Delivering an Equity-Inclusive Classroom in Asia-Pacific: Recap of the 6th EEA Meeting of UNESCO and Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of Thailand
UNESCO Bangkok, the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of Thailand, and partnering organizations hosted the 6th Meeting of the Equitable Education Alliance (EEA), ‘Exercising Equity to Deliver an Inclusive Classroom’, on 7 February 2023. The meeting, via webinar, highlighted delivery and implementation systems which facilitate evidence-based school and classroom practices, as well as provincial and area-based programmes to tackle equitable education from the grassroots level.
Moderated by Ms Piyapa Su-angavatin, Knowledge Management Manager, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education (SEAMEO) Secretariat, the webinar featured research presented by two selected education practitioners: Ms Kate Griffiths, Policy Director, of the Australian Education Research Organization (AERO), and Ms Kelsey Carlton, Strategic Education Advisor, VVOB, who shared their research outcomes and practical approaches to promoting equitable education in, respectively, Australia and Viet Nam.
In an opening note delivered by Dr Supakorn Buasai, former Managing Director, Equitable Education Fund (EEF) of Thailand, key areas and directions of EEA in 2023 were articulated, with Dr Supakorn commenting,
EEF Thailand and UNESCO serve as an EEA Secretariat with the vision to develop quality education for all learners as EEA works together with members - organizations, and practitioners – including the government agencies and private sectors to promote equitable education at the national level, regional and international levels. EEA continues to expand its network and work with global education changes in the world. The EEA is welcome to invite the education practitioners and interested organizations to join the EEA.
Following upon opening remarks, the webinar proceeded with presentations by its two distinguished guests, who spoke on equitable education case studies which might be said to benefit all participants and practitioners in the education sector.
Ms Griffiths’s research project, ‘Prompting the science of learning’, focused on evidence-based school and classroom practices. As Australia's new, independent education evidence body, the AERO has been established and by a collaboration of Commonwealth, state, and territory governments. Over the past few years, AERO focused on working for excellence and equity in educational outcomes for all children and youth through the effective use of evidence, and by focusing on three actions: 1. generating high-quality evidence; 2. presenting high-quality evidence that is relevant and accessible; and 3. encouraging adoption and effective implementation of evidence in both practice and policy.
According to Ms Griffiths, there are some persisting challenges that the Australian education system is currently facing:
1. Australian students' performance on international assessments is currently declining; in national assessments, performance is stagnating, and there are growing equity gaps.
2. Teachers need additional support to teach for maximum impact, so that all students, all classrooms, and all schools benefit from the highest-quality instruction.
3. Despite strong evidence attesting that teaching practices have proven to make a difference, the larger implications for teaching are neither well understood nor implemented in schools.
AERO attempted to overcome these educational challenges in via science of learning. There is some research evidence demonstrating that there are several practices that benefit all students in the case of Australia, for example:
1: Sequencing learning, so students can access their prior knowledge so as to reduce cognitive load.
2: Explicitly paced instruction, with modeling and examples to help ease the burden on working memory.
3: Classrooms focus on routines for learning, so students can develop a positive disposition for learning.
Such practices and experiences will prove beneficial as references for many other education practitioners in Asia and the Pacific. All these solutions are based on the AERO ‘s approaches guidelines, which are research translation and guidance, engagement, implementation, monitoring and evaluation approach, and communication strategy.
As Ms Griffiths points out, projects conducted by AERO aim to promote and support the implementation of evidence-based teaching practices informed by the science of learning and development. For stakeholders in various areas of the education sectors, there is some opportunity to improve teaching outcomes – for instance, in the case of education practitioners, in building awareness and understanding of how students learn, as well as what might be the implications for future teaching practices. Educational policymakers should explore and research more actively how students learn, and then embed evidence-based teaching practice in strategies and policies. All in all, formative assessment; explicit instruction, mastery learning, focused classroom, and spacing and retrieval practice have come to represent the ‘tried and tested’ guides outlined for organizations like the AERO.
Ms Kelsey Carlton’s presentation on education for development focused on ‘Process-oriented Child Monitoring into the Vietnamese Early Childhood Education (ECE) System’. As a non-profit organization, VVOB has supported governments to improve education systems sustainably since 1992.
