Creating conversations: The Evolution of the Enabling Education Network (EENET)

Susie Miles, & on behalf of EENET team

History of EENET
The Enabling Education Network (EENET) has been set up to establish an information-sharing network aimed at supporting and promoting the inclusion of marginalised groups in education world wide. Although membership is open to individuals and organisations in all countries of the world, EENET gives priority to the needs of countries in the South. In this paper I summarise what has been achieved so far.

A networking vacuum was identified in the relatively new field of Inclusive Education (IE). Whilst CBR workers and Disabled People's Organisations have the possibility of linking into regional and international networks, there was very little opportunity for teachers and policy makers involved in IE to share their experiences. UNESCO's Special Needs in the Classroom project had gone some way towards creating pockets of regional expertise, but UNESCO's special needs department does not have the capacity to offer a networking service. Consequently they have given EENET their full support. Similarly Inclusion International has begun to network internationally on the issue of Inclusive Education. However, their focus is primarily on children with learning difficulties, and they work very closely with UN agencies. It was agreed that there was a need for a more independent body that would look at inclusion in its broadest sense and that would supply much needed relevant information to the field. And so EENET was born in mid-1997.

The vast majority of EENET's members are concerned with inclusive education as it relates to disabled children. However EENET has deliberately defined its objectives as broadly as possible in order to include all issues of difference and discrimination, such as race, gender and poverty. Most large organisations have an adviser or expert on one or other of these issues, yet only rarely are their commonalities explored. Sadly, awareness training in any one of the issues does not guarantee awareness in all the issues, so, for example, a person may be race and gender aware, but completely disability-unaware (Stubbs 1995). EENET will encourage a more holistic view of disability in order to promote a fuller understanding of exclusion in its widest sense.

Inclusion, as distinct from integration, is a process by which the school and the system has to change to include disabled children, and other marginalised groups. In integrated education, by contrast, disabled children are brought into mainstream schools and adjustments made to the individual child in order that he or she fits into the school. By implication, the regular school stays the same. The successes of integration have been too few, however, and a large proportion of children continue to be marginalised within and from education systems, or, at best, accepted on a conditional basis. We therefore have to re-think the task and ask ourselves: How do we prepare schools so that they can become places that deliberately reach out to all children? (EENET 1997) The opportunity of inclusion is to challenge the status quo of traditional forms of schooling and to bring about meaningful and lasting changes to the whole school which will benefit all children.

In this way incl usive education dovetails with the school improvement and effectiveness movement to provide a better educational environment for all.

International Trends
In recent years there has been an increasing focus on and discussion about inclusive education as a strategy for responding to diversity. This strategy is gaining impetus globally. Sometimes this is from a rights perspective: "Disabled children and other marginalised groups have a right to be educated alongside their peers". And sometimes this comes from an economic perspective: "We cannot afford or sustain segregated 'special' education, and so inclusion is the only option".

The United Nations' world conferences on Education for All - meeting basic learning needs held in Jomtien in Thailand in 1990 and on Special Needs Education: access and quality, held in Salamanca, Spain in 1994 added to this impetus by emphasising that many children are excluded , or are not benefitting from current systems, such as disabled children, street children and ethnic minorities. It is therefore important to look at the systems, structures and methods within schools to bring about a schooling system which can benefit and include all children within a particular community. The Salamanca 'Framework for Action' is being used to support policy development in several countries.

In the industrialised North the dominant model has been one of segregation, or institutionalised provision for separate categories of children. Attempts to adopt a more inclusive policy are hampered by a legacy of exclusion which can tie up resources and provide enormous bureaucratic and attitudinal obstacles to the process of inclusion. By contrast, there is little or no legacy of segregation in Africa and Asia, and inclusive education programmes are often more successful at being fully inclusive and community-based than countries in the North. However seminars and publications tend to be biased towards the concerns of Northern countries because the majority of resources with which to process and disseminate information are located in the North. Yet there is a tremendous need in countries of the South to share experiences of the inclusion process.

The establishment of EENET is therefore very timely. It is essentially a post-Salamanca initiative which aims to broaden the concept of inclusive education beyond the classroom to include community based strategies and to promote the dissemination of useful and relevant information in accessible formats throughout countries which have limited access to basic information and material resources. While the Salamanca statement emphasises school improvement through the inclusion of children with a variety of special needs, EENET is keen to balance this approach with the promotion of the positive identity of marginalised groups by encouraging and supporting self-help groups, and the involvement of positive adult role models and ex-pupils in the education process. Individual differences should be recognised and celebrated as part of the inclusion process.

