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The five common myths about #InclusiveEducation

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Education can provide opportunities for individuals to learn and realise their potential, giving them the tools to fully participate in all aspects of life – economic, social, political and cultural. But such opportunities are not guaranteed for everyone, and unfortunately, this disparity in education is prevalent even from the early years of life, write Susie Lee and Axelle Devaux.Rising levels of social inequality and diversity in Europe have made social inclusion a priority for the European Union. However, it remains a challenge to ensure access to quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) for all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

RAND Europe’s new policy memo for the European Platform for Investing in Children, provides a context for understanding what inclusion means in education and why it matters from early on.

UNESCO defines inclusive education as a process that helps overcome barriers limiting the presence, participation and achievement of learners. There are a number of misconceptions, or myths, about inclusive education, which continue to hamper the discussion and implementation of inclusive practices in education. However, arguments for inclusive education are well established and deeply rooted in the notions of equity and human rights.

Myth 1: Inclusion (only) concerns learners with disabilities

Discrimination in education based on a child’s disability has been a key issue addressed by inclusive education. However, over time, the issue has been expanded to include discrimination based on multiple factors, such as racial/ethnic identity, gender, sexual orientation, social class or religious/cultural/linguistic association. Inclusive education does not set boundaries around particular kinds of ‘needs’ – rather, it is viewed as a process to reduce barriers to learning and to ensure the right to education for all, regardless of individual differences.

Myth 2: Quality inclusive education is expensive

In fact, there is evidence that the instructional cost of inclusive education is lower compared to that of segregated education. And adapting schools and systems for inclusive education does not have to use a lot of resources. Rather, an inclusive environment can be cultivated by redesigning training and practices, such as by including cultural competence in staff training or creating an ECEC setting that reflects the diverse needs of children.

Furthermore, according to evidence from low- and middle-income countries, including children with disabilities in schools leads to significant national economic gains, provided that inclusion is continued beyond school to post-school activities, such as higher education, vocational training and work.

Myth 3: Inclusion jeopardizes quality of education for other students

Research suggests there are benefits of inclusive education for all students, in terms of academic, behavioural and social, and post-secondary and employment opportunities. A recent meta-analysis, based on studies from North American and European countries, shows that students without special educational needs achieve higher academic attainments when they are in inclusive classrooms.

More similar research on inclusive ECEC could be needed to directly assess its effectiveness, not only in later academic achievements, but also for well-being and social relations with peers and teachers. Nonetheless,  research  has shown that inclusive ECEC services could be of higher global quality than non-inclusive services. This evidence, together with evaluation on case studies, suggests a close association between inclusion and aspects of quality that promote positive outcomes for all children.

Myth 4: Inclusive education will make special educators redundant.

Successful inclusive education relies on specialist teachers working with class teachers in an integrated way. We actually need more special educators than ever to implement inclusive education. In the United States, for example, overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow by 3% from 2018 to 2028. 

Myth 5: Only schools are responsible for inclusion

Inclusive education is not without its challenges, as it involves changes in attitude and efforts from society. However, the challenge is less about defending the need to accommodate learner differences, and more about sharing a vision for inclusive education. For example, case studies on schools show that the commitment, agency, and a belief in collective efficacy (‘we can do it’) by school members, and society, are pivotal in successful implementation of inclusion in schools.

Inclusion in education is an ongoing process to remove the barriers that prevent some learners from participating in quality education. Giving more attention and support to current efforts to make learning more inclusive from early ages could help to dismantle those barriers. Quality early childhood care and education may be the critical step towards building a more cohesive and inclusive European society.

Susie Lee is a former analyst and Axelle Devaux a research leader in the Home Affairs and Social Policies research group at RAND Europe, which is conducting research for the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC).

This analysis represents the views of the author. It is part of a wide range of varying opinions published by but not endorsed by EU Reporter.

Education

Education and skills: Commission launches public consultation to support lifelong learning and employability

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has launched a public consultation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. During the next 12 weeks, the consultation will collect ideas for a common definition of micro-credentials – recognition of short, targeted learning courses – and for the development of EU standards ensuring their quality and transparency. Within Europe, a growing number of people need to update their knowledge, skills and competences to fill in the gap between their formal education and the needs of a fast-changing society and labour market. Public and private stakeholders are rapidly developing short-term learning courses. ‘Micro-credentials' are a crucial step to certify the outcomes of these experiences, thus supporting people to improve or gain new skills throughout their careers and reaching out to a more diverse group of learners. Micro-credentials have the potential to make education more inclusive, and will promote flexible, short term learning opportunities.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “In these unprecedented times, our learning opportunities need to adapt. They should be flexible, modular and accessible to anyone wanting to develop their competences. Our European approach to micro-credentials will facilitate the recognition and validation of these important short learning experiences. It will contribute to making lifelong learning a reality across the EU.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “As member states strive to meet the target of 60% of adults in annual training set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, we need to make learning as user-centric as possible. Whether you take a short course in coding through a VET provider or learn a foreign language with a language school, your newly-acquired skills should be recognised throughout the European labour market. The public consultation that we launch today is an important step to put this flagship action from our European Skills Agenda into practice.”

