An inclusive curriculum should be flexible. That means having a curriculum that is adaptable and accessible to various needs and abilities so as to increase student participation and engagement. There are degrees of flexibility, along a continuum from fully flexible to traditional fixed curricula. Flexibility can manifest in what, how, where and when learning occurs.
Our new regional report on inclusion in education for Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia shows that the most common forms of curriculum adaptation in the region are individualized education plans and adaptation for learners belonging to ethnic minorities. However, other forms of adaptation are also found directed at the region’s pastoral communities. Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan offer flexibility to the education needs of these seasonal migrants.
In Kyrgyzstan, pastoral communities move from the end of May to the beginning of September to high-mountain pastures (jailoo) and they could not attend a government-run 100-hour school preparation programme provided to children in August. Under the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme, initiated by the Aga Khan Foundation, the Jailoo Kindergartens project in Alai district (rayon) began providing early childhood care and preschool preparation classes for these children in 2006. In 2018, during the jailoo season, more than 600 children were educated in 21 jailoo kindergartens, while 107 jailoo educators received child development care and early childhood development science training modules. In turn, teachers trained more than 500 parents and caregivers.
In Mongolia, more than 80% of districts (soum) are located more than 100 km from provincial capitals, and nomadic herders, who account for about 40% of the population, live between 10 and 55 km from soum capitals. The preschool education law states that children who cannot attend basic kindergarten are entitled to alternative education in shift classes with state financed mobile teachers and tent (ger) kindergartens. Ger kindergartens are an innovative adaptation designed to suit nomadic peoples’ socioeconomic and cultural setting. Affiliated with and managed by regular kindergartens, they are driven by pickup truck to remote locations where they stay up to six weeks in the summer, serving communities of 10 to 15 herding families with up to 25 children, sometimes moving with the herders. They run for a full eight-hour day, and children may stay with teachers overnight. In recent assessments, ger kindergartens performed better than fixed kindergartens in terms of quality of interactions but worse in other quality domains.
In the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a federal subject of the Russian Federation, children of nomadic families had no preschool education opportunities in the early 2010s. The local government and some public agencies amended the regional education law in 2013 to recognize parents’ right to select a nomadic form of education. The Nomadic School project, developed as part of a support programme for indigenous populations, aims at providing preschool and primary education along traditional nomadic routes, taking into account the way of life and traditions of northern ethnic minority communities. For instance, a school preparedness activity every summer offers intensive preschool training in nomadic camps. Overall, the share of children from indigenous northern ethnic minorities ready for school was 64% in 2018.
In Uzbekistan, the pilot project Aklvoy, in 12 of the 15 districts of the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, has two components. First, it is designed to increase preschool education coverage in remote rural areas through mobile groups. It has reached about 2,000 preschool-age children not previously covered by preschool education. Classes are held outdoors and on a bus equipped with teaching aids (cards, posters, workbooks, didactic games, education toys, children’s literature, sports equipment, magnetic boards, construction sets, educational photos and videos). Second, the Ministry of Preschool Education has developed a cycle of television programs and online classes, master classes and experiences for 3- to 7-year-olds with the technical support of the National Television and Radio Company. Over 200,000 preschool-age children follow the cycle. All programmes are accompanied by sign language interpretation.
Ultimately, providing an inclusive education means that the system should adapt to all learners, rather than making learners adapt to the system. Inclusive systems aim to fulfil every learner’s potential. The simple but powerful concept of universal design refers to school infrastructure but has been extended to describe approaches that minimize barriers to learning through flexible learning environments, such as those described in this blog. No one is pretending that such a system is easy to achieve, but snippets of examples such as those detailed in this blog show that, where there’s a will, there’s a way.