Equity and Inclusion in Education: finding strength through diversity

By Lucie Cerna

Analyst, Thematic Analysis and Reviews, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Key points:

– More equitable and inclusive education helps students achieve their full potential.
– Education systems can take different paths to improve but there are universally relevant key steps.
– Supporting diversity in education can lead to better academic results, careers and help enhance societies.

Why equity and inclusion matter

The digital transformation, green transition, rising inequality, refugee crises and a host of other issues are having a major impact on societies around the world. That impact is being felt in schools, where the variety of backgrounds and cultures present in classrooms is expanding. This increase in diversity has many implications. And it is why it is more important than ever for policymakers and teachers to respond.

Improving equity and inclusion in education is vital to ensuring students have a fair and equal chance of succeeding in later life.  This does not only relate to ethnicity, Indigenous or immigrant background. It also includes students with special education needs, of different sexual orientation, gender identity and much more. That diversity creates a diverse set of challenges. At the moment, far too many students fall behind their peers in terms of academic performance, well-being outcomes and future job opportunities. But by emphasising equitable and inclusive education, we can help education systems and teachers focus on the needs of each individual student.

Strength through diversity

The OECD’s Strength through Diversity project has led global research in this area. While education systems can choose many different paths to improve equity and inclusion, the OECD has identified six key steps that are universally relevant to building better systems.

  • First, you need a framework that ensures education systems incorporate equity and inclusion in all policy areas. That means governments coordinate policies that support all students. For example, policymakers need to question how education systems are governed, resourced and monitored to ensure they reflect the needs of all students.
  • Funding models also need to be designed with the explicit goal of fostering equity and inclusion. That includes regular and targeted funding, which should be balanced to avoid possible drawbacks such as the multiplication of programmes, a lack of coordination and inefficiencies.
  • Teachers and school leaders need to have equity and inclusion as core, underlying themes within their initial preparation and continuous professional learning. This will give a foundation for understanding how to address diversity in the classroom. At the moment, many teachers across OECD countries feel insecure in their preparation in this area, and have flagged a high need for relevant training.
  • At the same time, all relevant stakeholders – students, parents, teacher unions, organisations representing specific groups – should be engaged to help promote equitable and inclusive policies. This will help raise awareness of diversity issues, as well as create more positive classroom environments.
  • Schools also should identify and address the needs of students in each classroom. For example, if a child has a learning disability, then an Individual Education Plan can be developed and progress monitored through a variety of assessment formats.  Schools can also support students through access to psychological services.
  • And education systems need to be flexible and responsive to the needs of students. This can happen by providing different paths, such as academic and vocational choices; offering an inclusive curriculum; and adopting a range of teaching formats from one-on-one tuition to small group approaches.

These six key steps will help education systems become more equitable and inclusive – to the benefit of all students. This will help create greater multicultural awareness, support students with different backgrounds and needs to succeed, and better prepare students for life in an evolving world. As diversity in and out of the classroom is likely to continue to grow, it is crucial for policymakers and teachers to respond to the challenges.

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