Highlights of the Agra seminar
“The medium is the message”
The seminar gave participants an opportunity to live and work in an inclusive classroom’. Flexible ‘classroom methods’ and sensitivity to the needs of individuals ensured maximum participation. Activities were varied and included: designing posters, visualising a mountain journey to the peak of inclusive education, observation in local schools and times for individual reflection and writing. The experience of living together as an inclusive multi-cultural community gave the theoretical discussions about race, gender, race, ethnicity and disability greater meaning.
‘Design short, clear messages which capture the essence of inclusive education for teachers, parents, children, community members and policy makers’. This was the instruction given to the groups that designed these posters. This exercise helped bring the seminar to a close by summarising graphically what we had learnt as a group about inclusive education.
The ‘mountain journey’ group exercise helped participants to focus on the strengths of their programmes as well as on the difficulties they were facing. In the posters, boulders represent obstacles along the way. In some cases these boulders are hidden and represent unknown obstacles which programmes may face in the future. Green grass, trees, rivers and sunshine all represent existing strengths and achievements.
Signposts point the way towards inclusion, such as Salamanca, and mountain huts represent opportunities to rest and reflect at seminars such as this one. Participants were encouraged to make note of the ‘boulders’ which were removed, or reduced in size, as the seminar progressed.
Based on the key questions arising from the challenges faced in the ‘mountain climbing’ exercise, working groups were formed on the following issues: attitudes; policy; teacher training; curriculum development; implementation strategies; and assessment and evaluation.
Overcrowded classrooms, lack of books and furniture and poor lighting are some of the difficult conditions facing teachers and learners in the majority of classrooms in the countries of the South. Yet there is tremendous potential for community involvement, peer tutoring and school improvement. In small groups, participants were asked to focus firstly on the constraints, but then on the possibilities for change, as they visited schools in Agra. Cultural evening A celebration of the diversity of language and culture represented at the seminar.
“Deaf people need a strong deaf community. Once this has been strengthened, deaf people can enjoy a full share of the benefit of living in a hearing society.” This was Raghav Bir Joshi’s message to participants. Mr Joshi is the Director of the Kathmandu Association of the Deaf.
This was not only an opportunity to celebrate the wealth and breadth of those cultures represented at the seminar, it was also a recognition of the benefits of diversity. Singing, dancing and sharing jokes was an extension of the experience of living together as an inclusive society for a week. Songs were translated into the major languages represented and into Nepali sign language! Those participants who had struggled with English all week gave outstanding performances in their own language. A good time was had by all!