“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
– Maya Angelou
In 1948, with the adoption of the International Declaration of Human Rights, a pathway to the conversation around the Right to Education was opened. A noble initiative indeed – and one for many passionate, world-changers to get behind – that allowed for a concerted effort to unite against common goals prioritizing human rights.
So, it is on record that for more than 71 years (and presumably even longer than this), we have been talking about, thinking about and discussing ways in which to prioritize education and how to improve our education system by prioritizing and building more inclusive learning journeys.
But, understanding what inclusivity in education encompasses is difficult, because inclusivity and accessibility mean so many different things to so many different people. So, where do we begin? And, what does inclusivity and accessibility mean for the future of learning?
Building an inclusive learning journey means we look at how we can deconstruct the physical, figurative and psychological barriers to learning for all: people with disabilities (both mental and physical), for people with limited access to academic resources due to a lack of financial backing or due to cultural/legal restrictions, in addition a lack of inclusive content. Data shows us students are unhappy at school, that they struggle with mental health challenges and that many report feeling bullied, meaning it is more important than ever to include and consider that trauma from school, home or community surroundings affect a student’s day to day ability to learn.
Take a look at a few ways in which I believe – through my experience working in education in a variety of different capacities – we can increase accessibility and inclusivity in education to start making an impact on a personal level.
1. Mindset Management
One of the main barriers to how we learn and what we are able to absorb has to do with where our mind is at. Managing emotions and building capacity to handle stressors is key to our overall productivity – both inside and outside the classroom. Understanding our own triggers, feelings and experiences matters a great deal in whether we choose to welcome new experiences and learnings, or not.
Kids are pretty open. It’s adults that often impose their own barriers on learning. So, by managing our own mindset and perceptions, we are able to build safer learning spaces.
“Neither comprehension nor learning can take place in an atmosphere of anxiety.”
– Rose Kennedy
2. Time for Art
Building art and creativity into learning experiences is key – through self-expression without strict guidelines, we are able to build increasingly inclusive learning spaces. I am not suggesting that all forms of art are accessible for everybody; however, where a tremor may influence the ability to paint, music might be the answer. And, where a lack of physical ability impacts the ability to run, poetry might provide learning opportunities.
Thinking without constraints on what different types of learning experiences can mean for the learner is key to building an inclusive learning space.
3. Accessible Tech
This is a tricky one, because for most of us (especially anyone reading this article!), technology and the internet are most likely very available and very easy to access. We wake up with our phones in our hands, spend time on our computers, and ask Siri to do our research.
But, this is far from reality for millions of people around the world. As we continue to develop products that provide tech-based solutions, we have to keep in mind that this is – simultaneously – increasingly global learning gaps. Ways to try and fix this include building tech based solutions that work on and offline, that do not leverage high-speed internet, and that use devices a student may already have access to.
The invention and implementation of assistive technologies allow some students to do things they were previously unable to do. This could be a wheelchair that assists a disabled student get to class, or automatic page-turners to help learners with physical disabilities access content.
Some tools, as simple as Text-To-Speech programs (TTS) such as Reading Rockets make any written content online accessible to blind people. Standard AI programs – Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – all make online content more accessible. The content online is limitless and is constantly increasing which means learners can find content on topics they relate to, topics they are interested in and very important, topics that fall outside of traditional westernized education systems such as the history of minority groups.
When I was younger – around 4 years old – my mom would offer me a simple choice, something like: “Would you prefer to wear this Fido Dido outfit or your yellow tie-dye shirt?”. (Yes, Fido Dido was a thing then – remember him? He was the 7up guy). In any case, as a toddler, I felt empowered and included in the decision-making process.
Now, clearly, the decision regarding what I was allowed to choose to wear was somewhat already made for me, but from an Early Childhood Development (ECD) perspective, this becomes irrelevant – that moment of choice made me feel as though I had a say.
Having a say and being heard is one of the most important ways in which to build an inclusive and accessible learning environment. By offering realistic and safe choices, we can build a stronger learning community by offering choices.
We often presume that we can prescribe a curricula or decide what matters for and to someone else – but building inclusive learning environments calls for the exact opposite.
5. Teachers as Facilitators
Teachers are amazing – they dedicate their life’s journey to bringing learning to students and to changing the lives of their students. We have a global responsibility to prioritize the changing role of teachers in the classroom and to spend a significant amount of time considering how we can improve teacher training. Demands on teachers are growing each year with more responsibilities and restrictions. By building an inclusive dialogue that allows us to continuously strive to meet teachers’ needs, we can aim to build inclusive more inclusive learning spaces.
There are countless ways to frame a more inclusive future of learning and by no means do I strive to insinuate the afore-mentioned ways to cover all our options. What I do believe is that with small changes in every learning moment, we are able to change the future of education for all.
Read more about my journey here.