Call for Articles: Enabling Education Review, Issue 10, 2021

Over the last year we have all found ourselves in an unusual situation. Our theme for the next edition therefore draws on the work being done to support children’s learning as we have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures. It will also look at the broader context of what it means to learn at home.

The theme for the 2021 edition of Enabling Education Review will be:

 “Home learning”

The deadline for submitting first drafts of articles is 31 March 2021. Details of suggested topics and how to submit articles are provided below.

Contact info@eenet.org.uk with any questions.

 

Why have we chosen this topic?

Many children learned at home before the COVID-19 pandemic for various reasons. For example, they may have been denied access to school, or their parents may have chosen home schooling as their preferred approach. Plus of course most children experience a great deal of informal learning at home, even if they also go to school.

Learning at home has often been seen as separate from mainstream education and not part of the movement towards inclusive education. EENET has always argued that, with the right strategies, approaches and support in place, learning at home can be considered an integral contribution to an inclusive education system.

Over the last year, COVID-19 school closures meant millions of children suddenly had to learn at home, and their teachers and education ministries had to work out how to facilitate that. One of the biggest challenges has been ensuring that learning at home is inclusive of every learner.

In early 2020 EENET, through our partnership with Norwegian Association of Disabled, launched a project to explore home learning and the education experiences of stakeholders during the widespread lockdowns. Using evidence from a survey, we developed a home learning guidance poster and booklet for families. These resources recognise that home education can be extremely stressful for learners and families, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also show that home learning is always relevant, whether or not schools are open, and we can do more to weave effective learning at home into high quality inclusive education systems.

What has been your experience as a teacher, parent, family member, learner, or other stakeholder involved in education? Was home learning a new experience for you during the pandemic, or is it something you have been involved with for a long time? How do you cope with or support learning at home? What works well and what is challenging? What support did or do you receive, or would you like to receive?

 

What could you write about?

There are many aspects of home learning that you could write about, including but not limited to:

  • What has been done to ensure emergency-response or long-term home learning initiatives promote inclusion and are inclusive for all learners?
  • How are inclusive home learning initiatives financed and managed?
  • As a parent/caregiver/learner – how have you advocated at the local or national level for home learning provision to be more inclusive.
  • As a teacher – what did you do to reach and support all your learners when schools were closed? What problems did you solve to help you reach and support more/all learners? Who helped you?
  • For learners who were already learning at home before the pandemic, how has their home learning been affected (positively or negatively) by the changes in the education system resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How have approaches to learning changed as a result of responsibility for learning shifting heavily onto parents and families for prolonged periods?
  • How does home learning affect the mental and physical well-being of learners, parents, families, and teachers?
  • What lessons have we learned from the COVID-19 home learning experiences that we could use to improve the design and inclusivity of education systems long term?

Enabling Education Review helps people share and learn from each other’s experiences. We therefore welcome articles that offer practical insights, to help others who are looking for ideas that they can adapt and try. We like articles that provide a little background to the context, project or programme, and then explain in more detail the activities that happened (what, where, when, with or by whom, and why). We also like to read about the results, if possible.

For more information on how you can submit an article please download the full call for articles.

Call for Articles (Arabic).

Schools are re-opening – but this is not the end of learning at home

Author: Ingrid Lewis

This is a presentation given at a webinar for GIZ Jordan, July 2020.

 

What is this presentation about?

Inclusive education is not just about schools. Genuinely inclusive education systems look at a continuum of learning experiences and support, from home and community, to non-formal settings, through to formal education institutions. Often, inclusive education programmes focus narrowly on schools. The Covid-19 crisis reminds us that education is – and has to be – about much more than the formal school system. In this presentation I’ll share some thoughts on how to position home learning in the discussions on rebuilding and improving education systems.

How did we get here?

 When Covid-19 caused schools around the world to close, it was hard to predict the full implications – for learners, their families and communities, and for education systems and countries as a whole. The speed, complexity and rigour of government responses and reach varied massively, even within countries.

In many countries, schools are now re-opening, often in phases, such as exam-year students returning first. Some have decided not to re-open this year. Some are attempting to follow social distancing rules, such as limiting the numbers of children allowed in classrooms, and breaking classes into smaller groups who attend at different times or on different days. Thousands of schools around the world are asking: how can we stay safe with 60+ children per class and no water for handwashing?

Re-opening schools presents multiple challenges:

  • how to help learners ‘catch up’ with months of missed education;
  • how to teach classes of learners who are now probably more academically diverse than ever;
  • how to deal with the ongoing absence of many learners, because of their own or other family members’ health or vulnerability;
  • the inevitable growth in drop-out rates where families need or want their children to work or get married instead of returning to school;
  • the ever-present risk that the pandemic will force schools and society to shut down again.

While it feels wrong to talk about positives in a situation that has been devastating for so many people, I do want us to think about the potential positive inclusion-oriented opportunities that now exist.

Lessons from the home learning experience

EENET believes that to develop an inclusive education system, we need to be reflective and critical – learn from every experience; think how we could do better next time; and listen to colleagues, learners, families and communities.

To rebuild and reform education systems now, we must reflect critically on the experiences of home learning during Covid-19. What can we learn that will help us move forward with a more inclusive, higher quality education system?

There are various clear messages emerging from this experience – I’m focusing on just a few that feel particularly relevant to inclusive education.

  1. Persistent interpretations (mis-interpretations) of what education is undermine inclusivity.

The crisis highlighted in many places the obsession with seeing education only as a highly academic, exam-driven process.

EENET’s rapid global survey revealed that parents, caregivers and family members in diverse countries felt under immense pressure to maintain high standards of academic learning at home. Sometimes this pressure came from the government, schools and teachers who provided complex instructions for how parents could – overnight – become multi-subject, multi-grade teachers. Sometimes the pressure came from friends, neighbours or from parents themselves – like it was a competition to see whose child would be furthest ahead when schools re-opened.

Such pressure probably emerged because a pressurised academic system is all that most people have ever experienced in their life – so they had nothing else to use as a template for planning learning at home.

