At the heart of EENET’s vision, mission and values is the recognition that education is broader than schooling. EENET takes its definition of inclusive education from the pioneering Agra Seminar in 1998.1 That definition begins with the statement that inclusive education “is broader than formal schooling: it includes the home, the community, non-formal and informal systems”. Too often, however, we assume that education equals school. Our idea of a school is usually based on the traditional model of a building, classrooms, teachers, rows of desks, and top-down teaching. Education is so much more than this! Education begins at birth and continues throughout our lives. It encompasses a wide range of forms and styles, it involves and includes everyone, and it can be exciting, enriching, innovative and fun – as this collection of articles from experiences in India, Afghanistan, and several African countries demonstrate.
Way back in 1971, Ivan Illich published a ground-breaking book called ‘Deschooling Society’. It is a book that is well worth reading today, as so many of the issues discussed remain relevant. He states that “universal education through schooling is not feasible”.2 Kanwal Singh (page 5 of this Review) discusses the current international focus on Education for All, and how, even when out-of-school children get into school, they struggle with academic pressure and social exclusion, and so drop out. This has given rise to a resurgence of interest in non-formal education in India. It had previously dropped out of favour because of its perceived lower status, and the ad-hoc implementation and standards. Kanwal is a passionate advocate for non-formal education, and argues for it to be seen as a partner in educational provision rather than a second best option.
Illich argues that most of our learning is “the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting”.3 Ronald Kasule uses his article (pages 6-7) to share a very inspiring story of his own journey of learning in Uganda. He acquired a physical impairment due to polio as a young child, but continued to participate in home activities and play with friends. It made no sense to him that he couldn’t participate in school like his peers. His own perseverance and thirst for learning encouraged his mother to set up a child-to-child approach; other children would spend several hours a day sharing their school experiences with him. Ronald says that his opportunity to learn social and emotional skills in ‘real time’, i.e. in the meaningful and natural setting of his home and community, helped him enrol and fit into formal education later.
Even if a school were a perfect example of inclusion, children still spend most of their time (over 80%!) in the home and community, and therefore support for learning and social inclusion in these contexts is vital. In South Sudan, Light for the World (LFTW) and its partners have been supporting the development of community-based rehabilitation (CBR) (pages 8-9). A good CBR approach which focuses on educating all community members, removing barriers to learning and supporting individuals and families in appropriate and relevant ways, can make the difference between the long-term success or failure of inclusive education. So why is it still so rare to find inclusive education programmes integrated with a CBR approach?
Education beyond schools encompasses not just different forms and locations, but also different life-stages and ages. On pages 10-11 we see how young people in Kenya, who have missed out on school for various reasons, are given opportunities for education that are relevant to their situation. The authors tell us about Child Rescue Kenya’s project and introduce us to the term ‘street-connected children’ as a more appropriate term than street children (read the article to discover what this means!). They share examples of young people accessing vocational training, business skills training, life-skills education as well as opportunities to develop social skills and confidence through peer networking.
It’s not just children who learn beyond traditional formal settings – teachers can too. Innovative ‘project-based learning’ in Afghanistan is described in the article by the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (pages 12-13). This initiative, as well as providing lots of learning and fun for children at camps focusing on participatory approaches connected with the environment, enabled teachers to be educated about learning beyond schooling, and to understand how different subjects they teach are interconnected. The article from Zanzibar (pages 16-17) also discusses using action research for supporting teacher education, as an alternative/addition to formal college-based training.
At the core of EENET’s philosophy is a passionate belief in networking, creating critical conversations between diverse groups, and enabling education stakeholders to have a voice. There are several similar recurring themes and approaches in this year’s articles: peer support, child-to-child, participatory methodology, building networks and creating opportunities for people to come together and decide for themselves what is important. FORWARD’s article (pages 16-17) describes an approach called Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation Research (PEER) which they have used in Ethiopia and Tanzania to enable child brides to carry out their own research with other child brides. This leads to the girls’ empowerment and development of skills, confidence and ultimately many opportunities to improve their own lives. Networks and clubs are formed and the girls are able to make their own priorities, whether it is developing a business, resisting oppression and discrimination, or accessing further education.
Making education more inclusive requires innovation rather than following a traditional formula. Creative thinking in Malawi (pages 18-19) resulted in a programme supporting girls’ life-skills education, and the re-enrolment of out-of-school girls and young mothers, through the universally popular game of football. Sessions “start in a classroom and end up on the football field” and develop leadership skills, confidence and physical skills as well as providing a ‘safe space’ for girls to tackle sensitive issues.Social media is used to publicise and raise awareness.
‘Inclusive education: beyond schools’ is a very broad topic, and this Review has only scratched the surface. There are of course many examples of innovative inclusive schools, yet globally the schooling system continues to fail many millions of children. As well as working to improve schools, we therefore encourage EENET’s readers to have critical conversations with each other about education that is broader than just schooling.
I want to end with a quote from Joseph Kisanji, a champion of customary (indigenous) education, which wonderfully encapsulates the richness of education in a thriving community:
“I learned the history and complex structures of the language (my mother tongue) of my community through my grandparents’ and other adults’ narrations, riddles and use of proverbs, beside the evening fire. Throughout the waking hours, whether groups of people were tilling the land…, planting, harvesting, celebrating different occasions, listening to stories or participating during fireplace sessions and moonlit plays and dances, we (the children) and the adults, whatever our status, ‘learned by doing’… it was great fun herding cattle in the bush, making snares for small animals, practising wrestling and complex dances, swimming, gathering wild fruits, cooking, milking, naming and counting our herds: hearing, visually, physically and intellectually impaired young people in the community I grew up with underwent this kind of education.”
Informal education at a street-based drop-in centre. © Child Rescue Kenya
EENET Co-founder and Consultant
1 See: www.eenet.org.uk/resources/docs/agra.php
2 Illich, I (1971) Deschooling Society, p2
3 ibid, p29