Sharing an agenda for inclusion

Republic Day 2014. One of India’s many great virtues is that since gaining independence in 1947 it has maintained a commitment to democratic principles. There have, of course, been occasions when this democracy has developed cracks and has appeared vulnerable but the majority of people here have a well-developed sense of justice that has sustained the systems fostered by Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalachari and other early leaders of the free nation.

Having said this, nothing is perfect. Gross inequalities continue to dominate this society, just as they do others across the globe, including my own. Whole communities remain marginalized as a result of poverty, disability, culture and caste, and inclusion remains a distant dream for many. What role can education play in effecting change? Is the burden so great that we as teachers, can have no impact upon redressing the inequalities that persist?

Today on India’s Republic day the words of one of the founding fathers of modern India’s democratic principles continue to have relevance to the situation here.

“My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organise; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality.”

Dr.Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Ambedkar himself knew what it was to experience oppression and disadvantage. The fact that he is now revered as a major influence upon post-independence democracy here in India, is a tribute to the fact that an individual can rise from the more down trodden echelons of society to have an impact upon a whole nation. Despite its many challenges Indian democracy remains an example of what can be achieved with the determination of people committed to its cause.

Marginalisation and oppression still exist here, as elsewhere across the world. If this situation is to change we would do well to heed the words of Ambedkar and his call to us to educate, agitate and organise. But such actions require clear thinking leaders who are prepared to take selfless action for the benefit of others. Today a group of individuals who have already devoted much of their lives to supporting the development of education for change came together to provide leadership and to contribute a tiny first movement that hopefully may develop into a greater force for change over the years to come.

Representatives from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu came together today to constitute a forum for support of the development of inclusive education. These individuals whose collective experience of working with disadvantaged, disabled and marginalised children over many years have given a commitment to work together in support of teachers and parents. Amongst the group were experienced teachers, parents and social activists whose influence has already been seen to have an impact upon the lives of children and their families. Today they formulated plans for ensuring that those teachers and parents who often find themselves working in isolation gain greater support as they endeavour to create a more inclusive education system in the country.

As an observer at this gathering I felt honoured to be present at the beginning of something which I feel may well develop into a significant vehicle for furthering the cause of inclusion. These are individuals who are most certainly prepared to educate, agitate and organise. I have no doubt that they will face many obstacles along the way, but I look forward to seeing them confront the challenges ahead and feel certain that they will contribute to the development of a more just society similar to that which Ambedkar and the other founding fathers of the republic originally envisaged.

So on this Indian Republic Day – India Inclusive Education Forum – Jai Hind

जय हिंद

Only through a shared responsibility will inclusion work

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today's challenges

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today’s challenges

Wherever we work in pursuit of a more equitable education system teachers talk about obstacles. The barriers to inclusion have been constantly listed, and mulled over for as long as I can remember. Negative attitudes from teachers, lack of professional training, poor resourcing, insufficient time, these are recurring themes that arise whenever we discuss the need for change in schools. Blame culture also has a significant presence in this field. Teachers in that school aren’t interested, the government doesn’t invest, parents object to having these children in schools. Each of these is cited as a reason not to progress.

Working with a group of dedicated students here in Bangalore is a tremendous antidote to the negative expressions that we often hear. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their ability to focus on a task and see it through makes our job as tutors relatively easy. Today began with them looking at how structured teaching approaches could be developed in classrooms to support pupils who experience difficulties with learning. They designed visual timetables, analysed classroom environments, developed positive approaches to visual structure and shaped plans for pupils with a range of individual needs. Such is their commitment to the tasks we set that getting them to break for lunch is all but impossible.

The afternoon was occupied with a consideration of how schools might best collaborate with families and the local community to enhance the inclusion of all children. Rights and responsibilities were at the core of the discussion with students considering how empathetic approaches could be developed for the benefit of all parties. The ability to decentre and see the perspectives of others is an important skill for any teacher who wishes to promote inclusive teaching and learning, and these were certainly in evidence throughout this afternoon’s class. A statement of actions to be taken for the support of families was written by each group and related back to the principles they established earlier in the week.

A key to successful inclusion is most certainly the development of partnerships based upon shared responsibility. In our current market driven education systems it is easy to lose sight of the reason why most of us entered the teaching profession, which was founded upon a commitment to children and their families. The principles that our students have devised for the development of inclusive schools need to be kept at the forefront of our thinking in all that we do. Once we sacrifice our principles for material gain or influence and forget our responsibilities or the motivations that originally set us on our paths within education we are destined to build failing systems and to let down those for whom we have a responsibility. There will be times for sure when we are called upon to make a decision to either do that which is expedient, or that which is right. Let’s hope we have the courage to follow the correct path.

Having seen the way in which our students have participated and shared in learning this week I am convinced that they will move forward with a high regard for the principles they have established. I only hope that we as tutors and organisers of this course can live up to their high expectations.

 

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all

 

Measuring Inclusion?

Getting down to work to define a set of school principles to promote inclusion.

Getting down to work to define a set of school principles to promote inclusion.

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.

One group trying to get a shared understanding

One group trying to get a shared understanding