Education Resource Collaborative:
A Model for Transformative Learning in
Systems of School Education
Draft Concept Note
The Ferdinand Centre for Education for Social Justice (TFC), being incubated in the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), was established in 2014 as a small R&D initiative to deepen understanding of rights-based and holistic education and to develop research-based, need-based curriculum and learning opportunities to empower learners in India—teacher educators, teachers, school leaders, and students–to participate as equal citizens of a 21st Century world.
The Ferdinand Centre is currently focusing on developing an understanding of what Readiness for College and Civic Life entails and on developing learning opportunities that would put students completing Secondary school and entering college on a path to becoming College and Life-Ready.
What would a rights-based definition of “Readiness for College, Career, and Life” in the Indian school context look like? Bruce King’s definition of equity cuts through to the essence:
Equity is when young people who have been underserved feel empowered to change their lives and the inequitable system in which they grew up. This, therefore, is the equity challenge of our day: to develop and strengthen agency in students, so that armed with skills and competencies, they can head into college, careers, and their lives equipped to make the changes most relevant to them 1.
This concept of “agency” relates closely to Emma Humphries’ statement about civic learning: “It’s education that should inspire our students towards a lifetime of informed, fierce, and tireless engagement in their communities and in public life” 2.
ln our view, the two ideas, Bruce King’s concept of “agency,” as the equity challenge of our day, and Humphries’ concept of “civic learning” together define Voice, in Covey’s meaning of “Voice,”3 and bring us to a possible definition of “Readiness for College and Civic Life:” empowerment to craft a unique and meaningful life for themselves as citizens of a democratic world. Readiness for College and Civic Life thus brings in:
- the equity dimension: this high-quality education is the right of every student,
- the “agency” dimension: this education equips students with the requisite skills and competencies for meaningful and successful engagement the 21st C world,
- the “civic” dimension: this education engenders a commitment to democratic and social justice goals.
The next step would be to ask, as the Teachers’ Guild Ideo challenge question does: “How might we prepare students to be civically powerful and to use their unique voice to address issues that matter to them?”4 If we, with a group of like-minded organizations, can reach a shared definition of “Readiness” for students—underserved as well as privileged students–in India’s schools, we could collaborate to figure out, in our various fields of practice, what works in different contexts to build such Readiness.
Rationale for the ERC
Quoting qualitative Research guru, Egon Guba, who wrote of educational research in 1981: ““Relevance without rigor is no better than rigor without relevance,” Bruce King suggests that this, relevance and rigour, must be true of the “usual work students do in school.” 5TFC believes that it is critical to extend this idea to the “usual work of teachers”. In India, the experience of the “Big Push” programs—DPEP, SSA, now RMSA—shows that this, ensuring both rigour and relevance, continues to be the core dilemma of education reform attempts. We are aware through our own experience with Professional Development programs in India that process-based initiatives are essential for deep and generative learning, and that they need to be “close to where the action is”, the classroom. But how could such initiatives be scaled without dilution of quality? This question continues to stymie education system reform in India despite hugely successful innovations in pockets around the country. To use Egon Guba’s terminology, how in such a large and diverse country can we ensure the “rigour” necessary for excellence and simultaneously ensure “relevance” at local levels of practice on the ground? We think a platform for collaborative professional learning is one answer.
The principle of collaborative learning is simple and certainly not new even in India. In 1998, the PESLE experiment6 tried to create a platform for dialogue and cross-fertilization between path-breaking innovations, all partners already engaged with trying to scale up their small, high-quality innovation into large public systems of school education. Without going into the outcomes of that multi-state, multi-year experiment almost 20 years on, there are still not many answers to the dilemma.
Today, there are still at least two problems to addressing King’s “equity challenge of our day” in India’s context. The first relates to duration: do we have the time to undertake a sequential process of building teacher agency, and before that, building teacher educator agency, in all the various locations around the country before we can reach students? will we not deny many more students their right to empowering education by proceeding in a linear way? And the second question relates to the lack of good models: how can we help teacher educators and teachers in all their various locations visualize “student agency” so that they can attempt to build it?
