Building Hope In South African Education

This post was originally published on

I’ve only spent a week in Johannesburg, but it is hard not to be overwhelmed and inspired. Overwhelmed by the realities that many Black students in the Townships and the poorest communities still experience – strikes, violence and other disruptions that mean they may not get to school at all.  But even when many of these students are “in school” as one of my colleagues here told me, “they are getting no education.” In fact, The Economist recently declared that South Africa has “one of the world’s worst education systems”, while the BBC pointed out that roughly one out of four South African students failed their end of school exam last year.   All at the same time that many students continue to excel in long-established and high-performing private and ex-model c schools (formerly white schools).

Inspired, however, by the efforts of so many working in and with schools and school systems here to create and expand real opportunities for learning.  Those include the “new private” or “low-fee” private schools that are designed explicitly to keep costs low.  Some of those, like LEAP Science and Math Schools have been around for several years and have already expanded.  Others are new, like Streetlight Schools, developed specifically for Jeppestown, an area where many students make former industrial buildings home.

Inspired as well by those in after school programs, summer programs, museums, and youth development programs that seek to create meaningful learning opportunities outside of schools.  Some programs, like IkamvaYouth, the Kliptown Youth Program, and Olico provide places for students to get help with homework or additional instruction, get support from peers, mentors, and teachers, and get the access to electricity, books, computers, and the internet that many can’t get at home.  Ultimately, ideally – after years of walking from school to these after school programs and then from the programs back home, keeping up their daily and weekly attendance – the hope is that all their work will pay off with access to university placements, scholarships, or jobs.

While the Kliptown Youth Program is unique to Kliptown in Soweto and Streetlight Schools is built directly into the Jeppestown neighborhood, other programs and school networks like IkamvaYouth and LEAP have expanded across provinces, and some like City Year South Africa build on programs in the US and elsewhere. But regardless of the unique aspects of the work in South Africa, I was struck by the shared challenges and the similarities in the development of these South African organizations and those I’ve been studying in New York City, Singapore and Malaysia.  All of these groups have to wrestle with the fundamentals of organizational and instructional development: they have to pull together or create the basic materials – registration forms, curricula and assessments, training manuals, and workshops; they have to find ways to attract students, recruit teachers, tutors, and other staff and volunteers; and they have to establish the relationships that create and sustain a safe and trusting environment inside their organizations while they spend time building broader networks of support among parents, community leaders, funders, and, sometimes, politicians. They have to do all of this, even when the electricity or the internet goes out; when their own equipment is stolen away (as at the branch of IkamvaYouth I visited); and when the whole political system is embroiled in controversy and conflict.  In South Africa, they have to do all of this as well amid a shift from a focus on the possibilities of post-apartheid democracy to a focus on the realities of sky high unemployment and limited, and costly, opportunities for higher education.  Coming to South Africa makes strikingly clear that the greatest crisis is a loss of hope. But experiencing the work being done by so many in Kliptown, Jeppestown and in so many other places across South Africa shows that hope is not just a dream about the future, it is built, day by day, step by step, like a ladder that allows us to reach higher than we ever have before.


Thomas Hatch


A “Right to Play” in Daily Education

As part of an ongoing series looking at the evolution of educational support organizations around the world, we recently spoke with Kevin Frey, CEO of Right To Play International and Jared Carroll, Director of U.S. Programs, about their work with Right To Play and the organization’s global work around play-based educational programming, particularly discussing work going on in New York City.

Right To Play demonstrates that play is both an integral part of daily life and a fundamental right by bringing sport and play-based programs to children around the world. Their work challenges assumptions that equate education with exclusively cognitive engagement through and healthy development with intellectual development and builds on the idea that play can be as rigorous and useful as other types of engagement.

