I have been in Estonia for almost 2 weeks now. Time has flown! But that aside, I have been trying to do a bit of mapping of initiatives that in my opinion connect education to the wider society and enhance the quality and impact of learning. The list below is not exhaustive.
Tagasi Kooli (Back to School)
is a civil society initiative with the objective of strengthening the cooperation between Estonian schools and the rest of the society by inviting the members of public to give a guest lecture/class during the “Tagasi kooli” week, well actually it happens all year round now. The guest teacher can be anyone who wishes to share interesting or practical knowledge or life experience with the younger generation.
The programme is facilitated by an online information system that matches the preferences of the class teachers and visiting “teachers” when it comes to the topic of the lesson. Here is an example of a lesson about pensions sponsored by Swedbank: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkzZe7Dh314
On the website the Estonian President, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves is quoted:
“There are no concerns in education that wouldn’t be the ones of our own. All our co-citizens could have a role in the development and facilitation of our students. On one hand our schools need a well-functioning network and good connection with the rest of the society. On the other hand all our people need a clear understanding how today’s Estonian school is faring and how they can support our education.”
The initiative was founded by another programme worth mentioning – Noored Kooli (Youth to School) Foundation.
The programme is inspired by earlier Teach for America (USA) and Teach First (UK), which aim to motivate and support young professionals and talented university graduates become teachers and advocates for change in society, especially in education, by equipping them with both pedagocical and leadership skills. But the real reason behind this “teacher and leadership programme” is even more significant than improving teacher education and bringing talent into the education profession – it lies in the fact that poorer children generally do much worse in school and end up having a lower quality of life and future prospects than their better-off peers. This in turn fuels more inequality in society. TeachFirst-type programmes try to close the attainment gap by inspiring a new generation of teachers who are whole-heartedly dedicated to changing the “life story” of each child.
The participants do not necessarily stay in school or teaching, although many do and continue to take on even a leadership role as a school principal or programme leader. You can read an article about Noored Kooli here (in Estonian this time.)
(Just as a side note – it is so important that the participants understand what they do has meaning. In fact, this is also one of the main motivating factors for young students. The meaning of whatever happens in classroom should be explained and discussed, and it usually develops when we make “connections” with our wider worldview, identity. I remember far too many times hearing the question: “Teacher, WHY do we have to do this?” It often seemed just for the sake of doing it. No critical thought, no questions, although some teachers did try and give an explanation such as “to develop your thinking”.)
To be continued…