  1. Equality in learning is not just about equal access to school.

Many families and learners have been overwhelmed by the quantity of online learning materials available, and many more have been demoralised by having no access to any such materials. Families have felt despair because they could not offer the time, support, or materials they wanted for their children whilst learning at home. Such inequality of learning opportunities and support of course happened all the time before the crisis, but this really hit the spotlight when schools closed.

  1. Education systems do not provide what learners really need in order to participate and learn.

Many crisis responses – from government and non-government sources – focused on advising parents how to teach every topic in the curriculum, how to make a timetable covering every subject, how to motivate children to learn all day. Worryingly there was even a growing discourse on how parents could assess and grade their children’s work. This followed the established school-based exam-oriented formula, but arguably was not what most learners (or their families) actually needed during this crisis.

By contrast, we were encouraged by examples of innovations from some teachers, families and learners who rejected high-pressure academic expectations and chose to ‘go with the flow’ – throwing away timetables and curricula and responding flexibly and spontaneously to what was happening in the home and to how families and children were feeling each day. This is the kind of flexibility that characterises inclusive education; the kind of flexibility that the formal education system in many contexts did not offer during this crisis.

  1. To build an inclusive education system we must acknowledge that the system is the problem, not the child.

This is a key concept in inclusive education. It is not the child’s fault they struggle to learn, but the teacher’s responsibility to teach better or the curriculum developer’s responsibility to create a more accessible and flexible curriculum, and so on. Throughout the crisis a lot of discussion has focused on how education systems can help children – especially the most marginalised – ‘stay on track’ with the expected learning programme at home, or get ‘back on track’ when schools re-open. This discourse seems rooted in ‘child-as-problem’ thinking – based on an assumption that the system will be the same when schools re-open and the child will have to do something special to keep up or catch up.

In developing our own response, EENET (through its partnership with Norwegian Association of Disabled) chose to offer families simple accessible materials that prioritise family and learner mental wellbeing whilst highlighting accessible learning opportunities available in day-to-day life. Our message was “everything you are already doing at home can be a relaxed and fun learning opportunity. Use what you have in the home and community, use what feels comfortable right now, use what interests you. Value real-life learning and skills-building not just information retention.”

Building inclusive education systems that value the home learning experience

Of course EENET’s response was not unique. Around the world many individuals and groups have promoted similar responses. But the big question is, to what extent will education systems endorse such messages? Will they value the real-life lessons children have learned during lockdown? Will they recognise the importance of the social, physical, intellectual, communication and emotional skills that learners have developed through their home learning experiences, if such skills and competencies are not measured through the existing exam system? When schools re-open, will education systems want ‘business as usual’ as fast as possible, or will they embrace change and do what the learners really need?

If education systems stick rigidly to pre-crisis ways of organising, facilitating and examining learning, they will build a barrier to millions of children who did not – and had no possible chance to – ‘keep up’ during school closures, or who cannot now return to school as quickly or regularly as their peers, due to health or other reasons.

‘Building back better’ after Covid-19 has to involve developing an education system that values a much wider interpretation of what learning, competency and skills development is about, and that responds to the individual child’s needs instead of expecting the child to keep up, catch up, or adapt in some other way.

Education systems have to recognise the learning that happened in homes and acknowledge that what families achieved has real value and contributes positively to children’s education and futures. As schools re-open, millions of parents and caregivers feel nervous about what is going to happen to their children. They don’t just fear for their children’s safety at school, they are scared that their children will now fail and that everything they as parents tried to do during lockdown will be considered wrong or inadequate by teachers and officials.

The best way now to say “actually we do value your home learning experiences” would be to work on properly embedding learning at home into the education system. By this I certainly do not mean we should dump more work and responsibility on parents or exclude more learners from school!! I simply mean we need to focus on the idea that an inclusive education system is a continuum of learning – from birth and home, through community-based informal learning opportunities, through to more structured non-formal learning and formal school-based learning.

Given that for months learning was a home and community-based process, we now need to ask how schools and the curriculum can more effectively connect with the community and learners’ home lives.

Why bother?

Why should we radically redesign the education system when we could just treat the home learning period as an unfortunate blip in history and return to normal as fast as possible?

For a start, the crisis is not over yet. Schools are not all open full time, for all year groups, and in some places the need for social distancing and quarantine will keep many children out of school for months to come. Home learning is not history yet.

Sometimes big changes only happen after a crisis. A crisis gives us an opportunity that socially, economically or politically might not have been possible before.

But home learning is not just something that is necessary as a crisis response. At all ages, children learn huge amounts at home and in the family and community. Some children rely more than others on opportunities to learn at home, such as children with disabilities, chronic health conditions, behavioural challenges, mental ill-health, children living in poverty or remote places, etc – all of whom may start school late or be unable to attend as much as their peers. If we had a system that valued learning at home – and invested in supporting home and community-based learning opportunities – imagine how many more children could benefit from education. I do not mean as an alternative to attending mainstream schools, but as an extra option on a continuum of flexible learning opportunities.

Crises like Covid-19 are predicted to become more frequent. We owe it to future generations to become better prepared. If we have education systems that value home and community-based learning, focused on real-life relevant skills development and not just school-based, academic knowledge retention, then future crises like this will be less of a shock. We’ll have mechanisms in place that can more easily be scaled up; teachers will already be used to supporting formal and informal learning in and beyond the classroom; families will be more familiar with supporting learning at home, and they’ll feel more confident that whatever support they can give is valuable to their children’s futures.

Inclusive education has never been a simple checklist of school-based actions. It’s never been as simple as building ramps in schools, providing Braille books and hearing aids, and sending teachers on a few training courses (although sadly many programmes have operated on that basis!). Inclusive education has always been about innovation, finding different ways to approach teaching and learning so that everyone joins in and benefits. The home learning experience has handed us a wealth of potential ideas to feed inclusive education innovations

How many countries will take the opportunity to learn and change, and how many will simply fall back into the old routine as quickly as possible – oblivious to the fact that ‘business as usual’ is now excluding more leaners than ever?

