Tinde Kovač Cerović: Inclusive education requires fundamental changes in values, skills and practices

Publised: Monday, February 12, 2018

Tinde Kovač Cerović, a professor at the University of Belgrade, an international expert in the field of inclusive education, came to Astana for a training organized by the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan on the formation of a national framework for inclusive education, where participated Kazakhstan's education workers. Saule Kalikova, public policy advisor for SFK talked to Tinde and asked interested questions

Saule Kalikova: Why is it important for every country to have a National framework for IE Monitoring?

Tinde Kovač Cerović: Education systems are complex everywhere, they include many actors, who  might have many similar aims, such as wellbeing of children or creation of new knowledge, but also many different ones, and sometimes even opposite agendas. Such complex systems are not easy to mobilize, coordinate and organize even in case of routine entrenched activities, such as beginning of a school year, organizing textbook distribution or preparing the tests for the school leaving examination. Education innovation always creates an additional challenge for managing the system complexities  and ensuring that the different actors reorganize and reorient their work in ways that correspond to the innovation and     focus on the new joint aims. Establishing well targeted monitoring frameworks can help  in focusing and sustaining attention on the change processes and orchestrating the work of multiple stakeholders. Inclusive education stands out among many other innovations in education as even more challenging – it requires fundamental changes of values, skills and practices -  therefore  it is particularly important to set up a consistent framework for its monitoring. This is especially important in cases when the data collection and monitoring system is still not operating smoothly and when it can be expected that some of the stakeholders still do not fully understand all aspects of the overall inclusive education system. Various persons with different professional background  are involved in IE, and their attention to certain aspects of inclusive education has so far been unequal. A common language is necessary, which, in turn, becomes a prerequisite to constructive discussion, and discussion is critical if any development is to be achieved. Hence, Monitoring Frameworks do not only help in fact finding but they are indispensible for creating mutual understanding among the multitude of stakeholders involved in education about what the particular innovation, inclusive education, exactly entails.

Indeed, countries that have already well developed monitoring and evaluation systems can easily expand them to embrace indicators relevant for IE (so do Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, The Netherlands, etc.), but those that lack elaborate and flexible overall education evaluation and monitoring systems should be advised to develop some kind of National framework for IE Monitoring.

Saule Kalikova: How it works in Serbia?

Tinde Kovač Cerović: The National Framework for Monitoring IE was set up in Serbia in 2014/2015, five years after the nationwide introduction of  inclusive education as everyday, overall practice, also supported by all needed legal documents and new institutional structures. In strict sense, this was already belated – the Framework should have been developed even before implementation started. However, even with this delay,  several characteristics of the Framework proved especially useful immediately – it served as an excellent tool for formative system assessment.

Firstly, the Framework has been developed for all management levels - national, local and school level.    This ensured consistency of collecting and aggregating information and data from lower to higher levels      and  enabled  monitoring of national education policy impacts at lower levels, i.e. at the municipal and, more importantly, at school level. The logic behind this approach is that education policy set at the national level becomes functional only when lower levels adapt themselves, rearrange their activities and become organized in adequate, sometimes even unforeseen and creative way, in order to achieve the national objectives.  Inclusive education requires exactly that: policies need to be translated into everyday classroom practice within regular  schools and classrooms, hence the coherence in data collection was extremely useful. By developing a network of indicators at all three levels, to a large extent mutually corresponding, we have ensured the Monitoring Framework for IE’s contribution to overcoming   common weaknesses of public policies.

Secondly, all indicators in the Framework were coupled with small instruments that could help to empirically determine the presence, benchmarks or development level of indicators.  Since a sharp eye and implicit benchmarks for easily assessing IE  were still only insufficiently developed in the country these small instruments were most welcomed. For most indicators, instruments were  designed for various beneficiaries (e.g. questionnaire for schools, teachers, parents of children from vulnerable

groups, for the students themselves, as well as observation protocols and check lists). This rendered the Framework into an easily usable practical instrumentarium, and we could organize the first round of data collection immediately after adoption of the Framework. Indeed, the results of this analysis identified several caveats at all levels, that could be quickly and easily acted upon.

