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David Towell Comments on His Experience Promoting Inclusive Education in Colombia

We interviewed David Towell, Director of the London-based Centre for Inclusive Futures, about his experience in promoting inclusive education in Colombia. David works locally and globally to build sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens. His pamphlet on education for peace is available here.

Q: You have been working with education leaders in Colombia over the past ten years. How do you feel inclusive education is doing there? 

A: I was fortunate to be in Colombia only a few weeks ago when the new agreement to end more than 50 years of civil war was announced. It seems timely to comment on inclusive education there through the perspective of peace-building.

For several years Government policy has favoured inclusive education but with very limited implementation in a system with a large private sector and beset by contradictions. The need now not just to end the war but build a lasting peace puts new pressure and opens new opportunities for the education sector to play a key role, especially with young people, in building more inclusive communities. Schools which welcome everyone and prepare young people for future citizenship are a key investment for a peaceful Colombia.

Q: Is there resistance to the idea of inclusive education?

A: Colombia is a very unequal country (one of the causes of its long history of conflict) and public education has typically been rigid and standardised. This is not an easy context for advancing genuine inclusion.

Q: What do you think are the most promising factors in moving inclusion forward?

A: In society as a whole, the emerging recognition that sustainable peace requires a stronger welcome to diversity, not just in education but everywhere. As elsewhere however, advances in inclusive education depend on good organization and strong advocacy among family associations, progressive teachers, and civil society leaders.”

Q: What role do you think groups like Inclusion International and the Canadian Association for Community Living can play in this effort?

A: Colombia has already benefitted significantly through learning from Canadian experience of inclusion in practice (for example, in New Brunswick) and through the participation of its civil society leaders in the international movement to advance inclusion.

Q: Can you share a recent personal experience where inclusion was successful and made a difference?

A: In my recent visit to Colombia, I was also fortunate to participate in the first forum on inclusion in the largest public school in the city of Palmira. Eighty children from six to 16 met together to listen to the experiences and celebrate the successes of children with disabilities at their school (very well presented with video, slides etc. by these young people) and then ‘sign up’  (everyone was presented with a badge for their shirts) as ‘inclusion champions’, offering peer support to all their school-mates in strengthening the culture of inclusion: ‘making our school work for everyone’.