Dr Moodie's Corner
Social inclusion: implications for learning and teaching
The Vice Chancellor Professor Ian O'Connor has been struck by federal Labor's Australian social inclusion agenda released by Julia Gillard the then deputy leader of the Opposition only two days before the last federal election. Social inclusion is likely to reshape higher education equity and community engagement policy, and will perhaps have wider implications for higher education. So what may be the implications of social inclusion for learning and teaching?
Janie Percy-Smith notes that the term 'social exclusion' originated in the social policy of the French socialist governments of the 1980s to refer to a disparate group of people living on the margins of society and, in particular, without access to social insurance. Economic and social cohesion was adopted as an objective of the European Union as title XVII of the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. The European Union adopted 'social exclusion' as a euphemism for poverty because some member states would not acknowledge that poverty existed in their countries, and it now reflects a more limited concern with labour market exclusion.
However, social exclusion is importantly different from poverty and disadvantage. Previous and current equity policies are concerned with individuals' status, whereas social inclusion is concerned with their experiences. Poverty is mainly concerned with the distribution of resources and disadvantage is about the interaction between lack of material resources and the provision of social services and support. In contrast social exclusion is necessarily a relational concept – groups and individuals are socially excluded from other groups and individuals, and society as a whole. Social exclusion is also a process or set of processes rather than a static condition and, moreover, a set of processes largely outside the control of the individual.
Social inclusion has two distinctive principles. It first bases its analysis on locality, noting that disadvantage is heavily concentrated in specific localities, and that this geographic disadvantage persists over generations. Secondly, social inclusion observes that multiple indicators of social inclusion are highly correlated: poor localities also tend to have high unemployment, high crime rates, drug dependence, abuse, low education levels, poor health, etc. This leads social inclusion policies and programs to concentrate on co-ordinating interventions from different agencies and portfolios for target localities.
The Blair Government made the amelioration of social exclusion a high – and heavily funded – priority in 1997 with the establishment of an interdepartmental Social Exclusion Unit in the Prime Minister's office, which in June 2006 was restructured as the Social Exclusion Taskforce in the Cabinet Office. The South Australian Government established a 'Social Inclusion Initiative' in 2002 and Gillard cites the Victorian Government's connecting communities program as another example of a social inclusion program, although this may be stretching the concept a little far.
An example of a social inclusion program is the Pathways to Prevention project in Inala established and led by Professor Ross Homel, the director of the Griffith's strategic research program in the social and behavioural sciences. The University of Sydney's Tony Vinson ranks Inala as the ninth most disadvantaged postcode in Queensland on 25 indicators of social, health and economic disadvantage. The Pathways to Prevention program combines family support programs, counselling, specialised coaching and other interventions to support children aged 4 to 6 in their transition to school.
Implications for learning and teaching
A learning and teaching policy for social inclusion would start by identifying localities with high disadvantage. The second and third most disadvantaged postcodes in Queensland identified by Vinson are Woodridge and Kingston, which are in the immediate locality of Griffith's Logan campus and so are obvious candidates for a Griffith social inclusion program. Griffith should also build on the Pathways to Prevention program at Inala.
Next, a university program should be co-ordinated with other agencies and portfolios. Primary and junior secondary schools are obvious partners since this is where the aspiration and foundation for tertiary education are formed. TAFE is also an obvious partner since not all people wish to proceed to university. Adult and community education would also be an important partner.
Many adults are excluded from full participation in society because of poor literacy, numeracy and study skills. They fear and abhor formal schooling because of unpleasant experiences while young. Their route to learning is through general interest and recreation programs run by adult and community education centres, which lead to literacy classes and thence to formal study.
A four-sector education coalition should be combined with health and welfare agencies to address the multiple factors that exclude people from further participation in education and the higher employment and social inclusion that follow. One possibility would be to deliver a social inclusion program through a broadened and reoriented version of the Australian Government's full service schools program of 1999 and 2000.
Griffith is already positioning Logan as the community engagement campus which is entirely consistent with and to some extent anticipates federal Labor's social inclusion policy. The concept and policy of social inclusion may focus the university's efforts and give them contemporary political salience. Presumably social inclusion will be, with teaching and research, one of three main topics included in each university's compact proposed by the Australian Government. This provides an ideal opportunity to combine Griffith's plans for its Logan campus, a renewed commitment and focus on social justice, and support from the Australian Government.