“Inclusive education … looks into how to transform education systems in order to respond to the diversity of learners. It means enhancing the quality of education by improving the effectiveness of teachers, promoting learning-centred methodologies, developing appropriate textbooks and learning materials and ensuring that schools are safe and healthy for all children. Strengthening links with the community is also vital: relationship between teachers, students, parents and society at large are crucial for developing inclusive learning environments.” (UNESCO web portal, August 2010).
Inclusive education evolved from Special Needs Education and its philosophy to counteract exclusion and discrimination of children with disabilities. In a broader context, this discussion was brought forward under the label “integration” targeting other disadvantaged learner groups like migrants, cultural and linguistic minorities, children or adults of low economic or social status, etc.
The discussions about necessary reform and change of education in order to achieve quality education for all have made clear that the challenge of diversity cannot be met by integration efforts on the side of the marginalised group only. Rather, all have to pursue and work towards the common goal of taking a holistic approach ensuring equal opportunities and rights for all.
In this context, inclusive approaches are being promoted as a way to provide learning environments that allow for democratic, effective and sustainable learning processes, outcomes and output for the benefit of all. Following this ideal, the ECML programme intends to further elaborate the obvious link between linguistic and intercultural competences and inclusion to identify approaches for practical implementation in the classroom.
“Plurilingual education (is)... not necessarily restricted to language teaching, which aims to raise awareness of each individual’s language repertoire, to emphasise its worth and to extend this repertoire by teaching lesser used or unfamiliar languages. Plurilingual education also aims to increase understanding of the social and cultural value of linguistic diversity in order to ensure linguistic goodwill and to develop intercultural competence.” (Council of Europe/Language Policy Unit, 2007).
Plurilingual education and resulting pedagogic approaches aim at respecting and developing each learner’s language repertoire enabling the speaker to use languages with different degrees of proficiency and adapted to different contexts (home, school, public, private, professional, etc.).
The concept of plurilingualism was first elaborated in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001). It was pointed out that the implementation of plurilingual education would have a profound impact on language education by moving away from the ideal of “mastering” a foreign language to the perspective of developing the learner’s unique individual linguistic abilities and competences.
In the context of the discussion on quality education for all it is the social aspect of plurilingual education that has been stressed. Awareness-raising activities targeting languages present in classrooms but usually not considered as learning objects are being considered as powerful means to develop peer learning built on tolerance, respect for and knowledge about each other. In view of this dimension, plurilingual education ideally complements the inclusive and intercultural components of the envisaged pedagogic approaches.
“Intercultural Education: education that respects, celebrates, and recognises the normality of diversity in all aspects of human life, promotes equality and human rights, challenges unfair discrimination, and provides the values upon which equality is built” National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Ireland, 2005.
The need for European citizens to develop intercultural competences has been widely acknowledged by educational authorities and teaching professionals. In the Council of Europe’s White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue (2008) it is pointed out that attitudes, behaviour, knowledge and skills relevant in intercultural contexts are not acquired as a side-effect of developing language competences but need to be explicitly placed on the educational agenda in order to be taught, learned, practised, elaborated and adapted to individual needs and social contexts.
There is a clear link between intercultural education and language (specifically foreign language) education. However, in view of the role of intercultural dialogue in the context of democratic citizenship and human rights education it became clear that intercultural education needs to become a constituent part of formal education and a nurtured element of the informal/non-formal learning context in good quality education in Europe.