Project Join In & Make A Change (JIMAC) has the aim of supporting diverse stakeholders of inclusive education with expertise on how to truly engage learners at risk and sharing of best teaching practice. The activities of the project start with the thorough analyses of the state of arts in the participating countries (Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic and Greece) as to how the students and teachers perceive how well the educational system in each country protect all learners from being excluded from the educational opportunities but also, later on, from successful and fulfilling career. JIMAC projects addresses the problem of learning crises stemming from the assumption that schooling ensures the development of competences as combination of meaningful knowledge, skills and attitudes.
According to the 2018 World Bank Report on Education[i] being at school, as opposed to active learning, from the global perspective contributes to the social exclusion and becomes a trap for many young people. Recent learning assessments show that many students around the world, including EU, especially from poor families, are leaving school unequipped with even the most rudimental skills they need for life. At the same time, internationally comparable learning assessments show that skills in many middle-income countries lag far behind what those countries aspire to. Increased access to educational institutions or even reducing the drop out level is not enough for any vulnerable groups to raise their self-esteem, further their opportunities for earning proper living. The learning crisis persists because many stakeholders of education have little understanding and not enough information on who is learning and who is not. As a result, it is hard for them to even suggest how education should be changed. With uncertainty about the kinds of skills the jobs of the future will require, schools and teachers must prepare students with more than basic alphabetization skills. Students need to be able to interpret information, form opinions, be creative, communicate empathically, collaborate, and be resilient.
The JIMAC project’s aims are aligned with the World Bank’s vision for inclusive learning and acquiring the skills students need to be productive, fulfilled, and involved citizens and workers. Its focus is on contributing to the awareness and resources of teachers, in particular at the early levels, to help them become more effective in facilitating learning, strengthening management of schools and educational settings, while ensuring learners are equipped for success. The core rationale of the project is that inclusive education starts with an inclusive, empathetic and knowledgeable teacher. Based on the research from previous projects that JIMAC designed its activities as follow-up and further innovating, we know that there are dedicated and enthusiastic teachers who, despite all challenges, enrich and transform their lives. They are heroes who defy the odds and make learning happen with passion, creativity and determination.
Project DICE[ii] proved that teachers who are open to include drama in their interventions are also more knowledgeable on how to make learning happen best. Their instruction regardless of the group size and diversity is more likely to be personalized to meet the needs and strengths of each child. Drama teachers researched in DICE project proved also far more capable of tracking individual progress of their students as well as of providing some instant constructive feedback. By respecting and using drama to engage diversity teachers become very important role models for children as well as providing friendly environment in which to explore different cultural perspectives. Drama teachers know how to make the students feel safe in taking risks and experiencing failures. The research in DICE project concluded that teachers who used elements of drama were able to maximize learning by making it relational and inquisitive. They use drama because they are convinced that it empowers the students to creatively explore life beyond imposed curricula and liberates the entire community of learners from the fear of educational failure installed by oppressive social structures (Heathcote, 1990). Even short-term drama sessions impacted students’ level of competences, most effectively the social ones including ability to build and sustain trust, initiate inquiry to find out truth, critically choose and translate values into actions, respect diversity, take responsibility and learn from failures, engage in civic activities and mobilize peers to take risks to defend transparency, fairness and dignity.
The ARTPAD[iii] project explored how drama and play help teachers develop children’s resilience. Educators using drama techniques researched in the project showed a great deal of empathy when “learning a child”, not so much from official documents but from her or his level of initiative, showing the degree of comfort and readiness to engage in collaborative activities. Drama teachers, researched as part of ARTPAD in 5 EU countries, know the value of partnership and democratic relations in learning situations. They both model and ensure flexibility and a wide range of roles and perspectives to be explored by the children. In this way they enhance the chances, especially for those underprivileged ones who do not find it at home, to experience connectedness, make up for the lack of early attachment and seek mentoring help from peers and other adults. Fiction and improvised relationships in drama become valuable inspirations and vicarious experiences changing children’s self-efficacy beliefs. Teachers equipped with drama tools and awareness of its processes are also very good at interpersonal communication since they focus on the person and use the whole spectrum of human expressions of facts, states, needs, emotions, beliefs, dreams, hopes etc. Drama is based on empathic understanding and shows how to reduce fears through dialogue and safe experimentation. Drama based experiences promote tolerance of diversity and alternative patterns of behavior resulting from specific cultural sources. Finally, drama-based activities encourage learners to analyze and share emotions, especially when they are intense. Reflection sessions during and after drama sessions focus on causal relationships rather than blaming anybody for who they are. Narratives used in drama usually promote cooperation in decision-making processes with the focus on mutual goals.
