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A growing decline of special education programs and teachers in schools is sparking a different kind of learning. 


Joanne Oszust, a language arts teacher at St. Timothy School, said that the change from a congregated to an inclusive setting is a promising one for students with learning disabilities. Beginning in 2001, special needs students were no longer being taught in their own classroom within the school, and are now regarded as mainstream students instead of special class students. However, they are still taken out for core subjects such as math and English, which Oszust thinks is positive.



 “Depending on what it is they need, we try to arrange a place for them to learn it, whether that be in the mainstream setting with an instructional assistant support or whether they do it independently or some adaptations can be made. In other words, it's trying to help each student reach their full potential and be as independent as possible,” Oszust said.


Oszust says that although there has been positive feedback from parents on program changes, there are still issues since there aren't enough teachers that are qualified to teach special education.  The inclusion program involved shifting the responsibility from education assistants to teachers.


Province-wide, since 2007, 79 percent of school divisions have reduced their number of education assistants. However, between 2000-2010, an additional 712 students required intensive support.


“There seems to be more children with learning disabilities, many of them are in mainstream classrooms and it's difficult to provide resources so that each one of them can reach their full potential,” Oszust said.


Ashley Senft, a student working towards her masters in special education, thinks that the reason for a lack of teachers for special needs students is disinterest.


“I think when people think of special education, they just think of it as dealing with kids with more problems than normal ones and they don't want to take on the challenge of it,” she said.


More schools and programs are beginning to see a push for inclusive learning, which places students with special needs in regular classrooms. While Senft says that it is a good idea to include students with other classes, it is important for special needs students to have their own classroom as well.


“I think it’s really good because they're still interacting with other kids but when they come back to their classroom, they are learning more skills that will be based around their level of education and knowledge versus stuff that they may never use,” she said.


Senft likes the idea of inclusive learning but points out some possible limitations.


“Some schools don't have a special education room and they are only in their regular classrooms. At the school I went to, the kids could never be fully included in their classrooms because they're either so far behind or not at the same level as the other kids,"  she said.


Senft is unsure about the future of special education in schools because of the lack of qualified teachers.


“If it stays the way it is, it might be unfortunate that there aren't the teachers that we need to do it. I would hope that the students will get the education they deserve just like every other student,” Senft said.


However, Oszust is optimistic that the inclusion model will continue to have a positive impact on students.


“My way of teaching is based on the needs of the student. I try to create a learning environment rather than a subject. That doesn't mean that students have to learn it in a separate classroom,” she said.