School as a social innovation hub

Notes from the workshop School as a social innovation hub, from the conference Education Today, organized by the Fundació Jaume Bofill, and held in Barcelona, in February 20, 2014.

School as a social innovation hub
Chairs: Eugeni Garcia, PhD in Economics of the Public Sector and expert in education and public management

Poverty is a vicious circle that reproduces inequalities: there is unequal access to most opportunities (e.g. education), there is unequal appropriation of these opportunities, and, thus, coming generations reproduce their status as they unequally benefit from those opportunities. How can the educational system break this vicious circle?

The value chain of education:

  1. The student. At this stage, the family is the actor with a leading role.
  2. Conditions of educability. Besides families too, public policies have a strong role here; the social third sector too, especially in the care and socio-educational fields.
  3. Processes of teaching/learning, second opportunities: the school is of course the one with the leading role at this stage, but also public policies.
  4. Educational success (or failure).

But how do we actually break this vicious circle of poverty and exclusion?

Anna Escobedo, professor at the Department of Sociology and Analysis of Organizations at the University of Barcelona.

What is the role of families. How are these families? How the change of families affect children and their educability?

The context in Spain is that the expenditure in families (or support to families) and education is below the average, and almost 50% of what other leading countries are spending in these areas.

The actual model of the family is two workers and two carers. Less children but more wanted. More negotiating and less authoritarian. Social polarization: couples are made up by people with similar educational levels.

There is a genuine concern or commitment with increasing the implication of the parents in education, in quality time, in dedicating more time to it. And ICTs are also having a significant impact in the education of children and the role of families. The relationship with the teaching staff has also changed.

So, more implication with education but total immersion in the job market is implying a huge difficulty to conciliate professional and family lives. Complementary services led by parent associations within the schools are proving to be a cornerstone for this conciliation: circa 70% of children use this kind of services.

Families — parents and children — should take more part in the making of decisions in the school.

Joan Badia, professor of secondary education and expert in innovation, teacher training and academic planning in higher education.

Schools should acknowledge that it has not all the answers to all problems and situations.

On the other hand, schools should realize too that many issues that do not strictly belong to the field of action of the school (e.g. the situation in the family), do actually have an impact on the activity led by the school. So, the belief that some issues “do not affect” the schools is plain wrong.

Of course, this acknowledgement and realization can only be achieved through a high degree of autonomy from schools, so that they can design their own strategies and actions.

There is a strong need to reinforce strategies that enable second chances.

Marta Caramés, leader of the Paidós Project at Càrites.

Paidós Project aims at providing support to families so they can break the vicious circle of poverty by enabling networks of families. It provides day-centres where families and children can spend time, be given advice on several topics related to education in general and on poverty in particular.

Most of the people benefiting form this project are people that almost the whole day are occupied on sustaining their daily lives: where will I sleep, what will I need. Thus, children do not have a “peaceful” environment where to grow healthy and be properly educated and be cared by.

If families do not understand that education is an investment, then education automatically becomes undersupplied. We have to make it possible that families can invest (time, resources) in their children’s education. To do this, we have to help them in their basic needs, so they can free time now devoted to these basic needs and spend it on their children’s education.

Discussion

Joan Badia: municipalities should have a major role in the planning of education, more decentralization should be enabled. There are three conditions for learning (from Ken Robinson): diversity, everyone learns differently; curiosity, learning driven by interest; creativity, provide spaces for creation. Different ways for learning within a context: service-learning, multistakeholder partnerships, etc. There is a gap between research and training: education in Spain seems to be lacking a liaison between the outcomes of research and their (non) introduction in training plans.

Anna Escobedo: parents associations and school councils should have deeper links and work closer. Participation and voting should go hand-in-hand. And we should not only focus on what is wrong, but on what is going well too, so it can inspire others.

VIII Forum on Education (V). Leading today’s centers: challenges of an innovative center

Notes from the Forum on Education. Innovation and networking, organized by the Institute of Education Sciences (ICE-UAB) and the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP), and held in Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain, in January 10 and 11, 2014. More notes on this event: forumedu2014.

