One of the most pleasing aspects of writing this blog has been the number of parents of children described as having special educational needs who have posted their opinions. In recent days, as I have focused upon issues related to the labelling of children, several parents have contributed thoughtfully to the debate, often sharing their own very personal experiences of the educational challenges faced by their children. Their observations and comments confirm the importance of ensuring that all of us, teachers, researchers, providers of professional development and other professionals, pay attention to what parents have to teach us as we search for a route towards more inclusive schooling.
Were it not for parents and their determination to fight for justice for their children, provision would still be denied to many even today. In earlier posts I have referred to the UNICEF report on the progress made towards the goals established through Education for All. Whilst it is clear that this progress has in many respects been disappointing, the picture would be far worse if it were not for the actions taken by parents. Sometimes the campaigning of parents has been supported by professionals and politicians, but often they have found it necessary to lobby those very groups who they may have expected to be their allies. This has often resulted in tensions between parents and professionals and in some instances there have been schisms in systems that would have benefited from closer collaboration.
I have been fortunate in my career to have had opportunities to work with many knowledgeable parents, whose commitment to achieving justice for their own children, and also for those of less confident parents who struggle to negotiate the labyrinthine corridors of education authorities has resulted in significant change. In India, parents such as Dr. Mithu Alur have worked tirelessly to represent others and to demand change from politicians and policy makers. It has not always been easy to get her voice heard but she has persisted and overcome many obstacles. Her successes have been many, and thousands of parents have benefited greatly from her work and that of ADAPT (formerly The Spastics Society of India), the organisation that she founded and now leads from offices in Mumbai.
In the UK the work of Dame Philippa Russell, who is currently chair of the UK Government Standing Commission on Carers, has dedicated more than forty years of her life to campaigning on behalf of people with disabilities. She was initially motivated by the needs of her own son, but has since worked selflessly in pursuit of justice for others. She has often provided a voice for those parents who feel less able to articulate their own concerns and has been a strong advocate for their rights and those of their sons and daughters.
Both Mithu Alur and Philippa Russell provide inspiration for those of us who work in pursuit of inclusive education. They are exceptional leaders in this field and have developed organisations and networks that have had national influence. There are doubtless parents of their ilk in countries around the world. Whilst the majority of parents are unlikely to take such a place of prominence on the national stage, many work steadily to improve the opportunities for children at a local level. Their motivation is strong and personal and as professionals we need to listen carefully to what they have to say about their experiences, and learn from their expertise. An important part of our role as professionals must be to provide them with a forum through which they can express their ideas and a partnership to enable them to achieve their aspirations.
Individuals with a wide range of professional and personal experiences and expertise have been kind enough to respond to pieces I have written for this blog. The observations that parents have made in their postings provide a good example of the valuable contribution that they can make to our understanding of critical issues. If progress towards inclusion is to be made it will demand that both professionals and parents continue to share their understanding and interpretation of the complexities of schooling in order to work together for change.
So, thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to the discussions on this forum. Your comments are continuing to help us all in understanding some of the challenges that we face in working for a more inclusive society.