The SOLIS project, funded with the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union, is investigating the core challenges within cultural diversity and discrimination within 12-16 year old school pupils. The project is a collaboration between Loughborough University (UK), E-Consultants (Norway), People Help The People (Italy), AcrossLimits (Malta), European Social Entrepreneurship Institute (Lithuania), Afyonkarahisar Provincial National Education Directorate (Turkey), Research Paths (Greece), European Learning Centre (Spain). It aims to develop an e-learning platform for students and web training portal for teachers to provide interactive and collaborative activities such as digital storytelling, promoting peer learning and sharing for the increased wellbeing of students.
Extensive research has been carried out in the participant countries. The full report can be read on our website www.solis-project.eu. The research identifies various challenges in creating an inclusive school environment. The role of students is of paramount importance as they are the ones that have to embrace inclusion as an attitude towards their peers. Teachers should be able to embrace the inclusive ethos as a guiding principle in their teaching practice. Many teachers are lacking proper training to do so. Therefore, the need for the training of teachers is an imperative for the inclusive process, something the SOLIS project aims to provide support for with innovative learning practises that take a more holistic approach.
All eight countries have embraced inclusive education as a goal in their educational systems. The trend can be traced back into a series of international conventions and treaties that have been incorporated into national legislations. From the research conducted on a national level by the SOLIS partners in Norway, UK, Lithuania, Malta, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey, we have identified that inclusion as a concept should be as broad as possible: It should include all learners, regardless of identity, background or ability. Another outcome of the research identified that in some European countries integration and even more so incorporation into a dominant cultural paradigm is not inclusion. Inclusion recognizes and embraces diversity and difference as a resource and not as a problem. In this sense the inclusive school is responsive to the diverse needs of individual learners and accepts the different cultural practices as they exist in multicultural societies as they are expressed in the school context. Inclusive education increases the opportunities for peer interaction and the formation of close friendships between learners with and without disabilities, with disability being one of the main factors of exclusion.
Inclusion embraces diversity. All project participants identified the groups that are more vulnerable and therefore face a greater risk of exclusion. Vulnerable groups were identified on the basis of poverty, gender, ethnic origin (especially people with immigrant or refugee status), religion, sexual orientation or identity and disability.
Diverse strategies exist across participant countries. A case study from the UK reveals that a school has ‘well-being Wednesdays’ every week, with topics that pupils do together in groups. “When we discuss personal topics, the kids are very open and just accept it. They seem interested and don’t seem to find it odd or embarrassing to talk about things.”
In Turkey, sports education is being used as an inclusive method for strengthening social cohesion for temporary and internationally protected individuals.
And in Italy, the ‘InterAction – Increase skills to combat early school leaving’ project is taking place in some neighbourhoods of the city of Palermo, aimed at combating early school leaving and dispersion through the involvement of the educating community.
The SOLIS project is developing tools that use digital storytelling as one of its core strategies. Digital storytelling is a form of media through which people can describe a situation or experience. Through it, the thoughts, emotions and experiences of the storyteller can be expressed in an authentic way. Digital storytelling can play a significant role in raising awareness and preventing students’ exclusion, when utilized within the school setting.