Personal space and inclusive research


Forming partnerships for future research in inclusion

Forming partnerships for future research in inclusion

One of the best aspects of being amongst enthusiastic people, is that their enthusiasm can become infectious. Here today, in São Carlos Brazil, I have been surrounded by colleagues whose commitment to learning, and in particular their passion for research, has been affirming. For the next three days, researchers from the UK who are the early stages of their academic  careers, will work alongside a similar group of colleagues from Brazil exploring issues of research into the inclusion of learners with disabilities and special educational needs.

Through the good offices of the British Council, these keen investigators have been brought together to explore ways in which they may collaborate in the further development of research and exchange of knowledge and ideas. My role in this process, along with that of other well established academics from Brazil and the UK, is to support and facilitate activities, and to encourage these dynamic individuals to form partnerships for exploring ideas around inclusive education.

Today, the most stimulating and important activity has been a series of presentations given by some of these new researchers, affording them an opportunity to exchange their ideas with a supportive audience. The range of topics covered has been diverse and interesting. Research into access to learning for students who are multi-sensory impaired, an investigation into cultural interpretations of autism, the experiences of students with disabilities in Brazilian universities, explorations into ways of teaching mathematics, and an analysis of school refusal behaviours in looked after children, were just a few of the topics discussed. Each presenter demonstrated a thoughtful approach to developing a research project and a critical analysis of what they had discovered.

Many themes emerged from today’s presentation, but one that I had not anticipated comes immediately to mind. Several of today’s researchers raised issues related to the influence of spatial aspects of the management of educational provision. In some instances these revealed specific challenges that need to be confronted if progress towards inclusion is to be made. Elizabete Renders provided an interesting observation of a deaf student, attending university in Brazil. In order to assure access to learning, this student is accompanied by a signed communicator who works with him in every lecture and seminar session. However, Elizabete recorded that students in the sessions where this young man was present, spent much of their time watching him and the lady supporting him. This raises questions about his personal space and how self-conscious he may be in this situation. There are also issues about the degree to which students are distracted from their lectures by watching this activity.

A second session presented by Sean Bracken considered the control that teachers exercise over learners with special educational needs in terms of where they locate children in classes. His research suggests that teachers have clear ideas about where they wish to place children in the classroom based partly upon their individual needs, but more because of the need to exert control, and that this may mean that they have less opportunity for participation in some activities. It would seem that some teachers, in their need to ensure that they are controlling learners, give less attention to providing space that is conducive to learning.

A further presentation from Prithvi Parepa examined cultural interpretations of autism. He too found matters related to personal space to be a factor in his work. Prithvi discussed the challenges that parents experience when their children have a limited understanding of the personal space of others, and intrude upon this, with no ill-intent, but simply as a result of lack of understanding. This may seem like a small matter to some people, but to parents it can be a cause of considerable stress.

I was particularly impressed today that in expressing their findings, these researchers demonstrated a great empathy for the subjects of their studies. Each had identified potential obstacles to learning experienced by the individuals in their studies, and had sought not only to understand these, but to discuss possible ways of providing support.

Over the next few days these colleagues will be forming partnerships with others who, before today were unknown to them. This is an ambitious aim, but having met these dedicated professionals I have every confidence that much will be achieved. This is the next generation of researchers who face the responsibility to move inclusion forward through what promises to be a stormy time of social upheaval and economic challenge. Having met them, I see every reason to be highly optimistic.



6 thoughts on “Personal space and inclusive research

  1. Wow! This seems very interesting Richard! I wish we do something like this in Bangalore too. There are many who have a great passion for research including me 🙂

    • Hi swathi,
      Let’s see if we can do something similar. I know that many colleagues in India would contribute greatly to an event like this.

  2. Hi Richard, yesterday a group of us attended Paola’s presentation about ‘School Life Experiences of Young People with Intellectual Disabilities in three towns in Columbia’. It was absolutely brilliant! Paola’s session was an eye-opening, informative experience about how, globally, inclusion is interpreted in a myriad of ways. In the context of spatial considerations, one particular issue which also stood out in the videos that Paola showed us, was how, despite being at the front of the class, a student with disabilities was still somehow marginalised, as a number of teachers taught with their backs to her. There is tremendous potential in Paola’s work, which also made us reflect on issues like classroom arrangements and resources that vary so much from country to country.

    • Hi Saneya, I knew that Paola would deliver a good session. I hope that we will have opportunities to work with her in the future. The issue of space is perhaps we could discuss further

  3. Thanks for the kind mention Richard and for drawing some critical threads together from the shared research papers. Attending the seminar in Sao Carlos has been a sensory and intellectual feast generating much more food for thought. I liked your concept of needing to reflect on notions of space as a shared concept emerging from some of the research and to some extent this is also reflected in the geographical space of the city. At the interior is the once grand but currently crumbling old colonial square, now home to the dispossessed, whilst on the outskirts of the city, in secured and segregated opulence, one finds the homes of those who have been boundaried behind acres of security wire. I find the analogy of difference works stimulate thinking about how classroom spaces can at times reflect well meaning desires for security and safety, but that these personal desires, perhaps of teachers and groups of classmates, can inadvertently lead to exclusion. There is more to explore in this field to question how we go about the process of truly enabling inclusive learning to take place.

    • Hi Sean, I agree that there is much more to be explored here. The discussion of space interests me. We all like our own personal space, but for some of the populations that you mention and rightly describe as dispossessed, they have little control over this. Their spaces are allocated and managed by those who are better off and in positions of power. To some extent it serves the interest of the powerful to maintain slums, because this way you know where all the “undesirable” elements are located. We see this as much in the UK as we do elsewhere in the world. The phrase “sink estates” still exists in some UK cities and towns to indicate not the buildings of the environment, but the people who are “permitted” to live there. Much to think about here I’d say.

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