_dsc9504Right To Play grew out of Olympic speed skater Johann Olav Koss’ experience as an athlete ambassador for the organization Olympic Aid.  One visit to Eritrea, in particular, helped to spark the idea that providing sports equipment, coaches and mentors – three important elements in Koss’ own development – the act could create crucial opportunities to support the development of children living in some of the most difficult circumstances.  Yet when Koss returned to Eritrea after having won 3 gold medals and having raised almost 18 million dollars to bring sports equipment to the children he had met, Norwegian critics wondered why he wasn’t bringing basic necessities like food and medicine. But the President of Eritrea at the time told Koss:  ‘This is the greatest gift we have ever received. For the first time, we are being treated like human beings–not just something to be kept alive. For the first time, my children can play like any child.”

Koss built on this experience by developing Olympic Aid into Right To Play and committing to bring sports equipment, coaches, and mentors to children in Africa and many other parts of the world.  While Right To Play’s initial focus was on sports, they quickly expanded to engaging children in games of all kinds.  In the process, they got to know these children and to hear what the children needed and wanted.  Through these initial activities, Right To Play staff identified problems with health, gender, and other issues that they could address through sports and play. Kevin Frey, current CEO of Right To Play International uses the example of a game called “malaria tag” to encourage children to use malaria nets for protection from mosquitos rather than for fishing (which seemed much more useful to many of them).  “If you sit a bunch of kids down, and simply tell them how malaria is transmitted, none of them are going to go home and use mosquito nets because there was no opportunity to engage with the learning,” Frey explained. Right To Play is founded on the belief that play and learning are synonymous (not only for kids, but for adults as well). “If you design a game called ‘malaria tag’ the kids get totally activated.”  To help children turn that activity into practice, Right To Play staff ask students to reflect on their experiences during the game, connecting those experiences to their own lives and then explore how they can apply what they learned moving forward.

_dsc9466With headquarters in Toronto, Right To Play has grown to operate programs in eighteen countries, primarily in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. Initially, the organization operated using a centralized model, with frameworks and models developed in Toronto and shared with local offices. These models involved creating games and professional development sessions for educators working in community-based organizations that program staff could implement in their communities.  Over time, however, the organization has adapted and changed to include more self-direction based on local cultural settings and specific needs. These adaptations are distinctly visible in Right To Play’s programming in in the U.S. The organization’s work in the U.S. began in in New York City. After conversations with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) it was suggested that Right To Play work within an early childhood education context. Initially, the organization followed the typical model for DOE professional development, where Right To Play designed sessions that its employees would deliver for members of partner organizations (all participants were early childhood education staff from non-profit community-based organizations) at a centralized NYC location. In Carroll’s words, these early sessions “positioned Right To Play as experts sharing knowledge” rather than as collaborators of learning opportunities.

In this first US iteration, Right To Play sought to help integrate play-based learning into early childhood education settings by connecting with a number of local organizations that shared their philosophy and goals. After Right To Play provided professional development, the partner organizations incorporated the Right To Play model into their work with schools. By 2013, however, Right To Play began to change this initial professional development approach. Carroll recalls the shift as coming to view these organizations as partners in making, rather than recipients of, Right To Play’s programming. Right To Play sought to focus more directly on educational equity and to respond to the specific obstacles and challenges that the partner organizations described. Right To Play first stopped holding their training sessions at a single, central location. This way, they did not have one general session that was targeted to all the visitors from various organizations. Instead, session facilitators went to the partner organizations and worked with the entire organization.  Furthermore, Right To Play shifted from delivering a more overarching, general professional development session to one designed around the expressed needs of partner organizations and rooted in interactive, participatory practices.

Today, a typical professional development session involves Right To Play employees going to a partner organization site to work on a session such as building community cohesion and using that as a foundation for collaborative work. For instance, if session facilitators from Right To Play and local educators identify building trust as a key issue (either for the organization or as something to help the children develop), a session will involve an activity that both requires and demonstrates trust. Carroll describes one such activity as using large elastic bands with a bucket placed in the middle of 4-5 people. Each person must pull on the elastic band and then let go at the same time in order for the band to fall into the bucket. Groups play this game for a while, working together and discussing strategy. Afterward, the whole group engages in a conversation about the purpose of the activity and how similar challenges with trust translate to their work together and how it can be used or adapted to early childhood settings. Later in the day, this theme is further explored in the context of necessary skills or understandings learners might need to engage in the classroom community in this way. As with the game of mosquito tag, the sequence of play, engagement, and reflection is central to learning for the children, as well as the educators who can then build on this experience to develop more activities.

