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I wish to share my experiences from taking part in the Erasmus Mundus Special and Inclusive Education International Conference: ‘Diversity as Enrichment’, which took place on Friday 20th November 2015, at the University of Roehampton, in the UK. To be fair, I could also share my experiences of organising the event, since it was organised as part of the Erasmus Mundus MA SIE programme (EMSIE) – a collaboration between the University of Roehampton, Charles University in Prague, and the University of Oslo, and funded by the EU – of which I am the lead Academic Coordinator. However, I am sure my experiences of organising the event will be of less relevance to a wider audience compared to its actual content. For by making the event more widely accessible via GLOBI, I hope to maximise its impact on practice and research, and ultimately strengthen its contribution to the field of Inclusive and Special Needs Education. Finally, I believe that dear friends and colleagues who were not able to join us (but who might have wished to be there) will also benefit from reading this.
This one-day event aimed to showcase the research of graduate and post-graduate students on the EMSIE programme, as well as researchers in the field of Inclusive and Special Education from different parts of the world. Speakers represented an impressive range of countries namely, Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, India Italy, Macedonia, Malaysia, Norway, and UK. The audience had the opportunity to learn about a range of approaches to research on Inclusive and Special Education from small-scale qualitative studies to larger-scale quantitative research designs, as well as different topics from participatory research with young people with Intellectual Disability in rural Malaysia to a comparative exploration of teachers’ understanding of Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. Below I summarise all presentations.
I kicked off the event with the keynote speech and I decided to ask the topical question ‘What do teachers need in terms of preparation in order to be able to make inclusive education a reality in their classrooms?’. In addressing this question I drew on a recent study (Kamenopoulou, Buli-Holmberg and Siska, 2015) that explored the views of teachers who started a post-graduate programme on Inclusive and Special Education. In a nutshell, we asked teachers how they understand the terms Inclusive and Special Education and what they expect to gain from a master’s programme on Inclusive and Special Education. The key points I made were that teachers saw this programme as a key factor contributing to their inclusive practice, but held very different views about what inclusion actually is and how it is to be implemented in practice, which naturally poses great challenges to all providers of inclusive education for teachers.
Andrea Pregel, an EMSIE graduate presented his MA dissertation research, which is the first study ever conducted on Deafness and Ethnicity in Malaysia. He stressed that all research participants described ethnic diversity as a positive aspect of the Malaysian society and as a factor enriching the local Deaf community.
Sarka Karnova presented findings from an international project exploring community living and active citizenship focusing on policy and the experience of disabled people in 9 European countries. She highlighted some key factors emerging from this study that can determine success.
Three EMSIE students in the final stages of their study programme presented their MA dissertation research projects. Luciana Silva Dos Santos interviewed teachers from UK, Brazil, Norway and UK about their views of the term Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties and the practical issues of including children labelled as having EBD in regular classrooms. Lai Thin Ng‘s study focused on experiences of social inclusion from the perspective of four adults with intellectual disabilities in Malaysia. She used an innovative participatory methodology to capture the voices of this vulnerable group of young adults. Feriha Ramadan‘s study was again focused on the Malaysian context, but it examined the more generic question of how inclusive education is operationalized in two schools in Malaysia.
Carolina Maria Gaona, an EMSIE graduate and a current PhD student at the University of Roehampton presented her doctoral research project, ‘The voices of young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder in post-16 education following the introduction of the new Special Educational Needs Code of Practice’.
Tim Kent, a Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University, presented a paper based on his doctoral research and focused on the meaning of voice in participatory research with pupils with disabilities or learning difficulties, and raised very useful questions regarding existing methodologies for gathering those voices in research in SEN and Inclusive Education.
Dr Wolfgang Mann, a Reader in Special and Inclusive Education at University of Roehampton, presented a paper titled ‘Inclusive practice with deaf children: the use of dynamic language assessment’. His main argument was that the use of DA is not limited to one particular group of learners but has similar potential for other SEN populations.
Jorun Buli-Holmberg, Associate Professor from the Special Needs Department of University of Oslo, presented a joint research (with Dr. J. Sujathamalini from India) on effective inclusive teaching practices for children with Special Needs, as well as her own research on teachers inclusive education practice in Norway. Both studies clearly demonstrated that there is a lot of potential for improvement on these areas even in a country like Norway that is quite advanced in the field of Inclusive Education and Special Needs.
In addition, as part of the Conference and as a special treat there was an exhibition of posters made by our 1st year EMSIE students on Challenges to Diversity and Inclusion in their countries.
Here is one selected poster from student Lynnette Torres from the Philippines:
And another example from student Salesh Deo, from Fiji:
The panel discussion at the end highlighted commonalities and differences in the work presented during the day. Common themes were noted such as the need for more positive attitudes and the right support for disabled people’s participation, as well as issues that are unique to certain contexts like for example some developing countries with very specific needs. Overall, I found the conference to be a very positive experience, which helped further develop my thinking about Inclusive and Special Needs Education, and I trust that all who took part will agree with me.
Dr Leda Kamenopoulou is a Senior Lecturer in Special and Inclusive Education at the University of Roehampton in London and a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy.
She holds a Ph.D. on SEN and Inclusion from the Institute of Education, University of London. Her doctoral thesis focused on the social outcomes of mainstream inclusive education for young people with a dual sensory impairment (see Kamenopoulou, 2012).
Leda has worked as a research fellow, research advisor and visiting lecturer in UK and overseas Institutions. Her current research interests are centred on the preparation of teachers from different contexts for inclusive education (see Kamenopoulou et al, 2015). She is an academic member of Atiner and a member of the Editorial Board for the IAFOR Journal of Education.