At EENET we see inclusive education as encompassing the inclusion of many different marginalised groups into education. One group that I actively advocate for is street-connected children. I am currently completing a PhD in education at the University of Manchester, exploring the experiences of transition of children and youth leaving the street in Kenya.
I use the term ‘street-connected children’ rather than ‘street children’. This is because ‘street children’ infers a specific situation that often fails to describe the lived reality of many children or young people found on the street. It is also a term that can stigmatise children by presenting them as being the problem. Street-connectedness better represents the varying levels of engagement with the opportunities and challenges inherent to the street. It also describes the situation of the street rather than defining the child or young person by the street. In so doing it does not lend itself to the traditional stereotypes of street children as either victims or delinquents. Instead, being a street-connected child or young person suggests a continuum of possible interactions with the opportunities and challenges inherent to the street.
Support to leave the street
Community-based organisations working with street children often prioritise assisting the children to leave the street. There are a number of different ways that this is done. Street-based outreach work or drop-in centres are a means of getting to know the children on the street and building trust between them and the teachers and social workers working with them. Some organisations provide rescue centres or interim care centres that are (semi-)residential. The children will stay at these for a number of months to overcome addictions they have developed on the street, to undergo counselling and to complete catch-up education, while the organisation decides if home is the best place for them. Most of them will go home, but in a minority instances (for example when parents are unable to adequately care for their children) extended family or foster parents may be encouraged to get involved. Older youth may be assisted with living independently. (Sarah Thomas de Benitez has written a participatory review of four such street to school projects in different countries, which is included in the EENET resource collection).
Returning to school
One of the important aspects of leaving the street and moving back home is going (back) to school. It can be difficult to start school at a much later age than your peers, or return to school after months or years away, especially when you are much older than your new classmates. Life on the street is very different to sitting in front of the teacher and it can be difficult to adapt to concentrating for a long time or doing everything you are told. On the street, children and youth must look after themselves, and are able to experience a relatively high degree of autonomy and freedom. But when they (re)enter the classroom the lessons are often teacher-led and proscriptive. For a small number of individuals, school was the reason that they went to the street in the first place, for instance due to arguments with teachers, boredom, or because other learning needs were not being met, and they felt they didn’t fit in.
Organisations such as Retrak or Child Rescue Kenya, working to assist children as they move away from the street, often provide intensive catch-up education to help them prepare for going (back) to school. The children I have interviewed in Kenya find such education important for helping them settle in to regular classes. However, this informal education is often more interactive and less structured than the education they will encounter back in school.
The importance of inclusive education for street-connected children returning to school
As advocates of inclusive education we understand that children leaving the street would benefit if the schools they move to use inclusive teaching practices. When teachers treat every child as a unique individual, and try to include all their learning needs into their planning and teaching, everyone benefits. I have read many articles that describe how teachers work on adapting to the needs of one child that is traditionally deemed in need of extra support, but then find that all members of their classroom are positively affected. Therefore, teachers working in areas where many children and youth migrate to the street need to be better prepared to include these children when they return to formal education.
A first step in trying to ensure a successful transition from the informal education provided by the community-based organisation to the mainstream classroom, would be for the teachers at both centres to collaborate and develop a supportive framework within which the transition takes place. The teachers and social workers employed by community-based organisations working with street-connected children and youth should work with regular teachers to help them recognise the issues faced by these children. Together they can develop a more informed plan of delivery for the informal education curriculum that better prepares the children for school, and at the same time change the teaching practices of regular teachers to be more inclusive.
Further reading on the education-focused research I have been conducting can be found in the Summer 2014 edition of Childhood Explorer and the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of BERA’s Research Intelligence
You can also find lots more information about how to develop inclusive teaching practices on EENET’s website.
Su Corcoran is EENET’s Network Coordinator. She also spends time as a volunteer working with street-connected and vulnerable children in urban contexts in East Africa.