A Coalition of Entities – The Shape of Schools to Come

BACKGROUND

It is common refrain these days across most countries that this is the time for massive and meaningful education reform. This has come into ever greater focus for the following reasons which are found across various societies

  1. Poor educational outcomes reflected through various assessments of students in education (PISA, ASER, etc.)
  2. Lack of meaningful employment ready skills and capabilities
  3. Lack of citizenship and socially relevant values and perspectives
  4. Less than 100% Gross Enrolment Ratios
  5. High level of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training)
  6. Prevalence of disengaged and disaffected youth in every country
  7. Lack of inclusive education and prevalence of discrimination on account of various variables (Gender, LGBT, Special Needs, Castes, Economic status, etc.)
  8. General lack of engagement and dissatisfaction of students with school learning with results in drop-out rates (in some countries as high as 60-80%) and other disciplinary issues.

SCHOOL REFORM

Much activity has taken place in the realm of education reform in and across countries. It has been an important agenda item for various governments, multilateral bodies (UN, etc.) and Civil Society bodies, National and Multinational Donor agencies and philanthropic organisations, not to mention school and educational bodies.

Key thrust areas have included

  1. Curriculum reform
  2. School infrastructure and capacity
  3. Access and retention
  4. Teacher education and training
  5. School leadership training
  6. Assessments and assessment strategies
  7. Engagement with Industry and other social avenues
  8. Peer learning and student participation in teaching and learning

The world and education has changed a lot over the past few decades, in terms of content, demands, perspectives, challenges and possibilities. Yet in large measure the prevailing idea of school education and school as an encompassing solitary entity. It is a concept which has come upon a time where it beckons change.

CHANGE DRIVERS

If we look closely we are getting more and more unconvinced about the ill-conceived one-size fits all model of education. Recognising the differences and need of children to develop and learn at different paces, with different learning styles and being of different inclinations and abilities, we are now confronting a new level of recognition and acceptance of diversity. This makes us question the need for unquestionable conformance to a standard set of rules and externally imposed expectations, set by and through a structure, the suitability and credibility of which itself is under attack.

We also recognise the demands this diversity puts upon teachers, who perhaps are destined to fail in this kind of a delivery model, where they are singularly responsible to address the repertoire of needs and demands of not only learners, but of administrative structures, parents and an increasingly meddlesome society.

Also given that schools are always criticised for lack of innovation and not keeping up with emergent teaching tools, techniques, methodologies and ideologies, it is not difficult to understand the challenge of upgrading skills and perspectives of teachers en masse, where the expectation is akin to installation of a new software patch or upgrading the version itself, that immediately transforms the incumbents into more capable, effective and efficient bots.

In addition the challenge of engagement with the real world to derive citizenship values, industry grade vocational skills, and practical application of knowledge, skills and attitudes to participate gainfully and meaningfully in society, plus upkeep and currency of infrastructure, are all demands that are increasingly becoming difficult to maintain to such a standard that provides a decent chance of success.

In recent times we also have in many countries heard of the school voucher system, to allow learners choice to avail education from a range of schools including those that were seemingly elite and until now inaccessible. The idea is that every student deserves a decent education irrespective of their socio-economic status which should not be a limiting factor for access to quality and enabling achievement.

I think that this choice while is good and necessary, it can and must be extended further, to circumvent the limitations of capacity and convenience.
Given the various facets of education, related developments, attempted and required reform, my view is that the current school model has to give in. It has to give in to a model that allows for relatively unshackled evolution of education tools, techniques and methodologies and participation of learners in it as per their choice.

FUTURE OF SCHOOLING – A COALITION OF ENTITIES

The current education system and the school model has to upgrade and metamorphose into the school system of the future, where the school will no longer be a single entity but a ‘Coalition of Entities’. Where formal structured learning would no longer remain confined to this extant entity, but include multiple organisations and avenues of learning that the student could avail at choice.
The need and benefits of it are beyond doubt. Picture this, the learning ecosystem would include of various organisations and entities which would offer learners opportunities to learn and develop in various aspects of their curriculum. These entities could be NGOs, Corporate and Industrial members, various types of educational institutions, community and volunteering organisations, other civil society and quasi-government bodies, etc.

