The inclusive classroom

Rosa María Torres del Castillo (Ecuador) is an educationist, linguist, education journalist and social activist.



If we mean inclusion in its broadest sense, no education is more inclusive than adult education. What is lacking in infrastructure and general conditions for teaching and learning is made up for by empathy, resilience, flexibility, companionship and solidarity. Challenges that are difficult to achieve in the formal education system are almost naturally found in adult education: collaborative learning, intergenerational learning, family education and community education.

Age remains the most discriminatory factor in education, despite the rhetoric of lifelong learning; education, the right to education, and even learning, remain closely associated with childhood. Adult education centres break with this logic, even though they cannot overcome prejudice by themselves. From adolescents aged 15, or younger, through to people aged 90 or older, everyone can share the same space and learn together, often challenging policies that restrict learners’ ages. The rigidity of the classroom organised by age, typical of formal education, does not apply in adult education.

Literacy centres throughout the world are characterised by a sizeable presence of women – women who see in literacy an opportunity not only to learn, but also to socialise, to meet other women, to escape for a few hours from the overwhelming slavery of domestic tasks.

Adult education spaces are generally spaces for intercultural learning in which people from different places, ethnic groups and cultures converge. Many times they are not only multicultural environments, but also multilingual.

Adult education welcomes people with all kinds of disabilities. The “solutions” I have seen in many centres have shown me the best in human beings and blurred the boundaries between the possible and the impossible.

Adolescents and pregnant women, often regarded with disapproval and even rejected from formal classrooms, are welcome in adult classrooms. Here the multi-remedial can find a place to try again, without fear. I have seen LGBTI people fully integrated into the group, and foreigners feel at home. Even religious, ideological and political differences may go unnoticed or be actively tolerated in these centres.

Adult education centres are living laboratories for solving economic, social and cultural problems in precarious material conditions but with considerable human and creative wealth. It is unfair that adult education, which contributes and teaches so much, remains so misunderstood, discriminated against and underappreciated in our societies.

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