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Asia-Pacific experts unfold inclusion gaps in teacher education system

Learners from diverse backgrounds and abilities are an everyday reality in every classroom.

©Iran, Mohammad Golchin

This  statement brought 50 experts from eight countries in the Asia-Pacific region to Bangkok, Thailand last week to discuss challenges in the promotion and application of inclusive practices in and through pre-service teacher education. The regional expert meeting on the theme of Inclusive Education through Quality Teacher Education in Asia-Pacific was organized by UNESCO Bangkok. The eight participating countries included Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO’s Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok said: “The goal of inclusive education is the realization of a school where ‘all’ learners are participating and treated equally. It is also the realization of a school which proactively seeks and reaches out to any learner who is left behind.” 

‘All’ means girls and boys, children with and without disabilities, children from minority and majority ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas or groups.

“There is a need to tackle teachers’ values and attitudes right in the beginning of the career,” said Richard Rieser from World of Inclusion. “We need to prepare all teachers who are just beginning their career to teach the full diversity of children they are going to come across. If the teacher doesn’t have the empathy for the wide diversity of children, one would question whether they should be on the teaching training course.”

However, the major challenge in promoting inclusive education in the region is about common understanding of what inclusive education or inclusion really means.

“People think inclusive education is about bringing people together, but it’s only one part of it. The concern is to have every child, every individual learner, to be able to participate in education. It’s not just about having access, but it’s about making sure that children, every individual learner, feel they are included in the process,” said Maki Hayashikawa, Chief of Basic Education Section, UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. 

In Lao PDR, inclusive education is still widely understood as focusing on children and learners with disabilities.

“The main gap in Lao PDR is a clear understanding of the broad concept of inclusive education among teachers and administrators in the pre-service teacher training sector. This leads to a second gap in which the lack of understanding about inclusive education affects its implementation,” said Yangxia Lee, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Primary and Preschool Education and Director of the Inclusive Education Center, Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR. 
 Ms Lee added that the country needs capacity building for better understanding the concept and better implementing inclusive education.

In Viet Nam, attention has been given to children with disabilities since provisions for their education were made in the 1992 Constitution, according to Bui The Hop, researcher from the Viet Nam Institute of Educational Sciences’s Research Center for Special Education. He said during that time there were around 22 million students in Viet Nam, and out of those there were around one million students with disabilities. Of the one million students with disabilities about 10,000 children entered 100 special schools in the country.

“Inclusive education may be a solution to meet the real needs of learning of all children. Up to now there are 40 to 50 percent of children with disabilities and special needs in schools,” said Mr Hop.

He also reflected that the country lacks human resources and curriculum relating to inclusive education. “In my own experience as a university student, students had very passive roles. We only listened and took notes and had very few opportunities for practices and group works.”

In Thailand, student teachers have little opportunity for practical experiences.

Pennee Kantavong Narot of Khon Kaen University said: “In pre-service teacher training in Thailand we may have a course on inclusive education but student teachers don’t have many opportunities to practice teaching in real inclusive education classrooms. “

She also added that inclusive education receives relatively little attention in the public sector because Thai society gives more weight to achievement of learning and teaching.

“Inclusive education is low on Thailand’s list of education priorities. Currently, we focus more on the higher achieving learners and often neglect the slower learners or learners with disabilities in the class. But I hope that in the near future the Thai education system will strike the right balance between enhancing the learning achievement of top students and developing the learning capacities of all other students,” said Ms. Kantavong Narot.

From Cambodia, Sitha Chhinh, Deputy Program Director of the Graduate Program in Education, 
 Royal University of Phnom Penh affirmed that inclusive education must be implemented since early school ages. 

“Once the concept of inclusive education is understood and supported, it will bring students together, not just to have access to education, but to live together and learn together. For example, there are programmes provided to children with disabilities and to ethnic groups but these children are separated from other children in mainstream classrooms. And if you put them in separate schools, when they start working or have to live in a community that is not of the same ethnic background for instance, it will be hard. But if you put them together at an early age, they’ll develop a sense of belonging to the community, starting from classroom, community and then society.”

Stephanie Hodge, Programme Specialist from UNICEF Headquarters in New York said: “If we continue on the same path of exclusion, there will be increasing disparity, increasing conflicts, increasing disaster and increasing hatred.” 

The 50 experts were comprised of researchers who took part in an in-depth review and situation analysis of pre-service teacher education systems commissioned by UNESCO, as well as local and national education stakeholders influencing policies of pre-service teacher education, UNESCO staff, and other specialists in the field of inclusion and teacher education from the eight participating countries. The two-and-a-half-day meeting was organized by UNESCO Bangkok, with the financial support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). 

UNESCO Bangkok has implemented a regional project in co-operation with the Japanese MEXT to improve the quality of teachers in the Asia-Pacific region by promoting reforms in national pre-service teacher education systems. A holistic and rights-based perspective was introduced in regards to teacher education policies, curricula, materials, and methodologies. 

Since 2007 UNESCO Bangkok has worked with national research teams in the eight countries to investigate national pre-service teacher education systems with one main guiding question: How are student teachers being prepared to adopt inclusive attitudes and practices when they start teaching in schools? 


For more information on the Meeting, contact: 
Nantawan Hinds at n.hinds[at] and
 Adrien Boucher at aa.boucher[at]

By Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok