Lynne Harwood: the importance of inclusive education

Today is the International Day of Education. As far as dedicated days go, this is a relatively new one – it was only dedicated by the United Nations back in 2019 – and it has never been more important.

The theme is Changing Course, Transforming Education – and comes off the back of the landmark report Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education.

This report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) positions quality education throughout life as a fundamental human right, and calls on governments to invest in stronger, inclusive education systems that actively address entrenched inequalities.

It would be remiss to think this report is not applicable here, at home in Australia. While we consider our education system top notch, it is still plagued by inequalities and inequities that can have a direct effect on a person’s education, and therefore the type of employment they can go on to secure.

These inequalities and inequities are particularly evident for people with disability.

In 2019 Mission Australia surveyed more than 25,000 young people aged 15 to 19 as part of its annual Youth Survey and invited respondents to self-report disability.

The survey found that, compared to those without disability, a smaller proportion of young people with disability indicated they intended to complete Year 12.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the group believed their disability would be a barrier to achieving their post-school goals.

The inequalities and inequities in educational experiences continue beyond high school. The Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment conducted a Student Experience Survey of those completing undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

The 2019 survey reveals that, when compared to those without disability, students with disability were less likely to rate their educational experiences positively, and more likely consider early departure from their courses.

When it comes to finding and securing meaningful employment, the odds are often already stacked against people with disability. It seems that many people with disability believe that – at best – our education systems are not supporting them to achieve their goals.

At worst, some may say our systems are proving a hindrance.

There have been some positive developments in recent months. As we wrestle with an unprecedented skills shortage, the State government has opened up new short courses that offer fresh opportunities for further education and training.

Meanwhile at Forrest Personnel, we partner directly with educational institutions through programs such as the School Leavers Employment Supports (SLES) and the TAFE Specialist Employment Partnerships (TSEP) to assist students transition from education to employment.

We are proud of our collaborations with our Education Partners, however this just scratches the surface of a bigger problem and very current issue.

Without the right support, people with disability can find it harder to gain the qualifications they need to step into meaningful employment within a field of their choosing.

Yet, with the shadow of COVID looming, it has never been more important to enable people with disability to secure employment that will allow them to thrive, even in times of uncertainty.

The first step towards this is of course a quality education.

As the UNESCO report proposes, we need our government, our schools, and all our education providers to move away from universal models and start reimagining our institutions and curricula so they become truly inclusive for all.


Lynne Harwood

Chief Executive of Forrest Personnel, a Western Australian disability employment provider