Having the two women she worked with most closely, thank her for encouraging them to speak out and challenge the status quo was a special moment for Alison Tu'i'onetoa
Alison started her assignment at the Ministry of Education in Vanuatu in February 2019 to improve how the inclusive education (IE) service is delivered within the Ministry and in schools.
“Despite being nine years into a ten year plan, there was still a lot of implementation work needed and the five women with IE qualifications in the country struggled to know where to start. Together we have been able to begin realistic progress at grassroots level and I have been heartened with the momentum of support from principals and teachers,” said Alison.
Alison’s work is varied – she visits schools to support teachers, visits families who need encouragement and support to allow their children to go to school, and researches and shares information about disabilities and strategies that teachers and families may find useful.
“I attend workshops where wider discussions about IE take place and about how new concepts such as social inclusion, gender and child protection actually come under the wider umbrella of inclusion and social citizenship – creating an educational environment where everyone is appreciated.
“I travel to communities of schools to help deliver an identification package to support a baseline disability data survey that is rolling out before the end of 2019. This includes differentiating disabilities and strategies which can help in the classroom.”
One particular highlight for Alison so far was the amazing response to a meeting for any teacher around Port Vila who wanted to learn more about the teaching of children with disabilities.
“Even with only 48 hours of notice, more than 40 teachers from 15 of Port Vila’s schools came to the meeting!
That meeting has now become a monthly event (called the Inclusive Education Teachers Support Network) and we have created a Facebook groupe, open to any teacher who wants to join, where we can share information about different disabilities and strategies they can try.”
Alison’s work is about raising awareness of being inclusive but at the same time being realistic by considering the individual needs of every child that comes to school, especially those with disabilities.
“I see groups of teachers who are excited to learn and I can see them visibly changing their hearts and minds about the need to provide for the educational needs of every individual student.
“It’s fantastic to see that a number of children, who had dropped out of school or never attended, are now going to school. The families believe in their children’s right to be part of the school community and slowly we will help the teachers to deliver a quality education at whatever level the child needs and can cope with.
Finally, Alison has been able to take one teacher who has been passionately involved in inclusive education to New Zealand for a two-week observation experience in a special school, while staying with Alison’s family.
“She has been able to observe and learn so much from that one small experience and the changes in classroom, timetable and teaching strategies are testimony to how much it has influenced her.”