Since 2015, 14,000 teachers in South America have undertaken professional development to better support inclusive practices for students with special needs in their classroom.

The training continues to spread across the country of Ecuador and into Peru and Argentina, which all began with a book co-authored by UNE education academic Dr Jeanette Berman and two UNE colleagues at the time, on a topic they were passionate about. 

“We thought the book, ‘Sustainable Learning: Inclusive Practices for 21st Century Classrooms’, would be useful in Australian and New Zealand classrooms. But it also resonated with an executive of the Australia Latin Teaching Academy – a mother of a child with a disability – and helped her make sense of her experiences in education in Australia for her son,” Jeanette says.  

“On returning to Ecuador, she became driven to build teacher expertise in inclusive education across the country and more widely in Latin America.”

The authors, who now work across UNE, Melbourne University and Southern Cross University are still consulted as the experts to help build content for teacher professional learning, which is then provided on the ground by ALATA and other locals.

“With ALATA, we’re able to draw on the passion and drive and local contacts of the ALATA personnel, as well as their expertise in negotiation with people on the ground,” Jeanette says. 

“They continue to involve us as the content experts, but local expertise and input ensures our core ideas can be sensitively adapted and culturally responsive to South American contexts, including its indigenous peoples.”

Jeanette says the geographical distance and especially the COVID-19 pandemic have presented challenges for the partnership and continued training, but they’re working to evolve and adapt.

“We continue to negotiate how to perpetuate the integral involvement of us when the work is so far away, is expensive and, at this time of COVID-19, is very complicated.
“The first few events – large scale professional development weeks – were held in schools in Ecuador, with hundreds of people and with us as workshop presenters and facilitators. We are having to renegotiate that involvement in terms of online presentations and participation in discussions with people from far away.”
The team is now pondering producing high-quality videos with embedded language translations as part of the training, which would have its benefits, but they also believe it shouldn’t replace the face-to-face training completely.
“There is still a desire to include us as integral to the project, and in real time, in the learning of these teachers. How to decide on the best balance will continue to be part of our conversation as we spread into Peru and Argentina, probably from a distance for at least the next year,” she says.
Evaluation studies are proving the wide-scale training program is having important impacts for both teachers and students, even under the constraints of the global pandemic.
“Ecuadorean teachers are still teaching their students online as a result of COVID restrictions, but most things are gradually re-opening. It has been reported that teachers in Ecuador who have participated in inclusive education training with ALATA are managing online teaching more effectively than other teachers, and ALATA is becoming the go-to reference for teachers who are struggling.

“Our relationship with ALATA has provided much opportunity for us to make a difference in education, particularly for students with disabilities in South America.”

Image: Dr Jeanette Berman (left) with teachers and ALATA staff in South America.