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By Anna Cristina D’Addio and Daniel April, GEM Report team
Many factors go into the design of a truly inclusive education system. Some determine the way in which education systems are put in place, such as laws and policies, or governance and funding mechanisms. Others operate within the walls of the school. Teachers play a central role in welcoming and teaching all students, regardless of their background, ability and identity. They need specific skills to adapt teaching to learners’ diverse needs – a skill that is acutely needed during school shutdowns – but they need support and training to know how.
This World Teachers’ Day, a new policy paper by the GEM Report and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (TTF), “Inclusive teaching: Preparing all teachers to teach all students” looks at teacher training programmes, touching upon issues of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and the support mechanisms in place to help teachers foster inclusion. The examples are mainly extracted from the GEM Report’s new Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews (PEER) website, which contains comparable country profiles of laws and policies on key issues to facilitate peer dialogue within and between countries and regions.
Only about 4 in 10 countries cover teacher training for inclusion in their laws and policies, with the highest coverage found in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Analysis of PEER also shows that among the 10% of countries with general or inclusive education laws that define inclusion as a process that refers to all learners, just one-third mention teacher training, while none mentions its content. The analysis also shows that three-quarters of 134 education plans reviewed promote or envisage inclusion. Of these, about half explicitly indicate an aim to provide teacher training on inclusion, either general or targeted at a specific group. Still, whether in policies or plans, many intentions only materialize slowly.
Teacher training for inclusion should not be a specialist subject
The paper shows that the ideal of teacher training of inclusion is rarely realized. Teachers are often taught inclusion on the side, rather than as a central principle of all the training they receive. Many countries tend to focus on specific groups. For instance, a review of teacher education in Argentina, Ethiopia, Ghana, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Zanzibar (United Republic of Tanzania) found that training for inclusion was focused primarily on students with disabilities despite efforts underway to build inclusive school communities and cultures.
Some countries cover certain groups in all training. Austria, Singapore, South Africa and the New Brunswick province in Canada, for instance, embed training on disability-inclusive education in a wider system of teacher education. The latter for example, which has pioneered the promotion of inclusive in education for more than three decades now, introduced training opportunities for teachers to support students with autism spectrum disorders in a comprehensive inclusive education policy.
Other countries cover gender and gender identities in all teacher training. In Chile, the Ministry of Education has established training on gender, discrimination, inclusive schools, sexuality and sexual diversity in the classroom for teachers nationwide and has developed practical teacher guidance and training recommendations for inclusion of LGBTI communities. In Colombia, Mauritius, Nepal, and Uganda, gender perspective and gender identities is a cross cutting component in policy guidelines for teacher education.
Language and multilingual education also factors into teacher training in several countries including in Botswana’s inclusive education policy and Peru’s National Bilingual Intercultural Education Plan.
But it is extremely rare for countries to mainstream teacher training on inclusion and to cover all learners at risk of exclusion, not just one or other particular group. Doing so would mark a shift away from categorizations, which often result in stigma, marginalization, and exclusion. It is markedly lacking given the importance placed on leaving no one behind since 2015.
Collaboration and professional peer exchanges between teachers foster inclusion
There are multiple examples of countries that have seen the benefit in supporting different forms of teacher collaboration for inclusion. New Brunswick, Canada and Namibia promote learning communities, while team teaching is used in Ireland. Such approaches can help teachers perform better and manage change more effectively, a critical skill for today’s tempestuous times. They also enable the development of new leaders.
Cooperation among teachers within schools and between schools is also important to support them in addressing the challenges of diversity. Many countries encourage cooperation between mainstream and special schools, which can help when transitioning from segregation to inclusion, as in Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Viet Nam. Resource centres, which distribute centralised resources including specialised teachers to different schools are used in China, Maldives and Nigeria
Teaching assistants, head teachers and district or thematic education coordinators play a crucial role supporting teachers and their professional development. For example, in Kiribati, thirteen education coordinators support teachers and head teachers, who have received advanced training on the principles of inclusive education. In Namibia, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, social workers and audiologists are deployed to advise teachers in rural and remote schools.
To ensure that inclusion is at the heart of teacher training:
- Education laws and policies need to communicate a clear vision of teacher training for inclusion.
- Pre-service and in-service training systems should be reviewed and revised to ensure inclusive education principles are fully mainstreamed. Inclusion for all should be a core element of general pre-service training imparting inclusive values and not an optional specialist course helping some teachers prepare to teach some target groups.
- Teacher training systems need to deliver a more effective balance of theory-based learning and hands-on practice. Peer training and professional exchanges, for instance through learning communities, resource centres, connections between mainstream and special school, mentoring and team teaching need to be prioritized.
- Teaching assistants, head teachers and district or thematic education coordinators need to be equally well prepared to help teachers fulfil their mission towards inclusive teaching.
- Governments need to engage teachers, parents and community organizations to improve teacher standards, competencies and education programmes.
- A culture of monitoring and evaluation needs to be embedded in teacher education programmes.