Nova Scotians are being asked to express their views on improving classrooms in an online survey from the Commission for Inclusive Education.
The term inclusive education generally refers to a practice that recognizes and responds to the individual needs of all learners.
“What we have heard, and what we’re continuing to hear, is that teachers are feeling extremely challenged to meet the needs of lots of students with a variety of needs often in very complicated classrooms,” said Sara Shea, the commission’s chairperson.
The survey is only one part in an extensive public consultation process, which includes public workshops that started Tuesday.
The commission was formed one month after the labour dispute between the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the provincial government was resolved. The dispute and the contentious work-to-rule period ended when Bill 75 imposed a contract on NSTU members.
“Last year, at the time of the labour dispute, there were a lot of voices that were speaking out about some of the challenges that we’re being asked to look at,” said Shea.
One of the many challenges that teachers spoke out about is trying to balance the classroom’s curriculum requirements with the individual needs of students requiring extra help.
For example, between 2004 and 2014 school enrolment in Nova Scotia dropped by 24,605 students, but the number of Individual Program Plans for students requiring modified curricula rose from 4.1 to 5.9 per cent.
Allison Garber, Autism Nova Scotia board member, says the commission is taking steps in the right direction.
“I’m very impressed with the level of thought they put into it,” said Garber. “They definitely put the right people in place to lead this commission and there are so many good ideas out there in the community.”
Garber is also a mother of an eight-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. She says that Nova Scotians support the idea of inclusion in theory, but that we’re falling behind in practice.
“The number of specialists and supports in the school system is not keeping up with the increase in the number of students with complex needs entering the school system,” said Garber.
“There are some children who are not able to function at their full capacity because the accommodations that they need are just not able to be provided.”
The commission’s final report is due in March. For Garber, that is when the public can see if talk turns to action.
“At the end of the day, though, after all the consultation and the report is written what really needs to happen is an investment. Will government take those recommendations and actually invest in them? That’s where communities can hold their feet to the fire.”
The survey can be found on the commission’s website, along with the dates and locations of the other public consultations.