Thirdly, the Framework in Serbia features an additional significant innovation:  it distinguishes between input, process and output indicators. Although fine-tuning of the three types of indicators poses a considerable challenge during the  development  of the Framework, this distinction  allows for more direct conclusions about the source(s) of identified problems. This also proved highly useful – and we recommend such an approach especially at the beginning of introduction of inclusive education.    During the monitoring conducted with the use of the Framework we detected many instances where input indicators were low or missing – for example, some schools did not get some of the guidebooks, most schools  did not get instructions on how to administer the different types of students newly included in their school under the IE legislation,  some parents were not informed about options, in some municipalities teachers did not get full scale training, etc. hence the fact that these schools did not integrate the students well could not be attributed to the school staff, rather the regional ministry officials where accountable for the failure. Therefore, in the first few years of introduction of inclusive education, it makes a lot of sense to focus monitoring efforts on input indicators, i.e. to determine whether all envisaged measures consistently reached the beneficiaries (schools, teachers, children, parents), then later on process indicators (to verify whether the measures are adequately implemented) and subsequently, after 5 or 6 years, it would be reasonable to focus on monitoring output indicators (when monitoring quantitative data about the impact of inclusive education starts to make sense). This logic also corresponds to the well-known unpleasant fact that educational reforms yield results in the long run, that any piece of innovation may also temporarily cause the situation to deteriorate, and only after all elements have stabilized and there has been enough time for personal and professional adaptation of all actors involved in the reform will the results start to improve steadily.  

Saule Kalikova: How it helps to mainstream schools to develop inclusive education in their everyday work?

Tinde Kovač Cerović: The Framework is designed in a way that enables school self-evaluation and makes it easy to use by schools.  The indicators and accompanying instruments cover the most important dimensions of school processes involved in   inclusive education, from individualizing the teaching-learning process, through ensuring a school ethos promoting the wellbeing of all, to providing a wide array of supports, and much more. There are indicators addressing all actors in school life, instruments for school principals, for school psychologists, teachers, students, and also parents, that can be readily used, all together for a comprehensive school self-evaluation or separately for just a quick check on a particular aspect of school life. All of this of course serves the purpose of helping the schools become more and more inclusive , more and more successfully.

However, there are two additional, somewhat unusual aspects embedded in the instruments of the  Framework that serve not only the purpose of monitoring   but also as a guide for the schools on their journey of becoming  truly inclusive schools. One of these is the multi-perspecivity  of the approach promoted  through the Framework.  The fact that the Framework involves multiple stakeholders as resource persons providing information about several aspects of the school processes relevant for inclusive education enables   comparisons of information from various sources, and allows for  constructive, forward-looking discussion in the school, helping to understand and appreciate perspectives that are not always taken into account – such as that of students and/or parents. The framework through targeted questions and scales also allows to distinguish between the views of parents and students from the mainstream population and those from vulnerable groups, children with disability or from disadvantaged background. Without a special focus on their voices, perspectives, experiences the school and hence the education system can easily override  the problems they might be facing even in an inclusive environment. Indeed, the monitoring in Serbia detected significant differences in the appraisal of school practices between the parents and students from mainstream population, versus those from vulnerable groups. For example, parents from vulnerable groups reported more problems in the process of school enrolment, more discriminatory practices of school staff, more violence, etc. than did mainstream parents. Schools can and should take these differences seriously, reflect about their practices and change and develop them.

The second important characteristic of the Framework in this respect is the subset of process indicator instruments   for schools and teachers that are formulated in a way that is

modeling inclusive education it its most developed functioning. By doing so, in addition to providing a detailed basis for assessment of inclusive education, the instruments also play an instructive role, i.e. they draw the attention of all actors in the education system, i.e. persons who make assessments based on them, those who answer questions and those who analyse the answers, to the expected behavior in the system and its visible signs. Psychologists would say that these instruments cover behaviors in the “Zone of Proximal Development” of the school, teachers and the system as a whole, that are considered as exceptionally important in the initial years of implementing inclusive education.    

In the same sense, the Framework can also serve as a basis for selfevaluation of every teacher. By going through the Framework and reviewing the whole abundance of contained indicators, teachers can draw their own conclusions about strengths and weaknesses of their teaching, their work with an entire class, or with individual children, their parents etc. This review will, hopefully, help teachers to improve their teaching practices and upgrade themselves into reflective practitioners of inclusive education.

Finally, let me add an additional less obvious beneficial aspect of the Monitoring Framework: since the development of the Framework in Serbia involved several major international partners such as UNICEF and Fund for Open Society, as well as the Ministry of Education and some intergovernmental agencies, such as Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit  of the Government, their further activities on supporting IE in the schools of Serbia were also influenced by the Framework, and ensured that schools receive the same or very similar message from different actors and agencies. Hearing the same message from different angles and with different voices can be really useful for schools to orient them selves and implement this big innovation.  The same happened with the results of the first monitoring of IE – all education stakeholders were informed through a series of events organized by different agencies, and all had the chance to think about next steps and further developments and supports based on the view through the lenses of the Framework.  

I am congratulating you on the fantastic work on developing the Monitoring Framework for Kazakhstan and wishing you rich and fruitful further steps in institutionalizing Inclusive Education in the country.