Moving Towards Inclusive Teacher Education
Windyz B. Ferreira
In 1996 I was invited to participate in a ‘Special Needs in the Classroom’ teacher education workshop, I learned how to use inclusive strategies in order to respond to diversity in learning styles. The workshop used the UNESCO Resource Pack. From that moment on my beliefs about how to teach – at any level – have been regularly shaken and my academic practice has changed dramatically. These new ways are very different from the experience I had myself as a university student.
Before, I used to have a few clear beliefs about how to do teach, such as: learning every student’s name at the beginning of the term; that a good lecturer should prepare interesting theoretical lessons, during which students learn mainly by listening; that audiovisual resources help to get students engaged; that it was useful to organise the class in a semi-circle, so everyone was able to communicate better with others; and that students should be invited to participate in the lesson by sharing experiences.
I believed that I was ensuring participation, sharing of experience and expertise and that my practice reflected the best I have learned throughout my own life as a student and teacher. However, the Salamanca Statement and the movement towards inclusive education brought a new dimension to my understanding of working in teacher training in higher education.
Now, I believe that:
Material resources have no value at all if the human resources are overlooked.
- Today, many university students are experienced teachers themselves – their knowledge, expertise and skills should not be overlooked in teacher training programmes.
- Listening to the students’ voices and experiences should be an integral part of university teaching.
- The development of meaningful teacher knowledge must involve the direct participation of the university students in decision-making about curriculum content and teaching style.
- There should be equal participation by students and lecturers in the construction of a collective knowledge.
- Planning a single teaching strategy for all students will increase the chance of exclusionary practice, because each student will respond differently.
Learning by doing
“I learn better when I go to a school and see what is going on there…”
- Listening to a lecture about a theoretical issue, disconnected from reality, does not foster meaningful academic learning.
- It is much more effective to learn by knowing, reflecting, debating and writing about a concrete educational context than to spend a whole year in university classrooms reading, listening and writing about this reality.
- Educational theory should be seen in the context of students’ experiences, backgrounds, interests and skills, and of schools and communities.
- Creating opportunities for student participation in the classroom goes far beyond ‘allowing them to contribute to the lesson’.
- Exams are neither effective nor fair instruments to assess learning. They are applied to all students equally and are disconnected from real contexts and real time.
- Learning is a process and, therefore, assessment must be continuous, considering each student as an individual learner with a different style of learning.
As I move on to develop my inclusive practices at the university, I feel shocked by the fact that ten years after Salamanca, the higher education institutions are still resistant to change. The debate about moving towards more inclusive practices remains at the margins of universities and teacher training programmes. I hope to stimulate debate about the role of the higher education institutions in inclusive education, and to provoke university staff to reflect on their academic practices. I end this article with a statement from one of my students that illustrates problems and solutions:
“Six months ago, I was invited to be the Teaching Co-ordinator in a basic school. I truly needed that job, but I could not accept the offer because I felt incapable of supporting teachers’ planning and teaching. Even though I had been a teacher myself for several years, I did not think I was sufficiently well prepared to help other colleagues. Today, after having learned to work with inclusive strategies in the classroom, to manage time, to teach the curriculum content to all pupils and to create opportunities for pupil participation, I know I could accept that job…”
Zenaide, student, Teacher Training Programme
Dr Windyz Ferreira has been teaching at university level for more than 20 years. She is the President of ‘Education for All’ (Ed-Todos), a Brazilian NGO, and is also a member of EENET’s international steering group. She can be contacted at: