July 24, 2019

The Power of Networks to Improve Education

● Schools and high schools are able to share successful experiences and generate new solutions for their challenges by participating in educational networks.

● The Leading Schools Network is a pioneering experience in this field and is praised at international levels.

Multiple species in nature use collaborative strategies for protection, to feed themselves and obtain other benefits; schoals of fish, flocks of birds, or swarms of bees are good examples that illustrate that. It is also a strategy increasingly used by education systems around the world to improve results.

Chile is not the exception. In 2015, the Ministry of Education launched the School Improvement Networks , a strategy to promote collaborative work between teachers and directors from different schools, to tackle their difficulties and share good experiences in their educational communities. In addition, several public-private educational network initiatives have flourished in recent years.

Fundación Chile pioneered in this area, promoting the implementation of school networks as a school improvement strategy. “Research and experience at national and international levels show that collaborative work among schools is fundamental -in spaces where they can share their experiences and learnings- to ensure that the educational transformation we are promoting can be strengthened and that our students learn more and better”, stated Andrea Osorio, Fundación Chile’s Director of School Improvement.

According to Michael Fullan and Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, international eminences in the area, effective collaboration among schools can have positive effects at various levels. First, it has the power to improve students’ learning; on the other hand, it can strengthen the professional capital of educators and leaders and, finally, become a force that improves the education system as a whole.

A Pioneering Experience in Chile

The 110 educational establishments that are now part of the Leading Schools Network are distributed from the Azapa Valley in the far north, all the way to Punta Delgada, in the eastern end of the Strait of Magellan. Their common denominator? They are all schools in a context of social and economic vulnerability, and they all have developed innovative projects to tackle the challenges they face themselves.

The rise of this initiative dates back to 2007, when El Mercurio and Fundación Chile launched a call to seek for stories about innovative schools. At the beginning there were only 10 establishments, but as time went by, new schools and new partners joined in such as: Fundación Minera Escondida, Fundación Educacional Arauco, and Fundación Educacional Oportunidad.

These schools have been able to establish relationships and create bonds and spaces to share their experiences and challenges through national and territorial meetings, internships, and digital tools.

Escuela Básica Talhuán in Ñuble joined the Network in 2015 and its Director, Lilian Muñoz states that “There are plenty of benefits. You get trained with your peers and find out about and share successful experiences. That encourages you to carry out innovative projects and strengthen collaborative work within the educational unit”.

“Research and experience at national and international levels show that collaborative work among schools is fundamental -in spaces where they can share their experiences and learnings- to ensure that the educational transformation we are promoting can be strengthened and that our students learn more and better”.  Andrea Osorio, Director of Edtech for Schools, Fundación Chile.

In 2017, the Leading Schools Network was recognized at a global level by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). On the occasion, Alejandro Paniagua, researcher in Education for the OECD, explained to El Mercurio that this initiative caught their eye “Due to its focus on disadvantaged sectors, which is one of our thematic lines. Moreover, it is a fundamental issue, because if educational innovation is not geared towards improving equity and equality… then, what purpose does it serve?”

The Leading Schools Network exemplifies what we would like to see throughout our school system: trust-based collaboration”, said Raúl Figueroa, Undersecretary of Education.

New Experiences

The network in Atacama gathers 20 professional-technical high schools of the region, while the in Coquimbo it gathers 41 establishments. In both cases, the networks also include higher level technical education institutions (Technical and Vocational Training Center and institutes), Technical Skills Organizations, companies, local unions, regional authorities, and other networks.

The challenges to improve the quality of technical education are several and varied. They require being looked at along with other actors in the territory. In this respect, the creation of territorial networks that bring together several high schools, actors of the productive world and local public organizations is a good strategy”, affirms Patricio Traslaviña, Territorial Projects Director at Fundación Chile.

Another emerging experience is the Solar School Network that brings together 24 schools and high schools in the region of Arica and Parinacota. Its purpose is to promote among its students, greater knowledge and education on the solar potential of the region. This project was created in 2018 within the framework of Ayllu Solar, an initiative developed by SERC Chile, Fundación Chile, and Fundación BHP, that seeks to generate the capacities for the region to take full advantage of this clean and renewable energy resource.

 

Pending Challenges

In a rapidly changing world, schools must train students for still unknown challenges and to perform jobs and roles that have not yet been created. In that sense, the Catalan expert in socio-educational networks Jordi Longás is an advocate to address education from the principles of co-responsibility and collaboration, where not only schools and families have a crucial role, but also the government, private sector, civil society, and the community surrounding educational establishments.

“When we talk about the educational system and the goals it pursues, we should not focus exclusively on the school system, but on all those agents that develop an educational action inside and outside the school, in the social, health, and cultural spheres. All of them, together with the educational establishment, can create what we have called a socio-educational network,” explains Longás.

In the scholar’s opinion, it is essential to acknowledge the social nature of the learning process, foster cooperative learning actively, and enable authentic learning experiences in real contexts. “For all that, it is of great interest, as well as innovative to present the educational process in a multidimensional and extensive way. Inside the school and outside the school, at all times and throughout life,” he adds.

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