The schools as we know today will be largely administrative and guiding bodies which would enroll, coordinate and record progress of learners. Apart from offering perhaps counselling services, though even some of these services could be carried out by other competent and approved bodies.

Learners will have multiple options for learning in specific and trans-disciplinary learning; ie. while some organisations may offer learning in specific specialised domains such as language, physical education and sports, maths, biology, public speaking, food science and nutrition, etc. others may choose to offer multi-disciplinary learning embedded in an encompassing context. For example an NGO involved in raising awareness about pollution may integrate environmental science, with arts (using drama and street plays to deliver the message), language, geography and even maths. What they will require is to be able to map learning outcomes to the inputs, activities and the curriculum. In another instance this could be a company offering back-end knowledge/transaction processing services along with call centers, they may offer language classes, along with customer service, maths, etc. A company involved in manufacturing electronics could offer courses in physics and mathematics. A hospital could offer classes in biology and other disciplines. A scientific research institute could offer classes in various sciences.

Schools could also encourage students to engage with more than one option to have a more rounded approach for achieving learning outcomes.

Learners would have the opportunity to sample various offering from different institutions, before signing up for those classes. They may also have the option of shifting from one to the next incase they feel that is required.

The various institutions offering courses may for example include in one case a voluntary organisation of math enthusiasts who teach maths through various methods including recreational maths, games and activity based math sessions, etc. Another could be an organisation which uses various advanced mathematics techniques and as a corporate social responsibility agenda or as an employee development programme offers maths classes to nearby schools where employees take turn to not only cover the basic curriculum but use contextually relevant examples to make the experience practical and engaging students in application of maths. An organisation may even be able to give them some basic work that produces a valuable output for the organisation (a’ la apprenticeships). Another organisation could be an online provider which delivers classes through interactive web tools and videos (a’ la MOOCs) or yet another which is an institution of higher education which provides classes for school students as part of training of their own students or as part of a teacher continuing professional development programme.

Those who think this is far-fetched let me draw your attention to a few facts that should convince or make you a bit more receptive. A number of schools already use this model largely for the following areas 1) Physical Education and Sports 2) Community engagement projects 3) in some forms education excursions and study tours. For further educational institutions and TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) options this is again becoming a growing reality, where practical training and experience is gained at industry premises through partnerships that the school establishes with industry members.

Schools in many countries also use the hub and spoke model to share infrastructure and specialist resources as well. Students use resources like that of the Khan academy, many other online providers, post-school tuition and other summer training and part-time employment programmes to achieve academic learning and other developmental outcomes.

So in many ways this is already happening. But we need a more structured system to offer an integral and reliable alternative to the current education system.

ENABLING THE SYSTEM

To enable such a system would require an approval procedure that would require these organisations offering courses of learning to detail the learning outcomes and to what levels of the curriculum does this apply to.

They would also have to register with a quality assurance body which would scope the offering and its terms and conditions. This would then be communicated to schools within the catchment area of the organisation.

The schools would then be able to create a map of organisations offering various learning opportunities and these would be communicated to the enrolled learners who would have a stipulated time during which they would be able to sample these offerings and register their choice.

The students will have to have a choice to amend their selection as and when required to feel comfortable with their level of progress and comfort.

There would be various forms of assessment of students at the place of learning, in the school and perhaps even independent bodies which would specialise in conducting assessments and learners would be able to build a portfolio based on the various assessments they choose to take.

Organisations by participating in offering these educational learning and development services will unlock teaching and training potential. This will also open out employment avenues for teachers who often find themselves stuck with the choice of profession they made. They will be encouraged to develop further to acquire additional domain skills and knowledge thereby find a progression route beyond teaching, if desired.

