EurECA Conference 2011

Dealing with Diversity

Institut Biblique et Missionaire Emmaüs, Vevey, Switzerland

2 - 5 June, 2011 (Ascension Weekend)

Fifty-five educators representing fifteen countries across Europe attended to consider the topic Dealing with Diversity. The conference focused on the challenges and opportunities teachers face with students who may come from a range of social and cultural backgrounds, who bring with them many gifts, talents, abilities and disabilities. Participants considered a Christian response to this diversity and practical ways in which they can meet the needs of individual students.

Exclusion or embrace?

In his opening address, the departing Travelling Secretary of EurECA, John Shortt reminded us of the emphasis that the Bible puts on our welcoming the stranger.

Using a picture of George Segal's sculpture, Farewell to Ishmael, and quotations from Miroslav Volf's book, Exclusion and Embrace, he applied this biblical emphasis to our work in the classroom. We ourselves as teachers and those we teach all need to learn to welcome the child or young person who is perceived to be different (and can, sadly, often be a victim of bullying because of this perception).

John quoted from an article on hospitality in the multicultural classroom by the South African Christian educator Samson Makhado: "Students will seldom belive they have anything to bring unless there is someone who will show their willingness to 'receive' them. Indeed, we discover our gifts in the eyes of the receiver."

Christ's love is inclusive

The keynote speaker was Professor Donald MacLeod, Director of the Centre for Inclusion and Equity, which is based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Professor MacLeod has over 30 years of experience as a teacher, teacher educator and trainer in the field of inclusion and additional support needs. He has provided consultancy and training in the USA, Canada and Southern Africa and has worked closely with the Ministry of Education in Botswana where he led a major UK Government funded project. He is working with the Dòchas Education Trust in establishing an in-service teacher education programme in Malawi.

In his three presentations, MacLeod pointed out first that Christ's love is inclusive, meaning that it reaches out to every person, seeing every person as being created by God and needing to be drawn into a loving relationship. In that sense, Christ's love is strikingly in line with modern legislation (Human Rights, Children's Rights, national and local legislation), which calls for all students to have the same right to become

Integration vs inclusion

He then distinguished between "integration" as a mere organisational measure of including students with special needs, and "inclusion" as a wholehearted commitment of schools, to make every child feel welcome in their class. His own experience of growing up in a Gaelic-speaking family and being forbidden to speak Gaelic at school, made MacLeod a adamant advocate of inclusion.

"There is no such thing as the "inclusive school" but there is the inclusive head teacher, the inclusive teacher, the inclusive child, the inclusive director of education, the inclusive social worker ... Together they seek to develop cultures, climates, communities and curricula that foster the inclusion of all."

MacLeod proposed that this requires an ongoing willingness to examine critically our concepts of school, our assumptions about curriculum, roles, success and values.

"To get it right for every child, we must know their story. Knowing and understanding the "story" was at the heart of Jesus' every encounter with individuals and groups. It must also be at the heart of our encounters with children and our commitment to serve them."

Workshops: Practical applications

In addition to the main sessions, participants had the opportunity to attend two seminars.

One was led by Peter Rothrock director of l'Arche community called La Corolle near Geneva, which welcomes 25 people with a mental handicap in four homes and three workshops. Peter was ably assisted in the seminar by Ann, one of the students who has Downs Syndrome. Participants were moved by her testimony of success in a world where many of her fellow students can feel marginalised and even rejected.

A second seminar on dealing with cultural diversity was led by Dr Bee Bee Sng, from Singapore, tutor in a tertiary institution in Singapore, where she teaches students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds from up to thirty different countries. She has also been involved in cross-cultural work in several Asian countries. The seminar engaged participants through discussion and brainstorming to apply their creativity in designing lessons which are multicultural.

Hello's and goodbye's

Equally important to every EurECA conference are times of worship, fellowship and informal sharing. An excursion to nearby "L'Abri", founding place of Francis Schaeffer's ministry, was enjoyed by many.

At the bi-annual General Assembly, John Shortt was honoured for 19 years of invaluable service on the EurECA Board both as an active member and as Travelling Secretary. He will continue to serve as Senior Advisor.

Leaving the Board this year were Dana Hanesovà (Sloviakia) and Blaga Popova (Bulgaria).

Two new Board members were elected: Livia Cerqueira Hodne (Norway) and Paul Bate (United Kingdom).