Suggested Model of Transformative Professional Learning &
Collaborative Curriculum Development
A possible solution emerged for us from two distance learning courses taken at the Harvard Extension School: graduate courses on Comparative Education Policy and on Social Entrepreneurship in Education in Comparative Perspective, which “proved” the potential of web-enabled “deeper learning,” which in our view fulfills the requirement of “rigour.” The curriculum consisted of video recordings of lectures delivered in the parallel face-to-face class at the HGSE, live large group discussions facilitated online by TAs who really “got” the concepts, and small group work in “break-out rooms” online. Assignments for credit included papers that required individual reflection on significant scholarship in the field, “Identify a Policy Problem in a region of your choice”, and collaborative work to define a “solution” and present the paper in a face-to-face forum: the Global Education Conference at the Graduate School of Education, an opportunity for those online learners who could get to Cambridge to meet their Professor and their peers at the HGSE.
The Education Resource Collaborative emerged as our team’s proposed “solution”: a web-enabled platform for real, deep and ongoing collaboration between teams of researchers and practitioners to reflect together on important new ideas and create new knowledge for their own contexts7.The learning strategy, which required (i) a deliberately designed inquiry-task that forced the team to review the most current literature on their chosen “problem”—professional development of educators—(ii) identify a “burning” policy question that deeply engaged them, the core policy challenges of the professional development of educators in India (iii) define a solution in the light of the course content, new research in education policy and practice, and (iv) defend that solution before a relevant audience.
The ERC Solution suggests one answer to these dilemmas, which represent the challenges of the last three decades of professional development of teachers. Design Principles would include:
- Institutional teams of educators, ideally teacher educators and teachers from State systems, to provide synergy on the ground, at local levels;
- A course to promote collaborative engagement with high-quality resources or research: to kick-start the process of collaborative innovation, thought-leaders, researchers and creators of innovative models would have to create a course these institutional teams could take together, to generate the “products”, curriculum, that they can trial on their own ground.
- A high level of learning support: Given that this would be the first such 21st C learning experience for most educators from the State systems, the learning curve will be steep.
- Regular opportunities for review and feedback would be critically important, including collaborative reflection on learning assessment data.
- Professionals from progressive resource institutions (“early-adopters”) as participants in the course to become “coaches” for teams as they trial their product, the curriculum they have designed, in their own classrooms. This emerges from the experience of past attempts, in pockets around India, to change practice on the ground: this function of “coaching” is well-served by a team of external “experts” facilitating the change8.
- At least one complete learning cycle: This critical requirement would ensure that the learning process is supported through the various phases of learning— engagement with new ideas, reflection and inquiry into the need in their own context (student- or teacher-need), design, trialing, review and refinement of the curricular model designed collaboratively for that context9. In this case it would be one academic school year to trial the curriculum and evaluate its impact on student learning.
- Web-enabled collaboration: The high-energy engagement and momentum generated at the beginning of this learning cycle must be sustained through the whole cycle, as teams go back to their places of work. This would be provided through web-enabled collaboration at regular intervals to engage with new ideas and solve problems arising in their classrooms together with trusted peers in other locations.
- Starfish model of collaborative learning: The success of this model is predicated on a “Consortium” model in which there is no “head” or higher authority leading the process but rather a facilitative Design Team, with representation of all partners in the consortium.
Ensuring both relevance and rigour, the process would generate cutting-edge curriculum relevant to local contexts, while simultaneously building the capacity of teacher educators and teachers to teach it because it would be their “own”, not handed down as some lifeless document dreamed up in offices at the top. In dialoging with new ideas and with each other through rigourous structured tasks, these teacher educators and teachers would experience the 21st Century learning environment, building their capacity to engage creatively with high-quality resources and research to create new knowledge for their own contexts, their classrooms i.e. developing “agency” and setting-out on the path to find their unique “Voice,” so that, as King says, “they can head into…careers, and their lives equipped to make the changes most relevant to them.”
This is also the “gold-standard” project-based learning the Buck Institute of Education suggests, that Expeditionary Learning schools use, and the Authentic Intellectual Work model used by Envision Schools, and other innovations building 21st Century capacities in learners across the world. And this model is especially effective for disadvantaged and disempowered learners (a category that includes most teachers in Indian State systems): “It is teachers and students interacting with high-level content on powerful tasks…that make the biggest difference for higher and more equitable outcomes for diverse learners, as well as helping students prepare for democratic life”10.
