Learners’ Voices in Inclusive Education Policy Debates
- How has the idea of listening to learners’ voices evolved within European and international guiding principles documents?
- How can learners’ voices be included in inclusive education policy debates and other decision-making processes?
- Four European “Hearings” involving over 300 young people, held in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015;
- Consultation workshops with learners in Cyprus and Poland as part of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support (DG REFORM) Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) activities.
2. The Evolution of Learners’ Voices in European and International Policy Documents
States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.  (Article 12).
Welcomes … that the views and suggestions of over 10,000 children have been taken on board in preparing the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child; calls on the Commission to ensure that children’s voices, as well as those of their representative organisations, are heard in the implementation and monitoring of the Child Guarantee at national, regional and local level, by enabling them to be full participants in meaningful and inclusive public dialogue and consultation and have their say on matters that concern them at EU level.  (p. 10).
Unlocking the Potential of Learners’ Voices in Decision-Making Processes
… the right to be heard and taken seriously remains elusive for most children across the world. And even where it is implemented, it is often only in limited aspects of a child’s life and largely through short-term projects and programmes. Full implementation of Article 12 continues to be impeded by many long-standing practices, cultures and attitudes, and by political and economic obstacles.  (p. 4).
Quality formal and non-formal education and informal learning should be an inclusive space where all young people have the same opportunities and can learn, debate, fail, risk, and exchange ideas without the fear of being left behind.  (p. 4).
3. Agency Work on Listening to Learners’ Views on Inclusive Education
3.1. European Hearings
- Rights related to non-discrimination, respecting diversity, receiving a quality education, equality of opportunity in education and having a good social and working life:
- Benefits related to inclusive education, such as acquiring social skills, becoming stronger and more independent and combating discrimination and stereotypes:
- Requisites for inclusive education, such as access issues, teachers’ new role in being prepared for inclusion and being responsible for all learners, and special schools’ new role in supporting the mainstream sector:
- Achievements related to well-established support systems and related funding mechanisms, as well as mobility and accessibility issues. Disability is more visible in society:
- Pending issues related to barriers that must be removed so all learners can reach local educational settings, easily access them and move around inside them; educational staff being better prepared for inclusive education, etc.:
- “Everything about us, with us” concerns young learners’ direct involvement in all decision-making concerning them.
- “Barrier-free schools” relates to eliminating all physical and technical barriers.
- “Breaking down stereotypes” is about the concept of “normality”. As a learner pointed out: “If we accept that everybody is different, then who is ‘normal’?”.
- This centres upon a slogan some young people use: “Diversity is the mix, inclusion is what makes the mix work”:
- “Becoming full citizens” relates to the impact of inclusive education in being fully included in society:
Everybody should have a chance to take part in all the classes and the teachers should help to make this possible, so it will be a lot easier when we enter the labour market … It is crucial for us to be included in mainstream schools in order to be included in society.
3.2. Learners’ Voices for Inclusive Policy Reforms
Bullying, poverty, parents’ divorces: these are issues in schools. There was a national programme against bullying which was effective, but there is a need for psychologists in schools. The support should be continuous throughout school life. Even before interventions, professionals need to focus on early prevention; to get help from psychologists, it is necessary to find the roots of the problems.
Some learners raised concerns about the education of foreign learners and made specific proposals:
Immigration is an issue which also needs attention. They should be slowly included in mainstream classes through teaching Greek language programmes. In the meantime, they could be with other learners speaking the same language, who can help with translation.
4. Recurring Messages from Learners and Key Considerations
5. Concluding Comments
It is not easy for us to live in a period where the values that founded the European Union are difficult to find within political choices … There is a need to talk and confront each other. The European Union promotes cultural exchanges by allowing thousands of Europeans to travel and live throughout the Union. A European day dedicated to integration and inclusion, every year and in each school, would engage students in actions to disseminate what has been experienced and received thanks to European education programmes.  (p. 22).
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|List of key international and EU policy documents on children’s rights and voices:|
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Mangiaracina, A.; Kefallinou, A.; Kyriazopoulou, M.; Watkins, A. Learners’ Voices in Inclusive Education Policy Debates. Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, 599. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100599
Mangiaracina A, Kefallinou A, Kyriazopoulou M, Watkins A. Learners’ Voices in Inclusive Education Policy Debates. Education Sciences. 2021; 11(10):599. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100599Chicago/Turabian Style
Mangiaracina, Antonella, Anthoula Kefallinou, Mary Kyriazopoulou, and Amanda Watkins. 2021. "Learners’ Voices in Inclusive Education Policy Debates" Education Sciences 11, no. 10: 599. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11100599