The students for whom I advocate may have a diagnosed or undiagnosed disability but they all have the same issue; school simply doesn’t cater to their learning needs. When I hear stories of young people who couldn’t follow the path they wanted to University because they couldn’t finish year 12, and I use those words deliberately, they couldn’t finish year 12 because the system didn’t support them to learn in a way that worked for them, I am frustrated. Frustrated that as a community we have let these young people down and make no mistake we have.
I reflect on our Education system and I wonder why we can’t have a real policy debate and design an education system that meets the needs of all students? I think I know the answer and I am frustrated by it. Many will tell me it’s because we don’t have the money, or money won’t fix the problem and in some ways, that’s true, but you know what, the reality is we are too busy looking to lay blame on Governments or Principals or Teachers or Parents for the failings of the system rather than as a community having the grown-up conversations we need to have to fix the Tasmanian Education system.
I find it hard to fathom why we as a community can’t sit down and have a real conversation, warts and all, about the state of our Education system. Listening to stories of parents who are crying out for help because they have tried to advocate for their child and ended up in a fight with school because the school has turned the situation into us against them and it was never intended to be that way.
I reflect on my early years in the education system with my children, my earliest memories are of a system that almost broke me, because my children needed support and it was almost impossible for me to get it for them. I’m a pretty strong person but the system brought me to my knees.
Then I think about those students who had teachers and schools that really understood their needs and they have succeeded in gaining entry to University or an apprenticeship and are set up to succeed in life. Whether we want to face the fact or not our education system is failing some children and I for one am determined to ensure that we make it better and ultimately see an education system that does meet the needs of all children.
Many will say that I’m dreaming and that this type of system will never exist, we find any number of excuses that justifies a system that is broken. Putting our kids’ education in the too hard basket is not an option and as a community, as a State, we need to have conversations, real conversations, where we park our egos at the door, recognise that there are issues that need to be solved and solve them.
We need to keep politics out of the education debate, we need to have real conversations where people respect each other’s views and understand that policy development comes if we truly listen to each other, take the best ideas and design a system that will succeed.
There is no silver bullet to fix the issues we face in our schools, the only way to really fix the system is to have the difficult conversations instead of simply focusing on criticising each other and turning a robust policy debate into a who is right debate which helps no one.
There is no short-term fix; our children’s futures depend on getting the Education policy settings right. It’s time to stop blaming politicians, schools and parents for the state we find our education system in. In fact, it’s time to stop blaming full stop. It’s time to focus on the strengths of the system and build on that. Everyone wants an education system that sets our children up for success, but the real question is are we willing to do what it takes to achieve it? I’m willing, are you?
Kristen is a mum, advocate and Founder of the Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby. Kristen was named Launceston’s Citizen of the Year in 2016 in recognition of her tireless advocacy. Here she writes for the Communicating: The Heart of Literacy initiative – a public dialogue about communication, literacy, enablement, collaboration and relational trust. Find more at chattermatters.com.au.
This article was first published in The Mercury on June 30th 2018.