Inclusiveness is one of the pillars of education: because of our core values, no education system can be considered successful without being inclusive. This is why efforts shall be made to make education as close to our idea of inclusiveness as possible, thriving to understand cultural and social differences without flattening them in a homogeneous maelstrom.
In these efforts to ensure inclusiveness, a great emphasis shall be placed on the role of civil society organisations, non-formal education providers and other non-state actors. Such was the focus of SIRIUS-NEPC Policy Conference “Inclusive education for all: from ideas to practice”, that took place in Zagreb on May 7th.
The promise of inclusive education has been with us for a long time, but we do not seem to be quite there yet. However, we keep on making the same promise, and while we fail to keep it for good, we also don’t seem to grasp that inclusiveness is an ongoing process. For it to become a reality, education actors need to build solid bridges: through geography and cultures, but also between different stakeholders (policy-makers, schools, research centres, etc.).
This is especially important when addressing the suffering of people who were forcibly displaced, or that migrated in search for better luck.
“The biggest power we have is the power of relationships”
To be truthful, inclusive education is a concept that originates from the human rights field, rather than from education systems. At the beginning, it focused on poverty reduction and access to education, while now it encompasses much broader concepts. Gradually, it spilled over to reach education policy, of which it is now a crucial feature.
We are now at a point where the world has developed a global narrative about inclusive education, whatever the dimension of inclusiveness that we are tackling. International and European organisations have come up with structured programmes to help stakeholders keep their promise; however, for as well-thought and comprehensive as they are, their impact on the local level has wavered through time and flickered away.
It is about time we ask ourselves: have SDGs been received and incorporated in Europe? In larger and larger parts of our continent, they are close to invisible. What are policy-makers doing to sparkle information on SDGs, what more can be done? It is common opinion that without the support of the EU, SDGs are not going to make a difference after all. Not only is the EU the main development donor worldwide, but it also represents a rich and stable society. While civil society organisations have at heart the fate of SDGs, they need to be empowered with real implementation structures, other than the complicated systems of reviews for the Agenda 2030 that the EU has imposed on itself in a complete lack of long-term vision. The blatant absence of accountability for Member States remains the highest political issue, snowballing until it affects their actual impact.
And with this in mind how can we still believe we can sell the idea of a truly inclusive education? How can we turn it back into a global value with a local impact? Again, CSOs are filling the gaps left by public institutions. CSOs are bringing back to the local level the global values that were lost in the lobbies of the institutions. Strong, resilient networks are key to address the inequalities that still permeate our education systems, and innovative pedagogical methods are the tools that we need to address our burning issues. And although this does not seem to strike politicians as a priority, our agendas tell us that inclusive education definitely is one.
“We need to move from the appreciation of a child’s needs to the guarantee of children’s rights“.
The role of non-formal education in inclusiveness for learners with a migrant background and for newcomers remains capital. Recent studies and findings by the OECD suggest that NFE is a factor when it comes to bridging cultures, and engaging migrant children within their new communities. While socio-economically challenged and migrant students are those who benefit the most from NFE, they also seem to be struggling to access NFE programmes. A black spot for our education systems, and a red flag for our society as a whole. Whether it is because of family (or peer) pressure, because of financial burdens, or linguistic barriers, NFE needs to be empowered to best serve its purpose.
However, the special role of non-formal and informal education in addressing inequalities has still a long way before being recognized. Resistances are being felt especially by public institutions and state actors, who address them in a mortal dichotomy as opposed to formal education. “Funding for education needs to prioritise formal structures”, they claim. In our opinion, this is an epistemological mistake that fails to see all types of education as belonging to the same core argument: reinforcing the role of education in our societies.