The role of education as a process for fighting discrimination, promoting social justice and overcoming poverty has been indisputable through focus on marginalization and 'educational poverty' and its implications for well-being and human development. However, growing literature is showing that education is failing the most vulnerable groups, such as girls, by falling short on promises of equity and social justice. With recognised associations between low literacy and poverty and vulnerability, there is urgent need to focus on who is receiving what education.
In this research we aim to fill a gap that exists between idealistic policies that define equality as a main objective of education, and assessment of progress that remains focussed on isolated indicators of equity in access to structures. To achieve this, we need a theoretical and methodological framework that deciphers processes of social exclusion not just from, but also within learning systems.
At the theoretical level, our research will draw upon various frameworks. Firstly, within broad realms of social justice, our research will look at equality with reference to the capabilities approach (CA) for a nuanced and multidimensional perspective within which quality of human life, vulnerability and value of education can be appraised. The CA focuses strongly on aspects of developing agency and expanding choices and freedoms and will be foundational to our conceptual framework for gauging education policies by allowing a comprehensive analysis of the instrumental social, process and empowerment/distributive roles of education. Secondly, the concept of social exclusion will constitute the backbone of our analysis framework. In order to better decipher social exclusion, theories of social psychology will be crucial to our aim of unpacking social relations, beliefs and practices amidst which inclusive practices are played out and ensuring the social acceptability and 'embeddedness' of inclusive initiatives. Thirdly, our research will question the prevalent discourses in the field of education. We argue that education policies and assessments, especially in LMICs, continue to be designed solely based on primary indicators of literacy and numeracy achievement, maintaining the disconnect between objectives viewed as idealistic and indicator-based evaluations of what constitutes 'progress'.
There is a need for a different type of information to understand exclusion processes. The research methodology will strongly draw on the field of participatory research to better determine meaningful learning for children with different vulnerabilities. Firstly, in order to carry out an extensive systematic review, we will use the EPPI-Centre methodology, which provides specific tools to appraise various types of evidence on assessment of quality education. Secondly, using data on education from various case control surveys we will analyse inequalities that persist between individuals with various types of disabilities as well as girls, in order to illustrate the complexity of inequality. Thirdly, based on the findings from the previous stages, we will build a conceptual framework and propose methodology to be piloted in the next phases of the research. This methodology will use innovative techniques based on social systems dynamics thinking and propose new associations of mixed methods that look beyond isolated indicators to decipher the causal factors that sustain and perpetuate social exclusion.
Finally, the research will ensure user involvement from various partners by constituting a Research Advisory Group that will provide feedback on all phases on the project. This group, consisting of policy makers and NGOs working on the field, will also ensure that findings and reports are widely disseminated and assist in determining field sites for pilot testing of the framework in the next phases.
The findings of the research will be shared with diverse audiences and in usable formats in order to ensure wide dissemination and discussion. The investigators of this research have over 10 years of experience in the fields of education and inclusive development and will leverage this in order to ensure involvement of partners of various profiles from the very onset.
During the 4 months preceding the start of the ESRC-DFID funding (January to April 2015), the team will set up a Research Advisory Group consisting of academics, policy-makers and field implementers to provide guidance and feedback. This phase is crucial for the buy-in of various partners, as well as for ensuring that the research process advances in close collaboration with experts, implementers and assessors who are at the forefront of issues of quality and equality in education.
The support provided on this project by the various partners is a pre-requisite to the success of this research. The PI has worked with UNESCO-Education sector on various issues since 2002. Currently, she is serving as moderator for the online discussion and survey on Inclusive Education on the WSIS-Knowledge Communities forum (http://www.wsis-community.org) in order to better understand the challenges faced by various actors. She is working with the team charged with quality inclusive education to ensure that research is not just relevant to policy questions but that it is made available in a timely and usable manner. The PI has also obtained the interest and support of UNICEF (New York- Education Section and Tunisia Field Office) to provide feedback on the research and disseminate the findings and conclusions. Handicap International and Leonard Cheshire Disability, 2 international NGOs working on questions of vulnerability and inclusive education have expressed strong interest in the research project and will contribute to the discussions of findings and work with the PI to identify possible sites for next phase of the research. The investigators are honorary researchers with the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College London (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lc-ccr) and will liaise with the team to develop the framework. Finally, the team will work closely with the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) at Institute of Education, London in order to carry out and publish the findings of the systematic review on social exclusion assessment within education (https://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/).
The documents summarizing and discussing the findings of the research will be published in different formats. For academic partners, peer-reviewed publications as well as an in-depth report of the systematic review will detail the theoretical and methodological analyses. For policy makers and field implementers, executive summaries of the findings as well as technical fiches detailing the methodological framework will be produced. For extensive dissemination and discussion of the findings and reports, the team will ensure publication in various sources. For academic audience the articles will be published in peer-reviewed journals. The researchers will also present the findings at the Human Development and Capabilities Association Annual conference in September 2016. They will also organise a webinar to discuss the implications of the findings with experts on quality education and the capabilities approach. The executive summaries and technical fiches will be made accessible on the Washington University in St Louis (WUSTL) website and shared through the partners (UNESCO, UNICEF, Handicap International, Leonard Cheshire Disability). A presentation package will be constructed to share the framework with field partners during the next phase of the research.