In 2014, newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio launched an initiative for universal pre-K in the city. as pre-K expanded in New York City, Right To Play’s presence in the city expanded as well. As efforts for universal pre-K rolled out, demand for grassroots and community-based work grew. The list of community-based classrooms waiting to work with Right To Play has, in the last year, grown from 50 to 300.

As the organization moves forward, Right To Play is establishing a new leadership program and support network, focusing on early childhood education leaders. The three-year long leadership program builds on their partnership approach to professional development by undertaking a needs assessment with leaders, spending time with them in their sites, and through a cooperative inquiry approach developing a yearlong process of training.  The leadership program has, in some ways, been a natural growth of their professional development partnerships as some preschool leaders come to the leadership program after their teachers have participated in Right To Play. Right To Play also actively recruits leaders, looking at demographics in the city and engaging communities they believe would benefit from this type of work. Finally, as Right To Play develops this partnership approach in the US, they are also shifting to a more networked approach with Right To Play organizations around the globe. As this next phase unfolds, Carroll’s work is changing as well as he is devoting more time to work with his colleagues in other international offices.

Right To Play has created a strong presence of play-based learning opportunities in New York City. Their impact, however, is not solely in the work they do but in the ways they have opened and collaboratively built a place for this type of engagement with education at an early childhood level. As these organizational changes occur, Right To Play finds itself working in increasingly diverse contexts, both in terms of educational and geographic settings. It will be interesting to see then how the organization responds to its commitment to deeply situated and contextualized work as it begins moving toward working more as a transnational network.

Scan of Ed News: U.S. travel ban and higher education

On January 27, 2017, United States President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order temporarily withholding entry to the U.S. to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. In addition, aspects of the current visa and refugee program were suspended. The order has affected many people and caused confusion worldwide. Since it was established, news reports show that the order is also having an impact on higher education institutions around the world. Therefore, we decided to conduct a brief scan of reports that share information on how the ban will effect higher education, and how school leaders in the U.S. and around the world are responding.

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Universities and scholars are grappling with what the restrictions of the travel ban means for students and scholarship. One primary concern is for international students and faculty who are  studying and working in U.S. institutions, but who happened to be outside of the country when the order was signed and are now unable to return.  Additional concerns have been raised about the future of longstanding partnerships between universities in the US and in affected countries, such as Iran.  Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, was quoted in the Times Higher Education: “What we have is, frankly, a matter of significant concern and a great deal of confusion and very little clarity.”

According to Business Insider, tens of thousands of students across the country could be affected. Dallas News detailed how the ban will impact students in colleges and universities in Texas. Southern Methodist University has 49 students from the seven affected countries; The University of North Texas has 85 students; the Dallas County Community College District has 47; UT-Dallas has 127; Texas Tech University has 149; UT-Austin has 110; and the University of Houston has 280. Students and staff are being warned not to travel and to avoid the Texas-Mexico border checkpoints.

A coalition of 598 college and university presidents signed a letter to President Trump urging that the travel ban be rescinded. As reported by The Hill, this letter was sent to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly through the American Council on Education (ACE). As reported in The Boston Globe and in Time Magazine, these higher education leaders said that the order “specifically prevents talented, law-abiding students and scholars from the affected regions from reaching our campuses. American higher education has benefitted tremendously from this country’s long history of embracing immigrants from around the world.”

Additional reports share individual responses from presidents of Princeton, RutgersHarvard, MIT and Carnegie Mellon.  The Association of American Universities and the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement also issued statements. Also, as reported in The Independent UK, more than 4,500 scholars from Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have signed a petition calling for a boycott of international conferences held in the U.S.