A life-saving message from Aytan, age 6, in Syria

This short video was recorded by a 6-year old Syrian student, Aytan. She is a 1st-grade student living in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Like her peers, Aytan lives every day with the unfolding news around the COVID19 pandemic worldwide. She is determined to help stop the spread of the virus. Aytan, with support from her mum, looked for ways to learn about the virus and share this with others. Aytan therefore organised this short video with a message to raise awareness of the virus.

Her video doesn’t just have a life-saving message. It was a very important child-led learning activity at a time when schools are closed, and it was fun for Aytan to organise. Having some fun while learning at home can help reduce stress for the child and their family.

This activity used drama, body language and a public speaking skill, all of which contribute to a child’s development and learning. A key component of quality education is when there is consistency between what is happening in the real world and the learning environment. Education is also about learning values, not just learning facts. Through preparing for and organising this video, Aytan learned about how humans can help each other.

The important takeaway message from Aytan’s video activity, is that there are always learning opportunities for children, and these can always involve having fun, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Climate change – rethinking the way we work

By Rachel Bowden with Juliette Myers and Anise Waljee.

I spent most of last week in a hipster co-working space in Berlin, designing a training course with a team of Syrian development professionals. Next week, the team will lead the training from Berlin, over the internet, in Arabic. Facilitators in Syria will help to guide participants through activities and take the lead through the inevitable internet black-outs.

I drafted the course using the terms of reference, background research with staff and the pool of resources available through EENET. In Berlin, we worked through it together: day by day, session by session, activity by activity. We took it in turns to lead, talked a lot, and made endless notes and changes. At the end of the week the course was transformed – activities, sessions, days restructured in a way that somehow made sense to us all. During the course participants will take a similar role: trying out and adapting activities to use with children, caregivers and formal education staff in North East Syria.

So what? You might ask.

Well, this way of working – using remote platforms to develop and deliver content collaboratively using a blend of face-to-face and online training and facilitation methodologies – may quickly become the norm. In addition to delivering powerful benefits around collaboration and capacity building, such approaches have cost benefits too. The cost of a week’s consultancy, including flights, accommodation, hotel expenses, time spent on a scoping visit, involving many stakeholders and participatory activities, followed by report writing compares unfavourably with a model which allows those same stakeholders to work together to evolve course content over 3-4 days, a process from which partnerships are strengthened and everyone learns and builds their capacity to deliver the content in the next phase.

Last week at EENET’s annual general meeting we had a lively discussion around our environment policy, which brought home the necessity of rethinking our ways of working in light of the global climate emergency. We agreed that flying around the world to ‘do consultancies’ cannot be the default way of working. We committed to exploring alternative and innovative approaches to support education stakeholders, partners and clients as they develop more inclusive education systems and approaches.

In my current project, the conflict in Syria leaves little choice than to work remotely. It ‘forces’ us to work in a way that is, in many ways, more desirable than ‘business as usual’. Humanitarian and development work is too often planned like a factory assembly line following the programme cycle, with ‘technical’ expertise brought in as an ‘input’ at isolated stages. Managers become administrators, removed from the expertise of practitioners or researchers in their area of work. As technical consultants we might rail against these established practices but it is hard to change them.

But now, around the world, people are rethinking their ways of working: whether due to the increasingly incandescent disaster that is human-driven climate change or the more recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). This is an opportunity to develop and implement better ways of working and deliver greater, more sustainable impact that decolonises existing power relations. For instance, consultants with technical expertise that is lacking at country level can work closely in a coaching relationship with partners to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate projects so that everyone is more engaged and expertise is developed, shared and capacity is steadily built.

EENET has considerable experience with social networks, video-based training courses, websites, WhatsApp groups, webinars and newsletters, and has long been committed to building education stakeholder capacity. There are emerging examples of global good practice of remote working, particularly in humanitarian contexts. Teachers working in Kakuma Refugee Camp, for example, are able to access mentoring and real-time support from global experts on the challenges they face in teaching day to day. We are keen to document more experiences like these and explore innovative approaches for working remotely.

If you have approaches to share, please get in touch. We would love to help other organisations to access more evidence-based information about alternatives to ‘business as usual’, to help improve project impact and redress north-south imbalances.

Like climate change, Coronavirus reminds us of the need for local and global action. Individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions, community and governments must guide and lead. International exchange – of science, of practice – remains vital. Now, more than ever, we need to define transnational communities and ways of communicating.

Toy design and inclusive play

By: Sandrine Bohan-Jacquot

Design workshop

At the start of 2019 I was incredibly lucky to be one of the 23 participants attending the 18th International Creativity workshop on ‘Toy Design and Inclusive Play’ in Berlin, Germany. Participants came from Belgium, Colombia, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, Uganda, USA, Zimbabwe.

You can now watch a video about the workshop, featuring some of the innovative, inclusive toys created by the participants.

The annual workshop was organised by Fördern durch Spielmittel e.V., and is a unique opportunity for designers, psychologists, teachers and social development consultants to interact with groups of people with special needs ranging from children and toddlers to senior citizen.

In total, 23 toys, games and playful products were designed and developed by participants during the 2-week workshop, with support from toy design tutors. There was a final exhibition, opened by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Each toy was discussed to see how it can be produced commercially or how ‘do-it-yourself’ instructions could be published for parents, teachers and carers.

Site visits

The participants visited various inclusive and special kindergartens, schools for children with disabilities and institutions for elderly people with dementia. My group visited the Helene Haeusler special school[1] for primary-age children with intellectual disabilities; 60% of the children do not speak.

The school has very accessible buildings and an incredible range of services, including physiotherapy, speech therapy, a relaxing room, swimming pool, wood workshop, etc. We observed the learning process in a class and my attention was drawn to a 7-year-old boy with physical disabilities and hyperactivity. His uncontrolled movements and constant fidgeting presented a challenge to the teacher as she led the class through the morning routine with a song. I started wondering how I could help this child and his teacher.

Benno, a soothing cushion

With the support of my tutor, Naama Agassi,[2] Designer and University Teacher, I created a soothing cushion. I called the cushion ‘Benno’; a German name which refers to bear, the symbol of Berlin, and means strong and brave.

