As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt.
Chance B describe themselves as an Innovative Social Service. They are a private, not for profit and politically uncommitted organisation working in the Eastern Styrian region with disadvantaged people – ‘in the region, for the region.’ They offer a range of services, but are particularly focused on training people to work independently in the job market and supporting the families of people with Special Educational Needs (SEN).
The organisation is committed to helping all people, but particularly those facing discrimination, find their way from school to work. As well as helping those with SEN and disabilities, they work with all disadvantaged people (for example, homeless people, drug addicts, those with unsafe home lives, those with mental health issues).
Their services are focused on being mobile – going to where they are needed. Chance B has 370 employees, who assist 2700 clients per year. They are mainly financed by money from the federal government. Chance B runs on a case management system. Support is individualized, consultative and respects the autonomy of each person – only as much support as is needed is provided.
The early intervention unit focuses on supporting and assisting families with children with SEN. Chance B sends experts to the family in their homes and normal school settings to help adjust things as needed. The children don’t need to travel to a special school or location. They also focus on support for the parents, supply leisure time (e.g. movie tickets) and childcare as needed, and supporting siblings as well. Chance B believes that keeping the family system strong is essential in supporting children with SEN.
In Austria after the age of 15 students are tracking either towards university, through an academic high school, or the labour market, through a central high school. To assist with the decision-making process, Chance B runs youth coaching – for students in school to age 24. This is free and available to all students. It is focused around giving students the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their future, particularly in relation to study and work. The youth coaches first work with the students in the school system and then with job services and job providers. The goal is to balance the interests and abilities of students with what is achievable and realistic for them.
Along with the youth coaching program, Chance B has designed a modified pathway for students with SEN. This duel program allows students to work and serve apprenticeships at the same time they are still attending school. They are a full employee in the company’s eyes and get paid the same wages as other apprentices, but still attend school a minimum of one day a week. Through these programs, Chance B arranges 350 jobs a year.
The restaurant we had lunch at is run by Chance B as a training site for those wanting to get jobs in the hospitality industry. Our servers were professional and friendly, and would be more than capable of working in the mainstream job market – but if they hadn’t had this opportunity to be trained and to learn in a safe, sheltered environment, this may not have been true.
In Brisbane, my church at Southbank has a relationship with the Micah Projects, a group who work with homeless and disadvantaged people in inner Brisbane. Just up the road from where we meet is the Hope St Cafe, which has a similar approach in helping to train people for entry into the mainstream job market. They set up a safe training environment where people can gain skills, qualifications and experience to enabled them to gain employment independently.
The main thing I really liked about Chance B was their approach to making services mobile, rather than having a central location that clients must travel to. This gives clients more autonomy and helps the assistance become a more streamlined part of their regular lives, rather than a break in routine. Particularly for families with young children, having assistance in the home and in regular school settings can make the process feel more ‘normal.’ It reduces issues of finding bigger sites as the organisation grows, and gives access to services to wider range of people geographically.
Inclusive Education – the goal of having all children educated in mainstream classrooms, with a curriculum and teaching pedagogy that is flexible to fit all children, whatever their needs – can only succeed when teachers and schools have the assistance of organisations like Chance B. Without early intervention before school and a guided pathway out of school, much of the work done in school can go to waste.
We need to keep reaching out – organisations to schools and schools to organisations – to improve the experience of all students – but especially those at risk of being forgotten or left behind – or worst of all – deemed ‘too difficult.’
I’m learning a lot about a wider view of education, outside of the Australian context of my own school experience. I’m excited to keep writing about the things I am seeing and experiencing here.
If you’re interested in reading more about what I have been doing and learning about in Graz, Austria, you can read my first blog for AimOverseas here.