The British Council recently hosted the Inclusive Schools Conference under the theme “Creating More Inclusive Schooling” in Cape Town, South Africa.
This three-day event, held from 18 to 20 July, brought together policy makers from 15 countries to address the challenges of building high-quality, inclusive schools that empower all students to reach their full potential.
Under the theme of inclusive education, the conference aimed to promote equitable and accessible school systems worldwide, regardless of gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic background, health, or medical condition.
The British Council firmly believes that inclusive schooling is not only a fundamental human right but also a key component of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 4.5: “By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.”
Through a blend of keynote presentations, workshops, and group discussions, participants engaged in evidence-based research and explored practical solutions from the UK and around the world. The conference prioritised learning, reflection, and networking, enabling attendees to forge long-term collaborative networks and exchange ideas.
Major step for inclusion in South Africa
The conference saw an important announcement in the keynote address by Berenice Daniels, the Director of Inclusive and Specialised Education Support at the Department of Basic Education Western Cape, in South Africa. She said that the nation has now recognised South African Sign Language as the country’s 12th official language, reflecting a significant achievement for inclusivity.
Daniels shared insights about the South African education system’s continuum of support, emphasising anti-bias training and the importance of changing attitudes.
“Building an inclusive education system is a journey,” she emphasised to delegates.
Supporting girls’ education
Joel Kamoko, the Permanent Secretary of Zambia’s Ministry of Education, shared the nation’s perspective on inclusive education. His talk underscored the importance of supporting girls’ education through measures like facilitating post-pregnancy return to school, sanitary provisions, and school feeding programs. He underlined the need for ample resources, including proper infrastructure and aid for children with special needs.
The British Council’s involvement in the innovative Empowerment and Development for Girls Education (EDGE) project is a crucial part of its partnership with Zambia. EDGE is a unique approach to support the Ministry of Education and its cooperating partners to deliver political and economic commitments on secondary education.
Faith Mkwananzi from the British Council presented an overview of the barriers facing girls’ education in countries such as Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria. She offered potential solutions, such as promoting inclusive households and communities, eradicating gender stereotypes from curricula, and endorsing equal participation.
“Inlcusive education means all children in the same classrooms, in the same schools,” stressed Yvonne Chuulu, Director, Secondary Education at Zambia’s Ministry of Education.
The conference highlighted the need for quality assurance in assessing the success of inclusive education. Susan Douglas, Senior Schools Adviser, British Council and CEO, The Eden Academy Trust, shed light on how England’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), serves as a tool for improvement and informs decision-making processes.
A recurring theme throughout the conference was the utmost importance of inclusion for all children. The participants stressed the goal of finding effective learning systems that integrate every child into mainstream schools. Inclusive education was no longer seen as a mere product but acknowledged as an ongoing process, ensuring that every child receives equal opportunities for education.
Kenneth Marangu, Deputy Director (Gender and Administration), Teachers Service Commission, Kenya, declared that “In Kenya, now more than ever, we are becoming intentional about having more inclusive schools,” while Dr Cleophus Mugenyi, Commissioner, Basic Education, Ministry of Education and Sports, Uganda, said that “Inclusion is making sure refugees are integrated into the education system. They should not have a separate curriculum.”
Siân Williams, an Inclusion Consultant from the UK, underlined the importance of “an emphasis on students at risk of marginalisation, exclusion and underachievement” in educational settings working towards offering an inclusive education.
Pooling resources, training teachers
The power of sharing ideas and resources emerged as a critical factor in supporting inclusive education. Participants emphasised the need for collaboration and the exchange of best practices to create inclusive learning environments. By pooling resources and knowledge, educators and policymakers can develop effective strategies to promote inclusion in schools and communities.
Dr Shar Elalfy, General Manager, Ministry of Education, Egypt, pointed out the challenges posed by the “high cost of specialised teacher training and lack of a sufficient number of qualified teachers for students with disabilities.”
To achieve inclusive education, participants stressed the need for comprehensive training programmes for teachers. They called for inclusive education to be an integral part of teacher education across all subjects, rather than an optional addition. By equipping teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge, we can ensure that every child receives the support they need to thrive in inclusive classrooms.
Participants also highlighted the significance of inclusive education at the higher education level. They emphasised that inclusive education should be integrated into the training of professionals from all fields, making it relevant to every profession. By embedding inclusive education principles into higher education curricula, we can create a ripple effect, ensuring that professionals champion inclusivity in their respective fields.
While global challenges in implementing inclusive education were acknowledged, participants emphasised the importance of local solutions. One-size-fits-all approaches do not address the unique needs of diverse communities. Therefore, it is crucial to develop context-specific strategies that cater to local challenges and foster inclusive environments.
The conference discussions shed light on the significant role of stakeholders in promoting inclusive education. School leaders emerged as powerful agents of change, capable of driving inclusive practices within their institutions. Participants urged ministries to champion inclusivity and provide support and motivation for teachers, leaders, and communities. Collaboration among stakeholders, including policymakers, educators, and communities, is crucial in creating inclusive environments where every child can thrive.
The conference concluded with a resounding call to action. Participants highlighted the need for continued commitment and action to prioritise resources and create inclusive environments for children to flourish. They urged education systems to learn from successful models, such as India’s emphasis on school leadership, values, respect, and drive. Participants emphasised that an enabling environment must be created where no child is left behind, and consistent interventions are implemented across countries.
The Inclusive Schools Conference 2023 provided a platform for meaningful discussions and insights into inclusive education. The findings emphasised the importance of inclusion for all children, the need for training and support, and the active involvement of stakeholders in driving change. As we move forward, it is essential to heed the call for action, prioritise resources, and ensure that inclusive education becomes a reality, transforming the lives of millions of children worldwide.
Schools Connect is a global initiative that partners with governments and educators to improve the quality of education and infuse an international perspective into the curriculum. By nurturing young minds, Schools Connect equips students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to address global challenges.