Ed-Innovate I Innovate to Include
Educational Innovations Series #2
(This article is a part of the Educational Innovation series, by Pukhraj Ranjan, which explores global innovations that are helping solve critical issues in K12 education with the hope to spread it to the Indian education landscape and beyond.)
“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” — Muslim Origin
As an Indian growing up, I have heard the phrase “unity in diversity” a million times. However, I am often surprised by the absence of it in practice, both in my country and worldwide. For me, the inclusivity of our society shows in how we treat our helpers, our drivers, our employees. It shows in the kind of empathy we hold people up to as well as what reactions or judgments we presume by someone’s looks or CV alone. Additionally, how do we react and what do we say when our sons want to become fashion designers instead of engineers and when our daughters want to become radio jockeys rather than gynaecologists?
Inclusion in education is highly influenced by what is considered the safe-track. Any child who is doing well in school and getting good grades — while maintaining a positive behaviour — is considered aspirational by teachers and parents alike. A child not fitting that box can automatically feel the exclusion and the talk of unity in diversity is immediately forgotten. If we, as educators, promise to value diversity and practice inclusion, it must be demonstrated in the words we use with our kids, inside and outside the classroom. Further, it must show in how we treat our children with special educational needs and disabilities, with un-gendered sexualities, with varied socio-economic backgrounds as well as from diverse geographical homes.
As per UNICEF (2010), Inclusion requires responding to the diversity of needs among all learners, through increasing participation in learning, cultures, and communities, and reducing exclusion from and within education. It involves changes in content, approaches, structures, and strategies, driven by a common vision that covers all children and the conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all of them.
Our research team at HundrED recently published an extensive report called Every Child to Flourish, where we identified and attempted to understand global perspectives on improving education. While exploring the scope of inclusion and diversity, I noticed myself majorly thinking about students with SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities). But conversations around inclusion should include a broader spectrum of support for students at even the most minimal to extreme risk. At HundrED, we have split innovations meaning to include as innovations supporting causes around:
- Rural, Distance, and Homeschooling
- Race, Ethnicity, and Identity
- Socioeconomic Equity
Additionally, as educators it is crucial to address and assess barriers to equitable education, which can range from Social Factors (poverty, gender, migration/mobility, health/nutritional status, conflict), Sectoral Factors (lack of materials, legal and policy barriers, numbers and attrition rate of teachers, school safety) to Infrastructural Factors (lack of transport, long distance from/to school, speed of rural development, seasonal factors like flooding/rains) (UNICEF, 2010, p. 7)
Having laid out the breadth of what inclusion includes, as well as the difficulties in practicing it, there is value in celebrating diversity and supporting inclusion. To start off, children who know to be open and accepting will grow up to make the world a kinder, more loving place. In classrooms, inclusion and specified supporting strategies will help hold all children to high expectations (as they now will have their own goals and plans) while making learning and teaching fun and engaging. In school, an atmosphere of acceptance helps students to flourish and set goals they are excited about while supporting and encouraging their friends. An inclusive practice at home builds children’s confidence and self-esteem. In short, the list of benefits is long.
However, our teachers, schools and parents still struggle with practicing inclusion. As promised, I am here to share a few of my favourite innovations and resources which hopefully can help in starting everyone in this mission of loving, accepting and encouraging our children.
It is not that innovative solutions and practices don’t exist. It is simply that we may not be aware of those who are changing the narrative.
1. Interactive Diversity (USA): (Don’t) Guess My Race makes learning about race and identity fun, educational and meaningful to everyday life while.
2. Equal Opportunities (Russia): This project involves participation for everyone. Be it teacher or student, no matter what their qualification is.
3. Speed School(Ethiopia): The Speed School program employs an intensive, child-centered approach to reach the most marginalized populations.
4. BRAC Boat Schools (Bangladesh): BRAC Boat Schools are the product of a simple yet powerful idea: if underserved children living in isolated areas.
5. Lexplore (Sweden): Through eye-tracking and artificial intelligence, Lexplore makes it possible to identify children with dyslexia in time.
6. Initiative for Peace (Singapore): An initiative to train young people to become peace-builders, with the aim of facilitating peace conferences for youth.
7. Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Afghanistan): Afghanistan’s first institute of music train children in traditional Afghan and classical Western music, while providing a high-quality academic education, regardless of gender, social circumstances and ethnic background.
8. NaTakallam (Lebanon): NaTakallam connects displaced people — primarily Syrian refugees — with students around the world, to provide affordable, flexible and tailored language practice, intercultural exchange, and experiential learning opportunities over Skype.
9. Worldreader (USA): Worldreader champions digital reading in under-served communities to create a world where everyone can be a reader. They feature over 40,000 digital books, stories, and teaching materials in 43 languages to use, for free and through a mobile app.
10. Microcampus(China): A fully immersive travel programme to connect young people growing up as expatriates in Shanghai with the local, rural community.
It is important to clarify that innovations that support inclusion are ones to celebrate as they propel the education system towards a society that accepts and supports differences and variety of students, teachers, and communities while grounding the work in the needs and aspirations of the students.
Please note: These are some of my favourite innovations that also have the official endorsement of HundrED as they have been interviewed, researched and recognised in their Global 2018 collection. However, these are only some examples from around the world that are working in the Diversity and Inclusion space.
Pukhraj Ranjan is an Indian educator based out of Helsinki, Finland. She is a Teach for India 2010 cohort and staff alumni. An Educational Leadership graduate from the University of Jyväskylä, she is currently working with a not-for-profit educational organization, HundrED.org as their Global Community Manager. She believes in education as a means of understanding self and reaching one’s true potential, in edu-connections and collective power. She is also a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.