Inclusive education: thinking beyond systems

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Systems thinking has dominated debates and policy discourses on inclusive education, resulting in an almost exclusive focus on children and formal schooling. Based on the BAICE Presidential Lecture 2019, this paper considers the limitations of systems theory in framing discussion and research on inclusive education, introducing instead alternative theoretical starting points to analyse vignettes of from Ethiopia, Nepal, the UK and the Philippines. In place of systems theory, the paper takes the lenses of culture as performed, literacy as a social practice and informal learning, to explore inclusive education and analyse intercultural and literacy learning in everyday life. It argues the need to move beyond systems thinking – particularly closed systems – with its default position of school as providing the solutions. Whilst cultural stereotypes can be challenged in school curricula, inclusive education cannot rely on formal institutions alone to initiate changes in attitudes held by teachers, students and the wider community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-638
Number of pages20
JournalCompare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education
Issue number5
Early online date15 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • Inclusive education, systems theory, adult literacy, informal learning, intercultural communication

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