One weekend in Christchurch. Two education conferences. Two excellent events, yet so different. For us, the drive from one to the other (and return) involved, flipping our minds 180 degrees in order to slide into the next session.
The Australia New Zealand Congress for Educators of the Deaf (ANZCED) takes place every four years, while the Inclusive Education Summit (TIES) is an annual event. Both conferences take place on each side of the Tasman periodically.
We saw commonalities – committed people, dedicated to the educational success of children and young people. Participants from New Zealand, Australia and further afield sharing their knowledge and experiences. ANZCED had Deaf people present and TIES included disabled people too.
We also saw differences – the best way to describe these is to say that one was aimed at the teachers who will be working with the child (and their family), supporting these teachers as experts providing guidance. The other was more about creating an educational environment so all children are recognised and included (and belong). Another way to describe the difference is that one reinforced the unique nature of the impairment, whereas the other seemed to forget it!
One important observation is that, every child benefits from what is being discussed at each conference, whether they be deaf, disabled, hearing or able bodied.
Putting inclusivity into action is demonstrated by how participants with impairments are valued. Sign Language interpreters were present at both, ANZCED included live transcription. TIES had a blind participant who was orientated at the venue, which he said, it was the first conference he had attended where this happened. There were challenges for those using wheelchairs at both venues. One organising committee included two disabled people. One did not, and this was evident through the use of bells to signal when it was time to move to the next session. Bells at a conference about Deaf education??
We didn’t see a lot of references to the rights of the child, the rights of the child with an impairment in either conference. When there are Deaf/Disabled presenters present it is highly likely that ‘rights’ would have woven itself into the kōrero. It did at one conference. Parents, present at both, yes but in low numbers. Interesting to observe how many parents have become educators and/or researchers.
Neither conference included a guest speaker who was deaf/disabled, although TIES opened with a fantastic presentation from Prof Mere Berryman who spoke about Maori young people accessing schools from a Maori perspective (a minority perspective). The elements raised were easily transferred to other communities of children. Whether the child can be who they are or if they must leave their cultural identity at the gate before they go in resonated. This presentation was equally relevant for both conferences.
The question is, is our work in education about getting the child ready for school or is it about the school getting ready for the child. We like to think both.
Ally Attwell QSM
Rachel Noble MNZM