On arrival at the Brindavan Trust training room this morning the warmth of greetings between students who have been apart for a few months was heartening to see. Equally reassuring was the welcome we received as tutors and the positive comments of anticipation about this week’s module.
Whereas at the outset of the first module our students were apprehensive and a little reticent, today it took them no time to engage in discussion and debate as the second module got under way. Active learning is the order of the day on this course. I am a firm believer that students learn more when they participate in problem solving activities than they do by simply listening to tutors. This group of students respond with gusto to every task we set. They question each idea presented, interpret issues in light of their own experience and challenge each other and the course tutors whenever a seemingly simplistic idea is presented.
Gauging the effectiveness of schools in addressing pupil diversity was the main focus of the day. Accepting that inclusion is a journey that follows many paths which twist and turn according to the influences of pupil need, teacher understanding and policy initiative, is it possible to assess the adequacy of the response of a school? Many efforts have been made to develop tools that it has been suggested might assist in assessing the inclusiveness of schools. Two of these, The Index for Inclusion and the Inclusion Quality Mark were scrutinised today. Students speedily identified the potential advantages and pitfalls of these instruments. Accepting that there are many cultural inadequacies in documents that were not designed for an Indian audience, they were none the less able to relate to many of the critical issues covered. Engagement with parents, the sharing of principles, involvement with the local community and respecting individuality are all factors to which the students could relate. However, in common with many other teachers they were concerned that this means of “measuring inclusion” was open to abuse and misinterpretation if simply used as a checklist to be ticked off in order to be able to describe the school as inclusive.
A couple of issues provoked particular debate. When documents refer to parents is there a danger that this will be translated as “mothers”? Child caring and educational responsibility is often delegated to mothers here in India as elsewhere in the world. Fathers can at times play a minor role on the periphery of schooling. This, our students suggest, can be a particular difficulty where a lack of male role models presents boys with a challenge. In some Indian families fathers are more educated than mothers, should they not therefore play a more active role in supporting their children? A more heated discussion centred on the idea of interaction with the community. Definition again presented difficulties. Should the school go out to the “community” or should the “community” be encouraged into the school? What is this community and how does it relate to the wider concept of society? Consensus on this matter was not achieved, and the questioning will continue throughout the week.
As a final activity of the day the students in groups compiled a list of principles for their ideal school. Many of the ideas expressed in each group were similar, though, as expected, each had their own unique take on what might be achieved. Returning to the Index for Inclusion and the Inclusion Quality Mark they concluded that these may be of help, but a far more valuable process would be to debate these principles in each school and develop their own approach to assessing success in addressing diverse needs. Throughout the week we will be referring to these principles as we consider a range of classroom management and teaching issues.
Finally, a reflection on one question that arose today. One of the groups had a principle that stated that violence of any kind perpetrated by children or adults should not be tolerated. “But if there is violence in our school, how should we deal with it?” asked one of the students. Perhaps the way forward is to adopt a Gandhian tactic. When there is violence in school the Principal will fast until it stops! Not a popular proposal with most Principals I suspect.
This was a highly stimulating day when teaching was at once challenging and rewarding. I look forward to the rest of the week.