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An inclusive approach to the networking of knowledge about education in Southern contexts: the role of EENET

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Dilemmas in special education and inclusion

Seminar Series – Michaelmas 2010

The familiar terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘special education’ have always been subjected to critique yet both terms appear to retain utility in relation to practice. While policy has encouraged practitioners to move towards educational models in which diversity is championed, there seems to continue to be a need to acknowledge and respond to the particular needs of defined groups of pupils and specific individuals.

The debates and practical uncertainties arising out of this scenario have been characterised as revolving around ‘the dilemma of difference’. Essentially this formulation acknowledges that while systems of schooling might strive to provide equality of opportunity and unrestricted participation for all, some pupils appear to require approaches to teaching and learning that acknowledge their individual differences and their additional needs.

Many issues and questions arise from this dilemma. Some research has raised questions about whether specialist pedagogies actually exist; other commentators argue that adaptation and differentiation are strategies that can be used to promote meaningful participation and inclusion. Some people argue that systems of identification and specialist support divide and isolate pupils from their peers and lead to marginalisation; other researchers suggest that acknowledging and helping people to recognise and acknowledge difference can have constructive and protective outcomes for individuals.

As colleagues in the Faculty of Education’s ‘Education, Equality and Development’ Academic Group, we are interested in these debates and would like to invite you to contribute to a seminar series in order to take these discussions further. We intend that these seminars will explore responses that emphasise ways of meeting educational priorities that are founded in research evidence and the productive application of theory to the development of practice.

I will begin by introducing the Enabling Education Network (EENET), a unique international resource on inclusive and enabling education which prioritises the information needs of practitioners in Southern countries. One of EENET ’s core beliefs is that some of the most interesting and pioneering practice in making education accessible for all is happening in countries of the South – contrary to the commonly held view in many Northern countries that a minimum level of resources is required for inclusion to be successful. I will use photographs of learners in a variety of educational settings in Southern contexts to invite reflections on the meaning of inclusive education, and to highlight the culturally determined nature of this concept, which is currently being promoted on a large scale by international agencies. I provide examples of inspiring practice from Lesotho, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda. Finally I reflect on some key principles of inclusive networking and ways of doing contextually relevant research, while considering some of the dangers of the inappropriate exportation of Northern concepts.

This talk is part of the Perspectives on Inclusive and Special Education series.

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