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March 2018 

Vibrant Schools lead to Vibrant Citizens

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As part of our life-widening intention to establish education in what will be Africa’s leading, most vibrant, liveable and walkable City, we look at the roles different stakeholders play in what some call a ‘child-centred’ / ‘inquiry-based’ approach to schools.

1. Establishing vibrant education, in vibrant cities, has to start with a vibrant image of the Child…

Think of a child you know – your own, a friend’s, a neighbours child – think of them as rich in potential with, ‘surprising and extraordinary strengths and capabilities linked with an inexhaustible need for expression and realisation’ (Malaguzzi 2012:53).

Now imagine that this description of a child was actually true for every child, everywhere.

With this vibrant image in mind, the role of education shifts. It shifts from experts tasked with delivering the predetermined curricula, of the predominant culture, with our children –

‘responding’ by accepting, storing and regurgitating (either under exam conditions or to maintain the status quo later in life). Education then shifts to an invitation to improvise, a provocation to learn through discovery, to express one self freely, and to innovate.

The former approach to education leads to what Paulo Friere called,‘narration sickness’ (2000:71), whereas the latter leads to vibrant children in vibrant schools in vibrant cities.

‘Either education is the provision of a service delivered to small children and subduing them inside a message which is in some way already prefabricated…or it is a research situation’ (Malaguzzi 1990).

Vibrant schools, within Africa’s most vibrant city, will provide a caring, stimulating, and secure environment, where every child – protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and neglect – is safe, and free, and actively encouraged to question, explore and grow holistically – cognitively, physically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally – totally.

‘…the idea that we construct [new] knowledge is exciting. It affirms the powers we all have as human beings…to create new things and achieve new understanding’(Gardner 2012:12)

As children construct new knowledge – through observation, exchanging perspectives and deepening their understanding of the world – they will ‘naturally’ acquire the skills they require to fulfil their holistic potential and make a positive contribution to wider society, e.g. ‘Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity, People Management, Coordinating with Others, Emotional Intelligence, Judgement and Decision Making, Service Orientation, Negotiation and Cognitive Flexibility’ (WEF 2017).

2. How teachers contribute to vibrant education

As children discover for themselves – in authentic situations – there is an increased expectation that they will construct new knowledge with other children and adults. The learning environment we aim to create in schools will therefore encourage children and teachers to work together to determine what should be learnt and how best to learn it.

In aspiring to be a school where adults and children co-create, the teachers role is one of an ‘encourager’ of curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving; a model which supports children to be life-long learners as they reach their potential. As teachers work alongside children – as guides and facilitators – their role is to observe, listen, provoke learning, promote dialogue, respect learners’ ideas / views, and document learning / progress.

3. The role of leadership in vibrant city schools

A child-centred inquiry-based approach to education does not mean learning happens by chance – quite the opposite in fact – regular feedback, evaluation and planning sessions, between management / teaching staff, are essential to discern what steps to facilitate next.

This is not the same as saying that the Principal’s role is to ‘manage’ staff – any more than they are there to maintain the facilities, for meetings, or raise funds – no, the Principal’s number 1 priority is to facilitate ‘weekly observations and feedback’ with teachers, feedback which includes, ‘…the highest-leverage, most game changing 30 min conversations possible – a schedule that allows teachers to get more development in a year than most do in 20’ (Bambrick-Santoyo 2012:61). Research in the US shows that when this approach is modeled alongside other instructional and cultural levers, such as, appropriate professional development, schools – and teachers in particular – experience ‘consistent, transformational and replicable growth’ (p. 23).

4. Parents / carers and education in vibrant cities

Research shows that children tend to ‘perform’ better at school when their parents / carers are encouraged to be actively involved in their education (Okeke 2014). We believe vibrant education is a shared responsibility – between learners, educators, leaders, and parents/carers. A diverse community, such as the Inner-City of Durban, presents an incredible opportunity to work with, ‘parents to locate resources that can help connect the curriculum to student and community cultures’ (Robinson 2011:140).

‘We believe schools can be points of urban acupuncture, that they can trigger important dynamics for meeting, talking, respecting differences, for the ability and desire to be part of a co-evolution that changes both citizens and public spaces, for seeking out a new idea of citizenship’ (Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia and Reggio Children, 2012:157).

We will be intentional about developing effective ways to grow parent partnerships, for example, as well as ‘parent-teacher’ evenings, imagine schools facilitating ‘parent-parent’ evenings, where citizens from diverse communities, cultures, racial and economic backgrounds, share their unique experiences, discover new things, learn from one another, explore potential, express creativity, think critically, develop respect, and value one another.

‘…citizenship is generated by a declaration which places the accent on crediting all children and adults, without exception, as having potential, and the right of all people to be welcomed with their ‘special’ differences; by an idea of cities which is not ‘given’, not defined and unchangeable, but transformable by the action of citizens whose eyes are emphatic, amused, humorous, surprising, capable of giving new identity to places everyone knows, creating new relations, proposing mechanism of civic-creation which, like acupuncture, can promote the co-evolution of urban contexts into a more open, welcoming, inclusive human dimension’ (p. 157)