I was inspired by the willow tree which bends with the wind rather than resisting it (see the story below). The cushion aims to accompany the child’s movements rather than trying to prevent an irrepressible neurological need. The cushion allows the child to sit, move and fidget silently. The child can sit or lie on the cushion. It has two sides; one with a soft fabric for comfort and one filled with spelt balls to accompany the movements. It comes with two small pillows filled with a selection of objects to feel, fidget and play with silently. All elements are noiseless and not too playful in order to be acceptable in class. The selection of elements was adapted for a particular child but could be changed according to needs. It is made of natural material (cotton, wood, cereals and sand) with peaceful colours. Elements are removable for washing.

Several teachers visiting the exhibition asked if they could take pictures of the cushion and its elements because they knew children who would find it useful. I was delighted and hope many more teachers and parents will use and adapt ‘Benno’ to their needs.

The play cushion with its various elements.

Photos:

  1. The cushion (soft side) and the covers of the small pillows.
  2. The cushion (side filled with spelt balls).
  3. Five fidgeting activities are available with each pillow. Shown here: sand fascination; twisting fun; flipping pleasure; merry twirling; spinning enjoyment.
  4. Five fidgeting activities are available with each pillow. Shown here: surprise pocket; eternal gliding; pure softness; soothing touch; wood treasure.

The oak and the willow, a fable

In a field, there was an oak tree at one end, and a willow tree at the other. Whenever the wind moved through the field, the willow swayed in the wind, while the oak remained unmoved. When this happened, the willow said to itself, “I wish I was as strong as the oak, instead of bending over with every breeze”.

One day a large wind storm whipped through the field. When the storm passed, and the darkness lifted, the willow looked across the field and was shocked to discover that the oak was lying on the ground, broken. When the gardener came into the field, the willow said, “Oh sir, what happened to the oak? How is it that I survived the storm, weak as I am, and the oak fell?”

The gardener said, “Oh little willow tree, do you not understand what happened? When the winds blow, you bend with them, while the oak remains still. So when a really powerful wind comes along, you can bend with the wind, and survive it. But the oak cannot bend, and so if the wind is strong enough, it will break. For the oak had a secret, a weakness within that no one looking at the outside could see”. The gardener went on his way, leaving the willow to ponder what he said.

Strength within and strength without are not the same, and it’s important to cultivate our inner strength first. The willow also shows us the importance of ‘going with the flow’ rather than resisting. The Benno toy does this, it enables the child to channel his/her movements in a comfortable way rather than trying to prevent the movements.

 

Sandrine is a former consultant with EENET. She now works as Inclusive Education Policy Officer with Humanity and Inclusion.

[1] http://www.helene-haeusler-schule.de Helene Haeusler was a German designer, well known for her line of toys called ‘burlap beasts’ that sought to help children and adults with intellectual or motor disabilities.

[2] https://www.naamaagassi.com/en/projects

Mental health and inclusive education

By Ingrid Lewis and Laura Davidson.

(This blog is also available in Arabic)

Mental health is not given enough attention within the field of inclusive education. This must change.

Adhi and Rahina’s experiences*

Adhi lives in Indonesia. His father left the family last year when Adhi was 9. No one knows where he went. Adhi’s grandparents told him he had to look after his mother and siblings, that he was now the ‘man of the house’. At first, Adhi felt proud to take on this important role, but as things became tougher at home, and with money problems, Adhi began to feel increasingly anxious. He had several panic attacks at school and the other boys laughed at him. He was very embarrassed and this further increased his anxiety. Now Adhi will not speak to anyone and refuses to leave the house or go to school.

Rahina, from Malawi, is 14. She has heard voices in her head for as long as she can remember. When she was small her parents said she was probably talking to imaginary friends, like many children do. However, as she got older Rahina knew this was not the case. Sometimes the voices were extremely loud and she could not make them stop. She would be unable to sleep for days, and her school work really suffered. She faced regular punishments for failing to complete homework or pass tests. In the last few months the voices have told Rahina to kill herself. Rahina is so scared. One night she drank some of her father’s alcohol, and it quietened the voices in her head. Now she tries to steal alcohol from family and neighbours as often as possible.

Adhi and Rahina are very different children living in very different places, but they both experience mental health difficulties. Adhi’s increasingly severe anxiety started when his father left. Rahina has lived with hearing voices all her life. For both children, experiencing mental ill-health is frightening, and is having a serious impact on their education. Globally, millions of children like Adhi and Rahina experience a wide variety of mental health issues, but their difficulties and experiences are often not recognised, or their needs effectively addressed in school.

Stigma and misunderstanding

While disability issues are increasingly being discussed and addressed in education and wider society, mental health issues remain shrouded in stigma. There is little understanding of mental health among families and communities or in schools, leading to negative attitudes and fear regarding family members or learners with mental ill-health. Education staff specialising in supporting learners with health and disability issues often lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to provide support to learners experiencing mental ill-health and their families. The progress being made around policy and practice for disability-inclusive education often wrongly excludes mental health, and this urgently needs to be redressed. In order to make more progress, certain myths and misunderstandings need to be addressed and broken down.

In this blog post we will discuss some of the common wrongful assumptions regarding mental health issues and how these relate to inclusive education. This blog is intended as a stimulus for discussion, and we are committed to using the EENET global network to share practical experiences of supporting the inclusion of learners experiencing mental health difficulties.

Mental health and the UNCRPD

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Article 1 states, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The word ‘include’ indicates that Article 1 is giving examples of what amounts to a disability, and so ‘disability’ is not defined in detail in the CRPD. This allows individual countries which have signed up to the Convention considerable latitude as to the definition of disability in their domestic law. However, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has explicitly stated that persons with mental illnesses (referred to as ‘psychosocial disability’) fall under the Convention.[1]

Unpacking some common wrong assumptions

Assumption: Mental health is an adult issue.

Not true.

Anyone of any age can experience mental ill-health. Unfortunately, mental health difficulties in children and adolescents can be misinterpreted as ‘bad behaviour’, ‘naughtiness’ or ‘typical teenage’ issues. Often, mental health difficulties emerge and become established in childhood or adolescence but may go undiagnosed and unsupported until well into adulthood. The Children’s Society in the UK estimate that 10% of children and adolescents aged 5-16 years experience mental health difficulties, yet 70% of these youngsters do not receive appropriate interventions and support sufficiently quickly to improve their health as adults.[2]

Assumption: Only learners in emergency contexts face mental ill-health.

