Melvin Ainscow, CBE, FRSA, is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Manchester and Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology. He is the author of Struggles for Equity in Education: The Selected Works of Mel Ainscow.
What are inclusion and equity? What is this about? It is about making sure that every child has the right and the opportunity to go to school and receive an appropriate education. It is about strengthening education in such a way that all children can be present in schools (in the classroom), can participate in schools (be actively involved), and make progress (learn things that will be useful). Since 1990, and with more emphasis during the last three or four years, the UNESCO, which is the main United Nations organisation concerned with education and policy, has been arguing that we need to develop and strengthen education for all children, recognising that there are still millions of children around the world who don’t go to school and don’t meet a teacher. Some of those children don’t go to school and don’t meet a teacher because there are no schools and no teachers where they live. But even when there are schools and teachers, all around the world there are vulnerable children. In parts of Africa, the most vulnerable learners are girls, particularly when they get to the age of eleven. They’ll drop out of school to help at home or get married and have children. In my country, in England, the most vulnerable children are white boys from poor communities. Kids from poor backgrounds are vulnerable pretty much everywhere around the world. Children from national ethnic minorities can be vulnerable too, but not always. In the city of Manchester, in England, for example, we have over a hundred and fifty languages spoken in our schools. Some of those children from ethnic minorities are vulnerable while some of them are the most successful. Children of Chinese background, for example, usually outperform all other ethnics. So culture, ethnicity and language do not necessarily make children vulnerable. And of course, we shouldn’t forget children with disabilities, who also are vulnerable throughout the world —very often they are excluded from schools or placed in a separate provision. So inclusion and equity are about making all of those children feel valued and welcome. The key issue here is that every learner matters and matters equally. Inclusion and equity are not projects. They’re not separate policy. They are principles that should inform all policy. So, these principles should inform the curriculum, teacher education, the allocation of educational budget, that is to say, everything about the way the education is run.
Inclusion and equity have been made more important nowadays because of the recent pandemic. The pandemic has shed light on the inequalities in all our societies and particularly on the way in which children receive different levels of education —needless to say that there are significant numbers of children who receive no education at all or are segregated within education. Inequalities are there in all our societies to varying degrees, and they are to do with levels of economic wealth. The evidence shows that the communities that have been most affected by the pandemic are economically poor families, and that’s true here in the United Kingdom as it seems to be in every other country in the world. For example, in my country, we relied on getting children to continue their learning through the internet, through the use of computers. However, many families in this country don’t have the internet and don’t have computers. I heard, for example, of a family with five children all trying to do their schoolwork by sharing one mobile phone.
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