The European Network of Children’s Universities (EUCU.NET) invited Parents International to contribute to their annual event to do a workshop with their members on parental engagement in nonformal education provisions like the services Children’s Universities provide. Before the workshop, Dr. Frank Tuitt of the University of Denver gave a keynote on a Global Framework for Advancing Access and Equity in Education Systems.
Although Dr. Tuitt has his expertise and was focusing on primarily higher education, his thoughts are valid for education in general. His work is aiming at creating environments where students feel they matter and they are important. It should happen regardless the fact that today’s students come to a classroom that was not designed for them. This is especially true since there is an increasing diversity of students enrolling while systems are designed for uniformity. The lack of feeling of belonging then prevents students from excelling. He asked the question what the goal of education was, and according to him our current schools seem to be in the “replication business” aiming at replicating the past and assimilating people in society.
He mentioned that although widening access should be the starting point, access doesn’t necessarily mean inclusion. While there are some core principles of inclusion, all education institutions need to create their own structure reflecting local reality. He demanded that we “make inclusive education a habit”. The core principles according to him are the following:
- Reflecting the diversity of identities in daily practice
- Focusing on intellectual and social development making sure students don’t “leave their identities at the door”
- Developing and utilising educational resources
- Having welcoming classrooms that celebrate diversity
- Recognise differences and reflect on them
- Creating environments that challenge every individual student in order for them to deliver at the highest level
If parents are engaged in designing such education environments, it might be easier for schools to implements them. For parents who wish to be engaged his mentioning inclusive education gaps could also be useful. According to him
- Inclusion innovation is often isolated from general activities and thus fail to change institutions and systems
- Excellence and diversity are often used as buzzwords and not put in real action
- “Champions of inclusion” need an accompanying “choir”, but they often work on their own wrongly indicating that others don’t need to do anything. There is a need to embed inclusion into general institutional strategy and practice.
When describing a systemic approach to making education inclusive, he mentioned the need to engage possible change agents throughout the system – parents being very good candidates for this.
In the workshop on parental engagement we discussed different forms and strategies of parental involvement and engagement, considered the lack of such practice in many nonformal education settings since there is no legal obligation, and explored STEM-related inclusion topics building on teacher training we had developed previously on parental gender bias and parents’ attitudes based on previous experiences. The participants designed their own actions for engaging parents for inclusion in their daily practice. We had the opportunity to have 3 Parents International trainers present, so it was possible to work directly with most Children’s Universities.