DECIPHERING SOCIAL EXCLUSION WITHIN LEARNING SYSTEMS: assessing capability deprivation; strengthening collective capabilities

Bakhshi, Parul; Trani, Jean Francois (2016). 'DECIPHERING SOCIAL EXCLUSION WITHIN LEARNING SYSTEMS: assessing capability deprivation; strengthening collective capabilities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

In the field of development, the concept of ‘inclusion’ has become a central tenant of social policies and international frameworks. In education, inclusion, and its corollary inclusive education, is ubiquitous in terms of design of policies and programmes. The SDG goal 4 states that countries should “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning”, thus linking the concept of inclusion to education quality. This constitutes a great leap from the MDG goal 2, which reduced the vision of education to extending access to primary education for all. However, we argue that in terms of implementation and assessment, inclusion remains synonymous of basic indicators such as access and completion of learning cycles, looking at equity in reduced terms and fails to provide insights about persistence of structural inequalities within schools in particular and within societies as wider entities. In this theoretical discussion we attempt to unpack the complexities of the learning process and propose a framework for operating the much discussed paradigm shift from “access” towards “access and learning (UNESCO 2012)
We argue that although inclusion is a ubiquitous policy terms and has strong grounding in human rights perspectives, is based on unclear theoretical frameworks in social sciences. As a result, it does not allow us to capture the processes that are in action within diverse learning systems. The concept of Social Exclusion (SE), that has been more prominent in the field of unemployment and social welfare policies of Europe, provides a relevant lens for analyses of dynamic processes that are in play within education.
We also put forward the argument that there is a danger that “the analytically coherent paradigms of SE are predicated on the moral paradigms of social inclusion. It does indeed seem to be common that “inclusion” is left under-theorized and under-discussed; it is simply assumed to be an ethical good” p80 (O'Reilly 2005).
We further argue that in order to better unpack social exclusion processes, it must be viewed as a capability deprivation (Sen 2000): “ the real importance of the idea of SE lies in emphasizing the role of relational features in the deprivation of capability and thus in the experience of poverty” (p6). It is this “relational feature” that remains elusive in inclusive education programmes’ implementation and more specifically in its assessment. Within this perspective, one can argue that in practice, the very nature of the concept of “inclusion” within education is starkly distinct form that of SE in that the former has become inherently bogged down by specific labels of on-dimensional identities (disability for instance), and by simplistic assessments of access/attendance that present headcounts. SE as capability deprivation should be more central to programme implementation and assessment by “focusing attention on the role of relational features in deprivation” (p8).   Such a view would also stress the synergies between SE and poverty: “SE cannot be used to describe every kind of deprivation – whether or not relational features are important in its genesis” (p9).
Pertaining to education and questions of access, it also seems crucial to make the distinction between SE and “unfavourable inclusion” (p28), which pertains to unequal terms of social participation (Kelles-Viitanen 1998). Sen suggests that there are situations where people are in fact included but on unfavourable terms. He further states that the nature of the problem of exclusion and unfavourable inclusion are different and should thus be analysed as distinct phenomenon. In the field of education, this distinction seems paramount and most often overlooked, the consensus for the past decades being that getting children into learning systems is where the crux of the issue lay. However, overwhelming evidence is now showing that in number of countries, children, especially vulnerable children, are not learning even the basics within schools. The global discourse labels the lack of learning as an issue of quality. We strongly argue that the “quality” needs to be unpacked and inclusion needs to be recognized as a crucial component of quality at all levels. Shifting the lens to analyse learning processes and strengthening of collective capabilitiesseems long overdue.

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