The Current

Is the public school system working for kids with special needs?

The Current devotes the entire program to a national, live, call-in show across Canada exploring the question: Is the public school system working for kids with special needs?
How well is Canada doing with inclusive classrooms for children with special learning needs? (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Full Episode Transcript

The Current hosts a special, live, national call-in show to explore the question: Is the public school system working for kids with special needs? Listen to calls from all time zones at the bottom of this post.

"My name is Grace. I'm eight-years-old and I love art. I also love doing science. I like playing with my sisters and sometimes my brothers and I love colouring."

Grace Fuscaldo from Huntsville, Ont., has dyslexia. And today The Current is all about her — and the thousands of other Canadian kids who learn differently in public school.

Quinn Dekker, a child with special needs, talks to The Current about wanting to become a marine biologist. 1:02

In Canada, an estimated five million elementary and secondary students attend approximately 15,500 schools, overseen by more than 375 school boards across 10 provinces and three territories.

Those are big numbers to sift through but it comes down to every child and how well they are educated in the public school system.

RelatedEducation system failing kids with special needs, say parents

All students learn differently, but what about children with dyslexia, learning disabilities, ADHD, or physical or mental disabilities? Do they get what they need to succeed? 

"I do have trouble doing math. It's just the numbers they look like black things and sometimes I get mixed up on which ways they go," says Fuscaldo.

Kids with and without special needs — learning in the same environment

In Canada, public schools have created a guided principle focused on "inclusiveness" and that means bringing everyone together — kids with and without special needs — learning in the same environment. 
Sheila Bennett is a professor at Brock University and a former special education teacher. (Sheila Bennett )

"Inclusion can be broadly interpreted as everybody belonging or everybody being included, but in education it has sort of a long history," former special education teacher Sheila Bennett tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"Hundreds of years ago, anyone with a disability would not attend school."

RelatedMeeting all students' needs in inclusive classrooms is challenging, say teachers

The history around special education was based on a medical model, Bennett points out, rooted in the notion of fixing and curing — "where we have to make somebody better." 

Society has moved on from this notion of fixing to recognizing children have all types of needs and Bennett argues dividing children into groups is not the right way to look at this issue.

It's never, ever, acceptable for a child to be in school and fail daily- Sheila Bennett 

"Various children bring different types of needs to schools. Children come with personal problems, they come with athletic prowess. They come with musical talent or lack of musical talent. They come with all kinds of personality profiles and learning styles."

According to Bennett, studies show academically kids don't suffer being in inclusive classrooms, and socially they thrive.

"On measures of attitude, on measures of kindness, on measures of personality, kids who are in diverse classrooms with all kind of learning needs generally turn out to be nicer, more inclusive kids."

On Facebook, Andrea Kennedy highlights the damaging consequences to self-esteem and mental health for students who she says are set up to fail in public schools.

"It's never, ever, acceptable for a child to be in school and fail daily," Bennett responds.

"If children are in school and they're failing daily, then people are doing something unbelievably cruel and completely incorrect."

Sarah in Hamilton, Ont., has cerebal palsy. She has recently graduated from unversity but says lack of funding is failing students with disabilities.

Listen to the start of our special with Sheila Bennett and Anna Maria near the top of this post.

Listen to calls in your time zone below:

This national call-in special was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Willow Smith.