A new year, and an adjusted plan, this time thanks to the feedback provided during the consultation for the 2020 GEM Report on education and inclusion carried out during the second half of last year.
No sooner has one GEM Report been printed than the next is being prepared… The consultation for the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion was launched in July based on the concept note, which was downloaded 3,600 times. Almost 5,000 people visited the online site, a record for the Report, while 93 e-mails and 61 comments were contributed. In addition, two webinars and eight national presentations were organized, including in Nigeria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The concept note had outlined the scope of the 2020 GEM Report and its intention to encompass all learners, focusing on six elements necessary to provide quality education to all: laws and policies; governance and finance; curricula and learning materials; teachers, school leaders and education support personnel; schools; and communities, parents and students.
2019 is marking the 25th anniversary of the Salamanca Declaration. The consultation feedback was fully supportive of the concept note’s adoption of the Declaration’s definition of inclusive education, as the approach that is ‘enabling schools to serve all children’. Diversity should not be tolerated or respected but celebrated. But the comments received also pointed our team towards areas across these six elements of inclusive education that had received insufficient or no attention in the concept note.
Laws and policies: Inclusion should be seen as a dynamic, life-long process, which begins in the early years – a factor that deserves wider acknowledgement – and continues through access to higher education and into adulthood. Exclusion can be related to factors that receive less coverage, such as the cost of admission tests or qualifications tests, which can often be prohibitive. Assessments and rankings can also act a barrier: if education is test results-driven, then inclusive education is likely to get less attention. Recognizing and rewarding diversity in achievement could be explored. The flow of problematic models from the Global North to the Global South was also flagged as an area of concern.
Governance and finance: Referral systems for special needs are a crucial parameter of an effective inclusive education system. But even where they exist, they can often be complex for parents to make use of them. Moreover, they call for effective mechanisms of collaboration between teachers, therapists, social workers or doctors that may be challenging for governments at different tiers.
Curriculum and pedagogy: The issue of remediation classes for struggling students and the promise and perils of individualized instruction were issues that came through strongly. Issues of access and inclusion to the curriculum for populations with special needs such as the blind were raised. The same was the case for access to textbooks from which some populations may be denied through copyright constraints.
Teachers and other school personnel: Many comments stressed the importance of collaboration at the school level and the need to develop communities of practice to share experiences. The establishment of school networks was also proposed as a solution for the acquisition of relevant knowledge, the reflection on negative attitudes and the strengthening of good practices through mutual support. Teachers sometimes need to become more aware of marginalization mechanisms.
Schools: The risk of segregation by placing groups of learners in the same schools but in different buildings or classrooms was raised as a concern. The need to adapt school calendar so that the system adapts to learners, rather than the other way round, was also emphasized. Sone respondents also pointed at open or hidden selective admission policies as being responsible for new forms of exclusion.
Communities, parents and students: Involving a broader set of stakeholders into the process of managing and implementing inclusive education policies through dialogue is essential. Indeed, schools are part of the community. Particular attention needs to be paid to addressing negative attitudes as a key factor for the rate with which an inclusive education model is adopted. Parental education is one potential approach, notably towards mother tongue education.
With respect to the latter, although the concept note covered a wide range of factors that act as potential barriers, a few participants argued that language of instruction deserved wider attention in the Report as a potent exclusion factor – from the lack of availability of materials in sign language to the lack of translation of inclusive education policies in local languages for people to understand.
And respondents spotted a few cases of vulnerable groups that were missing from the concept note – but could not of course be missing from the Report. Children left behind by migrant parents or those internally displaced, which were covered extensively in our 2019 Report, indigenous communities or street children.
This is but a snapshot of the rich feedback our team received, which also featured a caveat: Inclusive education should not mean any education – but education of good quality.
This consultation saw more people participate than any run by the GEM Report before – perhaps appropriate given the subject matter. Further discussions will take place during the drafting process with experts working on inclusive education. But our inbox is always open for anybody who wishes to make suggestions. We will be working on this Report for months to come, with the aim of publishing in March 2020.
Thank you for your contributions!