This will require among other things –

  • a teacher and training support mechanism which will enable organisations to develop their own staff in these areas
  • qualifications to be available and a prerequisite for those interested in teaching and training.
  • the central coordinating agency to remain the extant schools which enrolls the students, registers their choices, provide student counselling services and other student support services, records progress and depending of criteria of progression to higher grades conducts portfolio assessments or overall assessments of learning through recognised tests and evaluations.

The school could continue to offer teaching services to students as one of the options. This would be particularly useful for components for which other local options are not available.

The school would now have child development specialists and counsellors as their core staff rather than merely teachers.

FUNDING

The system’s success will be contingent upon an efficient flow of money that keeps costs low and manageable. If there is one thing that will trip this system, it is if this makes education more expensive than it already is, either for funding agencies (mostly government) or the consumer (private schools).

It is my view while the financial system will evolve over time as most complex systems do, a good start point is for the funding to flow in part to the organisations delivering the services, but subsidised through tax breaks, value created for the service agency either through output produced by the learners, Organisations’ own funds (Corporate Social Responsibility/Research Funding Spending).
The reduced demand for school infrastructure and staffing should massively bring down the costs for the education system and unlock tremendous financial resources. A large part of that funding could be diverted to create structures to evaluate and support quality.

BENEFITS

Some of the benefits of this system will be

  1. These will and should include organisations in the forefront of pedagogical developments and domain expertise. They would specialise in one or more approaches suitable to learners with different needs and preferences.
  2. Students get a choice and the convenience of sampling the approaches which may be most suited to them and with the facility to change if they find it not delivering the desired result.
  3. Students can enroll for more than one course for the same discipline in case they feel they need more support and effort in a particular discipline
  4. Students not only have an opportunity for learning but apply their learning in real time and real world scenarios.
  5. Learners get a real view of various contexts in their environment
  6. The limitations of a single teacher addressing multiple needs and demands is no longer applicable.
  7. Availability of teachers can be circumvented
  8. There is substantial increase in capacity as potentially every organisation can take on some part of education delivery
  9. Curriculum will be current and there will be continually evolving standards in line with real world developments
  10. Organisations will be able to view this as an avenue for not only generating more revenue, but as a way to disseminate information about their work, raising their profile by increasing goodwill and providing development avenues for their staff.
  11. Organisations will also benefit by being able to project themselves as employers of choice not only to local stakeholders but to the students as they finish with their schooling.
  12. The overall benefits of this would be increased employment potential, as education would have components delivered in real work environments with students picking up contextual and work ready skills, perspectives and knowledge.

OTHER KEY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Safety – Schools provide safety to children and a sense of security to parents. There will be great focus on ensuring the new venues meet health and safety requirements.
  • Travel – Students would travel to different locations over the week or month. There will need to be a transportation system that takes care of this variable student mobility. This may require service providers serving students of lower grades at a central location whereas students of higher grades may have to be more mobile.
  • Meals – While in many schools meals are provided to students as an entitlement, this scheme may need to be extended to these participating organisations or the school will engage in delivery of meals to the locations where there students are.

PRACTICAL WAY FORWARD

Practically given the potential, the need and other key considerations the way forward seems to be where the system will be tried by school systems, first by engaging external entities to take on certain limited responsibilities of education delivery in line with various disciplines across the curriculum.

A few pioneering organisations will establish these school partnerships and when the results would show up and the benefits will be widely disseminated, certain policy would get enacted for school system to engage with such organisations. This will pave way for funding mechanisms and other practical modalities to get sorted out and then this will become a replicable model that will catch the fancy of schools and other organisations.

While we don’t expect all organisations to jump in the fray at the outset, first movers will see benefits in increasing local goodwill, adding new revenue streams, increasing their potential recruitment talent pool and offering their staff development opportunities by doing this.

Authored by S Manish Singh

You can follow the author at www.smanishsingh.com

 

 


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