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Exclusionary mechanisms in inclusive education: the integrity perspective

Wed, April 17, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Boardroom B

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session

Proposal

Integrity in education matters. Where it is lacking, vulnerable populations struggle to gain access to high quality learning opportunities, inequity flourishes, the quality of education suffers, and corruption becomes a norm of behavior, perpetuated through schools and universities to the detriment of countries and the sustainable future of their young generations.

Despite numerous initiatives and projects that have been implemented to address the corruption challenge, survey respondents in countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region are still among those most likely to report incidence of corruption in public education, and examples of comprehensive, systematic and effective reforms to strengthen integrity and fight corruption in the sector are still rare. Part of the problem is the difficulty to determine across countries what practices in education count as corrupt, describe systematically how education participants engage in them, and identify how the conditions in which they have (or deliver) their learning experiences play a role in that.

To find answers to some of these questions, since 2010 several countries conducted in-depth assessments of integrity in their education systems with the help of the conceptual framework presented in the first paper of this formal panel submission. The assessments had the goal to develop an understanding of how to tackle the corruption challenge by empowering education participants to address their integrity challenges “from within” their education institutions and respective professional environments. The analytical activities have delivered cross-country insights into how integrity matters in the context of evolving education policies, as well as a conceptual framework of integrity that can be mobilised to reassess the implementation of reform priorities concerning sustainability, social justice, equity in education and inclusive education.

For the first time, the three papers in this panel situate integrity and corruption prevention in the enriched conceptual framework of inclusive education and equity. Although many conclusions can be made intuitively about how violations of education integrity can deepen inequities in education favouring the resourceful and those closer to power circles while marginalizing even more the marginalized, a clear conceptual and empirical analysis with modal examples highlighting the most prominent connections is not yet available. The panel suggests a way to pull together information from disparate disciplinary-conceptual sources and discuss them meaningfully together to demonstrate how an integrity perspective can enrich the discourse of countries on equity and inclusion and reinforce the effectiveness of their efforts to make inclusive education a reality.

In the context of this research, inclusive education was defined as education of children who need additional support, both in mainstream and special schools. Integrity in education was defined as the continued commitment of education participants and institutions to act in accordance with values and principles without engaging in corruption and describes a professional environment that allows them to do so. Integrity violation was understood as a corrupt action by education participants which contradicts those values and principles (Milovanovitch, 2018).

The research contributions in this panel examine inclusive education in a variety of facets in several Eurasian countries in transition. As a new policy focusing particularly on the education and integration of children and youth from vulnerable groups in developing countries, especially in Southeast Europe, Caucasus and Central Asian regions, and as a priority envisioned to create more equitable and just societies, the dream of inclusive education captures the interests of human rights activists and parents. But there are also a number of challenges. These two stakeholder groups are still relatively new and in traditional ex-communist countries were rarely faced as source of influence and demands. An additional obstacle is the fact that these countries have also inherited a well-developed special education system and a network of special institutions. They are also engaged in ongoing and often times politically sensitive discussions about minority rights, such as those related to the integration of the Roma.

Even in settings in which there is a consensus about the need and direction of change towards inclusiveness, inclusive education can bring up difficult questions, such as what the right balance is between policy borrowing and authentic developments/solutions, how to manage the inevitable clashes between old practices and novelties (Kovač Cerović, Jovanović, Pavlović Babić, 2016), and how to translate the new policies into managable working practices in order to enable successful learning outcomes to be achieved (Rose, Shevlin,Winter, O’Raw, & Zhao, 2012).

As discussed in the second paper of this panel, these dillemas are quite common in the national contexts of many countries in Eurasia. They make for professional and social environments rich in ambiguities, turbulences and obstacles that can render the development of inclusive education a stressful task which requires exceptional efforts and sustained commitment, hence putting the inclusive education policies at risk of being abandoned, abolished or faked.

Finally, the third paper in the panel reveals that the obstacles/problems in the implementation of inclusive education and their “resolution” are often associated with integrity violations and risks. Examples may include the “filling” special education classes until a threshold required to keep teacher employed, or “white flight” from schools attended by students from vulnerable groups, while some others might point to new niches for integrity violations created by hasty implementation of new inclusive education policies (e.g. non-transparent decisions in providing educational and social support for eligible students, eligibility for transportation, etc.) Turning the spotligh to such integrity challenges could strengthen inclusive education reform by means of education improvement, as highlighted in the first paper of this panel.

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