“Inclusion is essential,” Frank says. “Flip it around and you have exclusion, which is a recipe for disaster.”
Frank turns to his own country of birth, to make his point.
“In Northern Ireland, we have a religiously segregated education system. Although now we have a strong move towards integration, it remains true that if you don’t have inclusion, you don’t have the opportunities to relate at a basic level. There is a failure in understanding. There is misunderstanding. And with all that, you can understand how questions of identity are fostered.”
Looking towards Europe, you see other examples of racial segregation, for example in parts of France and Belgium, highlighting that inclusion and multiculturalism in education is an issue not only for EU partner countries, but also for the 27 Member States themselves.
“The most powerful thing you can do is to educate,” Frank emphasises. “That is why you see the denial of education in, for example, Afghanistan, because the authorities there feel threatened by education.”
As an educator and policy advisor, Frank is currently working with the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber on the EU-funded project Creating an Entrepreneurship Coaching and Training Programme for University Spin-offs. He has contributed to the European Commission’s Entrepreneurship Education Working Group, and has worked with several European and ETF partner countries, including more recently promoting entrepreneurship education with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) in Egypt.
At a policy level Frank understands that gender inclusion in particular is an area that demands joined-up policy-making.
“As far as inclusion of women and girls is concerned, childbirth, family size, poverty levels – all these are linked and have a direct correlation to educational opportunities for women,” he observes.
The practicalities of having a range of NGOs and external agencies working in areas such as education inevitably impact on framing effective inclusion policies.
From his time in Egypt Frank recalls the government authorities often being challenged to reconcile differing policy agendas and associated project priorities from different external funders. While the overarching aims of such external agencies were ultimately the same, different objectives inhibited policy-makers in framing coherent policies. Frank’s experience in Egypt working in the Sohag Governorate on the Upper Nile, was encouraging both in terms of multiculturalism and gender balance in the classroom. Although senior positions were mostly occupied by men, women teachers felt valued and they were able to express their views on educational and other issues, Frank recalls.
“The women teachers were very impressive: dynamic, resourceful and imaginative. They were not afraid of asserting themselves in workshops.”
In terms of inclusion, one business idea which emerged from the project was the recognition of women needing protected spaces – a niche opportunity existed for a café that catered solely for women. However, some women expressed strong views against this approach which they felt reinforced stereotypes.
In contrast, Frank has found many examples of opposition to inclusion in supposedly more advanced economies. As an external consultant to schools in England, he once came across a single-sex girls’ school in a heavily multicultural area of a northern city where the students were overwhelmingly white. It was only when he realised that the uniform dress code allowed the girls to wear skirts that would be considered scandalously short in the conservative Muslim district where the school was situated that it became clearer how selective exclusion was being practiced there.
When it comes to the digital and green transitions – priority areas that can make inclusion difficult, particularly for poorer students without access at home to digital devices – Frank has learned that throwing money at technology is not always the answer to greater inclusion.
“There was an interesting 2015 OECD report that found that spending on technology made little difference in schools – it was how you used it that mattered,” he says.
“In Egypt many teachers were engaging with their students to flip classroom learning – setting tasks that could be followed up outside of school by students using their mobile phones for research and communication.”
As ever, the real investment is in the teachers and their ability to engage with their students.