Overcoming physical and legal barriers for inclusion

In a H2020 education innovation project on open schooling, Parenting Together partner Parents International is responsible for advocacy. As part of their role there, a set of research-based policy briefs has been published. This article quotes a policy brief on physical and legal barriers to inclusion and gives an example of overcoming them that is especially relevant for parents of children with intellectual disabilities.

The purpose of open schooling is to bridge the gap between formal, informal, non-formal and non-institutional education. The development of technology and the infrastructure of our modern society is going so fast that nowadays school systems are educating pupils for jobs that do not necessarily exist yet. Therefore the teaching cannot be based on knowledge alone, since this knowledge may be obsolete by the time the student enters the workplace . The transition towards a more contemporary and competence based educational system has been going on in many countries for some years now. In order to fulfil this objective it has been crucial to redefine the framework for the education of children. Education needs to be engaged in real life and not isolated from it. This new educational landscape demands collaborations between members of local communities that normally would not. A paradox in the open schooling approach lies in meaning of the Greek word for ‘School’, which means “free from production”. This general shift in paradigm from school as an isolated island, towards engaging school in multiple ways with the local society in the process of educating pupils.

Accessibility is a major factor in equitable education provisions. It is ensured by anticipating and mediating social/environmental barriers to enhance access for all learners. Most education systems require schools to be barrier free for various special needs. This spirit and approach need to be maintained when designing and implementing open schooling initiatives.

One of the considerations, often related to age, is the accessibility of external education sites for all students. When designing open education programmes that require external participation, schools need to find a healthy balance between protecting access rights with safety. For policy, there is an important message to be conveyed: the spirit and letter of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides children of all ages the freedom of movement and ban any arbitrary restriction of liberty. Thus national regulations preventing children from leaving a place, such as a school without adult supervision or written consent of their parents and guardians can be challenged on the basis of the UNCRC. At the same time, schools and other open schooling partners are responsible for educational measures that ensure the safety of children as well as providing information about their whereabouts to their parents and guardians.

Safety and counter-terrorism concerns have also led to the introduction of measures that may prevent open schooling providers from entering school premises. As open schooling is an approach based on community needs and community provisions, it is necessary that school leaders enjoy a sufficient level of autonomy in making decisions regarding child and school safety in this respect. Legal restrictions that oblige school stakeholders to obtain external permissions for participating at school activities easily lead to major bias in access to best education provisions.

Accessibility is also a consideration when engaging stakeholders, especially parents and the students themselves into open schooling activities. In this sense, potential linguistic and cultural barriers need to be assessed and tackled.

An inspiriting example: AKIM Israel

AKIM Israel is the national organization for people with intellectual disabilities and their families, operating as a person-oriented organization that upholds human rights and freedoms. Since its founding in 1951 the association acted to realize the rights, promote better quality of living and improve the welfare of people who have IDD and their relatives, using legal and advocacy work. The organization nowadays represents some 34,500 people with IDD, and approximately 140,000 family members and legal guardians. AKIM works towards inclusion of people with IDD in the community, empowerment of people for self-advocacy and integration into society. Based on its vision, the association promotes integration of positive attitudes towards the people through AKIM’s headquarters, 64 branches and activity centres deployed in 87 towns and communities in Israel, in both Jewish and Arab sectors, managed by parents and volunteers.

Part of their overall aim is to promote and support the collaboration between schools, museums and historic sites for accessible and inclusive education at these non-formal education sites. AKIM has initiated and leads a national programme to make museums and historic sites cognitively (as well as physically) accessible. They wish to make education more inclusive by offering new services to the intellectually disabled, support the social inclusion of these people by this and to help bring the level of education to the level of intellectually disabled people. The programme, first implemented in 4 sites was a pilot for legislation that is now in place. It has two main paths: one is training – of staff at the museums and sites, in initial teacher education, social workers to educate hundreds of trained education coordinators; the other is developing aids that the museums and sites can use in their daily education practice. As a pilot it resulted in new policy and legislation. Museums and historic sites all over the country are now using this methodology to become accessible and inclusive, and thus making collaboration with local schools. It is a wide collaboration in which a specialized NGO brings knowledge and innovation to museums and historic sites that work together with inclusive schools in their respective local communities, teacher training to ensure the availability of experts on the long run, and it is embedded in a government commitment towards inclusion and rights. In many countries, schools are obliged to be inclusive but often lack tools to include all children. This initiative is inspiring as it shows how a non-formal provider can help adjust the level of education to the needs of children. It is a programme that caused a snowball effect by causing mindset change that means little to no funding is necessary for sustaining and widening the network.

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Source: Phereclos Policy Briefs 1 and 6 https://www.phereclos.eu/