Not true.

Mental ill-health is something that any learner, living in any country and situation, can experience. Children and young people living in crisis, emergency and conflict situations may face a greater risk of abuse, violence and trauma which impacts on mental wellbeing. They may face greater challenges in getting their support and learning needs relating to mental health recognised and addressed, especially if their mental health difficulties are long-term rather than directly resulting from the trauma of crisis/conflict. But it is by no means only learners in emergency contexts who experience mental ill-health and who need to be included in supportive education.

Assumption: Mental health is an issue for doctors, not for schools and teachers to deal with.

Not true.

We already know that teachers play an important role in helping to identify children’s learning needs. While we do not expect teachers to be medical experts – they are not expected to diagnose health issues, disabilities or impairments – an inclusive teacher constantly observes her/his learners and notices if something is not right. Inclusive teachers can spot the signs that a learner is experiencing difficulties seeing, hearing, understanding, communicating, moving, etc., and they know when and how to seek help and advice as well as how to work with the family to better understand and support the learner’s needs. In the same way, inclusive teachers can and should be able to notice when a learner is showing signs of mental health difficulties and take appropriate steps to find them the necessary support. Teachers need inclusion-focused training and support that includes mental health issues.

Assumption: Mental health is not an inclusive education issue.

Not true.

Inclusive education is not just about including learners with disabilities, it is about ensuring we tackle every barrier to access, participation and achievement faced by every learner, whatever their status and background. The prejudice and stigma surrounding mental ill-health, the disruption that ill-health (mental or physical) can bring to an individual’s life, and the impact on self-esteem, confidence, motivation, etc., all impact on a learner’s attendance, participation and achievement. The barriers to access, participation and achievement for learners with mental ill-health may be more covert, less acknowledged, more shrouded in embarrassment and taboos, but that gives us an even greater impetus to ensure that their rights and needs are addressed through inclusive education.

Assumption: Teachers need to be specialists and have lots of extra training before they can have children with mental ill-health in class.

Not true.

The chances are every teacher has already had children with mental ill-health in their class, perhaps without realising it, or they may have assumed the learners were exhibiting ‘bad behaviour’. We know teachers do not have to be disability or medical experts to teach a child with a disability; equally they do not have to be mental health experts or doctors to teach a child with mental health difficulties. Good teaching practices are needed, such as observing for early signs that a learner is experiencing problems, understanding each learner’s interests, needs and background, and working with family and other support resources (if they exist) to develop individual education/support plans.

Assumption: Teachers have too many challenges already.

Not true.

Well, yes; teachers do have a lot to deal with, but they also have a legal and moral duty to uphold learners’ rights. Today it is accepted that teachers have a duty to uphold educational rights for learners with disabilities and all other marginalised groups, and so they have an equal duty to uphold the rights of learners experiencing mental health difficulties. Teachers will always face a diverse range of challenges, and schools are not permitted to close their classrooms to everyone who does not meet their definition of a perfect learner. The key to dealing with diverse challenges is for teachers to have ongoing support and professional development opportunities, working collaboratively with colleagues, to learn from each other’s experiences and gain confidence and strength from each other.

Assumption: Learners with mental health difficulties should be kept separate for safety reasons.

Not true.

Much of the stigma surrounding mental ill-health stems from lack of understanding and from stereotypical beliefs about people who experience mental health difficulties. For example, there is a tendency for the media and movies to inaccurately portray mental ill-health as synonymous with violent or dangerous behaviour, perpetuating a public fear of people with mental ill-health. The vast majority of people who experience mental ill-health present no greater safety risk than anyone else in the population. In fact, there is significant evidence that they are more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than others in the community.[3] Excluding such learners violates their education rights, and isolation may contribute to a worsening of their mental health.

Assumption: There is nothing we can do, because we do not have mental health professionals to help us at our school.

Not true.

There is usually something we can do, even if we cannot find solutions that are as comprehensive as we would like. The lack of experienced and skilled mental health professionals is a problem worldwide, in schools, in health services and across society generally. There are steps that can be taken in conjunction with inclusive education projects. For example, many such projects are connected to community-based rehabilitation (CBR) programmes which help learners with impairments and health conditions to access rehabilitation and medical support, enabling them to join in education, employment and other aspects of community life. CBR programmes need to consider mental health too. We can lobby for this to happen. If we work for organisations that fund or run CBR programmes, we can make sure that the CBR programmes we support embed mental health as part of their mandate. Teachers do not have control over the support and referral services available to them, but if they collaborate, they can help to demand that local CBR or other health referral services expand to cover mental health.

Assumption: All children who experience mental health difficulties are victims of abuse or violence.

Not true.

Although it is possible that some might have suffered from abuse or violence, there are many other different reasons for mental health difficulties arising. It is important that teachers and other education personnel should not jump to conclusions, which could lead to further stigmatisation. We also need to be aware that children who experience mental health difficulties may be at greater risk of becoming targets of abuse, and steps are needed to mitigate this.

Assumption: Children/learners with mental ill-health cannot learn. We need to ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ their mental illness first.

Not true.

Everyone can learn, but not everyone is given the correct support or stimulus to help them learn, or provided with the necessary support in their lives, family or community to enable them to engage in effective learning. Children with mental ill-health may need their learning to be planned and supported in a way that takes account of their health issues, just like any learner with a physical health condition or disability. This might include, for instance, flexible timetabling and lesson planning, curriculum and assessment/exam adaptations, and flexible support options including extra access to one-to-one counselling or mentoring.

Assumption: Teachers with mental ill-health should not be allowed to teach in schools.

Not true.

To exclude teachers with mental ill-health from the profession would be discriminatory and short-sighted. Within inclusive education we fight hard to ensure that teachers are representative of society, so that every learner has a better chance of being taught by, or having access to a role model who they feel understands them and their experiences. This is why we work hard to ensure a gender balance in the teaching profession, and why we want more teachers who represent language and ethnic minority groups, as well as those with disabilities. We also need teachers who have experience of health issues, both physical and mental. One of the best ways for us to support learners with mental ill-health is if we have people working in schools and with learners who know what mental ill-health means – not just professionally, but from a personal perspective.