The public consultation is available online.

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Education

An ambitious and more inclusive Erasmus+ takes off with €28 billion to support mobility and learning

Catherine Feore

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The Commission today (25 March) adopted the first annual work programme of Erasmus+ 2021-2027. With a budget of €26.2 billion, the programme has nearly doubled in scale and is hoping to be more inclusive and have a stronger emphasis on both the green and digital transition. 

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commisioner Mariya Gabriel said: “The fact that the Erasmus+ budget for the next seven years has almost doubled shows the importance given to education, lifelong learning and youth in Europe.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated inequality, especially for young people. The principle of solidarity must be the driving force between our actions here, and we are working with organizations that represent and work with people who have fewer opportunities to help them gain access to this programme. I'm talking about people from less favoured socio-economic backgrounds, people living in rural areas, isolated people, or people with disabilities. For example, we cover the costs of people who are accompanying participants with disabilities.”

The new Erasmus+ programme provides opportunities for study periods abroad, traineeships, apprenticeships, and staff exchanges in all fields of education, training, youth and sport. It is open to school pupils, higher education and vocational education and training students, adult learners, youth exchanges, youth workers and sports coaches.

In addition to mobility, which counts for 70% of the budget, the new Erasmus+ also invests in cross‑border co-operation projects. These can be between higher education institutions (e.g. the European Universities initiative); schools; teacher education and training colleges (e.g. Erasmus+ Teacher Academies); adult learning centres; youth and sport organisations; providers of vocational education and training (e.g. Vocational Centres of Excellence).

The main features of the Erasmus+ 2021-2027 programme are:

Inclusive Erasmus+: providing enhanced opportunities to people with fewer opportunities, including people with diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds, and people living in rural and remote areas. Novelties include individual and class exchanges for school pupils and mobility for adult learners. It will be easier for smaller organisations, such as schools, youth associations and sports clubs to apply, thanks to small-scale partnerships and the use of simplified grant applications. The programme will also be more international, allowing cooperation with third countries, building on the successes of the previous programme with exchanges and cooperation projects around the world. 

Digital Erasmus+: The pandemic highlighted the need to accelerate the digital transition of education and training systems. Erasmus+ will support the development of digital skills, in line with the Digital Education Action Plan. It will provide high-quality digital training and exchanges via platforms such as eTwinning, School Education Gateway and the European Youth Portal, and it will encourage traineeships in the digital sector. New formats, such as blended intensive programmes, will allow short-term physical mobility abroad to be complemented with online learning and teamwork. The implementation of the programme will be further digitalised and simplified with the full roll-out of the European Student Card.

Green Erasmus+: In line with the European Green Deal, the programme will offer financial incentives to participants using sustainable modes of transport. It will also invest in projects promoting awareness of environmental issues and facilitate exchanges related to mitigating the climate crisis.

Erasmus+ for young people: DiscoverEU now becomes an integral part of Erasmus+ and gives 18 year-olds the possibility to get a rail pass to travel across Europe, learn from other cultures and meet fellow Europeans. Erasmus+ will also support exchange and cooperation opportunities through new youth participation activities, to help young people engage and learn to participate in democratic life, raising awareness about shared European values and fundamental rights; and bringing young people and decision-makers together at local, national and European level.

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Education

Education: Commission publishes overview report on teachers in Europe

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has published the report ‘Teachers in Europe'. It sheds light on several key aspects of teachers' professional life, from careers and professional development to their wellbeing, in particular of lower secondary education teachers. Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabrielaid: “Teachers are the front-line workers in education. Having motivated teachers is an essential pre-requisite for a successful education system, in which pupils from all backgrounds can flourish and reach their full potential. The transition from face-to-face to distance learning has further underlined the vital role of teachers. I am confident that this report will be a great help to education policy‑makers and other stakeholders at national and European level.”

Although, on average in the EU, one teacher out of five works on a temporary contract, this ratio becomes one in three for teachers under 35 years of age. The report examines teachers' initial education, and policies that may influence the take up of continuing professional development. It also explores teachers' wellbeing at work, considering that, at EU level, almost 50% of teachers report experiencing stress at work. The report also suggests that teachers who have been abroad during their initial teacher education tend to be more mobile during their professional life. The EU programmes are the main funding schemes for teacher transnational mobility, compared to national or regional programmes.

The report covers all 27 EU member states, as well as the United Kingdom, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, North Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, and Turkey. This report was drafted by the Eurydice Network, which provides reliable information and comprehensive analyses of European education systems and policies. The network consists of national units located in European countries and is coordinated by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. More information is available online and the full report is here.

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