Bronwen Magrath is a Global Programme Manager at Aga Khan Foundation, where she leads the Schools2030 initiative – a participatory action research and learning improvement programme operating in government schools across ten countries. She previously worked as Director of Programmes at the International Education Funders Group, as a Research Fellow at University of Oxford and University of Nottingham and has consulted for a number of international organisations. Her research interests focus on the role of civil society organisations in global education advocacy and governance. She completed a PhD in Comparative and International Education at OISE, University of Toronto.
For decades, AKF has undertaken learning improvement programmes for preschool and school-age children around the world. What led to the creation of Schools2030 and what does this initiative aim to achieve?
Aga Khan Foundation’s work – in education and in other social sectors – has always been about working alongside communities. Our strength lies in these very deep-rooted and long-standing relationships of trust. Schools2030 really builds on this experience as we work in partnership with teachers, schools, local education authorities and governments across our ten programme countries to nurture learning improvement from the school and community level.
We really see this as our unique positioning: most large-scale international education reform initiatives start with a globally designed intervention to improve learning outcomes. At Schools2030 we flip this mindset and start from the classroom level – we believe educational change can only happen when it is initiated and owned by teachers, learners and school communities.
So the Schools2030 initiative focuses on classroom-driven education innovation and holistic learning. Our progamme is based in 1000 government schools across ten countries, where over the next ten years we will work with teachers, students and school leaders to define educational challenges and design solutions to those challenges.
Can you explain what you mean by holistic learning ? What kind of learning and skills will the initiative seek to improve?
We draw inspiration from the words of His Highness the Aga Khan, who has advised us that “we must rise above the antiquated approaches of earlier days and instead infuse our students with three ‘A’s’ of modern learning – the spirit of anticipation, the spirit of adaptation and the spirit of adventure”.
We believe that children and young people learn best when this learning is meaningful and relevant to them. For this reason, our programme focuses on a different set of holistic learning domains in each of our countries, selected by a diverse group of in-country stakeholders to align with national policy and curricular priorities. In Portugal, Schools2030 will also focus on relationship-building and ethical decision making along with empathy, problem-solving, critical thinking, literacy and numeracy. Across our ten countries we see significant overlap as well as uniqueness in the chosen focal learning domains.
For Schools2030, holistic learning is therefore about recognising the interconnectedness of academic, physical, social and emotional learning. Our approach to holistic learning supports young people to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to interact effectively with the world and become contributing members of society.
At the heart of this initiative is the belief that “educators are designers”. How does this create better learning environments?
Schools2030 does absolutely believe that every teacher is a designer – every day, teachers create experiences for their students through the delivery of lessons, by assessing progress and then accommodating different learning needs and goals. By equipping teachers with foundational design skills, tools and methods, we can help to amplify their work and support them to nurture better learning environments and improve learning outcomes for their students.
We have developed a customised Schools2030 human-centred design process that is supported through a toolkit as well as a process for training participants in using the toolkit. All our human-centred design resources are available freely and open-sourced on schools2030.org so they can be a benefit to teachers everywhere, even beyond our own programme.
What success stories have the educators who are using the Schools2030 Human-Centred Design Toolkit shared? What early signs are emerging to show that the initiative is making a difference?
After a full year of developing and refining the Schools2030 Human Centred Design (HCD) Toolkit, trialling it across our country teams and with civil society partners, and translating and contextualising it for use in our ten countries, we have now started the fun part – introducing the toolkit to teachers and facilitating their HCD learning journey. Initial workshops have been held with the majority of our teachers, giving them the opportunity to learn about the human-centred design process and to explore “how might we” questions that focus on improving learning in their country-specific holistic learning domains.
Our teams report that teachers have been diving enthusiastically into the HCD process, working together to define the questions they want to answer and the challenges they want to overcome. They are enjoying the opportunity to work with their peers on these challenges and to learn together. We are also hearing that teachers feel excited to be put in the driver’s seat of designing an education innovation. And this is what we are most excited about too – the opportunity to reclaim the discourse about “what works” to improve quality learning outcomes from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down. At the heart of the Schools2030 approach is the recognition that schools should be the centre of social change, not the target of change.
The initiative is called Schools2030 – what is your vision for education in 2030? What impact do you think the Schools2030 programme will have?
We believe that by working in partnership with teachers and school leaders over the next ten years to co-design context-driven education innovations, we will be able to have a measurable positive impact on the holistic learning levels of children and young people. And by working in partnership with governments and other key education stakeholders at national and global levels, we will be able to amplify these school level innovations and showcase how teachers can design low-cost, policy-relevant, replicable solutions to address holistic learning needs.
In 2030, the international community will evaluate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 4: Quality Education for All, and chart a path to support global education in the decades ahead. The goal of Schools2030 is to be part of that conversation as the recognised voice of teachers and schools, offering a blueprint for 2030 and beyond and showcasing positive educational change driven from the classroom level.