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Inclusion and diversity in projects: what to consider?

This blog shares some ideas to consider when designing an inclusive education project. What to take into consideration when evaluating the success of an inclusive project?

The Croatian Erasmus+ office organised a workshop Embracing Inclusion and Diversity in your Erasmus+ projects in Zagreb, Croatia, on 15-17 November 2022, bringing together participants from nearly 20 European countries, who were all enthusiastic to learn, share and gain knowledge around inclusion and diversity in different fields of education cooperation.

During the three days, participants learned of the theoretical background(s) to inclusion and what kinds of projects and experiences others have had, as well as worked in small groups to brainstorm inclusive practices for projects.

In addition, there were study visits to all educational sectors: basic education, vocational education and training (VET) including adult education, and higher education. The selected organisations presented their impactful work for increasing inclusion and diversity through Erasmus+ funded projects.

In this blog, I present ideas to consider when designing an inclusive education project. In another blog, (LINK) I discuss the barrier analysis for identifying the main barriers to the inclusion of people with fewer opportunities.

Design of inclusive projects

Education is a human right, and as per the human rights-based approach, it should be guaranteed to all people, despite their social status, wealth, race, etc.; hence, all people should have the same equal rights to access, participation, and ability to achieve education for all. Inclusion is the way to ensure that this right is guaranteed to all.

In the workshop, Professor Judith Hollweger Haskell from the Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland presented an inclusive education model that divides the inspection into learner and system and levels. When focusing on the learner, the project should have an emphasis on empowerment through respecting their views and providing appropriate support to them as right-holders.

At the learner level, three principles are crucial for guiding the project design: 1) access, 2) participation, and 3) achievement.

Improvements in access will minimize the impact of functional limitations to the learner’s participation and education; strengthened skills and improved abilities, on the other hand, will enhance the learner’s possibilities to participate, and focus on the learner’s talents and potential will lead to improved achievement (or competence) in education and later in working life.

Improvements in access will minimize the impact of functional limitations to the learner’s participation and education.

However, when designing inclusive education projects, it is good to understand that focusing on the learner is not necessarily enough. Rather, it is better to view education as a system.

Here, we need to ensure that we have competent inclusive practitioners, inclusive strategies, and tools, enabling social and physical environment as well as the above-mentioned principles of access, participation and learning achievement. At the system level, the project aim is to remove barriers and respond to diversity, creating participatory social situations and systems at the impact level.

Five questions to an inclusive project

Professor Hollweger also introduced helpful questions as tools for inclusive project design. She suggests posing questions of who, what, why, how and where when considering the project’s structure.

Who refers to the person or persons that is/are carrying out the activity. What refers to the object which is the focal point of the activity and defines what the activity is directed towards. This can be another person, a problem, a topic, or any object (e.g., mathematics, student behavior).

Why refers to all wanted and unwanted results or impacts that are created as a result of carrying out an activity (e.g., a product, an achievement, or disappointment). How are the physical and cognitive tools used to carry out the activity (e.g., textbook, learning strategies, language).

And last, where refers to the context and characteristics of the social setting, cultural context, and physical environment in which the activity is carried out.

Is the project meeting its goals?

Likewise, there are some helpful questions that assist in verifying if the project is meeting the goals of being empowering, applicable to the context and learnable – does it lead to increasing the achievement of the learner?

Points to consider when analyzing empowerment are: Is the vision of our project meaningful? Does the person with fewer opportunities really expand his or her possibilities of action and experience in the long term by participating in the project? To which competencies and capabilities – understood as expanded possibilities of action and experience – are achieved?

For double-checking the applicable, Professor Hollweger advises asking whether the solutions we develop are transferable. Can the person with fewer opportunities apply what they experienced and learned in other situations as well? In which areas of life are the possibilities for action and/or experience expanded through the acquisition of new skills and abilities?

For confirming that appropriate steps are taken to ensure that the solutions are learnable, it is good to ask whether the tasks and activities are doable. Is the planned activity or contribution of a person with fewer opportunities located in the zone of their next development? Do the skills and abilities to be learned contribute to long-term competence building? Which competencies are being developed?

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