A student in Lebanon raises his hand in the classroom

“I think when students grow up in diverse classrooms and see that all students do not learn information the same way—and that’s okay—it really changes your perspective on the world. We can be in a much more inclusive world, and we can live and work together.”

Inclusive practices are at the heart of our organization’s pursuit of a more peaceful and just world. Across the World Learning Inc. family, we are working to better account for student needs in our education programming, and to enhance access to study abroad and intercultural exchange.

Since World Learning was founded in 1970, we have been dedicated to ensuring all children have access to a high-quality education. We deepened our commitment to inclusive education this year by integrating the principles of Universal Design for Learning, a framework that regards all students as different kinds of learners. In Lebanon, we have been incorporating these principles from the start of the Quality Instruction Towards Access and Basic Education Improvement 2 (QITABI 2) project, which aims to improve reading, writing, and social and emotional learning skills for more than 300,000 students at public primary schools, including Syrian refugee children living in the country.  

A primary school student in Lebanon opens a box of educational supplies he received from QITABI 2

As a result, educators will be able to adapt their curricula and lessons for students with disabilities while also creating trauma-sensitive classrooms. World Learning Senior Education and Research Specialist Deepa Srikantaiah explains that this attention to design—applying Universal Design for Learning from lesson plans to teacher trainings—creates a culture shift.

“I think when students grow up in diverse classrooms and see that all students do not learn information the same way—and that’s okay—it really changes your perspective on the world,” says Srikantaiah. “We can be in a much more inclusive world, and we can live and work together.”

World Learning additionally furthered access to education abroad this year, implementing the Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad and its IDEAS small grants competition aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion within study abroad. Gallaudet University and  Frederick Community College were among 22 higher education institutions that received grants through the competition in 2019. With its IDEAS grant, Gallaudet University is creating a resource to help institutions support and encourage study abroad for deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing students, all of whom are critically underrepresented in study abroad. Frederick Community College is developing faculty-led study abroad programs in Ghana to broaden the geographic diversity of its study abroad portfolio and the racial diversity of its students who study abroad.

“It is going to have such an impact on [student] lives in fundamental ways.” says Frederick Community College’s Dr. Kathy Brooks.

Improving access also means expanding our virtual offerings so that students who otherwise would not be able to participate in intercultural exchange and study opportunities can take part. SIT Study Abroad launched a portfolio of 10 brand-new virtual programs this summer—encompassing digital internships, seminars, and online language courses—in four regions. In a virtual internship in the Netherlands, students discussed the role NGOs play in education and development related to gender and sexuality, and their intersection with race, disability, and other axes of diversity. As part of the Tibetan language program based in Nepal, students participated in one-on-one conversations with local language partners.

The Experiment also expanded its flagship virtual exchange program in 2020. Known today as The Experiment Digital, the virtual exchange was developed in 2016 to provide intercultural leadership training for high school students unable to travel due to politics, gender restrictions, visa issues, or limited financial resources.  This summer students connected from the U.S., Algeria, Iraq, and Yemen amid the pandemic, engaging in dialogue and a wide range of interactive activities. In one activity, known as The River of Life, the students reflected together on the significant events and people that have shaped the course of their life. In another activity, students shared small slices of their lives with each other on Instagram—everything from their favorite local stores to hobbies and family traditions. Students had the opportunity to take part in virtual homestays too, where they could virtually share a meal with the family of their “homestay sibling”, give a tour of their neighborhood, or watch a movie together.

“I didn’t feel the difference between us or the boundaries. I felt like we were from the same place,” shares Safa, a 2020 participant from Yemen.

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