Since the implementation of the Executive Order, there has been some speculation that the travel ban could benefit countries wiling to take the displaced students and faculty—such as Canada, Australia, and Ireland. For example, Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada, has offered to waive the application fees of students applying from the seven countries named in the Executive Order—hoping to attract new talent to the school. In an article just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, two physicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explore the consequences of the travel ban and point out that international medical graduates currently fill gaps in the American healthcare system, particularly in rural areas.

Meanwhile, protests and demonstrations continue. Yesterday, hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of school in protest of the ban. As reported in Chalkbeat, students filled Manhattan’s Foley Square, chanting “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” College students have also been protesting in many states, including Vermont, Maine, Illinois, California, Massachusetts,  and even in the UK.

Deirdre Faughey

A new model for integrating technology in schools? The work of eduLab in Singapore

This post originally appeared on

While we in the US often put our stock in the efforts of pioneers and entrepreneurial organizations to disrupt the conventional education system, my visit to Singapore last year made clear that Singapore takes a much more systematic approach to fostering new educational practices. Singapore’s current approach focuses on expanding learning opportunities to foster students’ 21st Century competencies and includes considerable “top-down” support – most recently from the Fourth Master Plan for Technology – that seeks to seed and scale promising developments across the system.

At the same time, reflecting its “centralized-decentralized approach,” Singapore has also invested heavily in supporting “bottom-up” initiatives in which teachers and schools develop their own new ideas and practices.   Since 2011, eduLab has served as a key vehicle for the support of bottom-up initiatives by funding a wide variety of projects proposed by teachers throughout Singapore.  Educators who receive funding work with eduLab staff, test out their ideas and develop prototypes, with all successful eduLab projects published on their website and in publications.  In addition, drawing on its current location at the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST), Ministry of Education and eduLab staff and Master teachers from the Academy support the diffusion of eduLab supported tools and resources by facilitating workshops and supporting subject and theme-based communities of practice.

While the extent of Singapore’s central investment in development of productive uses of educational technology is unusual, eduLab shares a number of functions with organizations in other systems (like iZone in New York City for example), which also focus on finding, seeding, and spreading innovative practices that take advantage of educational technology.  Some of the parallels may reflect responses to the rapidly evolving character of educational technology in general.  In the late 1990’s and 2000’s, schools and systems in developed education systems like those in Singapore and the US were focused on building the infrastructure for educational technology in schools – establishing wired and then wireless connectivity, getting equipment, and building “platforms” to host online activities.  In that context, schools often faced multiple and competing bids from companies who could provide a “one-stop” solution with the expectation that the school, teachers, and students would adapt their activities to the chosen platform, computer system (primarily windows or mac), or technology (e.g. interactive whiteboards).  In that process, millions of dollars were spent on those computers, computer labs, other hardware and online platforms, but often without clear benefits (see for example the experiences of the New York City Department of Education in launching and then abandoning a 95 million dollar data system created originally by IBM).

Now the landscape has changed.  In 2016, students and teachers use a variety of different devices – laptops, desktops, ipads, kindles, mobile phones etc. – and access a wide range of applications developed by individuals as well as not-for-profit and commercial companies.  In some ways, these developments have flipped the technology “bidding war”—instead of schools having to decide which set of machines to buy or which platform to adopt, some teachers may be using google classroom, some may be using Moodle or Blackboard, and some may be cobbling together their own mix of tools and apps.

This shift from platform and equipment-based ICT to more application-based technology integration puts schools and educators in Singapore and the US in a different relationship with technology companies.  Where they were once consumers, listening to pitches from tech companies and having to decide which platform to pick, now schools can identify specific problems that address their students’ needs and ask tech companies to produce apps and applications in response (for one US edtech industry perspective on how to sell products to schools see “Choosing a ‘top-down’ vs. ‘bottom-up’ approach in edtech sales”). In this scenario, edtech companies have to figure out how to meet local demands and scale, rather than focus first on general issues they believe will scale most quickly, leaving it up to educators and schools to figure out how to adapt.

Today, organizations like eduLab can serve as a key link between educators and the resources and expertise in the educational technology community by helping teachers find the right partners, sorting out the qualifications of bidders, evaluating bids, facilitating the development process (with user tests and iterations of the proposed “solution”), negotiating contracts, and dealing with fundamental rights and responsibilities including issues of intellectual property. These relationships both give eduLab teachers access to the latest technologies and allow those companies access and opportunities to develop and adapt (and in some cases commercialize) products that meet the needs of teachers and schools.  In one illustration of that process, a chemistry teacher in Singapore noted a problem that many of his upper secondary school students faced:  remembering the specific nomenclature used in their beginning chemistry course. In response, the teacher developed a card game in which he found that students learned the vocabulary most effectively when they were involved in discovering the rules that governed the use of the terms. Building on that discovery, the teacher and several colleagues were given funding to pursue an eduLab project that started in 2014. Working with staff from the Ministry of Education and eduLab as part of the team, a comparative study was carried out that demonstrated the benefits of the game. Designs for an app were then developed that enhanced the game with visualizations and that allowed teachers to get data on students’ performance to inform their instruction. Finally, eduLab worked with local start-up developers to build the app, which is now commercially available (both on iTunes and through Google Play).

Reflecting the complexity of these relationships, eduLab has developed several different ways of working with vendors.  For resources and applications that educators have already developed, eduLab may simply put the project out for bid.  For example, teachers at one school in Singapore developed a tool for automatic marking of students’ papers that an industry partner commercialized and helped to make widely available. At the other end of the spectrum, in cases where solutions have not yet been developed, risks are high, and success uncertain, eduLab might help search for industry partners who will take on the development costs themselves.  In one instance, a school wanted to explore the possibilities for adaptive learning in science and sought a tool that would help tailor content and activities based on students’ performances. An industry partner took up the request and created a tool that both gives students’ feedback and helps teachers to assess each student’s development.

Of course, industry partners are most likely to respond to and invest in projects that they believe have potential commercial benefits.  As a consequence, intermediaries like eduLab also have to engage with research organizations and non-profits who might be willing to invest in issues that are crucial to students and educators but may not have as much commercial potential.

In playing this kind of intermediary role, eduLab benefits from its close ties to Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (now called the Infocomm Media Development Authority or IMDA) and the National Research Fund, managed by the National Institute of Education (NIE) and the Ministry of Education (MOE).  Those ties are formalized as members of the Ministry, NIE, and IMDA all serve on the committee overseeing eduLab.  These formal connections also facilitate a wide range of personal relationships among educators, policymakers, and researchers who participate in various aspects of eduLab’s work.

Of course, neither having educators engaged in developing eduLab projects from the beginning nor making them widely available guarantees that they will be used or used well.  To that end, eduLab is turning more attention to issues like assessment and evaluation.  Those issues include how to develop assessments that focus on competencies that are not addressed in current tests; how to evaluate projects that are designed for small groups of teachers (like those teaching introductory chemistry in high school); and how to deal with reliability and validity in uncontrollable classroom contexts and other challenges of “rapid cycle evaluation and improvement.” (In the decentralized US system, however, with few “intermediaries” like eduLab or iZone, many districts are left to their own devices and have to rely instead on the development of edtech evaluation tools like Mathematica’s EdTech Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach or leverage other private sources such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s work on improvement science.)

While there is no simple measure of what impact eduLab projects might have on Singaporean students’ educational experiences overall, eduLab’s current work presents a very different image of how technologies may influence teaching and learning.  Rather than affecting all aspects of a teachers’ practice and transforming conventional instruction, in many cases, eduLab projects develop tools and resources adapted to specific instructional “niches” – such as the teaching of vocabulary in a beginning Chemistry class.   In these instances, the novelty of the tools and products and the extent to which they support conventional teaching or more student-centered learning may be less important than the fact that organizations like eduLab provide a new means of bringing together the professional expertise and local knowledge that educators have with the technical expertise of those in the edtech community.

