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Improving special needs education in Canada and abroad

OISE hosts Norwegian delegation

Dean Julia O'Sullivan with Tone Mork, general director of Statped, the Norwegian educational authority on special needs education (photo by Liz Do)

Canada needs more large-scale research on special needs education, says Julia O’Sullivan, dean of the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

O'Sullivan made the comment during a meeting with delegates from Norway’s educational authority, Statped. The state agency is dedicated to helping Norwegian children, youth and adults with special educational needs participate actively in education, working life and society.

Members of Statped paid a visit to U of T earlier this month to get better acquainted with the education system in Canada. Discussions focused on how to improve learning for children with hearing, vision and cognitive impairments, as well as learning and mental health disabilities.

The members met with O’Sullivan and Zahra Bhanji, director of research, international initiatives and knowledge mobilization at OISE, as well as faculty from U of T’s Centre for Urban Schooling and the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.

O’Sullivan, who was the founding national director of the Centre of Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs, pointed out that more research in the field of special needs education is greatly needed.

“There is research around special education, but a larger scale work that would give us a much better picture – we don’t have that. I believe all children are entitled to an education, so we must find the appropriate solutions,” she said.

What would give Canadians a better picture of the state of special needs education? O’Sullivan says there is a lack of research that measures the benefits to students with education support, or how this support benefits them after graduation.

"There is an insufficient large-scale research to build better policy,” said O’Sullivan. “You want to be sure you’re matching their needs. We need to consider distance and language. Also, where you live can mean you have special needs.

“We need to flesh out the picture and suggest innovative solutions.”

In the meantime, O’Sullivan is optimistic the visit from Statped will lead to professional development opportunities for Statped at OISE, and possibly research collaborations.

“We’re honoured they came to U of T,” said O’Sullivan. “In my experience, we can often accomplish more together than alone.”

Liz Do writes about education for U of T News.