One of my first tasks when I joined EENET 17 years ago was to edit and design EENET’s publication ‘Family Action for Inclusion in Education’ (see the Useful Publications page for details). This document was the culmination of a research project to capture the stories of groups of parents and families fighting for inclusive education. Back in 2001, the researchers had aimed to gather stories about parents groups who were advocating on a range of diversity and discrimination issues. It was interesting that they only found examples of parents and families coming together to campaign for the education rights of children with disabilities, not children from other marginalised groups.
In the last two decades, we have seen a growth in commitment to the idea of stakeholder voice in education. There is now greater recognition that parents, caregivers, family members and learners have a right to contribute their ideas and experiences to the debates that shape education policy and practice. In some places, schools have become more open, enabling parents, caregivers and families to closely observe and participate in school life, and consequently to understand and contribute to solving challenges relating to inclusion. Opportunities for learners and their families to engage in decision-making and problem-solving groups within schools have grown. Despite this, there remains in many places a divide between parents/families and schools. It is not uncommon for teachers to blame parents when children are struggling to attend school, participate actively or learn; or for parents to have unreasonable expectations for teachers.
In many places too, the state continues to rely heavily on families to plug gaps in the education system, even when the state is supposedly committed to delivering free quality education for all. Such reliance on financial, material and human resource contributions from families seems to be happening increasingly in high-income countries like the UK, not just in low-income contexts. It puts many families under increasing pressure and fuels growing inequality within education systems, because families in poorer, more marginalised communities are less able to fill the holes left by inadequate state support.
Given the apparent growth in opportunities for parents and families to shape education decisions, alongside persistent divides between parents and teachers, and the ongoing dependence of schools on parental resources, we decided this edition of Enabling Education Review should look again at the issue of family involvement in inclusive education. We aimed to share a snapshot of the efforts being made around the world by parents, caregivers and families to improve the quality and inclusivity of education for their own children and for others in their community, through direct action and through advocacy. We received an exciting selection of articles covering a wide range of topics, though not as many written by parents and family members as we had hoped for.
Various articles, such as those from Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago, look at different ways in which parents groups can be formed and how they play a role in inclusive education. Peer support for parents of deaf children is described in the articles from Malaysia and India, while the Bulgaria and UK (science education) articles focus on ways for parents to support their children’s learning. Supporting parents to develop collaborative relationships in the school community is discussed in the article from Morocco.
A second article from India highlights the dilemmas that parents face when they believe in the principle of, and are actively fighting for, inclusive education but know their child is still having a bad experience in the local mainstream school. The issue of whether parents or professionals are making the decisions about a child’s education and best interests is touched on in the article from Malaysia.
Often when programmes focus on ‘parental involvement’ in education, it is mothers rather than fathers who engage. The article from Palestine therefore looks at an initiative to engage fathers more in the upbringing and education of their children.
Two articles – from Kenya and Malawi – show examples of programmes that include income generation support for parents, as a way of helping to ensure their children’s inclusion in education.
Link’s article explains their innovative participatory board game for facilitating community engagement in school improvement decision making. Similarly, an approach called Community-Based System Dynamics – which helps communities work together to achieve positive education changes – is described in the article from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The role that people and resources in the community play in supporting early learning and literacy, especially for marginalised children, is highlighted in the article about libraries in the USA and Ghana. Another article from the UK shows how using activities in the community such as rock climbing can boost young people’s confidence and motivation to learn.
Despite international obligations and promises, government commitment to and funding for inclusive education globally remain fragile. Parents, caregivers and the wider community continue to have a vital role to play in advocating for change in education systems and budgets. They have a right to contribute their expertise to debates and decisions about education and school improvement. Arguably too, if children are to receive quality inclusive education, then their parents and families need to actively support learning, from birth, and they need help with doing this.
Parents, caregivers, family and community members have multiple very important roles to play in the development of more inclusive education systems. Whether we work in schools, governments or NGOs, we need to ensure we are placing these stakeholders at the heart of our efforts to improve education.
Ingrid is EENET’s Managing Director. email@example.com