Teaching can be a very stressful profession. Teachers face pressure to deliver results, to ensure learners pass exams, to help their school climb the national ‘league tables’, to satisfy parents’ demands for achievement and discipline, etc. They are constantly being asked to cope with new curricula, materials, rules, and inspections, and to deal with a never-ending flow of new learners who each bring unique needs and problems to the classroom. There is a strong chance that at some point in their career teachers will experience some form of mental ill-health, and when they do, the education system must be ready to support them. This might mean ensuring there are mental health referral and support options available to teachers; mechanisms for reviewing workloads and adjusting timetables; peer support systems; and personal development options that help teachers build professional skills and personal coping mechanisms to make the tasks within their job more achievable.

Conclusion

The topic of mental health and inclusive education is far more extensive than we can cover here. This post has just scratched the surface, but we hope it kick-starts some more discussions around the issue.

EENET is committed to embedding mental health issues into the information we document and share about inclusive education, and into our consultancy services, whether that be supporting the design of inclusive education programmes, training teachers, or researching inclusion issues. So far, in our 22 years of work, we have received almost no documentation for sharing that discusses mental health, and no requests from consultancy clients to address the issue within inclusive education initiatives.

We are therefore laying down the challenge. We need you to share your experiences and ideas around inclusive education and mental health, and to consider developing innovative work that ensures learners and teachers with mental health needs are recognised and supported within inclusive education.

 

* Adhi and Rahina’s stories are adaptations that use elements of several real life stories.

[1] General Comment No. 1 on Article 12 of the CRPD, adopted by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 11 April 2014 (11th session).

[2] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people

[3] https://jech.bmj.com/content/70/3/223

Introducing EENET’s Arabic Language Community Facilitator

My name is Ayman Qwaider. I am the Arabic Language Community Facilitator for the global Enabling Education Network (EENET).

A bit about me

I completed my Masters degree in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies from The University of Jaume I, Spain in 2011. As a person born and raised in the Gaza Strip, Palestine, I realised the importance of education as a means of empowerment and maintaining our respect and dignity. In 2008, I completed my undergraduate degree in Education in Gaza after which I worked for Islamic Relief Worldwide, engaging directly in field work with children exposed to trauma. Throughout my career I have participated in various training programmes and worked with several international organisations including UNESCO Paris and UNESCO Palestine. I am particularly interested in inclusive education and education in emergencies.

Group of girls and boys in Gaza, half have hands raised, smiling, looking at adult male (Ayman) who is standing on right of image talking/asking question. Colourful landscape mural painted on teh wall.
Ayman working with a group of children in a children’s cinema project in Gaza

About my role in EENET

EENET is an information-sharing network focused on inclusive education. The network includes teachers, parents, students, non-governmental organisations, policy-makers, and more. We promote and share information and documents, mostly originating in developing countries. We encourage critical thinking, innovation and conversations within and between countries on inclusion, equity and rights in education.

It is my pleasure to be an EENET team member. I am passionate about inclusion, and about education for people with disabilities and other members of our communities who are considered marginalised and segregated. I have participated in some fascinating research and consultancy projects with EENET. Alongside a fantastic team, I have reviewed, examined, and analysed policies and reports relating to issues around inclusion and disabilities.

Across the Arabic-speaking world, children – especially those with disabilities and those who are refugees – continue to experience discrimination and unequal educational opportunities. This has been an increasingly concerning issue for the region’s educators and officials, as well as for learners and their families. Governments, education stakeholders and providers need to continue developing and sharing practical tools and knowledge to ensure inclusive and learning-friendly educational environments evolve throughout the region. All children must be welcomed, no matter what their social or physical needs are. My role in EENET will help stakeholders with sharing experiences and tools across the Arabic region.

A key problem facing the Arab world, indeed all parts of the world, is the inaccuracy of disability and inclusion-related data. Despite reports and researchers in the Arab world often citing disability rates as 10% there are very few sources of reliably accurate data for the region. I am keen to support efforts to improve disability and inclusion-focused data collection and management in the Arabic-speaking world.

As an educator and advocate from the Arab world, I believe there remains an urgency to move from charity-focused responses towards more empowering interventions focused on upholding educational rights. The numbers don’t look great in the Arab world, where less than 5% of students with disabilities enjoy access to basic services, and over 95% lack their basic right to adequate education. I hope my role in EENET will encourage more stakeholders to speak out and be heard about inclusion and education rights in the region.

I believe in the importance of inclusion of all children and especially those seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘marginalised’ in our communities. Through working with EENET I have learned a good deal about inclusive education and heard inspirational stories of success from different educational contexts. I learned that we need to collectively act as educators, researchers, teachers and officials to ensure full inclusion for all regardless of social background, physical abilities, etc.

Sharing information and connecting with educators from the Middle East, in particular Arabic speaking countries, is very valuable. That is why I am working with EENET to manage and support the Arabic language community. Please join our Arabic mailing list to receive regular updates from us. If you have a story to share from your educational settings, we would love to hear from you. Starting communication on such important and critical topics is the first step toward making a difference and change.

If you have any queries or want to share your experiences, you can contact me via email: arabic@eenet.org.uk or by using the contact form on our website.

Don’t hide your documents on the internet

A blog by Christopher Chiwalo, teacher, Malawi and Ingrid Lewis, EENET.

As one of the regular readers and a beneficiary of EENET’s printed materials, I wish to express my views on why donors should support the printing and distribution of EENET’s materials.

First, there are network problems in remote areas since network providers shun these areas thinking they cannot make profits. Hence people in these areas, e.g. teachers, do not have access to the internet.

Another problem is the exorbitant prices of computer equipment, e.g. laptops, smartphones, tablets. As a result, most people like me opt for cell phones with basic internet access which cannot enable one to download or read a book online or in PDF format.

Therefore, if donors only fund the online publishing of EENET’s materials, then we are being left behind. EENET’s printed materials are extremely important to us all since we read how others are dealing with the problem of exclusion and we learn from one another.

