Teach For All Network Hosts Conference on the Need for a Comprehensive Approach to Inclusive Education Across Europe

On April 5, representatives of the Teach For All network joined nearly 80 people, including European Union officials, educators, policymakers, and civil society organizations from across Europe, in Bucharest, Romania for a conference entitled “FIERST: Inclusive Education Across European Contexts.” The one-day event, which was co-hosted by Teach For All and network partners in Bulgaria, Estonia, and Romania, marked the midpoint of FIERST, a project co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. Speakers discussed approaches to inclusive education in diverse schools with students from different socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.  

Speakers included Monica Menapace from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture; representatives from the Romanian Ministry of Education and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science; and principals, teachers, and specialists in the field from Estonia, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as Teach First Deutschland student, Dewina Leuschner.  

From Inclusive Education to Real Scale Transfer (FIERST), a three-year project that will run through December 2020, draws together a consortium of nine organizations from five European countries, including Teach For All's global organization and network partners Noored Kooli (Estonia), Teach For Bulgaria,  and Teach For Romania. The project is designed to contribute toward addressing EU-wide challenges facing the education sector, such as teachers feeling underprepared to teach children from diverse backgrounds or to foster truly inclusive classrooms, and the fact that good practices are not effectively scaled. The consortium aims to increase and expand these practices in inclusive education among the education community across the European continent.

Teach First Deutschland student Dewina Leuschner

In keeping with the theme of the event, many of the presenters spoke in their mother tongues of Romanian, Bulgarian, and Estonian.

Participants had the opportunity to learn about the FIERST project and how partners are approaching the spread of good practices. They also heard firsthand accounts of network teaching participants who are successfully sharing practices with other teachers, and from student and teacher perspectives on their experiences in very diverse classrooms. Presenters spoke about the need to align social and education policies more closely to address challenges facing diverse classrooms and schools,  to ensure that children with different needs do not have to fit into a single cultural and educational framework.

In sharing her reflection on inclusive education, Dewina Leuschner, a member of Teach For All’s Student Leader Advisory Council, said, “We should appreciate the diversity in our communities as something great. People around the world are individuals, and as long as we need a word and a concept to recognize this, we will need inclusive education to make sure that all students can spread their light.”

Speakers acknowledged that there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to inclusive education that involves school leaders, teachers, students, parents, policymakers, civil society organizations, and the broader community of stakeholders. FIERST consortium partners are currently working toward engaging a diversity of stakeholders in the project.

“All children should feel welcome, involved and happy, in school and in life. The school, parents, and community should be part of this process to achieve inclusive education,” shared Teach For Romania Fellow Cristian Petrescu.

There is a growing sense of understanding among policymakers at the European and the national level around the need to strengthen collaboration in this area. Discussants spoke about the need to ensure students are developing their agency and influencing their own learning process, the need to foster more spaces for teacher collaboration such as the FIERST project’s professional learning communities (PLCs) that are being established in schools and among educators, and the need to support teachers’ and educators’ professional development throughout their careers. The FIERST consortium is modeling this approach by providing support to teachers through PLCs and training opportunities throughout the year.

In her remarks, Monica Menapace shared that inclusive education is a priority for the European Commission because it is an effective way to prevent social exclusion and related issues, such as poverty. “When we think of inclusive education, we need to think of a whole school approach, we need to engage the school community, parents, and students,” she said.

Teach For All is delighted to be a partner in this project and to contribute to ensuring European schools are inclusive of all learners.

Learn more about FIERST here.