How to create practice that develops policy – EFF9 at the Education World Forum
Neither ‘austerity’ policies nor recession should be a block to transforming education. That was the reassuring message from the guest speakers at Education Fast Forward 9 (EFF9) at the Education World Forum (EWF) in London in January.
Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Colombia's Escuela Nueva, and Ramji Raghavan, founder and chairman of India's innovative mobile science service for schools, the Agastya International Foundation, established that appropriate focus, innovative practice and evaluation can be highly effective even when investment is an issue.
And these key messages couldn’t have been delivered in a more appropriate place – London’s EWF 2014. This is an annual event that, this year, attracted politicians, including more than 90 education ministers from more than 100 countries and representing around 83 per cent of the world’s learners.
Global video-conferenced debate extended by Twitter
That was just the geographical setting because, like the other EFFs created by Promethean, it was also conducted globally across Cisco’s high-quality TelePresence video-conferencing network, with guests in studios in Australia, Brazil, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Lebanon, Russia, South Korea and the USA, and it was streamed out to an internet audience via the PrometheanPlanet web portal. And the debate was further opened out – and fed back again – through social networks, Twitter in particular.
Unknown to those taking part in the debate online, the stage had earlier been dramatically set by the preceding EWF panel at the venue, Central Hall, Westminster,l led by a ‘star’ of EFF8, education reformer Professor Michael Fullan. He was in London to address the EWF and launch an important new paper co-written with researcher Maria Langworthy (“A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning”, commissioned by Pearson).
With his collaborators, including another former EFF participant, the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, Michael Fullan warned that a global revolution in learning and teaching was already under way, one that would reach everyone whether or not they wanted to be involved. This was fuelled by the mismatch between education outcomes and society’s needs, he said, with students becoming disengaged and teachers frustrated and turned off.
That session was full of energy, reflected the urgent need for change and outlined work Michael Fullan is doing with some one thousand schools to identify, model and share the changes in practice and assessment, supported by technology, required to achieve that revolution. So it was a perfect warm-up act for the radical ideas discussed in EFF9!
‘From fear to confidence’
And neither of the keynote speakers disappointed. When former banker Ramji Raghavan started his education work he was driven by a desire to provide engaging science learning for children who were turned off by school or didn’t have one. He talks about the "Ah" moment of initial engagement, the "Ah ha!" moment of investigation and the "Ha ha" of having fun. The take place in the shifts in emphasis he sees as crucial – from “Yes” to “Why” and “from fear to confidence” – and based on his observation of “too much answering and not enough questioning”
The Agastaya Foundation, which he founded and runs, now provides hands-on, enquiry-based science education to more than one million children across 12 Indian states. Scarcity of funding has helped hone the work to an innovative service based on mobile laboratories that take a repertoire of some 150 experiments to any learning location. The original plan was to create camps but this was too costly so the focus moved to distribution.
His work with children has clearly inspired him, especially working with two children who developed a ‘recipe’ for converting ground-nut shells into paper. They found the key to the process when watching family member cook ochra. It turns out that the ‘goo’ from the cooking was the missing ingredient in their process, which was then taken up by a local entrepreneur. This demonstrated to him “The value of curiosity, the spirit of inquiry the power of observation and the magic of wonder.”
So could this kind of learning be an alternative to school? That’s not how Ramji Raghavan sees it. His work is a highly valued support for schools. And it is based on a trusted partnership with a Government that recognises the tremendous value of a service which it cannot provide itself and the costs of which it is prepared to underwrite. Other countries have expressed an interest too. “Our mission is to create a nation of curious people,” he concluded.
Revolutionising Columbia’s schools – from the inside out
The importance of schools was also heavily underscored by Vicky Colbert, because her work revolutionised the operation of Colombia’s schools – from the inside out. It has been so successful that it has been exported to other Latin American Countries and has recently been adopted by Vietnam.
A very early commitment to education led to her gaining an MA from Stanford University’s School of education, but her most valuable learning came from working with teachers in rural schools in her native Colombia. As she said to EFF9, there is no secret about good pedagogies which have been around for some time. However, what has eluded many educators is making them work, and at scale.
Her achievement was to work with teachers and children to take the focus of classroom work from the teacher and shift it to the learner. That may sound simple, but it involves changing practice, expectations and culture, which is where many excellent ideas wither on the vine. It also involved changing the pedagogy and transforming the role of teacher to facilitators and the children to active learners, using relevant, investigative learning with a shift of emphasis from transmission of knowledge to its social construction, fed by continual dialogue: “how to change complexity into simple, manageable action”.