Donors should still fund the printing and distribution of paper copies of EENET’s materials.

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This message is from Christopher Chiwalo, one of our regular readers in Malawi.

Christopher emailed us recently, concerned that he hadn’t received a printed copy of the 2017 edition of Enabling Education Review. Unfortunately, we had to reply that we didn’t have the funding to print EER last year. (This year is different – keep an eye out for the 2018 edition coming very soon!)

Christopher’s response (his message above) sums up why EENET remains totally committed to publishing and distributing a range of documents in hard copy, despite the global trend towards paperless communication and learning.

From an economic and environmental perspective we fully support the drive to reduce paper wastage. But printing and sending hard copies of our materials to important education stakeholders who have no access to electronic media remains essential.

I think the growth in basic internet access globally has fooled many into thinking the digital divide problem is well on the way to being solved. It really is not. There is a vast difference between being able to post or read a message on Facebook, and being able to access a 50-page training guide, print it, and use it to support teachers in your school to build their inclusion skills.

We love the fact that we can now communicate easily and quickly with many of our network members via social media. But for us to effectively document and share experiences on inclusive education we need more than a 140-character tweet!

Selection of EENET documents spread out, covers visible

We need funding to print and post hard copies of inclusive education materials to our primary audience – education stakeholders like Christopher working in school communities across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

This blog is not just a “please fund EENET” message (but if you want to, that would be great!). It’s a plea to everyone who writes and publishes inclusive education guidance, research, case studies, etc. Many of the readers who most need and most benefit from your hard work will never see it if your documents remain hidden on the internet.

I would love to see every organisation working on inclusive education in development and humanitarian contexts requesting and receiving funding to print and distribute hard copies of any documents they publish. This could involve distribution locally or nationally where they work, or internationally using their own or EENET’s global grassroots network.

We don’t want to see anyone excluded from the process of learning about inclusion! So please join us in maintaining a commitment to hard copy distribution of essential documents. Help us ensure the divide between those who can and those who can’t access information on inclusive education becomes a thing of the past.

Respect for education in development

A blog by: Ingrid Lewis, Managing Director, EENET.

In my last blog I reflected on the tendency within inclusive education and international development programmes to view teachers as programmable machines rather than as adult learners. This dehumanising of teachers inevitably leads to inappropriate approaches to teacher education and thus to limited change in teaching practice. I’ve been reflecting on some wider issues that might help us understand why teachers are viewed like this within some education development programmes.

Low status

It’s not a new revelation that in many countries teachers are viewed with derision. “If you can’t do it, teach it” is a cruel saying used often in the UK and no doubt elsewhere to belittle those who choose to become teachers rather than work in other professions or businesses. Teaching is seen by many in society as a second-choice career, a back-up plan, even as a place to dump ‘failed’ scientists, writers, performers or entrepreneurs.

Over the years various development NGOs have implemented excellent projects to boost teacher professionalism in the countries where they work and to change public perception of teachers, to recognise them as skilled and valuable professionals. But what about perceptions inside development NGOs? It’s all very well campaigning for governments and the public to respect and reward the unique skills and professionalism of teachers, but do NGOs and donors themselves demonstrate a high level of respect for teachers and education?

Sometimes I think not. Education as a sector within development often feels under-valued, under-estimated and taken for granted. Not just in terms of financing, although of course I’ll always argue there is never a big enough government or NGO budget allocated to education. I’m also thinking in terms of the status NGO education programmes have, and the way in which they are planned and managed.

Programme managers or experienced educators?

Is it right that we encounter so many NGO education projects and programmes that appear to have been designed, implemented and monitored by personnel who have no background in the education profession?

OK, I can hear you arguing “you don’t have to be a teacher to run an education project, just like you don’t have to be a doctor to run a healthcare project”. No, you don’t. I’m not a qualified teacher and I run EENET. But it certainly helps if you have people working in the project or organisation who do have those direct experiences (fortunately EENET has plenty of team members with extensive teaching and education management experience).

I met an education student recently who had done an internship with a large NGO that works on education programmes, policies and campaigns. She told me how surprised she was that none of the organisation’s education team had an education background. They were all programme managers and she felt some had a worryingly limited grasp of the realities being faced by teachers, head teachers, education officials and others on the front line.

Teacher (seated) and child (standing) in front of blackboard. Other children sitting on floor facing board

Does it matter?

I’ve reflected on this issue with EENET team members too in recent months. How many of the poor planning and implementation decisions we have observed during education programme evaluations and field visits over the years might have been avoided or mitigated if there had been more staff with direct experience of working in schools and education?

Of course I can’t answer that with any degree of accuracy as this is just a blog not a rigorous academic investigation! But it is my gut feeling that key barriers to success in NGO education / inclusive education programmes include: a lack of first-hand teaching and school management experience among those designing and running the programmes; and a lack of willingness to listen to advice from education practitioners, especially when that advice doesn’t fit neatly with a pre-conceived project timeline or structure.

Can we effectively plan how to run schools if we have never worked in, let alone run a school? Can we develop suitable training for teachers if we have never experienced what it is like to teach a class, let alone had to prepare and deliver lessons when there are no resources and 60+ children in the room?

I’m not saying the answers are definitely ‘no’. But I think more NGOs should be critically reflecting on these sorts of questions when deciding to implement education programmes and when making recruitment decisions.

Let’s really value education expertise

Without education, none of the professions that currently usurp the status of the teaching profession would exist. We need to commit ourselves to giving education and teaching the high status attention it deserves within development programmes. We can do this by ensuring that it is well-funded. And we can do it by respecting the expertise and specialisation needed to plan and run effective, complex, high quality education programmes. Of course we also need to remember that education expertise does not just come from those with the highest qualifications or most senior positions, but should be sought among education practitioners at all levels.

Send us your thoughts, ideas and experiences regarding the status of teaching and/or education programmes, or leave a comment in the box below.

Teachers are adult learners, not machines!

A blog by: Ingrid Lewis, Managing Director, EENET.

