Expert: Island needs inclusive education system
Bermuda needs to build an education system that includes all children, a world-renowned expert on special needs teaching said yesterday.
Dr Ashleigh Molloy — whose PhD focused on diversity, disability and special needs — added that integrated schooling was not only better for children with disabilities or learning problems, but better for children in mainstream schools as well.
He said: “When we’re looking at the world all our kids are going into, able-bodied kids need to see the world as it is.
“They will interact with special needs throughout their lives and need to be properly prepared for the world they will live in.
“They should learn to understand and become more empathetic, which is great for them and great for society.”
Dr Molloy was speaking as he prepared to address a major conference run by the Bermuda Union of Teachers (BUT) tomorrow.
He said that — in addition to his academic expertise — he had hands-on experience in the educational system and personal experience as his youngest daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, is currently going through high school in Canada.
Dr Molloy has some fears as a parent that his child would not be accepted or even bullied in a mainstream school.
But he said: “It takes time and it takes leadership from principals and the teachers to show that being different is not something which is bad or we need to mock because we are all different.”
Dr Molloy said research has shown that the most-bullied children in North America were those with special needs.
“That’s where we need to build a culture of concern in our schools. We have to begin to address that — we can’t hide them away.”
Dr Molloy said special needs pupils also need to be prepared to live in a world where they would have to deal with the mainstream.
“If we keep them in this seclusion, they are not going to be independent and they do not interact with what the real world is,” he said.
“The aim in Bermuda is that they are following the UN international charter ... which advocates clearly that students with a disability should be incorporated into the regular school system with their able-bodied peers.
“That doesn’t happen overnight, but they are working towards that, as opposed to the segregationist model that some countries still have.
“The way I look at it is that everybody is on this path of inclusion, but some people are further along than others, simply because they started earlier.”
He added: “In terms of what we want in a school, it’s equality — but our needs are not all the same.
“We are looking for equity, where everybody has the chance to be successful. We want people to be contributing citizens and not second-class citizens.”
Irish-born Canadian Dr Molloy graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA Hons after a stint at University College, Dublin, where he won a scholarship to study abroad.
He has two master’s degrees, in education and religious education, and a PhD in special education from Cambridge International University.
Dr Molloy has worked and lectured worldwide in his field and has won numerous awards for his work in disability education from governments, community groups and national organisations in Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America.
“I come with a lot of experience in this regard — as a parent, as a researcher and as an advocate,” he said.
“The questions and concerns are universal and the advice is the same, whether in Finland or Bermuda.
“We have to provide an environment for all students to be the best they can and shine brightly. It’s down to teachers and principals to create the environment in which every student belongs.”
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