Education experts have criticised One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson after suggesting children with autism are “holding our kids back” in the classroom.
University education professors said the philosophy of inclusion in Australian education had been influential in changing education for the better, following Senator Hanson’s comments that autistic children should be left out of the classroom.
“All children, with and without disabilities, have a legislated right to be educated in their local neighbourhood school,” a joint statement from the Melbourne graduate school of education’s Professor Lorraine Graham and lecturers Shiralee Poed and Lisa McKay-Brown Sharon Lieve and Leigh.
“Senator Hanson’s comments show a disregard for Australia’s legislative provisions and international human rights obligations.”
David Roy from the University of Newcastle’s school of education told Fairfax the senator’s comments were not supported by evidence.
“Children with a disability may have a deficit in one area, but will often and regularly have an asset in the other so they support other children in the classroom who aren’t good with language or literacy, who aren’t good with maths,” he said.
Senator Hanson made the comments during a debate in the Senate on the Turnbull government’s proposed school funding overhaul on Wednesday.
She claimed parents and teachers had raised their concerns about teachers devoting too much time to children with disabilities.
She said children with special needs should be taught in dedicated classrooms, where they could be given special attention.
“I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children in the classroom where they have a disability, or where they are autistic, that it is taking up the teacher’s time,” Senator Hanson said.
“These kids have a right to an education by all means, but if there is a number of them these children should actually go into a special classroom, looked after and given that special attention.
“Most of the time, the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who…wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education, but are held back by those because the teachers spend time with them.
“If it was one of my children, I’d love all the time given to them, to give them those opportunities. But it is about the loss (for) our other kids.
She said Australian schools could not hold students back because students in schools overseas were overtaking them in education rankings.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said parents of children with autism said it was heartbreaking and upsetting after hearing Senator Hanson’s comments.
“What the senator is saying is that our clever, funny, naught, spunky kid doesn’t deserve a good education,” an email from a parent he read out in parliament said, in response to Senator Hanson’s comments.
“That she doesn’t deserve the same opportunities as other kids. That she is lesser. Not worthy. Not really one of us.”