Action research in North Gonder, Ethiopia

Negussie Shenkuti and Margarita Focas Licht

Presence, participation and achievement

A number of workshops have been held with resource teachers and teachers of mainstream classes. In the first workshop the teachers were introduced to the principles and approaches of inclusive education. The concept of 'presence, participation and achievement' was also introduced. The teachers were facilitated to discuss what these terms meant to them, and to 'dig deeper' into the meanings. They then discussed who is or is not present, participating or achieving in their context.

'Presence, participation and achievement' is the idea that inclusion/exclusion is multi-layered: we need to look at who is or is not present; who is or is not participating when present; and who is or is not achieving and benefiting from such presence and participation.

Case studies

The teachers did their own classroom observation and investigation work (into 'presence, participation and achievement') and presented case studies at the next workshop. The case studies mostly focused on individual students, with teachers' assumptions about why they are or are not present, participating or achieving. A wide range of issues was raised, including:

The case studies also highlighted what was lacking in the schools, eg:

Teachers continued in their schools to investigate further and see how they could take steps to address the problems identified.

Look, think, act

At the third workshop participants were introduced to the 'look, think, act' cycle. This means looking at what we do in schools that is inclusive or exclusive; thinking about this in detail and analysing what we have found out; and then taking action to improve the situation. The cycle continues when we look at the actions and the new situation and think about how to take further action to become more inclusive. Teachers worked in groups to discuss what needs to change, how it could be changed, who would be involved, how to record the process and results, how to communicate with stakeholders, etc. They also looked at the feasibility of each other’s suggested changes and at how to turn general statements into specific actions. Teachers raised issues such as:

Teacher mobility

At this workshop a common problem hampered progress a little. Many teachers had been re-assigned to different classes or schools, and so this affected the investigations and presentations. In Zambia the redeployment of teachers on a regular basis has also, at times, interrupted the development of a consistent, ongoing cycle of action research. This is something that is beyond the control of practitioners or supporting NGOs. It needs to be addressed by decision makers if ongoing improvements are to be supported - or if inclusion and school improvement is to be sustainable.

Supporting disabled children

The challenge of writing

The teachers' written reports have improved since the project started but they are not used to writing. Often what they presented orally was quite different from what had been written. A specific writing workshop was planned to address this. The project will also build on EENET's experiences with image-based action research methods to develop non-written ways of capturing and presenting inclusive education ideas and experiences.


The workshops produced some encouraging surprises. For example, the facilitators had not used the term 'research' to describe the processes they were taking the teachers through. However, during the workshops the teachers began to talk in terms of research. They commented that it is not complex, but is something that anyone can do to improve their work.

'We used to think that when children weren't learning it was their fault. Now we know that it may be because of a problem they have, that we can do something about' Teacher, North Gonder

Disability and inclusion

The facilitators did not talk about inclusion in terms of disability. This was a deliberate strategy in order to encourage the teachers to think broadly about all issues of marginalisation. While disability was raised, so were plenty of other issues. This helped the teachers to see inclusive education as a process of system change to benefit all learners, not just as a way of assisting disabled learners.

Teachers working together


1 In collaboration with Chilga District Education Office under an agreement with the Amhara Regional Education Bureau.
2 See Useful Publications for details.
3 Such practices include early or forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

In May 2005, a team from Ethiopia visited Mpika, Zambia, where school communities are also using action research approaches in their school improvement work. The Ethiopian team was able to observe classroom practice, talk with teachers, and participate in image-based action research activities with children. They learned new ideas from, and were able to share their ideas with, the Zambian teachers. The visit enabled them to reflect in more depth on their own situation in Ethiopia.

Margarita is Education Adviser and Negussie is Project Co-ordinator in Save the Children Norway Ethiopia:
PO Box 6589
Addis Ababa


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