In the case of Viet Nam, there are a total of three VVOB programs distributed in nine provinces. Among these programs, Process-oriented Child Monitoring (POM) and equitable education for minority populations are the current areas of focus. According to Ms Carlton, one of the main challenges facing Viet Nam is to increase enrolment rates which provide quality education to all children, while teachers lack the specific skills needed to create an equitable learning environment for all. Overcoming such educational challenges has become the main goal of the VVOB, which aims to support preschool teachers with the competencies to improve the quality of education for all preschool children in Viet Nam.
Based on VVOB’s research and local government reports, in actual practice, not every child is learning with the Vietnamese language. For example, there are stubborn language barriers to learning, faced especially by minority ethnic children in Viet Nam, as well as other barriers, among them barriers in social interactions, gender identity, contextualization of learning materials, and lack of interest in learning to the extent that children’s attention fails to align with the required activity. To explore possible solutions to this problem, Ms Carlton suggests that there is a need to understand the real meaning of 'learning' to students. VVOB is trying to work with process-oriented child monitoring (POM) in its programme, which is a tool – developed at Belgium’s Leuven University – entailing intentional and focused child observation geared towards identifying learning barriers and improving children’s levels of well-being and engagement in the classroom.
In order to proceed with any success, Ms Carlton points out that it is important to understand the definition of well-being and involvement, as well-being is not the same as behaving well. Some children with a high level of well-being also experience negative emotions, and high involvement is not the same thing as being busy; conversely, ‘low involvement’ is not the same as ‘not being able to do’. As such, well-being and involvement should be integrated into the educational practices which can be achieved via deep level learning, and Ms Carlton discussed how to scale them.
The integration of POM into the education system will be helpful to support teachers’ daily observation tasks entailed by the new early childhood education curriculum and the child-centered approach, as well as in supporting the government's prioritizing of ethnic minority populations and equitable education. In the future, VVOB will use POM as the foundation of early childhood education programmes and conduct new impact research.
Moreover, VVOB research has yielded eight suggestions for education practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region seeking to improve quality learning outcomes:
- Rearrange the classroom into appealing corners or areas.
- Check all material aspects of classroom to replace unattractive materials by more appealing ones.
- Introduce new and unconventional materials and activities.
- Discover children's interests and find related activities.
- Support ongoing activities with stimulation impulses and enriching interventions.
- Widen possibilities for free initiative and support them with sound rules and agreements.
- Explore and improve the relationship with each child and between children.
- Introduce activities that help children to explore that world of behaviours, feelings, and values.
Following the presentations of case studies, participating educational practitioners in attendance posed several core questions to the guest speakers. The questions suggested potential challenges that educational practitioners may encounter in their future educational practice. One of the most important questions pertained to how to persuade governments to integrate evidence-based practices into the education system. In the case of Viet Nam, Ms Carlton provided examples of how VVOB works with the country’s Ministry of Education, whereby VVOB adapted its educational philosophy to the local context, and fit it within the national education system, as well as invited a group of experts from university and representatives from Viet Nam’s Ministry of Education and Training to deliver POM training for educational practitioners.
The full list of Q&A can be found on EEH Website under ‘News’.
In closing remarks, Dr Buasai summed up the webinar’s proceedings by commenting,
These two studies have theoretical significance for promoting fair education and improving teaching quality in Asia-Pacific, and eventually the world. The research case studies of Australia and Vietnam teach practitioners’ new knowledge and methods to address local challenges. The EEA will continue to provide a platform for different educational practitioners and organizations to exchange, learn, and jointly research together to achieve more inclusive, equal, and high-quality education in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
A complete recording of the session is available on the EEH website under ‘Video Resources’.
Alisa Khemnak is an intern in the Section for Education Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Bangkok, where she assists the Literacy and Lifelong Learning team in implementing a regional co-operative programme on equitable education in partnership with the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) and other partners. She is pre-graduate on MSc in Development and Sustainability Program, Asian Institute of Technology; formerly, she completed a BE degree in Creative Development, Thammasat University, Bangkok. Her research interests include equitable education, education and economic development, and equality development, with a focus on Asia and the Pacific.
Yunkang Liu is a volunteer in the Section for Education Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), UNESCO Bangkok, where he assists the Literacy and Lifelong Learning team in implementing a regional cooperative programme on educational equity in partnership with the Equitable Education Fund (EEF) and other partners. He received an MA in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University and an MBA in Asia-Pacific Business at NIDA Business School. His research interests include Development Studies in Contemporary Southeast Asia, Asia-Pacific Studies, and Business and Politics.