Both projects also showed that the teachers using drama ( and playwork) tend to subscribe to progressive teaching philosophies and are capable of constructing more inclusive environments. Their way of organizing learning is more effective because they are able to align the needs of their students, the aims of educational interventions, specific tools, supportive feedback and motivating assessment of the learning outcomes. Their lessons or rather creativity sessions are usually co-designed and co-managed by the students themselves who are ready to take more responsibility for their own learning, also in terms of evaluation. The students are best qualified to capture the moment of true learning and drama teachers tend to appreciate their voice, making sure that those students at risk of failing are particularly attentively listened to.
In JIMAC project inclusion is understood broadly as addressing the needs of any disadvantaged students so that they have equal learning opportunities and providing meaningful challenges and feedback that build real competencies for the future rather than just fulfill the minimum requirements of local standards to produce potentially unemployed citizens. Our international project consortium believe that successful inclusive education happens primarily through accepting, understanding, and attending to student differences and diversity, which can include the physical, cognitive, academic, social, intercultural and the emotional. The inclusion of disadvantaged students in regular education classrooms requires mainstream school teachers to upgrade their skills in-order to respond to the new challenges provided by their changing roles and responsibilities. The project will follow The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education policy and practices from 25 Agency member countries in the project TE4I (The Teacher Education for Inclusion). It stresses the need to improve teacher competences and promote professional values and attitudes. Furthermore, the Agency set out the four core values that form the basis for the work of all teachers in inclusive education. These values are appreciation of learners’ diversity, unconditional support for their growth, collaboration and own professional development. The added value of JIMAC project is that the international consortium makes sure that inclusion concerns the development of resilience necessary for children to deal with learning barriers and unfavorable assessment.
Research based evidence promotes drama as an educational intervention which prevents exclusion of vulnerable learners and helps build resilience, uncertainty management and creativity. Drama defined as “no penalty zone” (Heathcote[iv]) offers the process of engaging in trustful community of learners, take risk of individual and collective initiative as well as distance the learners to the “suspended-disbelief” experiences to avoid any negative consequences of failure. Drama is any meaningful human interaction which can be explored in time and space in a fictional context so the participants can distance themselves and feel safe about their choices as they do not cause any negative consequences. Drama offers shared experience among those involved where they suspend disbelief and imagine and behave as if they were other than themselves in some other place at another time. Activities are sequenced in drama sessions so that they build trust, concentration, collaboration and free flow of unrestricted creative ideas and initiatives. Role-taking allows the participants to respond as if they were involved in an alternative set of historical, social and interpersonal relationships so that no response can be judged in terms of being the only right, correct, appropriate, polite etc. one. Any ambiguity, provocative actions, diversity of behaviors and attitudes explored in imagined action can be the source of dramatic tension but also humor, which both lead to discovery, new insights and increased sense of efficacy and resilience[v]. The most widely used DIE techniques include trust games, freeze-frame, Mantle of the Expert, role cards, compound stimulus, inner-critic, reflective tunel, improvisation, Forum Theatre, mini-performance, educational show. JIMAC project will further explore those techniques and more to offer more precise advice to inclusive teachers and recommendations for educational policy makers.
[i] “World Bank. 2018. World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28340 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
[iv] Heathcote, D. (1990) Collected writings on education and drama (ed. Johnson, L. & O’Neil, C.), Cheltenham, UK: Stanley Thornes Publishers.
[v] Jagiello-Rusilowski, A. (2016) Improvisation in revealing and developing hidden competences, INTED 2016 Proceedings, IATED Digital Library.