Training teachers to be inclusive is a growing industry. NGOs, UN agencies, governments and consultancy businesses around the world are involved. The majority of work so far focuses on in-service training – aiming to bring new ideas and skills to existing teachers. Happily, there is also growing recognition of the need to embed inclusive education into all pre-service training.

I want to look at in-service training here. There are many angles to discuss this from – so watch out for more blogs! But for now, I want to look at the issue of how teachers are perceived. I believe this is negatively affecting how inclusive education training is designed and implemented.

A teacher’s life

In the countries where EENET and our network and consultancy partners work (e.g. across Africa, Asia, Middle East, Latin America) teachers do not have an easy time. Often they have received quite limited pre-service training – in terms of both the quality and length of training. There may be few support options for them: no one to help them continue learning, especially in their early career, or to give advice if they have a problem. Add to this the numerous resource and practical challenges of working in under-funded schools and education systems: poor infrastructure, not enough equipment and materials, long and difficult journeys to work, over-crowded classes, low pay and often late pay, poorly developed curricula and exam systems. The list goes on.

With all this as the backdrop, along comes a project that wants to train teachers in target schools to be inclusive, so they can enrol, welcome and support a more diverse range of learners. The teachers take a deep breath and tentatively say “Ok, if you insist”.

Children sit with backs to us in a classroom with simple pitched thatched roof with no walls

Sky-high expectations

Then what happens? Well, often the teachers sit through a one-off, short (e.g. 5-day) and theoretical training course on inclusive education, or sometimes just disability awareness. The project then expects them to convert the theory into practical change in the classroom and school. Sometimes they are expected, within a year, to show substantial changes to either enrolment data or learning outcomes, or both. Sometimes other activities help towards this change – like practical disability-oriented support from a community-based rehabilitation project, community awareness-raising, or infrastructure improvements – but not always.

So, let’s think about this. Basically, we are expecting these teachers to be some of the world’s fastest and most effective learners; able to take a rapid and superficial introduction to inclusion, instantly internalise and analyse what that means in their own classroom, devise lots of new ways of working from thin air, and then implement them… within the very tight timeframe set by a donor they have never met.

I’m not belittling the capacity of teachers – there are some incredibly talented teachers out there, as well as some who struggle – but this is a massively unrealistic expectation for most teachers in the countries EENET focuses on. It is especially challenging for those who had a minimal education themselves or who are working in particularly difficult circumstances.

Software update installation failed!

Don’t get me wrong, I want to see a world in which every teacher has been well-trained on inclusion issues, from day one of their basic training and throughout their service. I’m definitely not trying to find a way to help teachers avoid further training. But I think we need to look more carefully at who teachers are before we can get the approach right.

Teachers are learners – adult learners. However, in-service teachers are not just being asked to learn something new when they participate in inclusive education training. That would be difficult enough, but in reality they are also being asked to rethink everything they were taught in their pre-service training; re-assess everything they have experienced since they started their careers; and indeed re-assess everything they experienced as a learner in their own school days. That’s pretty mind-blowing stuff if it’s all crammed into 5 days!

Like any learner of any age, teachers possess a combination of learning strengths and weaknesses. Further, some absorb new ideas or embrace change with enthusiasm, others struggle to take on board new concepts or find change very unsettling. We know that many young learners ‘learn through doing’ (touching, manipulating, experimenting, practising) rather than just by being told something or reading about it. Adult learners are often even more likely to learn though doing. Their life experiences have honed their practical skills. It may be a long time since they had to learn through listening to a lecture or reading text books. Some may feel they don’t have the time, interest or confidence for that sort of ‘back to school’ approach to learning now. Yet most inclusive education training is workshop or lecture-based and theoretical, not practical.

In short, many of the inclusive education training courses I have observed, read about or evaluated fail to recognise that teachers are adult learners. The courses seem based on an assumption that teachers are machines who can be reprogrammed overnight with a one-off software update!

2 teachers with back to us looking at a flipchart with diagram on it

Find the learners within teachers

Here is a summary of things to think about, to ensure we reposition teachers as professional adult learners within inclusive education rather than as programmable machines:

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Give teachers opportunities to learn in different ways, not just in rushed workshops. Everyone has different preferred ways of learning.

Give teachers plenty of time for learning and plenty of time between trainings. They are busy and stressed – allow the learning to fit in with the other pressures of daily life. Recognise teachers’ life challenges and ensure trainings do not make life more difficult personally.

Respect teachers as mature adult learners and enable them to take more decisions about and responsibility for their own learning. Ask them what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and when they want to learn.

Ensure all inclusive education training is weighted towards practice-based learning. Most adults also are used to learning by solving life’s problems, so ensure trainings use activities that encourage problem-solving, analysis and critical thinking.

Acknowledge the full range of teachers’ life experiences and transferable skills and bring these into trainings. This makes teachers feel more valued as experienced professionals and also makes the training more relevant.

Adult learners want to know why they are learning and what they are aiming for, so make sure training activities are clearly explained with realistic goals for the teachers.

Provide plenty of ongoing learning support so that teachers feel confident that even if they didn’t understand something fully during a workshop or practical session there will be more opportunities for them to discuss and learn about that issue later.

Develop peer learning and support mechanisms for teachers. Adult learners often learn best through collaborative approaches or from colleagues rather than outsiders.

Use action research between trainings to enable teachers to work together, and with non-teaching staff and other stakeholders such as other professionals and community members, to learn about and find solutions to inclusion challenges.

Find ways to motivate teachers to learn. Adults learners are motivated by different interests and desires – to do their job better, to improve their career or pay options, to contribute to social change, to prove to themselves or others that they can do something different/new. The motivation of expectation from one’s boss or from an ‘external power’ is not always enough!

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Teaching can be a tough profession at the best of times. Teachers experience daily challenges that many of us would find impossible to cope with. They want to do a good job. They want their students to learn and have successful lives. The majority also want to help marginalised and excluded learners get a good education – but teachers themselves need the right education and support in order to do this. Quick-fix options like short, one-off workshops do not help the teacher to be an effective learner, but unless we develop a workforce of teachers who are effective adult learners, we will continue to struggle with implementing inclusive education.

 

Send us your thoughts, ideas and experiences on the issue of teacher education for inclusion, or leave a comment in the box below.