Learning does not happen exclusively in schools – yet the formal education system still bears most of the responsibility for students’ education.
A wider range of learning opportunities could be offered to children and youth if a collective resource of organisations – including, libraries, museums, government agencies, private companies and community-based organizations – were brought together to play an active role in education, and expand and support youth learning.
A holistic approach to learning that includes informal learning experiences beyond the classroom that build knowledge, skills, networks and social/cultural capital is important for children’s personal and educational development.
Holistic learning can help children and youth explore and find their passions, ignite their intrinsic motivation to learn, understand and navigate the places and communities in which they live, and develop their capacities to contribute to a thriving world. Creating the conditions for these opportunities to be meaningfully connected is a challenge that all societies should pay attention to.
But how to make that happen in practice?
The challenges for education in Qatar
Education is a key priority in Qatar and part of the country’s 2030 National Vision – which aims to transition Qatar into a knowledge-based economy putting education at the centre of national priorities.
Despite the country’s investments and progress in education in recent years, there are still achievement gaps. In particular, male students are significantly behind their female counterparts, and attendance among secondary students in public schools tends to be lower than that of private schools.
Student motivation to learn can also be a challenge for teachers and educators. With Qatar being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, economic and employment empowerment is not necessarily a driver for students to pursue education to the same extent it is in most countries.
Creating a holistic learning ecosystem
Fewer young people today experience the empowerment of education through conventional schooling alone.
As learners around the globe seek both the technical skills of doing and knowing, and the soft skills of management, critical thinking, and many others, a holistic approach to learning is key.
A holistic learning ecosystem recognises that education is a collaborative endeavour, and a wide diversity of actors and stakeholders have an important role to play. Eco-systemic approaches ideally reflect and respond to the ambitions and perspectives of observant young people today, vigilant, receptive of different learning experiences, and ready to create their own unique paths.
In Qatar, educators and education leaders view extracurricular activities and informal learning opportunities as important elements in addressing Qatar’s education challenges. But while there is an appetite for more collaboration among all education stakeholders, the knowledge and practice needed to bring this to life is still limited.
Following a recent research project in Qatar with educators and leaders from local organisations as well as system experts, we are aiming to develop a more structured form of collaboration that can deepen networks and practices between different learning providers:
Below are five key strategies that we believe are useful to strengthen learning ecosystems:
- Having nominated members of staff in schools with a responsibility to broker partnerships and coordinate collaboration with external organisations. These nominated people need to be supported with clear standards and criteria for partnership working, as well as forums for professional dialogue.
- Providing more autonomy for schools to partner, reducing the administration required, and creating more structured and formalised support from government bodies for the sharing of knowledge and best practice between different schools. For example: twinning government and private schools for projects; and setting up a forum for principals from schools and government representatives to meet regularly.
- Helping to meet the private sectors’ skills needs (e.g. related to STEM) by bringing industry expertise into the classroom to guide on appropriate skills, and also leveraging private sector funding and resources for schools. Alignment between schools, higher education and business/industry can be cultivated through collaborative projects and tools such as skills passports, industry led competitions, research frameworks, and a common approach to impact evaluation.
- Establishing intermediary entities, similar to those introduced by Skills Future Singapore, that develop system level insights and intelligence to build connections and engagement across sectors, and facilitate a broader collective responsibility in education, skills and youth learning.
- Investing in programmes which cultivate the mindsets and behaviours needed for collaborative leadership. For example, WISE’s Empowering Leaders of Learning school leadership development program, which utilises a coaching model to support school leaders and leadership teams.
These recommendations are especially important for geographies where the public sector plays a major role in education provision.
The pandemic has shown the need for greater system alignment, agility and resilience in many countries, and the mobilisation of cross-sector allies to support schools to deliver learning in a time of crisis. The diversity of players in a learning ecosystem can provide a broader sense of belonging and responsibility, and elevate the role of informal and extracurricular experiences and providers to make education everyone's business.
By Aurelio Amaral, Head of Learning Ecosystems at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), and Rosie Clayton, Research Fellow at WISE