The OECD Programme on Educational Building (PEB), in co-operation with the New Zealand Ministry of Education, held an international conference entitled “Inclusion and Integration through Innovation: The Role of 21st Century Learning Environments in Promoting Social Participation and Access to Education for Learners with Special Needs” in Auckland, New Zealand, on 17-20 August 2008.
Design plays a crucial role in providing an effective learning environment for all students. The role of infrastructure in improving inclusion in education is particularly important for learners with special needs − students with multiple and mild to severe disabilities, students with learning and behavioural difficulties, and students with disadvantages arising primarily from socio-economic, cultural or linguistic factors. Recent policy developments concerning educational provision for these students have significant implications for design. In many countries, for example, design must respond to policies that favour the inclusion of students with special needs in regular classrooms, rather than in special schools. In other countries, design must facilitate policies that promote increasing linkages between special educational facilities and regular educational settings. In addition, design must address the needs of students from low-income families, from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, and who have suffered as a result of conflict.
The PEB international conference on innovative learning environments for students with special needs investigated these and other issues. Through an evolution of themes and a variety of formats – including keynote speeches, presentation of case studies, working group sessions and visits to schools in the Auckland area – the conference addressed how current planning and design of educational facilities contribute to a quality education for all learners, in a range of regular and special school settings at pre-primary, primary and secondary levels.
The following three themes were addressed at the conference:
Facilitating access to education. Do existing national regulations, programmes and local initiatives promote inclusive design for students with special needs in schools and communities?
Improving social participation. How can design facilitate integration of students with disadvantages arising primarily from socio-economic, cultural or linguistic factors in schools and communities?
Working together to create meaningful learning environments. How can different sectors/stakeholders/cultures engage to create the most meaningful learning environments? What are some current examples of effective processes?
The conference was intended for officials and elected members of authorities responsible for education at national, regional or local levels, as well as professionals interested in the theme, including facility managers, planners, architects, disability sector representatives (e.g. advocacy groups, local service providers), researchers, principals, school board members, special education co-ordinators and other teaching staff.
For more information, see the conference programme, visit www.oecd.org/edu/facilities/specialneeds, or contact Hannah.vonAhlefeld@oecd.org.