On the island where I live there is a path of the senses: a natural route in a rural park, surrounded by laurel forest and built for most of its route also for people with reduced mobility, in addition to other diversities.
But not only that: on the path of the senses, the experience of learning becomes full. The visitor is invited to listen to the sound of nature, feel the bark of the trunk of the trees and read in different languages the meanings that resonate in this incomparable place nestled in the heart of the island.
I go there on occasions with my children and each one, with their particularities, recognizes the face and the reverse of each segment of small living existences, woven from what we call biodiversity. And that is the important thing: that each one experiences it fully in their difference.
In a certain way of understanding the world, many of these differences have been left out of the understanding and expression of what surrounds us: in access to goods, services, resources, culture or organs of power. And also the learning possibilities.
More than sixty years ago, the African-American girl Ruby Bridges also remained far from that inclusive perspective of life. I imagine that many know her case: when she was barely six years old, she challenged the privileges of a part of the planet by starting to go to a school for whites. In an interview granted many decades later to the British media BBC, he declared the following when referring to one of his teachers in that new school, Mrs. Henry: “The first thing I thought was, ‘She’s white!’, because I had never had a white teacher and didn’t know what to expect.”
The Universal Design for Learning is a crucial contribution to the social injustice that segregation, invisibility or exclusion has entailed throughout history, due to origin, disability, language barrier or any other starting condition. It is not a methodology, a technique, a tool or an instrument: it is a way of understanding our human, social, educational and cultural relations aligned with human rights. For this reason, its introduction in Lomloe is more than justified, beyond the supposed methodological “dirigismo”, where many have wanted to pigeonhole the new current pedagogical proposals in terms of inclusion.
The DUA, the acronym with which it is already popularly known, comes somewhat anticipated from article 2 of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities —approved almost 20 years ago and incorporated into the Spanish legal system—. There already is talk of “design of products, environments, programs and services that can be used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”. Nihil novum sub soletherefore.
Within the educational context, this school architecture is not new either. If we stop to think, we can find signs of it in many of the attempts we always make to develop our didactic approaches or learning units, so that they reach a larger number of students and increase their chances of success. Thus, I remember that during the worst of the pandemic we adjusted our designs to the dramatic emerging realities. We try, during this time that it continues to give us goosebumps when removing it, to find many ways to present, represent or transmit the information to our boys and girls, as well as to receive it through multiple formats and supports. We broke the limits helped by an overwhelming digitization in the time in which, paradoxically, we have felt more limited in our recent history.
Specifically, I remember that, in my Language classes, I varied the forms of delivery of work to, for example, evaluate oral expression. A student with ASD features, without going any further, opted not to present her presentations in videos, but through podcast, with very good results. One year later, with a migrant student with little command of Spanish, I worked on a group oral presentation based on literary works from his country, in his language, while using digital translators and his groupmates serving as support. No one at that time told me that some principles of universal design were anticipated there, but nevertheless, with these simple gestures they were not left behind. In a way, it was helping to universalize access to a right: the right to learn.
The DUA is not a “business” for some, as some have come to refer to when talking about it. It is a new way of understanding education that brings together rights, objectives and principles linked to development and the advances of our time, in order to rescue excluded or segregated groups throughout history. It responds to the great unknown of that real inclusive education that many of us long for, by reformulating the paradigm of educational quality according to the notion of equal opportunities as understood by the United Nations.
Neither is it an “invention” nor a pseudoscience: it is a challenge to transform in school what has already been changing for decades in other human, social, labor and cultural activities close to our surroundings. It is an intervention on the medium and gear, in this case, curricular, which leads us to talk about the need for universality in design, as maintained by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, “through flexible proposals that can be customized and adjusted to individual needs”. That is its meaning.
Universal teaching design has been successfully applied for years in contexts such as New Brunswick, a Canadian province that focuses its total inclusion model on the principle of differentiated teaching, a multilevel scaffolding that offers opportunities for learning varied depending on the profiles of each student.
What remains a long way to go to reach advanced stages in that “path of the senses” that is the DUA? Of course. Working within the framework of the “ecology of equity” (this is how authors such as Ainscow or Goldrick refer to educational inclusion) is not easy, and even more so in a complex panorama with great overload for teachers. But, when we feel that everything is going uphill or when we say yes, that we know the what, but not the how, let’s look around us in our classrooms and think about how many can access learning as a full experience and how many cannot for reasons that matter to them. they are oblivious, which leads them to remain invisible as the girl Ruby Bridges. Invisible only because someone once understood education differently.
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