Spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusion in international education

19 October 2021
Posted by Study Group

Teacher Perspectives Blog Series from Study Group

The next blog in the series is introduced by Dr Mark Cunnington, Chief Operating Officer for the UK and Europe at Study Group.

Equality, diversity and inclusion in international education are essential components to a productive learning environment, ensuring all students feel comfortable and can thrive to fulfil their academic potential. 

In our latest ‘Teacher Perspectives’ blog, Katrina Alloway, a teacher at Study Group's Bellerbys College in London, explores some key equality, diversity and inclusion related issues in an international education context. The topics Katrina covers include digital learning accessibility and supporting neurodiversity in the classroom. 

Katrina’s full blog is available below.

Spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusion in international education

We interview Katrina Alloway, a teacher and member of the Diversity and Inclusion to Thrive and Learn Ambassador Group at Study Group. Katrina has a Master’s in Applied Linguistics and a Master’s in Special and Inclusive Education.

“Fundamentally, equality, diversity and inclusion in international education is about creating a classroom and campus where students and staff are willing to be open to others, to new ideas, to difference. To achieve this, teachers need to have confidence in the curriculum, resources, assessment, and the overall teaching framework, so they can work effectively.”

Firstly, how have Study Group teachers led in crisis since the pandemic began?

Looking back at Spring 2020, and the big move to online teaching, it is astonishing how teachers managed to stay calm! Somehow, we made sure that our students still achieved their goals and got their university progressions. Those early days of the pandemic seem like a long time ago now and we have all adapted to teaching in a blended way, so face to face, live digital platforms and creating content for our course websites.

We cannot overlook the contribution of technology, nevertheless, one of the biggest benefits that teachers are giving students is ensuring that college communities are created for new cohorts. This means that even though students are learning remotely, they still feel that they are part of a group, that they have peers around them, to learn with, debate with and have fun with. This is not new because of the pandemic, it was always there, just the way we do it has shifted.

Secondly, how are Study Group teachers reimagining the future?

It is well-documented that working life is moving away from single professions to ‘portfolio’ careers. As sectors evolve, jobs are changing, so people are moving roles increasingly. This means that rather than having fixed abilities and finite knowledge, employability and transferable skills are becoming ever more important. The days of the teacher standing at the front of a class giving young people the benefit of her experience is gone.

Teachers now must empower their students with communication, technological, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Most importantly teachers need to build students’ confidence and encourage their curiosity about our changing world.

There is a lot more discussion and awareness of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) now, how has that impacted international education?

EDI has been around for several decades, it is well developed in legislation and policies e.g., UN Sustainable Development goals, which include targets on Quality Education and Reduced Inequalities.

However, the #MeToo #BlackLiveMatter, and of course the pandemic, are making us all re-consider and question more deeply the world that we want to live in.

Fundamentally EDI in international education is about creating a classroom and campus where students and staff are willing to be open to others, to new ideas, to difference. To achieve this, teachers need to have confidence in the curriculum, resources, assessment, and the overall teaching framework, so they can work effectively. In turn, this means that they will then have the capacity to accommodate a wide range of students and manage any potential conflicts of interest.

What are the biggest challenges to EDI in International Education in 2021?

Firstly, all education has had a massive and very fast shift to online or blended learning, unfortunately that means there is a digital divide. Some of our students have state of the art technology, others just have a mobile phone. Plus, WIFI capacity varies a lot. For teachers, this is a huge challenge to accommodate. It is a safe guess to say that remote learning is here to stay, although the form that it will take is evolving. So, we must ensure that digital learning is available to all and is not just for an elite.

Secondly, amongst Study Group teachers, there is a growing desire to support students with neurodiversity such as dyslexia, plus those with sensory impairments and physical disabilities.

Within the UK, organisations are legally obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate students with disabilities. This means adapting teaching, and the learning environment, to meet students’ needs. This does require knowledge and skill, and there is scope for policies and practice to improve here.

However, teachers should remember that every student will have his/her own unique needs and background, so finding out about a student’s individual situation can really help. The power of good will should not be underestimated.

International Education can seem like Western Education rather than being truly global. Is this true?

It is worth putting international education into the wider context of the young person’s journey. Students come from all over the world to study in the UK. They have very different social and educational backgrounds. When they enter our education system, they will be taught by academics who have a huge range of interests and experiences, and they will build a very diverse peer group. Importantly, they will study within a system that encourages critical thinking and building on research.

So, eventually, when students graduate, and move either back to their home countries or elsewhere, they will take these skills and contacts with them. They will be able to use them wherever they are living and working.

Perhaps the real value of international education is the ability to mould it to different circumstances. A student can make it work for his or her own future needs.

Has Study Group got Inclusive Education right?

Teachers in international education are predisposed to diversity, they would not work in this sector if not. However, there is always room for improvement. This is recognised and acted upon by the Academic Office. EDI was the theme of our recent conference and of our next Academic Journal, we have Ambassador Groups; the Diversity and Inclusion to Thrive and Learn group, is a lively example.

There will never be a point where we can say ‘equality, diversity, inclusion, yep, we’ve done that.’ True inclusive education will always be about being open to ideas and adapting to evolving circumstances. It will always develop.

Perhaps, what we all need to remember is that inclusion is based on risk. This could mean speaking to someone unfamiliar or setting yourself a new task, or really listening to an idea which makes you feel uncomfortable. If we want to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion, then all of us: staff, students, and stakeholders alike, need to take more risks. We all need to think about how we can live and work in a more inclusive way. Inclusivity takes courage. So go on, be brave and challenge yourself!

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