Spotlight on: Inclusiveness

One part of creating a diverse environment is to promote inclusiveness. The European University Association, in May 2018, referred to ‘inclusiveness’ as ‘diverse backgrounds being valued in a group or by the institution which, as a pre-requisite, needs awareness about differences and privileges’, the definition of such term being inspired by Bolger (2018).

But if we understand inclusiveness as the outcome of inclusive attitudes and strategies (or of inclusion in itself), what are we referring to when we talk about ‘inclusion’? And what are the conditions necessary to achieve inclusiveness?

Inclusion in context

In the context of (music) education, inclusion has traditionally been referred to in educational systems’ response to students with disabilities. As a concept therefore, it has its origins in special education, evolving from the exploration of additional services to supplement general education provision, to the establishment of entirely separate systems (the appropriateness of which has been challenged both from a human rights and from the point of view of effectiveness), to a desired ‘integration’ (which calls for organisational changes that appear both unrealistic and homogenizing)

Developments in educational practices as a response to constantly evolving educational environments have however expanded the inclusion agenda. In 2006, UNESCO’s Guidelines for Inclusion defined inclusion as ‘a dynamic approach of responding positively to pupil diversity and of seeing individual differences not as problems, but as opportunities for enriching learning’ and acknowledging the below as four elements in the conceptualization of inclusion:

  • ‘Inclusion is a process’
  • ‘Inclusion is concerned with the identification and removal of barriers’
  • ‘Inclusion is about the presence, participation and achievement of all students’
  • ‘Inclusion involves a particular emphasis on those groups of learners who may be at risk of marginalization, exclusion or underachievement’

In this definition, a further dimension to inclusion appears to be included: the idea of diversity beyond an individual’s physical or learning ability. Nowadays, inclusive practices in education refer to the removal of barriers to provide equal education opportunities for those who have traditionally been impacted by other forms of disadvantage beyond physical or learning disabilities (i.e.: socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, linguistic, cultural heritage, gender or immigrant status)

Social inclusion and the conservatory

In today’s EU higher education environment, we see that “social inclusion” is highlighted as one of the top current priorities. The Bologna Process Implementation Report of 2018 (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice 2018) summarizes that at the Yerevan Comuniqué of 2015, EHEA ministers’ reaffirmed their commitment to this social dimension of higher education. And it is perhaps within this broader definition of inclusion that the term poses further questions. By understanding the broader definition of “inclusion” as “the action or state of including, or of being included, within a group or structure” (Oxford Dictionary n.d.) we assume the existence of an “us” (a group / a structure that includes) vs. a “them” (others that need to be included). Applied to our context, this definition would imply that the existing group or structure (i.e.: communities, HMEs, conservatories) is, by definition, static and homogeneous, that there is no ‘them’ within these socially constructed, living, structures. Our experiences tell us, however, that this is not the case.

If we dismiss this rather problematic understanding of “inclusion” but accept “inclusiveness” as the ultimate positive outcome of inclusive practices, we must acknowledge the need for HMEIs to engage in the difficult task of leveling the playing field (or creating a new level playing field all together). Recognizing the different starting points of students, the multi-layered, ever-evolving composition of individual identities, the complex realities of our increasingly diverse communities; and the myriad of attitudes, behaviors, abilities, and contexts present in such communities, is only the first step. We argue that ensuring equal access to educational opportunities at all levels of the institution through more holistic systems that cater for the individual needs of community members (ie: admissions practices, support services, universally designed curriculum, teaching strategies, student success / retention programs, and a healthy, safe and respectful campus climate) should enrich both our communities and the learning experience of individuals within them.

This article is a part of the publication titled How are diverse cultures integrated in the education of musicians across Europe? Other chapters can be found here.

Works cited

A guide for ensuring inclusion and equity in education © UNESCO 2017

Bolger, M., 2018, ‘What’s the difference between Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?’(GA Blog)

European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2018. The European Higher Education Area in 2018: Bologna Process Implementation Report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. © Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2018.

Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All © UNESCO 2005

Oxford Dictionary

Universities’ Strategies and Approaches towards Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: Examples from across Europe © European University Association 2018