— Thomas Hatch

Community Schools as a Hyper-Local Strategy

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Reuben Jacobson and Helen Janc Malone shine a spotlight on the success of the community schools strategy. They argue that hyper-local strategies like community schools can lead to school improvement. Jacobson and Malone both work at the Institute for Educational Leadership, which houses the Coalition for Community Schools. As they suggest, these and other hyper-local community schools initiatives are particularly important considering the U.S. policy shift toward state and local solutions.

The passage of the U.S. federal education law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has signaled that the education policy pendulum is swinging away from federal and toward the state and local decision-making. (For a brief history of the federal-state relationship, see The Ever Debatable Federal Role; for perspectives on ESSA and local strategies, see Coalition for Community Schools op-eds in Education Week and the Washington Post). One of the key emerging policy considerations is how can we improve outcomes for all students and close the opportunity gap in our communities? With an increased emphasis on local solutions and innovation, it is important to explore the promising local strategies that have already taken hold across the country that offer illustrative examples of the power of school-community partnerships.

There are many examples across the U.S. of local strategies that are making the difference in student learning and developmental outcomes. One such strategy gaining national momentum is community schools.

What is a community school?

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving.

The growth of community schools at the systems level over the past 20 years represents a hyper-local educational change and reform strategy that mobilizes community assets to improve outcomes for students, families, and neighborhoods. In these places, diverse stakeholders work to solve problems with local assets.

At the school site community schools are transformative models of education and youth development where results-focused partners unite with educators and families to help children thrive. In a community school, the student is at the center of learning and partners support them with health and other supports, family and community engagement, and expanded learning opportunities. A community school coordinator works with the principal, other school staff, and partners to assess the needs and assets of the community and to develop a comprehensive set of programs, partnerships, and activities to support students and their families. Community partners and educators are closer to students than any federal or state policy can be and are able to respond to each individual’s learning and other needs.

At the systems level, an intermediary organization (e.g., school district, local non-profit, United Way) supports multiple community school sites and helps identify and mobilize partners and leaders across systems to strengthen and deepen the community schools work within and across institutions. A collaborative leadership group comprised of leaders across sectors helps set the direction for the initiative, creating local policies that are responsive to local contexts.

Systems-wide community school initiatives

The Coalition for Community Schools works with nearly 90 places that have developed systems-wide community school initiatives. These places cross political boundaries. Local leaders have created thriving community school initiatives from Oakland, CA to Tulsa, OK, from New York City to Grand Rapids, MI, from Nashville, TN to Milwaukee, WI. A few examples help illustrate the contributions of these initiatives. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has created approximately 130 community schools and has been able to leverage partners with systems-wide impact like Google and Warby Parker. In Multnomah County (which includes Portland, OR), five districts, the City of Portland, the County and other systems-level institutions are working together to more efficiently braid and utilize resources by placing them in community schools that reach students and families that need them the most. And in Milwaukee, WI leaders from the school district, teachers union, and the United Way are working together to grow community schools in some of the city’s most high-needs neighborhoods.

Baltimore has created a system-wide community schools initiative that is coordinated by Family League of Baltimore. In partnership with the school district, the city, local universities, and many other community based organizations, Family League builds capacity, directs funding, and evaluates approximately 55 community schools. A council of leaders helps guide the work and a recently approved school board policy will help grow and sustain the work. Baltimore’s community schools are seeing results – participating students are less likely to be chronically absent, an important indicator of academic success. For more research on community schools visit

These and other hyper-local community schools initiatives have sustained their efforts over time, even as local, state, and federal leaders change. Local leaders are best positioned to collaborate across institutions and agencies; they can best make decisions about funding, understand how to braid resources to meet local needs, and have created organizational arrangements – ways of working together effectively. Local community school initiatives have created structures, have nurtured trusting relationships, and have collaborated on mutually beneficial programs and practices and are thus best able to respond to local needs.

As the U.S. education policy pivots toward local solutions, strategies like community schools offer promising examples of how local innovation could lead to supportive learning environments and improved whole child outcomes for students.


