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UNESCO organises the first Pacific Region Workshop on Inclusive Education

Participants see need to strengthen inclusive approaches in the Pacific

A workshop on inclusive education was held from 23 to 25 November 2005 in Apia, Samoa. The workshop, a collaborative effort between UNESCO Paris, Bangkok and Apia offices was held in conjunction with an EFA coordinators’ meeting for the Pacific Region.

Workshop participants included key international resource persons as well as members from the Ministry of Education, teacher training institutions and practitioners and representatives from the Disability movement from Australia, the Cook Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

The objectives of the workshop were:
1) To share innovative approaches and resources, and to learn from experiences of inclusive education practices of implementing inclusive education.
2) To discuss the potential of inclusive approaches as a means to improve the overall quality of education.
3) To develop recommendations on how to improve education systems to ensure inclusion for all.

A number of modalities were utilised including presentations, group work and videos. In addition, parallel thematic sessions focused on the implications of teachers and teacher education as well as strengthening parent and community involvement and the role of civil society.

The workshop enabled participants to share valuable resources and practices at the global, regional and local levels. In particular, examples of data collection for children with disabilities, was provided by UNESCO Institute for Statistics Regional Advisor for Asia Pacific, and UNESCO Bangkok AIMS Unit Head, Mr. Ko-Chih Tung. One of the key points highlighted was the link between inclusive education, the right to education and EFA and the potential of inclusive education to serve as an instrumental strategy for achieving EFA.

A great deal of momentum resulted from this workshop and there was consensus on the need to strengthen inclusive approaches in the Pacific by involving families and the community to encourage good practices and support in schools. There was also recognition of need to have Pacific island countries help one another in obtaining funding through joint projects for the entire region.

Some of the outcomes of the workshop included establishing EENET (Enabling Education Network) Pacifika with possible initial support from UNESCO Bangkok and coordination by a core group of interested individuals.

Among the recommendations reached during the workshop were: the need to organise awareness campaigns on inclusive education to increase government support, more effective use of regional mechanism for fundraising and joint-activities, ensuring a more proactive role for EFA coordinators in teacher trainings and with other stakeholders, need to review of legislation to enforce inclusive education in the Pacific region, and strengthening relationships with the respective National Commissions for UNESCO.

Participants also had an opportunity to see inclusive practices in action and share their own experiences of developing inclusive schools and strategies through a visit the Vaimoso Primary School.

The visit also highlighted the use of the UNESCO Toolkit for Creating Inclusive, Learning-Friendly Environments (ILFE), which is being piloted in four primary schools in Samoa.

Rebekah McCullough who has been assisting in the UNESCO pilot project expressed that “it has been wonderful to be part of a process and to witness the blossoming of this inclusive education process in the schools and to see the innovation and the commitment that people have put into this, they have made it theirs.”

UNESCO headquarters provided a global perspective on inclusive education, shared its resources on policy and practice including policy guidelines as well as ‘Changing Teaching Practices” and curriculum material.

Mr Olof Sandkull, focal point on inclusive education from the regional UNESCO office for Aisa-Pacific in Bangkok also featured its newly released booklet on good practices on inclusive education from the Pacific region. UNESCO Bangkok furthermore focused on strengthening capacities in the Pacific region through the use of materials such as the ILFE Toolkit and by encouraging the establishment of an EENET (Enabling Education Network) Pacifika. This network serves to facilitate information-sharing of inclusive practices.

Mr. Edgar Tari, representative of UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools Project in Vanuatu explained the important link between inclusive education and Child-Friendly Schools by stressing the need of working with local teachers and curriculum advisers to identify children who are out of school and developing mechanisms such as flexi-time for children who travel long distances to attend schools.

Mr. Epeli Tokai, a representative from The Pacific Regional Initiatives for the Delivery of Basic Education (PRIDE) participated in the workshop and provided some funding to several participants enabling them to attend this workshop prior to another workshop on teacher education.

The event was covered by Samoan national television and UNESCO hosted a reception and dinner at the Faleata Golf Course to welcome the Inclusive Education and EFA workshop participants and to mark the 60th anniversary of the organisation.

Dr Vincencio Pongi, Director of the UNESCO Apia office noted the fruitful discussions reached during the workshop, adding that “we trust that our participants will be in a better position to advice, incorporate and implement inclusive approaches in their respective countries.”

Text by: Jill Van den Brule (UNESCO Paris) & Olof Sandkull (UNESCO Bangkok)