The same kind of learning was used to educate teachers so that they were fluent in its practice before they went into classrooms. This bottom-up approach became so successful that it became national policy and has been recognised by the World Bank and the United Nations, and Vicky Colbert recently won the 2013 Wise Prize for Education Laureate.
Both speakers provided inspiration and innumerable sound bites on learning for the tweeters who spread the word across social media. And it’s work checking out EFF9’s own resident tweeters, Tony Parkin (@tonyparkin) and Ken Royal (@kenroyal).
Former UK schools minister Lord Jim Knight raised the issue of policy makers looking back instead of forward, and their fear of taking risks with children’s education that they would be badly punished for in the media. Vicky Colbert explained that they were engaging directly with classroom practice. Once they empowered children in their learning the role of the teachers had to change.
The work was evaluated as it progressed and it was important for them to share it with decision makers, particularly in making it visual.
The points raised brought echoes from the Cisco studios worldwide. For example from teacher educator Eliani Metni in Beirut who emphasised the importance of the education leadership in giving support for teachers grow confidence to try new approaches. “Learning needs to be looked at holistically,” she said, “with teachers learning together so they grown in self confidence.” They needed to take that extra step ”and not feel disconnected”.
‘A convergence rather than a clash of civilisations’
Bringing the debate to an end, Indonesia’s minister for education and culture Dr Mohammad Nuh said: “Without global partnership, it is impossible to build peace and harmony. Without peace and harmony, it is impossible to create sustainable development.
Without sustainable development, it is impossible to transform the economies for more jobs and inclusive growth. Without it, poverty eradication is only a dream. And, with poverty in one part of the world, it will be impossible for other parts to live in peace.
“There is a vicious circle that needs to be broken here. I strongly believe that education plays strategic roles to break the vicious circle.”
His country had introduced its new “Curriculum 2013” for more than 208,000 schools, 31 million students and about 1,4 million teachers with the purpose of transforming the system “to boost students’ creativity to its maximum”.
He concluded: “We also hope that the roles of education are not limited to economic benefits, but are much broader than that, such as strengthening the national competitiveness, reducing poverty, strengthening democracy, and ensuring that globalisation creates a convergence of civilisations, rather than a clash of civilisations.”
‘EFF is moving into phase two of its life’
One of the driving forces behind EFF, Promethean director of education Jim Wynn, hailed the progress. “Promethean“Education Fast Forward moved from being a child to a bright and excitable teenager in the summer of 2013, with debates involving Andreas Schleicher, Carol Bellamy, Michael Fullan and Kristen Weatherby,” he explained. “Those debates tackled issues from the quality of, and access to, education and then the emerging and powerful topic around new pedagogies balanced by the readiness of teachers to adopt the same. EFF9, held during the Education World Forum was, like EFF6, a different animal. Still touching major cities around the world, from Moscow to Sao Paulo and Paris to Sydney, it was different from other EFFs due to a live audience of more than 150 in London.
“The contributors Ramji Raghavan and Vicky Colbert described their experiences. One reaching 5 million learners across India through an-out-of school set of experiences and the other by working within the school system in and across Colombia. Sitting on my left the ex-minister of education from Zimbabwe David Coltart described the lack of school places in his country and, bringing the debate to a close, Indonesian minister of education and culture Dr Mohammad Nuh reflected on the need to apply technology to the needs of education.
“EFF9 was a milestone in EFF’s development and while it is able perhaps to claim to have reached maturity, it is probably still best described as a teenager, full of enthusiasm and hope but perhaps still in need of guidance.
“So EFF is moving into phase two of its life and seeking to expand its horizons by bringing more support to the table. Walking its own talk, EFF will grow in its collaborative approach and listen to the wisdom of as large a community as it can, and from all, irrespective of age, gender or place.
“The 254 people who tweeted during EFF9 have more than 5 million followers so the debate does reach a good sized audience and we need to help that audience act on what they have heard and what has stimulated them and we intend o multiply by 10 the funds available to help such action.”
The significance of the “BETT week” messages about changing learning and the importance of sharing them across the whole education workforce was not lost on Dominic Savage, director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) which helps organise both BETT and EWF. He commented: “I came away from BETT week this year more content than for some years. The words in my mind were from Michael Fullan’s comforting belief that we have moved from talking about it to doing it – educational change with the use of technology that is.
“No, we are not there yet, but there is a maturing and a more general agreement about many of the components which the accelerator of technology will help to coalesce, in Michael’s view, within three to five years.”