Poland: Reforming an improving school system

A recent scan of the education news in Europe highlights that new education reforms in Poland are making the headlines.  While Poland’s PISA scores are going up, there is still considerable controversy over the direction of further improvement initiatives. The current reforms have been positioned as occurring within a broader political struggle in the country.

The proposed new reforms would change the system from a three-tier school system (with elementary, middle, and high schools) to just two levels.  In the new system, students will attend an eight-year elementary school, and then they will spend four years in either a high school or a vocational school.

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party's education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Since a series of education reforms passed in 1998-1999, Polish students have attended 6-year elementary schools, three-year lower secondary (or, middle) schools, and three-year upper secondary schools. This approach had been a part of a broader school improvement effort that has contributed to Poland’s success on international measures of student achievement, such as the PISA exams. According to a 2011 OECD report, the structural changes of the 1998-1999 reform included the creation of a new type of school, called the lower secondary school “gymnasium,” which became a symbol of the reform. Vocational training was postponed by one year, allowing a greater number of students to be assessed. The reformers of the time argued that these improvements would allow Poland to raise the level of education by reaching more students in rural areas. Reformers also argued that these changes would allow teachers to use methods and curricula more suited to the needs of students, and that by linking the structural change with curricular reform, teachers would be encouraged to change what and how they teach.

Critics of the 1998-99 changes, like current Law and Justice MP Dariusz Piontkowski (and former teacher), however, complained that students were only being prepared to take tests. Piontkowski looks forward to curricular reforms that will come after the structural reforms:

“We are bringing back the teaching of history. We are bringing back patriotic education,” he declared. “It’s time that pupils understand what they are learning.”

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people, mostly teachers, are reported to be protesting against the new reforms fearing dramatic loss in jobs and “chaos” in the schools. However, these protests are not focusing on schools alone; they are seen as part of a wave of concern about what is seen as the government’s broader populist, conservative agenda. Questions are being raised about restrictions placed on journalists and what is seen as new barriers to transparency in government, particularly as politicians were frustrated about the voting process that ushered in this new reform. Protestors reportedly chanted: “No to chaos,” and, “The death of Polish education.”

For more on educational reform in Poland see:

Eurydice: The System of Education in Poland in Brief

NCEE:  Poland Overview

OECD: Education at a Glance 2016, Poland Country Note

The Impact of the 1999 Reform in Poland

Deirdre Faughey

Bringing Effective Instructional Practice to Scale

10833The Journal of Educational Change publishes important ideas and evidence of educational change. Contributions represent a range of disciplines, including history, psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and administrative and organizational theory. The journal also draws attention to a broad spectrum of methodologies, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, documentary study, action research, and conceptual development.

The journal’s most recent special issue, edited by Santiago Rincón-Gallardo and Brahm Fleisch, brings together articles by reform leaders and scholars who have developed and/or studied education change efforts in various contexts: Escuela Nueva in Colombia, the Learning Community Project in Mexico, the Gauteng Language and Mathematics Strategy in South Africa, Pratham’s Literacy Strategy in India, the Ontario Literacy Strategy in Canada, and Long Beach Unified School District’s system-wide instructional strategy in California, United States.

The editors also share two commentary papers by Richard Elmore and Michael Fullan. As the editors explain in their introduction to the special issue, “The two concluding essays pull together common and divergent threads across the six cases, derive key lessons, and articulate critical perspectives for the future of improvement in the education sector. While Elmore raises fundamental questions about the very project of policy-driven improvement, Fullan argues that, though elusive, whole system improvement centered around deep learning is doable.”

To read the complete introduction, click here:“Bringing effective instructional practice to scale: An introduction.”

To find the complete special issue, click here: The Journal of Educational Change.

To read IEN posts focusing on these reforms, click on the following links:

Attempting Change from Within: Student-Centered Change in Mexico

Bringing Effective Instructional Innovation to Scale through Social Movement in Mexico and Colombia

An interview with Vicky Colbert, co-founder of Escuela Nueva (Lead the Change)

Brahm Fleisch on building a new infrastructure for learning in Gauteng, South Africa

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario: Part II