Sunday, 17 October, 2021

An Inclusive Approach for the Excluded

Saykat Biswas

The onslaught of the covid-19 pandemic has hit the education sector of Bangladesh hard, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Now that our schools are open after an 18-month-long hibernation, we should look out for post-covid educational issues.

One of such issues is virtual exclusion. In the context of education, the concept of virtual exclusion means the mental disengagement of students despite their physical presence in the class. To elaborate, virtually excluded students are those who are present in the class physically and even though they can comply with the instructions but they are not mindful enough to be actively engaged with the class activities.

If we trace the origin of this issue, we will find the influence of cultural capital, a sociological concept coined by Pierre Bourdieu, which means the non-materialistic possessions- knowledge, education, and skills- that position people in different social strata. High cultural capital is positively correlated with high economic capital, and the people with high economic capital are in power to steer the society. Like our society, most schools adopt the cultural capital of the people in power. Looking into the hierarchy of power, we will see the upper-class at the top of the pyramid and mostly they opt for private schooling. Among the remaining classes, the middle and lower-class, the middle class is more powerful and, therefore, the cultural capital of the middle-class becomes prominent in our government primary schools.

This entails some considerable advantages for the middle-class pupils in terms of dealing with the language and lexical resources that are being used to facilitate academic activities. This is one of the areas where many primary graders from low-income families cannot catch up because, unlike their peers from the middle-class background, they are not exposed to a good range of vocabulary and other aspects of language usages due to their home culture and socio-economic status.

Research studies documented that there is huge domination of language-related abilities in academia, which is one of the salient factors that makes many students virtually excluded, particularly those who do not have the required level of linguistic abilities. As a result, they cannot fully involve, let alone engage, in many educational activities, which can eventually lead to absenteeism, drop-outs, poor academic performances, and some behavioral issues. On top of these, students identified with poor verbal intelligence are sometimes labeled as less-meritorious because they cannot perform well in the traditional assessments system and are sometimes said to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now that we are concerned about what virtual exclusion is and where it can lead us to, our educators, therefore, need to be more mindful particularly while making decisions, planning lessons, developing materials, and facilitating the class. Among the ways that can help them counter this issue, the incorporation of multiple intelligence in the lesson plans can be one of the most efficient ways due to its strengths-based and inclusive facets.

The theory of multiple intelligence was first posited in 1983 by Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. This theory proposes that humans possess eight types of intelligence- verbal, mathematical, visual, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily, and naturalistic- and each intelligence had to meet eight criteria to be recognized as an intelligence. All learners possess all these intelligence but at varying levels, and learning is enhanced when learners have the scope to utilize their dominant intelligences.

That being said, the major question that appears at this juncture is that how would we incorporate multiple intelligences in our class and create an inclusive space for everyone to learn? Well, all we need to do is to plan a lesson incorporating at least two other intelligences apart from verbal and mathematical intelligences. One example could be a lesson plan that would require students to work in groups where they would draw a picture and present that before the large class. This can help them practice ‘interpersonal intelligence’ by allowing them to work and interact with the groupmates, and ‘visual intelligence’ through the scope of mind mapping and drawing. The rationale behind embedding at least two other intelligences apart from verbal and mathematical is that, by default, 95% of the educational materials are already covered with either verbal or mathematical intelligence, according to David G. Lazer. By doing this, we can help get those particular students engaged whose verbal and mathematical intelligence are not strong but have other prominent intelligences to learn.

By reducing dependency on verbal and mathematical skills and promoting scopes to engage and learn, multiple intelligence can combat issues like virtual exclusion. Also, this inclusive approach can boost students’ self-esteem and confidence level, which can eventually yield to a healthy learning climate, enhanced intellectual engagement, and improved academic performance.

Although a class of multiple intelligence can counter virtual exclusion and ensure a well-rounded education, its implementation might be difficult in the government primary schools due to some major constraints including limited resources and shortage of highly motivated and capable teachers. However, one step forward could be to provide teachers with capacity-building training, and sensitize the policymakers so that this issue is given necessary attention while formulating the policies. Also, a collaborative approach is needed from everyone’s end to create awareness and safeguard students from being virtually excluded.


The writer is a Deputy Manager, Skills Development Programme of BRAC