Ibali: storying new discourses of educational inclusion/exclusion in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Wellbg, Educ & Lang Sci(WELS)


"The story is our escort; without it, we are blind" (Chinua Achebe)

UNESCO's 2020 Global Education Report on inclusion states that progress on ensuring all children have a positive and productive education is stagnating. Only 57% of countries have an adequate definition of inclusive education and a quarter of teachers globally feel unprepared for teaching inclusively. At the report's launch UNESCO called for more creatively and sensitively derived data to support the reconceptualisation of education systems to ensure inclusion for all children.

We are a collective of researchers from the UK, Nigeria and South Africa. Our proposed study focuses on the under-researched commonalities and differences of how inclusion and exclusion are experienced across education systems. There are three strands: a digital storytelling approach to generate new discourses around inclusion and exclusion in these contexts; a critical, ethnographic evaluation of the storytelling research process to show how storytelling could be better and more ethically used in research and; a storytelling research knowledge exchange Hub.
The storytelling element will explore young people's, teachers', teacher educators' and policymakers' perspectives on what it means to be included in or excluded in education. It will adapt an established approach for generating stories through creative workshops to produce 60-72 digital stories which document experiences and perspectives on inclusion/exclusion (at least 20 from each country). The approach incorporates closed and public story screening, analysis and dissemination events hosted with the support of project collaborators (stakeholders in education provision at local and national levels). These events will be designed to support rich and nuanced dialogues around how to reconceptualise education settings and processes to support wider inclusion.

A comparative ethnography of the storytelling element will be carried out in parallel by ethnographers from the UK, South Africa and Nigeria. This is important because storytelling research is often presented as a panacea for international development challenges but there are risks involved that relate to who is facilitating the process and how: this can reproduce imbalances of power and knowledge around social issues in African and UK contexts. The ethnographic strand will critically document and analyse through an anti-colonial lens how knowledge about inclusion/exclusion is perceived to surface through the storytelling processes in each context and how power relations are perceived to play out within these processes. This strand will lead to critically conceptualised guides for researchers and practitioners wanting to learn or improve storytelling research techniques (with a particular focus on anti-colonial practices) and for policymakers wanting to use storytelling data to develop programmes and policies.

The Hub will be an online, open access site of storytelling research resources, knowledge exchange and innovation. We will invite diverse contributions from researchers, practitioners and activists globally to foster critical dialogue around storytelling research, diversify the knowledge base and enhance access to storytelling resources and debates, especially for academics and practitioners across Africa who do not have institutional access to journals or funds for storytelling research guides and materials.

Together, these strands will contribute to addressing issues around young people's inclusion in different contexts, as well as document and analyse how researchers can learn to work with complex, arts-based storytelling approaches in a critical and anti-colonial way. It is directly aligned with the AHRC's aim to bring a deep cultural understanding into the realm of international development: it positions storytelling as both an epistemology and research approach, and as a mode of knowledge generation as well as a form of expression and engagement.


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