Round table: Leading today’s centers: challenges of an innovative center.
Chairs: Ferran Ruiz, president of the School Council of Catalonia.

Is it possible to consolidate and maintain innovative learning environments? What changes — regulation, budget, culture — should be introduced? What experiences can be used as a reference?

Ramon Grau, director of the INS Quatre Cantons of the Network of Innovative High Schools of the ICE-UAB.

Sometimes a change is required to enable further changes: a change of scenario, a change of team, or just building a new school or high school.

Three main ideas:

  • The student should work in the classroom: listen, speak, interact. This has an impact on the inner architecture of the physical spaces.
  • The student should have autonomy. Thus, no coursebooks.
  • The student should be proficient in managing information. Put questions, search for answers. Students should be able to provide evidence, to explain what they have learnt.

To do this, the centre works with the “globalized” model developed after Ovide Decroly. The centre also accepts requests from other institutions (theatres, museums, fablabs) for collaboration, with which they develop the globalized work after an external request. The students then develop these requests (write a play, multimedia content for a piece of art, create a short film) that are supervised by these institutions.

Mariona Monterde, head of studies at the School Serralavella, Ullastrell.

The school is highly commited with values and quality. The classroom is not a place, but a context for learning, learning being the ability of the students to put questions to themselves. In the classroom research processes are initiated to that answers to the former questions can be find.

This research heavily relies on conversation, on the exchange of information, ideas, feelings, etc.

As this is a project based on reflection, the project explicitly includes several measures and tools to enable reflection, not only within the project, but about it: pedagogical reflection, share experiences developed in the classroom, etc.

One of the main challenges for the sustainability of the project is the high rotation of the team: experiences are lost and newcomers get lost. Thus, monitoring and tutoring of most experiences and people is the way to try to maintain some coherence and continuity of the project. With the added problem of how to draw a possible schedule, how to avoid burnout, how to avoid an overwhelming workload.

This monitoring has to be highly flexible, and provide lots of room for the newcomer to experiment himself and to change the project itself.

Not all families understand the school project. Most of the times, they feel they lose control upon the education of their children, as their children do “different things” than the ones they parents did at school. The solution is to engage parents in the educational project.

Some concluding remarks:

  • The school has become a place for the teachers for continuous learning and training.
  • The school has become a place for the students where to learn how to be autonomous, critical.

Joan Badia, co-coordinator of the Project Leading for learning of the Fundació Jaume Bofill.

What are the elements of leadership that explain the improvements in education? Leadership is the engine of change for education by introducing innovation.

One common characteristic of leading and innovative centres is that teachers state that they learn from the students: everyone is learning. The most significant changes are the ones experienced at the personal level, including the teaching staff. And learning means, of course, deciding, participating, exploring, sharing, designing, deciding (again).

Discussion

Q: is there a room for the coursebook in this scenario? Ramon Grau: it depends on the context. If the goal is sheer literacy or the transmission of basic knowledge, then it does have a place; but if the goal is the creation of new knowledge, then the coursebook is a barrier and not an enabler. Same with homework: homework will depend on the context, on the activities that are planned: sometimes homework will not be necessary, sometimes will be required as a starting point for the following day.

Ismael Peña-López: how should families adapt to these changes? Badia: this is impossible to answer, as there is not a unique model of family or, strictly speaking, not a model. Grau: the least we should aim at is that families understand what centres are doing, that they are engaged, that they share what is being done at the school or high school.

Q: how teacher training reproduces traditional methodologies or how can it foster new ones? Grau: it is true that, generally speaking, teacher training reproduces traditional methodologies and approaches and it is practice what brings innovation in.

Q: what happens when standardized exams make it almost impossible to introduce any methodological change? Ramon Grau: why cannot we work differently in specific courses despite the pressure of standardized exams?

Jordi Adell: do we know how to make the “click” for change? Badia: no, we don’t. We know that some scenarios, some factors help, but do not know exactly how to trigger this “click”.

IX Fòrum Educació (2014)