In 2017, VVOB launched the eNSPIRED programme for equity in education. As an inspirational tool, eNSPIRED seeks out educational practices from the South to inform practices of diversity and equity in education in Flanders. The eNSPIRED advisory group, consisting of representatives of the Flemish partners of VVOB, decided on the main theme of the 2017-2018 schoolyear: vulnerable learners.
In November, Prof. Kwame Akyeampong from the University of Sussex gave a driven lecture on ‘Learning opportunities for vulnerable children: the teacher matters!’. Els Callens is a member of the eNSPIRED advisory group and a teacher trainer at VIVES, a university college in Flanders, Belgium. After attending Prof. Akyeampong’s class, we asked her how the eNSPIRED programme can inspire the education field in Flanders.
The teacher matters
Which groups are the most vulnerable in Flanders and which difficulties do they encounter?
"In Flanders, we have a variety of vulnerable groups. Single parents are a good example, especially if the parent has a low income and a poor schooling level. Migrants face a hard time finding a job due to the language barrier. Unemployment has severe consequences for children’s schooling as well. A parent who loses his or her job can become isolated from society and be confronted with difficulties he or she isn’t prepared for.
Schools should function as a second environment where these vulnerable groups receive basic needs. This can only be achieved when teachers learn to observe and recognise certain signals. Despite common belief, poverty isn’t an issue only big cities have to deal with. Small towns and communities are confronted with it as well, but in the countryside, poverty is often well hidden, which makes it harder for teachers to recognise the signals."
How do you prepare student teachers to deal with vulnerable learners?
"In their first year, student teachers learn how to guide learners, and how to help them discover their strengths and talents, instead of focusing on their weaknesses.
In the second year of the programme, we focus on diversity in the classroom. Our students learn how children born in poverty may have different needs, but don’t necessarily need to be treated differently.
In the third year of the training, our students discover the meaning of care more in detail, parental involvement and the whole school approach. Dealing with poverty and diversity is put into practice."
An international dialogue
In the next three years, the eNSPIRED programme wants to contribute to equity in education in Flanders. How will the programme influence teacher trainings?
"Guest lecturer Prof. Kwame Akyeampong confirmed that our shared challenges in education connect us all over the world. Teacher trainers, teachers and schools from across the world are looking for creative solutions for mutual problems. Through powerful and inspiring practical examples, we can enrich and strengthen each other.
During his lecture, Prof. Akyeampong emphasised that teachers should always consider the emotional baggage a child carries around with them. Educators should never ignore the child’s home environment. This, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen in practice.
eNSPIRED shares inspiring experiences and good practices from the South. This offers new insights to improve the educational system in Flanders for the most vulnerable in society. The programme can easily be integrated in college courses. I’ve used the available material on www.eNSPIRED.net in many of my more specialised lectures on special needs education. We will soon integrate this curriculum in our basic courses as well."
The eNSPIRED lectures, online tools and learning weeks offer plenty of inspiration. What else can VVOB do to reach its goals?
"The core team of eNSPIRED is expanding and consists of teacher trainers and pedagogical counselors. Now, it’s a matter of warming up more colleagues to the cause and getting them to join us in our mission.
Never underestimate the power of connecting with people. Face-to-face and personal contacts make an international dialogue sustainable. Through a collective exercise, we challenge ourselves and try to create inclusive, quality and sustainable education for everyone."