Time for Change

A coalition of 65 education and disability sector organisations, led by IHC New Zealand, is making a resounding call to action. They are urging the nation’s politicians to take decisive steps toward creating a public education system that truly serves the needs of disabled and neurodiverse learners. The message is clear: it’s time to address the undeniable harm caused by a system that has long been in disrepair.

Trish Grant, the Inclusive Education Lead at IHC, points out that over the past decade, there has been a growing consensus about the shortcomings of the current education system in accommodating the needs of disabled and neurodiverse learners. This shared understanding has brought together learners, families, and educators who have been negatively impacted by a flawed system entrenched with unfairness, discrimination, and ableism.

Grant states, “There is now new evidence, new coalitions of interest and action, and united calls for fundamental change to New Zealand’s public education system so that it works for all.”

This rallying cry for change stems from the fact that many learners in New Zealand continue to face exclusionary practices, such as being turned away from schools and early childhood settings or being left on the sidelines while their peers participate in activities like camps, excursions, social events, and extracurricular activities.

The repercussions of this flawed system extend beyond the classroom, affecting social cohesion and hampering the potential contributions of all citizens to social and economic prosperity.

For IHC, the advocacy for an inclusive education system that caters to disabled learners is not a recent development. Trish Grant underscores that their efforts are built on the foundation laid by the organisation’s founding whānau 75 years ago, who recognized that access to education for disabled children was the key to a life of inclusion within the community.

Grant emphasises, “In 2023, there is now a strong collective voice calling for the changes IHC agrees are required for a public education system to work for all learners.”

This united front spans across education, disability, and children’s sector organisations and has gained unstoppable momentum.

Everyone involved in this movement concurs that the harm being inflicted must cease, and it necessitates sustained commitment from all political parties to build a public education system that genuinely caters to the needs of disabled and neurodiverse learners.

What’s noteworthy is the growing consensus, even within government circles, about the failures of the current system and the urgent need for a transformative shift to ensure that all learners have equitable access to education. The Minister of Education herself has acknowledged that the system is broken, while the Education Review Office has highlighted the continuous letdown of disabled learners by the system.

Grant concludes, “We have been talking about this for decades. It’s time to stop talking and get on with it.”

The time for action is now, and it’s a shared responsibility to create an education system that empowers every learner, regardless of their abilities, to reach their full potential within New Zealand’s vibrant society.