the time to meet me as a full person and engage with my learning needs that way.
Over my years as a student my needs have changed, but I wouldn't say they've decreased. They've simply had to become more targeted, more shaped by the strong aspirations that I have for my adulthood. And I am worried that the proposed changes will mean that people cannot aspire to this kind of adulthood -- to an independent one, to one where they can hope to be full contributors to society.
And I am sick of being an exception.
I want there to be disabled people in our tertiary institutions. I want them here in Parliament.
And I hope that this kind of turnout is indicative that we all want that to start now, thank you.
Bernadette: Thankyou Etta, and we do want it to start now, yesterday, last century.
Bernadette: Now I'd like to introduce Rachel Noble. Kia ora Rachel.
Rachel: Thank you. Wow so many of you here - that's really really brilliant.
I'd just like to say I've been around in the education space as a student, as a teacher, and as an advocate for around fifty years. My parents fought like you parents now. I had to be determined at school, with the constant threat of rules.
My brother didn't have those rules so why did I have those rules, why do the children now have these rules?
I've seen the same pattern happening over and over again and again and we still see that happening today. We've been reviewed and updated to death.
We are people. We are not objects. We are not a burden. We are not a drain, we're not broken. We do not need or want to be fixed. We are not difficult add ons. We are valuable. We are productive citizens. We have a right to go to school. We have a right to access education and then to access employment.
At the moment only 45% of disabled adults are in the workforce compared to 72% of the non disabled workforce - too big a difference.
Back in 1989 there was hope when Tomorrow's Schools came in. We thought that would be the answer to the issues that were in place up till then.
However since then many of us here have participated in so many reviews, inquiries, advisory groups -- we've seen report after report come out saying that the system is not working for us.
Recently, Auckland Youth Law and the Human Rights Commission produced a report saying the same thing as the IHC complaint when it first came out eight years ago. It's an ongoing conversation. Everyone is calling for systemic change not a tinker.
All of us here have a vision. We have a vision for fully inclusive education system. When we finally have this we can then honestly say that NZ has a quality education system for all young people. But not now, definitely not now.
New Zealand led the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a document, and we signed it in 2008. This document will only become a reality in NZ when we finally see inclusive, equitable quality education in place. And when we see lifelong learning opportunities for all. And when we see a system based on equal opportunity and freedom from exclusion.
(crowd saying 'yeah!')
So the education for all working group we have going, we started working together in 1999 for Tomorrow's Schools and we then regrouped in 2012. When we regrouped it was amazing how quickly we connected. We are disabled people, families, educators and academics.
We debated, we learned from one another and we broadened our conversation. We certainly aligned with the convention. We also found other groups also having similar conversations and made connections. So today it is brilliant to have the education sector and the disability sector here together to present an open letter to the minister and launch our petition.
That petition has already taken off. Within the first hour of launching it this morning over 50 people had signed it, way to go. And we are in the top 15% of petitions on change dot org. So when you get home sign up.
(crowd laughing, cheering)
So as Bernadette said, this is just the start and the time is now.
Bernadette: I'd now like to introduce Giovanni Tiso, Giovanni is the father of two children with autism and he's also the chair person of Berhampore School here in Wellington, he's a wonderful writer and commentator also, through social media. Thanks Giovanni.
Giovanni: Thank you.
Kia ora tātou. I'm so proud to be here and so glad for the opportunity to talk to you. I think it's fair to say that our community doesn't find it very easy to come out to these events. I think I speak for the other organisers as well if I say that we heard a lot of people over the past few days on social media and via email saying to us, "oh what a great event, how important, I would so love to be there, I am gonna be there in spirit but I can't be there physically."
And so I think some of you can really be happy for the fact that you're here and someone else isn't, but you're here for them as well.
And most often disability itself is not the barrier, you know. It's not because it's hard to get out of the house. It's not because it's hard to get onto these grounds.
The real barrier is the fact that the common experience for families with children with disabilities is one of constant struggle. We struggle to have our children enrolled and included in education. We struggle to access health and social services.
We struggle for social visibility and inclusion. We are forced into this role of self-advocates, which can and often does become a full time job, as Bernadette was saying, on top of the jobs we already have and on top of the work of being parents.
We also fight for a small pool of resources which only seems to get smaller. This is because someone in the Ministry of Education, someone without a background in developmental psychology or teaching, has decided that this support goes to one percent of children and this other support goes to three per cent of children, and it's actually irrespective of the need that these children might have.
And we fight for this support, even though we know that if we are lucky enough and our child gets targeted support that they so badly need and deserve, means that another child who's just as needy and just as deserving is missing out. And this is not alright.
I think our most common experience here -- and I am really echoing what Bernadette was saying and what Rachel was saying -- is that we're tired. We're tired of having to repeat that our children have a right to access the same educational system as everyone else.
They have a right to be there all day without the parents having to pay for a teacher aide, without being sent home when the teacher aide is sick, without not being allowed to go on camp, without having to pay for all sorts of other supports.
And most importantly they have a right to be believed to be able to learn to the best of their abilities.
Our aspirations are the same as every other parent's. We hope for our children that they be happy and independent and able to participate fully in this society. And on this note I am deeply concerned about the recent proposal to review educational support for 18 to 21 year olds.
I am afraid that this is not a -- they call it a review -- but this is not the kind of review that is going to bring more money, this is not a review that is going to end well. The government is looking for money for early childhood education and they think they're going to take it from young people at a really critical time making it so much harder for them to complete their education.
I don't think this is acceptable. This angers me, because it tells me that the government doesn't share our aspirations, doesn't share our faith in our children, and doesn't believe that they deserve a chance to be full members of society.
Those of us who could make it here today are here because we are tired. this house behind us, this is our place as well, we have every right to belong there just as much as everyone else. and this today -- I am really heartened by this turnout and I think today can be the beginning of the change we so desperately need. Kia ora.