This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 11
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Title: Editorial: What does a new normal look like?
Author: Corcoran, S L
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2022

Su Corcoran

When we wrote the call for articles for Enabling Education Review 11, in January 2022, we were watching the world emerge from COVID-19 restrictions. On 10 January 2022, for example, Uganda’s schools reopened for the first time in almost two years. They were, potentially, the country that closed their schools for the longest time to stop the spread of infection. But the effects of closing schools on learning have been felt almost everywhere, so we envisioned an edition that focuses on the effects of collective trauma and the importance of supported transitions for children returning to, or starting, school.

A post-COVID world?
Many of us continue to deal with the impact of collective trauma on our learners. In the UK, for instance, conversations with educators indicate that young children lack many experiences – and the vocabulary needed to describe them – that we would expect of 3-to-5-year-olds. Teachers say that both primary and secondary age students are more socially anxious, and university students require more support than in previous years.

Children and young people of all ages are described as needing more reassurance that they are doing things right and seem less independent than previous cohorts. One reason for this is that learning from home meant they were less in touch with how their peers coped with remote learning tasks, so they felt they, alone, were struggling. Another reason is related to how months of remote learning experiences and social distancing affected how children and young people interact and engage socially.

School closures have adversely affected learners already severely marginalised within education systems in many countries. For example, as we saw in last edition of Enabling Education Review, there was limited focus on learners with special educational needs and disabilities when governments developed centralised education provision such as television and radio programmes. Restrictions on movement meant that street-connected children could not access the education and support they were used to from relevant organisations.

In many low-income countries, the long-term school closures led to increased levels of teenage pregnancy and early marriage, and an increase in the number of children who became street-connected. This was especially so when families struggled to survive in the informal labour market that collapsed because of curfews and travel restrictions. Organisations supporting transitions (back) into education for these groups have therefore experienced greater demand for their programmes.

Despite many people perceiving that we are now in a post-COVID world, we are still being affected by the spread of the virus. Although death rates are lower now, ongoing effects of infection continue in many countries, with lockdowns and/or teachers and students falling ill and being absent from school.

While COVID-19 affected many countries, it has not always been the most significant barrier to education over the last three years. Poverty, adverse weather events related to climate change (e.g., in Bangladesh), and conflict (e.g., in Ukraine and Ethiopia) have negatively impacted teaching and learning and had traumatic effects on learners, families and teachers.

Taking a trauma-informed approach
Developing a trauma-informed approach to education policy and practice requires us to address the barriers to engagement and learning experienced by those affected by trauma. We know that teaching inclusively benefits all learners, not just those identified as having specific additional learning needs. Taking a trauma-informed approach likewise benefits all learners and takes account of the unpredictable nature of (hidden) trauma. A trauma-informed school develops pedagogies of practice that enable teachers and other school staff to engage with, and respond to, learners living with trauma and associated mental health problems.

To develop a trauma-informed school or education centre, we need to support staff members to develop their understanding and confidence, enabling them to work effectively with these learners. The main focus should be on the quality of relationships between staff and learners.

Relationships matter. Each and every interaction experienced by an individual can either exacerbate the effects of trauma (however small) or provide an opportunity for healing and growth. Trauma-informed approaches should therefore involve taking the time to listen and understand learners’ points of view. In contexts where adults are also affected by trauma, an inclusive approach should involve help with developing supportive relationships between members of staff as well.

It is important that, as educators, we try to understand why learners behave as they do. We don’t need to ask learners about their experiences of trauma. Instead, we approach our work with an understanding of how trauma impacts the brain and body and how this impact can manifest in day-to-day behaviours. In understanding the potential fall-out from trauma, we can develop frameworks for how best to respond to different situations and ultimately frameworks that develop safer spaces where learners feel secure. In short, being sensitive to the wider context of learners’ lives and the potential impact these experiences have should inform any guidance and support that we may need to provide.

Finally, trauma-informed approaches, as with all inclusive pedagogies of practice, require that we develop locally appropriate responses to trauma. How we work impacts the climate and other conditions that can ultimately lead to events that traumatise, so we must strive to reduce our impact as educators or consultants who travel frequently. There is a need to develop local frameworks and more remote connections that still ensure support in a less climate-impacting manner. A new normal is therefore emerging in how we view the need for a different approach to developing, delivering and advocating for inclusive education.

This edition
The articles submitted for this edition of Enabling Education Review provide a varied overview of considerations within our current new normal in inclusive education. They remind us that there is no one new normal, and approaches to inclusion must be locally informed and developed. We have ordered the articles alphabetically by country, leaving the globally focused articles to the end, because there are multiple articles from some countries, and it was difficult to group them by theme. However, at the heart of all of the articles is the need to understand learners’ individual experiences and the need for individualised approaches to their inclusion in education – whatever form that education takes.

We begin with an article about Afghanistan, from the Enabled Children Initiative, that focuses on a step wise approach to developing inclusive schools. From Bangaldesh, Niketan focus on including girls in education during and after COVID-19. We have two articles from England. The first, by researchers from the Emotional Health Hub, looks at combining research and practice to find the best ways to listen to young children’s voices to enable them to communicate how they feel. The second focuses on one mother’s experiences of enabling education for her child in a system that does not recognise the needs of learners with developmental trauma.

An article on Gaza Children’s Cinema explores the role of cinema as a community-based education initiative that creates a safe space of entertainment to encourage peaceful dialogue and promote alternative narratives to conflict. We then move to focus on teacher education with an article from the Duhok Inclusive Education Partnership, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, which has adapted existing training modules on inclusive education to the local context. An interview with Newton Njoroge, from Life Skills Oasis in Kenya, focuses on working with children from an informal settlement who are at risk of, or have already dropped out of school.

An article from Sightsavers in Malawi looks at including children with disabilities in education during and after COVID-19. This leads into a focus on EENET’s work with organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) in Somalia and Uganda.

We have included an extended section on Ukraine. The first article explores the findings from the EENET/NAD survey on home learning conducted in 2020. We share findings that are relevant to the current situation in Ukraine. EENET has worked previously in Ukraine, through our Young Voices and video projects. We therefore asked Oleh Lytvynov, a Ukrainian translator and interpreter with whom we have previously worked, to investigate how some of the schools involved in our previous projects were coping with the war and its impact on education. Their stories feature in the second article about Ukraine.

Our final three articles take a more global focus. The first, from Rachel Bowden, explores multilingualism as a resource for learning and teaching. The second, from Kindling Safety, introduces the need for inclusive approaches to fire education in informal settlements. Our final article shares information about EENET’s writer mentoring project.

All of the articles go beyond COVID-19, to a new way of working in inclusive education – which has inspired the call for our 2023 edition of the review (look out for news of this soon!).

Su is a research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University, programme officer at the Enabling Education Network and lead editor for Enabling Education Review.