Who is involved in EENET?
The initiative for EENET came from the International Disability Consortium (IDC) which consists of a group of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) working to promote disability and rehabilitation issues. IDC was set up in 1994 as a collaborative venture to share experience between organisations. Save the Children Fund (SCF-UK), IDC's lead agency in the field of inclusive education, identified the need for a network which would both share experience and help produce low-cost training materials relevant to the needs of the South.

EENET is made up of its members and partners, some of whom are funding agencies. Mem bers consist of parents, policy makers, teachers, academics and community workers. Partners include: International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), UNESCO's Special Education Programme, and European research institutions. On a day-to-day basis the administration of EENET is carried out by a part-time co-ordinator with the support of key individual staff and students in CEN. Funding agencies include: Norwegian International Disability Alliance (NIDA), Radda Barnen, and Associazione Italiana di Amici Raoul Follereau (AIFO).

EENET is a joint venture with Manchester University's Centre for Educational Needs and is possibly unique in the way it bridges the gap between academics and practitioners on the issue of inclusive education.

Rationale for EENET
Several different types of information issues were identified by SCF, not only those relating to networking. The distorted way in which information is often processed about the South and the way in which the North sets the agenda for the former were a great cause for concern. International research, literature and conferences, for example, tend to be dominated by a Northern or Western perspective with the result that pioneering examples of good practice in the South are mostly not recognised. The flow of information tends to be from North to South which leads to the uncritical and often inappropriate exportation of Northern/Western debates and practices.

At the grass roots level practitioners have limited access to relevant information and lack opportunities to network with each other. Furthermore there is a severe shortage of relevant and appropriate resource materials in local languages. It was primarily in reponse to these very basic needs for useful information that EENET was established. EENET's secondary agenda is to influence the policy and practice of major donor agencies who continue to invest large amounts of money in projects modelled on practice in the North.

EENET is anxious not to re-inforce the negative defecit model of developing countries (Stubbs 1994), but instead to recognise and publicise examples of good practice in inclusive education, often in the absence of material resources. Wealthier nations have arguably created greater, more insurmountable obstacles to inclusion because of their relatively vast material resources. In the South, by contrast, the rehabilitation and special needs industry is much smaller and less powerful and human resources can be harnessed to bring about inclusion.

Values and Principles
EENET aims to be far more than an information service. It is extremely difficult to process information without bias, and it is therefore better to be as explicit as possible about EENET's underlying values and principles. The following values and principles were agreed upon at EENET's inaugural seminar in July 1997:


In conducting its work EENET adheres to the principles of the Salamanca Statement; believes that access to education is a fundamental human right; and recognises the intrinsic value of indigenous forms of education.

EENET is committed to encouraging the effective participation in education of all key stakeholders, such as disabled people, people from ethnic and other minorities, and children of different ages and gender; engaging with the difficulties caused by the global imbalance of power; and encouraging a critical and discerning response to all information and materials circulated.

What sort of network is it?
EENET's main aim is to establish an information-sharing network, with the emphasis on the word, 'sharing'. The conversational process has been initiated through the newsletter and through the correspondance that has already been exchanged. By providing a platform for practitioners who would not normally share their ideas and experiences with a wider audience EENET aims to create a participatory network, rather than a dissemination machine. This is, of course, an ideal and EENET is only a very small organisation. However if resources are used wisely and a decentralised participatory network is developed, it should be possible to reach those individuals and organisations who have previously been 'unreached', and thus excluded. Perhaps a more immediate question is: How do we balance the increasingly rapid, hi-tech forms of communication in the North with the needs of people in the South whose communication systems continue to be orally based? EENET will continue to grapple with these fundamental issues, but in the short-term a modest service is being provided and increasingly individuals and organisations are taking responsibility for the wider dissemination of ideas and information.

The evolution of the network

Information Dissemination
EENET's web site contains over 200 named documents, totalling over 500 pages. These include key documents from SCF's experience of inclusive education, together with more recent EENET documents, such as the newsletter. This represents the beginning of the bibliographic database. A series of publications are in the pipeline, based on experience of inclusive education in the South. These will tackle issues such as family involvement in inclusive education, the role of ex-pupils and policy development.

The first issue of 'Enabling Education', EENET's newsletter, was published in December 1997. A limited number of braille copies have also been produced as part of EENET's commitment to disseminate information in a variety of accessible formats. The newsletter has been translated into Portuguese and, as soon as sufficient funding is available, will be translated into the major world languages. The style of the newsletter is deliberately non-academic and participatory. It aims to be a vehicle for the sharing and disseminating of up-to-date information, ideas and experiences of inclusive education.

EENET's first seminar was held in July 1997 in Manchester and was attended by 20 participants representing thirteen different countries and organisations. Discussions at the two day seminar helped to formulate EENET's values and principles and contributed to the development of the strategic plan. EENET has played a major role in organising a South-focused inclusive education seminar which was held in India in March 1998 and it is intended that the proceedings of this will form the basis of a publication.

Sharing experience
EENET recognises the danger and insanity of transplanting educational practices across cultures and instead supports the idea of using local practice and thinking as the foundation for development activities (Ainscow 1998). It is about 'making the familiar unfamiliar' by encouraging practitioners to stand back from their own situation and look afresh at their work in the light of an experience from another part of the world in order that new possibil ities can become clearer. It is still too early in EENET's development to be able to quote many examples of practitioners appreciating each other's unfamiliar landscapes, however the following vignettes illustrate the type of networking which has already taken place.

Vignette 1 - South Africa
Saajidha, a lecturer at a distance education teacher training college in South Africa, is involved in developing a new course on special needs in education. She is nervous about using the term 'Inclusive Education' as she is 'weary of feeding the students too much too fast and then losing them'. The term 'Inclusion' has only recently been discussed as part of the government's National Commission on Special Needs Education. Furthermore the majority of Saajidha's students speak English as their second language and come from peri-urban and disadvantaged rural communities.

Saajidha is in regular correspondance with EENET to share ideas, enquire about opportunities for further study for herself, and to compliment EENET on the range and usefulness of the documents on the web site. She says, 'Introducing something as new and as significant as this (inclusive education) is challenging'. She desperately needs teacher education materials. The video training package recently produced in Lesotho entitled, "Preparing teachers for Inclusive Education" is an example of locally produced and appropriate materials which EENET is able to provide at low cost. It is likely that Saajidha will act as a dissemination point in South Africa for the training package.

This is an example of the kind of conversations that have been created so far; a combination of the sharing of experience and ideas, feedback on the usefulness of EENET's information and concrete offers of help to disseminate training materials.

Through this sort of networking conversation with Saajidha and others in South Africa, it is hoped that a partner agency will emerge through which EENET-UK will be able to channel all future information relevant to South Africa. This is the beginnings of decentralisation.

Vignette 2 - Portugal
Ana works in the Ministry of Education's Institute of Educational Innovation in Portugal and, through her involvement with UNESCO's "Special Needs in the Classroom" project, networks with the five lusophone countries in Africa. She received the first copy of Enabling Education in late December and emailed back immediately offering to arrange for its translation into Portuguese. This very spontaneous translation was promptly arranged and in early February a photocopy of "Promovendo a Educacao" arrived in the EENET office. Dissemination throughout the Portuguese -speaking countries of Africa has already been arranged by Ana. Dissemination in Brazil has begun through a Brazilian student at CEN.

The development of such pro-active partnerships in key regional and sub-regional centres in the world will enable EENET to share information and create conversations with IE practitioners, policy makers and researchers in large parts of the South with the minimum of financial commitment and administrative responsibility. It is essential to forge partnerships with experienced networking agencies already committed to the principles of inclusion.

Looking to the future
EENET's long-term aim is to decentralise its information and services to key regional and sub-regional centres. Negotiations have already begun with regional organisations who are interested in translating and disseminating the newsletter and other publications. It is likely that decentralisation will be determined by linguistic, rather than strictly geographical, boundaries. Discussions a re already taking place with key regional organisations in Cuba and Uruguay with regard to the translation and dissemination of material in Spanish. Similarly the potential for translation into Mandarin Chinese is being seriously considered. Meanwhile EENET welcomes suggestions for further development and offers to share ideas and information that could be of use to colleagues around the world who are working to develop education for all.

Ainscow, M. (1998) Reaching out to all learners: some lessons from experience. Keynote address made at the International Conference on School Effectiveness and Improvement, Manchester, January 1998.

EENET (1997) Towards inclusion: the role of information. A report of EENET's inaugural seminar, Manchester, July 1997.

Stubbs, S. (1994) A critical review of the literature relating to the education of disabled children in developing countries. Unpublished MEd paper: University of Cambridge.

Stubbs, S. (1995) Avoiding issue overload: Core principles and diverse discrimination. Unpublished paper, London: SCF.


Title: Creating conversations: The Evolution of the Enabling Education Network (EENET)
Author: Miles, S
Publisher: EENET
Date: 1999