These models provide examples of the kinds of resources that educators must engage with to develop new models of learning for India. Such a course would provide teacher educators and teachers the experience of a 21st C learning opportunity: rigorous, relevant, rights-based, inquiry-based, field-based collaborative learning, with high expectations of and need-based support to every learner. Exactly what they are expected to create in their classrooms.
The platform for collaborative learning and practice on an ongoing basis, the ERC, enabling web-based practice, would have an additional benefit. An intended outcome, though not one on which the success of the platform is predicated, would be a series of new, online, learning opportunities—courses, workshops and webinars—being generated by the local teams on a regular basis.
To kick-start such an Education Resource Collaborative, we propose the following process:
- A Summer Institute on Building Student Voice for a 21st Century World, for teams of teacher educators and teachers from State systems, University Education Departments and NGO Resource Institutions. The Institute would be designed and taught by a team of researchers, resource people and practitioners leading innovations in India and around the world. The Institute would require development of a shared understanding of current research and models, leading to a theoretical framework of desired learning outcomes 11, field-work by cross-institutional learning teams to inquire into the current state of learning in local schools/systems of schools, and, based on the theoretical model and the information generated from the field, refinement and agreeing of a shared framework of what Building Voice might entail. The teams would then design curriculum to trial in their own contexts, in the subjects and the classrooms where they already teach.
- Follow-up Learning Opportunities, mostly web-enabled, for 9 months: workshops, monthly network meetings for review and feedback, collaborative problem-solving and lateral learning, webinars for new input and discussion, for a full academic cycle, with “tutorial” sessions with designated team-specific coaches.
- Regular opportunities for institutions networked on the platform to dialogue and to present their own innovations on an ongoing basis: Conferences, webinars, seminars etc so that the community of learning and practice triggered by this initiative would continue to collaborate on this and other initiatives, in small groups and large, triggering local, regional and national issue-based learning communities in the Starfish model.
Resources Needed for 2017-2020:
- Summer Institutes: Board, Lodging, Travel, Stipends, “Experts” from India and the US
- A small Secretariat to facilitate all learning processes through the learning cycle, in consecutive years, and an EdTech team to facilitate the design and maintenance of the web-enabled platform and to extend support to organizations as they develop online courses or components for their initiatives.
While TFC is happy to be the Secretariat in the short run, the ERC is a big idea which would eventually involve partnership of several organizations, including universities, resource institutes and funding organizations, for development of a shared vision, strategies, design and action plans and an independent Secretariat for implementation.
- King suggests that “agency–the ability to take ownership of one’s learning, to be empowered to grow and develop, to be responsible for one’s goals and progress – is what students need, in order to unlock their power and potential.”
- Reflections from #CivicVoices and Questions about the Future
- Stephen Covey’s definition of “Voice” in our view suggests a possible definition of “Readiness”: students are empowered to create meaningful lives for themselves when they have the ability to identify what they are good at, what they love doing and how they can apply these two strengths to the needs of their community or their “world”, with a sense of “moral purpose”. Covey goes further and defines Leadership as the ability to use one’s own Voice to help others find theirs, which is, we believe, the task of every educator, including each one of us at TFC. In this context, William Damon’s work on “Purpose” is also instructive.
- See here.
- Top 8 PBL News Stories
- The Directors of The Ferdinand Centre had lead roles in one of the PESLE member organizations, working with the Delhi State Department of Education.
- Davé Chakravarty, S. & Keats, A. (2012). Education Resource Collaborative: Transformative Solutions for 21st Century Education in India. Paper Presented at The Conference For Global Education Challenges. Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- In most large-scale reform programs, this was the weak link: the well-designed curriculum was to be supported at block and cluster levels. But the BRCs and CRCs were coopted by the administrative line of command (MHRD—State DoE—DEO–BEO) to provide a steady stream of school-based data instead of providing the academic regeneration and contextualization of curriculum as conceived by the academic line of command (NCERT—SCERT—DIET—BRC—CRC).
- This too has been an issue in the past, with high-quality professional development designs degenerating into a series of one-of irrelevant trainings that did not help teachers address the problems of teaching and learning in their over-flowing, hugely diverse classrooms, and built nothing but resistance.
- Bruce King, Blogpost, November 1 2016. Also, here.
- This reconceptualization of desired learning outcomes is of course a critical need for the school education sector, a process that should be ongoing as 21st Century needs change and could be facilitated on a regular basis at least in the learning communities interacting on the ERC platform.