04 SES 11 A, Inclusion In A Digital/Online Educational Environment
Home is where the heart is, and the classroom is where many teachers had left theirs as soon as lockdown measures all over the world took school communities by storm (Russell et al., 2020). Overnight, teachers in 191 countries (UN, 2020) found themselves without their desks, their books, their tools, their favourite coffee mugs, their lockers. They were asked to work from their real home; a space they had always called their own and yet it seemed completely odd. They had to reorganise their lives, their daily routines. They had to continue doing what they were used to doing but in a completely different manner. Their laptop or computer became their gateway to keep in touch with their colleagues and their students. From being a choice, an additional tool to one’s strategies during in-person teaching, the computer became a must. All communication was channelled through the only means that could transfer a whole school into a cloud, a virtual environment, where everything came back to life. Whichever country or education system, schools worldwide turned to remote teaching and learning (UN, 2020). Yet, besides the grappling economic and psychosocial pressures on families, this unprecedented scenario not only brought to the fore all the inequalities advocated against before Covid-19 (World Bank, 2015), but also gave rise to new forms of risk of poverty and marginalisation (UNESCO, UNICEF & the World Bank, 2020).
The situation in Italy was no different. As in other countries, the challenges of disengagement, dropout, and school exclusion heightened. Students with special needs, migrant and displaced students, learners from low-income families and those living in remote areas were at a much greater disadvantage (Censis, 2020). Unfortunately, this came as no surprise, considering publications, even prior to COVID-19, reporting a nation-wide digital divide as well as low levels of teachers and students’ digital competencies (European Commission [EC], 2020; OECD, 2018; Censis, 2020). As a response, immediate priority was, indeed, given to ensuring that all students had internet access and devices, providing a learning management system that could replace the classroom in the most effective manner, and upskilling educators and students with digital know-how.
This research presents the narrative of ten teachers who, against all odds, ‘made their way’ to their virtual class every morning during the three-month lockdown in Italy. The main objective was to identify positive experiences of inclusion in school contexts. An asset-based appreciative approach gave teachers the opportunity to reflect on their own experience in the previous months through a positive lens and focussed their attention on their personal and professional growth. In fact, the teachers were asked to reflect on the most significant challenges they have had to face, a particularly significant story involving a vulnerable family or student, and the personal intrinsic and extrinsic strengths that emerged from this experience.
This presentation concentrates on the data collected in the region of Campania and southern Lazio as part of a wider international project involving 8 countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Bangladesh, India, Austria, Spain and Italy) represented in the Consortium of Inclusive Teacher Education and Development (CITED). An asset-based, appreciative approach (Antonovsky, 1996; Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008; Ghaye, 2011) was used to set the questions. The underpinning principle was to encourage a positive outlook soon after a time of crisis to identify what had been successful and, successively, concentrate on the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contributed to these results (Pace, Sharma & Aiello, 2020). Ten semi-structured interviews were carried out in the first three weeks of June 2020, right after the lockdown measures were lifted in Italy. Convenience sampling was used to recruit the participants. The main criterion was to have generalist, subject and Learning Support teachers from all levels of schooling. Out of fifteen teachers who were contacted, ten accepted to be interviewed. Based on their preferences, they were contacted via online communication platforms and the interviews were video recorded. Two of the participants, however, preferred to be reached by phone and so, the interviews were only audio recorded. The duration of the interviews ranged from eleven to thirty minutes. In line with the objectives outlined earlier, the participants were asked to describe the main challenges they faced, reflect on a specific case involving a vulnerable student and identify which intrinsic and extrinsic strengths they feel emerged despite the difficulties encountered. Once transcribed, MAXQDA2020 was used to organise and code the data which was then analysed using a Thematic Analysis approach, following Braun & Clarke’s (2006) protocol. All the analysis was carried out on the Italian transcripts and only the excerpts used for reporting were translated.
Despite the worrisome statistical data on the risks of exclusion within the Italian context (Censis, 2020), the scenarios described in the interviews and the difficulties faced during lockdown, the teachers identified positive aspects, and expressed positive feelings, and emotions. These stories, as the ones collected in the wider international study, have provided evidence that the values of collaboration, solidarity and equity, underpinning the inclusive paradigm were at the heart of the solution. There seemed to be common agreement among teachers that keys to this success were, indeed, collegiality among teachers and administrative staff, highly collaborative parents, community support, and student engagement. Other factors were teacher dedication, willingness to take leading roles and, when necessary, break through the bureaucracy of the education system. Naturally, as stated in international policy agendas (UNESCO & MGIEP, 2019), digital literacy and the eradication of the digital divide between and within countries are key “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (World Bank, 2015). This cannot be overstated when considering we are now in the 21st century and a virus, invisible to the naked eye, forced us all to stop, think, and realise that we cannot definitely imagine returning to previous modes of instruction. The future of teaching and learning is in hybrid environments. Nevertheless, the inclusive paradigm has not only withstood the winds of change, it stands taller than ever before. The positive results emerging from this research with regards to students with additional educational needs, notwithstanding the distance offer interesting stimuli for reflection within teacher education course programming and schools to ensure higher levels of school inclusion.
Antonovsky, A., The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion. «Health Promotion International», vol. 11, n. 1, (1996), pp. 11-18. Braun V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa Censis (2020). Italia sotto sforzo. Diario della transizione 2020. https://www.censis.it/formazione/1-la-scuola-e-i-suoi-esclusi/la-scuola-e-i-suoi-esclusi Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., and Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook for Leaders of Change, 2nd ed. Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom. European Commission (2020). Indice di digitalizzazione dell’economia e della società 2020 – Italia (DESI). https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/scoreboard/italy OECD (2018). TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II). Teachers and school leaders as valued professionals. doi: https://doi.org/10.1787/19cf08df-en. Pace, E. M., Sharma, U. & Aiello, P. (2020). “Includere nonostante la/a distanza: si può?” Nuova Secondaria, 2, ottobre 2020, Anno XXXVIII, pp. 443-461. Russell, M. V., Russell, S. J., Croker, H., Packer, J., Ward, J., Stansfield, C., Mytton, O., Bonell, C., & Booy, R. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. Lancet Child Adolescent Health, 4, 397-404. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X UN (2020). Startling disparities in digital learning emerge as COVID-19 spreads: UN education agency. UN News. Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062232. UNESCO & MGIEP (2019). Rethinking pedagogy. Exploring the potential of digital technology in achieving quality education. New Delhi: MGIEP. https://cloud.parisdescartes.fr/index.php/s/wpt7gerq6FxdSmc#pdfviewer UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank (2020). What have we learnt? Overview of findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19. Paris, New York, Washington D.C.: UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank. Available from: http://tcg.uis.unesco.org/survey-education-covid-school-closures/ World Bank (2015). Incheon declaration: Education 2030 – towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all (English). Washington, DC: World Bank Group. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/167341467987876458/Incheon-declaration-education-2030towards-inclusive-and-equitable-quality-educationand-lifelong-learning-for-all
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