/Hold On to inclusion! Reflections on School Crisis Management Amidst Pandemic and Its Impact on Vulnerable Pupils – Luisa Conti

Hold On to inclusion! Reflections on School Crisis Management Amidst Pandemic and Its Impact on Vulnerable Pupils – Luisa Conti

Luisa Conti
University of Jena – GERMANY

Social inequality characterizes every society in the world: life conditions and the access to resources vary among the citizens of any country (Alvaredo et al. 2019). Access to quality education is considered a key condition to allow the youngest members of a society to climb up the social ladder (UNESCOa 2020). Decreasing the education equity gap is therefore a central challenge, a challenge which even in Germany, one of the richest countries of the world, has not been overcome yet (Baader & Freytag 2017). A massive quantity of empirical studies show how the German education system produces and reproduces social classes, freezing societal lines of exclusion (ibid.). Though since the introduction of the Inclusion paradigm a decade ago, efforts have been made to rethink the education system and its pedagogic tradition to make the school a place for all (BMBF 2016). In this article, I sketch the inclusive turn and argue that holding on to it would soften the negative impact of lockdown on youth.

The introduction of the principle of inclusion aims to give life to the principle of equality on which democracy grounds. In the federal guidelines for the realization of the inclusive school, it is put in evidence that its central aims must be: 1. leading every single pupil to the best possible academic achievement; 2. supporting their participation and relatedness; 3. avoiding any discrimination. (KMK & HRK 2015a, p. 1). School is recognized today as an institution
which must do more than solely transferring propositional knowledge, school needs to be a safe space for children and adolescents growing up. Daily interactions at school with peers and adults play a central role in their identity development (Verhoeven et al. 2019). In order to support a positive psychosocial development of all children and adolescents, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (ACR: KMK) promotes the creation of multiprofessional teams (KMK & HRK 2015a, p. 3) – ideally composed of: teachers, educators, social workers and psychologists. Through the integration of their competences, perspectives and networks of external institutions and organizations, they are in the position of monitoring and infl uencing the environment in which vulnerable children and adolescents are embedded in, inside and outside the school. In the same key document, the KMK recommends a pedagogical transformation which the HRK (German Rector’s Conference) aims to realize through adequate teacher training. Giving
different instructions to learners with different needs (individualization) or doing it on the base of their learning preferences (differentiation) are recognized as central strategies to foster the development of the different pupils on the base of their own peculiarity (KMK&HRK 2015b, p.9). Popular is the adoption of collaborative and cooperative learning schemes: all pupils participate actively and get motivated to engage for a common learning goal (Borsch 2018). This kind of learning processes are moderated and supervised by teachers who supposedly
leave their role as instructor and take over the role of facilitator. If teachers succeed in considering not just the needs and preferences of the pupils but also their interests and manage to bring their knowledge and abilities to expression, they transform diversity into a resource for the whole class (Conti 2020). Settings in which pupils feel considered and taken seriously and in which they can have a meaningful impact on the common learning process are empowering for all pupils, specifi cally for the vulnerable ones (Kumpulainen & Lipponen
2012). To support teachers in making inclusion a reality, intercultural competence (e.g. antiracism) and strategies of multilingualism are slowly introduced in teacher trainings (Hoch
& Wildemann 2019). Higher risk of exclusion are pupils with migratory background (DESTATIS 2018a) and in particular, the ones without high profi ciency in the German language (Dirim 2010).

In this context of slow innovation led by the principle of Inclusion, schools went on lockdown because of the pandemic COVID-19. Children and adolescents have therefore been prevented for several weeks so far to meet anyone but the people they live with. At the present moment, school has gone back to its old format, losing its social function: now it is just an
institution to transmit knowledge, though there is no teaching, there are just digital commands such as ‚learn it yourself‘. While it is certain that COVID-19 for the youngest generation is generally harmless, and it is still uncertain that how much locking down schools has a real impact towards saving lives (Fretheim 2020), it is absolutely evident that school lockdowns are harming children and adolescents – above all, the vulnerable ones –, and reinforcing social inequality (Armitage & Nellums 2020).

Around 17,5% of the children in Germany live in poverty (DESTATIS 2018b), pandemic hit their families the most: no savings and no contact with their supportive network raise the stress level which increases the risk of higher alcohol and drug consumption and domestic violence (UNICEF 2020). Many children and adolescents cope with conditions in which it is not possible to concentrate, e.g. because of overcrowding (DESTATIS 2020) or hunger (Tophoven et al. 2017, p. 36). At the moment, the welfare system is not paying enough to compensate the lunch the children would have if they were at school (Hacker 2020). 17% of children under 12 are during the lockdown of schools left home alone (Petersen 2020), a condition that demands an enormous amount of self-discipline and causes a higher exposure to other risks. Most of them are children of educationally disadvantaged parents who have most likely jobs which cannot be transferred into homeoffice.

Parents with low education level have tendentially less pedagogic resources to support home schooling (Geis & Schröder 2016), parents with low economic means have diffi culties to make digital school a real possibility for their children. Digitalization is indeed not a reality of our entire society, the digital gap between lower-income and higher-income households (STATISTA 2019) refl ects into the level of digitalization of the different schools, which in Germany make up a very segregated landscape. Just a small minority of schools have offered digital schooling, going beyond giving homework by e-mail, whatsapp or even mail (Olbrisch 2020)

the social function of school becomes particularly important, schools have stopped executing it. There seems to be neither structures nor strategies to allow pupils from home to join an inclusive learning process or support mechanisms to protect the vulnerable ones. Just the personal motivation of some isolated teachers and social workers guarantee to some fortunate pupils a partly fulfi llment of their rights which are otherwise blocked. By holding on the inclusive principle, the schools could have a great, positive impact on children and adolescents amidst pandemic. Their multiprofessional- team could strengthen the cooperation with pedagogists working e.g. in the local after-school care-club or youth centre and plan with them individual strategies of regular contact, deciding stable people who are responsible for each pupil. These people could choose the adequate channel (window talks,
e-mail, et cetera) to reach their different pupils, they could facilitate the regular contact among pupils and encourage self-directed collaborative learning processes. In this way, they could support their psycho-social and cognitive development in this potentially traumatic phase of their life. More important than ever are inclusive strategies during as well as after the lockdown: when schools will re-open, all students will be at a very different start positions. By applying the inclusive approach, they could manage to welcome every one of them in an adequate way, giving them the emotional and cognitive support needed. Though a rapid change of course is necessary, and time is running out. If we are serious about being a community engaged in saving all possible lives, we cannot ignore the one of our youngsters. Eventually, all lives should matter.

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