Reflections on the Global Inclusive Schools’ Forum 2024

By Justin Cook  |  March 22nd

During March break, I had the privilege of representing Edvance on a team of North American educators attending the Global Inclusive Schools’ Forum hosted at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France.

Erik Ellefsen and Jon Eckert from Baylor University convened our North American group which also included Darren Spyksma from the Society for Christian Schools in British Columbia, Steve Sider from Laurier University’s education faculty, Lyndsay Jones and Allison Posey from CAST, the leading organization on the Universal Design for Learning framework, and Amanda Forbes and Karla de Pineda from Edify.

The Global Inclusive Schools’ Forum aimed to share knowledge and best practices in creating inclusive schools. It brought together around 200 educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders from around the world. The forum featured presentations by practitioners and interactive sessions focused on innovative approaches to inclusion. Representatives from Indonesia shared the complexity of supporting all learners in a country consisting of over 17,000 islands and over 700 regional dialects. The deputy Minister of Education from Lithuania discussed their progress in inclusive practices since returning to independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The practices shared are intended to be channeled upwards to influence policy decisions and create more inclusive learning environments globally. The forum also coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Salamanca Statement of Principles, a foundational document in inclusive education.

Reading the Salamanca Statement’s belief that “every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs” resonates powerfully with the belief that each child is a unique expression of God’s image in human form. Frequently at the forum individuals from all over the world would repeat the phrases “all means all” and “nothing about us without us”: simple phrases with significant implications.

Let me highlight two additional key takeaways.

First, we recognized the belief that barriers first and foremost do not reside in individual children. Barriers exist in the external context in which students learn. Educators must continue to identify which barriers are holding back individual children and take action to address those barriers.

Second, and I want to draw particular attention to my new friends from CAST, many approaches to education that support unique learners are also often beneficial for all. This is the foundation of the Universal Design for Learning. We can benefit from exploring UDL’s “why”, “how” and “what” of learning to better understand UDL guidelines:

Participants highlighted the value of UDL in supporting their commitment to inclusion, and I look forward to leaning more intentionally into CAST as a support organization for Edvance in deepening our own UDL practices.

It was an honour to represent Edvance on the global stage. And, largely through the work of Lisa VanderKuip, our Student Support Services Coordinator, I look forward to continuing to support Edvance affiliate schools in their own commitment to belonging and inclusion.


Justin Cook is the Director of Learning at Edvance.