If you want to witness ambition and determination to shape an educational system into something worthy both of our kids and the future, you should seriously consider a trip to Buenos Aires. We went there and it was an overwhelming experience. There are many things to admire within the project Nueva Esculea Secundaria and PIS (Pedagogical Innovation Schools) and would like to mention 3 of them. -“We”, that’s me and my former Super colleague Frida Gustafsson Wennö, now CEO at Swedish firm “Tänk Om”. Here we go!
1. A burning platform. There is nothing lukewarm about the approach, there is a real sense of urgency. You only need a few minutes with Director general Mercedes Miguel to realize that this is a woman with a mission, ready to put her own comfort aside in order to give more children what they deserve: a great and relevant education. I think the current ranking of any educational system is less interesting than its potential for improvement and rate of change. -Sweden might score higher in the first category (at the moment) but Buenos Aires will certainly be up there among the best in the second. And being on top in the second is the only thing that can make you a contender for the top in the first category, in the long run.
2. The courage to innovate. There is something unusual about the approach chosen by the government in Buenos Aires. In our meetings with Mayor Mauricio Macri, Education Minister Esteban Bullrich and General director Mercedes Miguel , it is evident that they realize that the question of creating schools for ideas in a global perspective, in world where educational systems to often are considered as national monopolies the winners will be those who have wisdom enough to think global.
Part of the strategy is to give some schools more freedom and mission to become Lighthouses and centers of innovation and development. The government has invited several foreign schools as parters to these Lighthouses, that’s where we came into the equation. The school we are working with, Escuela No 16, is located in one of the more disadvantaged districts of Buenos Aires and we recognize the challenges found in similar communities in our own country, albeit on a different scale and under even tougher conditions. The challenge given to us as teachers and educators isn’t to copy something, it’s create something that is 100% suited for the context around this school. Innovation and success requires of us as professionals to share ideas and to create something new and I’m grateful that we were given this opportunity and deeply impressed by the ethics and skills shown by our colleagues at No.16. David Perkins once said that educators around the world are part of a camaraderie, a fellowship, and we certainly felt that during our stay i Argentina.
3. Putting the kids on the table. Real change is never uncontroversial. My impression is that education in Argentina is heavily politicized. Matters of learning and pedagogy quickly get entangled in a more complex political context. I’m not saying that learning and education should be value neutral but I do think that we at times need to rise above our personal convictions and needs and avoid making schools a ideological battlefield. -And that goes for my own country as well.
During a lunch break at Escuela No. 16 one of the teachers told a story that made everyone around the table cry: The week before we arrived one her students had been murdered. Murdered by someone who shot the nine year old boy in the head with a pistol. The teacher told us of her despair, how hard it was to getting back to school knowing it would be impossible to give enough room for grief and to comfort the rest of the kids, how she kept running from lesson trying to keep herself from breaking. The story tells me at least two things, a school can’t heal the wounds of a whole community but a great schools must be built from the child´s point of view. If we “put the kids on the table” when making decision about education we will make better decisions. Just a few examples:
- Kids want a safe and inspiring learning environment: Supported by science
- Kids want teachers who build healthy relationships: Supported by science
- Kids love teachers who can make them feel proud and make them excel: Supported by science
- Kids love challenges hate it when its boring. THAT should be in every curriculum because it is: Supported by science
– Give it a few moments more and you will come up with more. THAT should be the common ground for politics and policies but we tend to get lost in other issues. Agree?
What’s next? We have just finalized the first step in the project: one week of intense exchange and learning in Buenos Aires out of this will come a strategy for the coming years. -We will keep you posted!
I think we will see explosive school improvement in Buenos Aries in the coming years. In one week we met people with enough passion, ambition and professionalism to rock an entire nation and when that happens it will send a message to the rest of the world: Evolution and innovation depends on us working together, sharing our best ideas and putting them into practice in new versions suited for our kids in our communities. When I think of this, it makes me the happiest man alive!
AND to the true troopers, The Three Musketeers: Ana Laurua Barudi, Magda Cardoner and Pablo Princz…To quote to old song: Nothing compares to you!
Over and out
I will spend this week at “Almedalsveckan”, a summer kindergarten drenched in vin rosé for anyone wanting to be a player in a Swedish political life. It’s a great place, a micro cosmos of ambition, greed and idealism. As I sat in alley and listened to the opening adress given by the leader of the Christ democratic party I made a wish list for this week (it’s a narrow one, limited to my field: learning, education and innovation):
I wish for more than vision: I wish for some brilliant ideas of HOW not just WHAT. Browsing thru the extensive program I can’t help think that almost every seminar has a great headline, they all promise a lot. -Just imagine if they delivered viable solutions and bold actions, THAT would be a revelation and, maybe, the beginning of a revolution.
I wish for learning and education in context. The seminars during this week cover almost every challenge we are facing in society today: inequalities, unemployment, environmental issues, integrity and integration, innovation and… strangely enough, education, as a topic of its own. I wish for more discussions on the conditions for learning and education in context. Education must be seen in relation to the challenges we face, as part of a soultion not as a problem of its own. Therefor I’m going to seminars eager to hear how experts and visionaries from other fields see learning and education as key features in change.
After all, change is driven by our hearts and minds and that’s what great education is all about: capturing our hearts and empowering our minds.
Over and out
My father worked for SIDA, The Swedish International Development Agency, for the larger part of his professional life. I thought that it was a cool and noble job, he got to travel and we lived abroad with our family and it made sense to me as a kid that we as Swedes did what we could to assist people who were worse off than us. From time to time there was quite a lot of debate in Sweden connected to the idea of development and aid to developing countries and harsh criticism of specific projects. Ask almost any Swede of my age or older about Bai Bang and they will tell you about a disastrous project in Vietnam where Swedish tax money was spent on a paper mill that rather than producing paper ate cash. I remember the news scorning the project: it was about corruption and technical failures, on the idiotic idea of using bamboo for pulp (we all know that you should use pine or spruce) and shovels that were to large and heavy for the small Vietnamese (they had to be operated by two people). -The last image became the public hallmark of the project: Failure built in the inability of transferring knowhow combined with irresponsible spending of our tax money.
Photo: Anders Gunnartz
Some days ago bumped into an exhibition of the project at Bai Bang, it has turned out to be a great success. The mill is highly productive and has grown to be a corner stone in the economy of the whole country. This came as a pleasant surprise to me and made me think about the nature of change. How many projects are like Bai Bang in their infancy and how many of them survive to become the adult success of Bai Bang?
The stakes are high when a project is ambitious or promising to be a real game changer. And projects of that kind will most certainly run into problems.
Do we imagine that change is straight line? It’s all to easy to condemn a project as a failure and stop it, in fact, it’s kind of self fulfilling. “This project is crap and therefore we shut it down och remodel it into…”. I more seldom se the approach “This is an ambitious project and it’s in its nature to run into unforeseen challenges. Now, we are going to make it work.”. If change is connected to an stance like that, “failure” will be seen as something else. I don’t believe that real change is straight line, and I think we should be more worried about “I told you so-ers”, people who are pointing fingers at ambitious projects when they run into their inevitable problems. I told you so-ers can only repeat and they would never have built Bai bang. Change is not for chickens and real succes might be neighbor to failure.