Ana María Raad, Director, “ecosiSTEAM”

An anthropologist, Ana believes in learning, re-learning, and un-learning every day. She is the director of “ecosiSTEAM”, an initiative developed by the David Rockefeller Center of Harvard to promote collaboration and collective impact in STEAM education. She also develops and leads a regional educational initiative named www.aprendoencasa.org that promotes regional collaboration and a vibrant ecosystem that generously shares best practices, digital resources and knowledge in times of Covid-19. She is also a member of the National Council of Arts, Cultures, and Heritage from the Ministry of Culture in Chile. Is a former Director of the Center for Innovation in Education of Fundación Chile, from where she promoted educational programs to accelerate the development of human capital for the 21st century. She is the winner of WISE AWARD from Qatar Foundation in 2012.

In words of the UN General Secretary, Antonio Gutteres, the pandemic has caused the biggest disruption in the history of education. More than 1 billion children have been affected, and the most vulnerable, “students with disabilities, those belonging to a minority or disadvantaged communities, displaced and refugee students and those living in remote areas are
at the greatest risk of being left behind. This catastrophe is real, a setback that we cannot ignore amid the opportunity to change and generate the necessary traction”. This situation is dramatic in places like Latin America where we are facing a real learning “pandemic”. 50% of students at age 10 cannot read. Also, 30% loss of learning is expected as a result of the COVID 19 Crisis, as well as very high and dramatic school dropout rates.

Additionally, the majority of teachers in the region do not have adequate training to face this crisis and have tried to transfer to the digital world the same experiences they did in their traditional classrooms. All the evidence suggests that in Latin America we need to prioritize and work urgently on the development of students’ agency capacity (students’ ability to be active agents in their own education), and their resilience and socio-emotional capacities to recover the lost rhythm to reduce school dropout. Also, to improve the effectiveness of teachers with  techniques and methods in the use of technologies inside and outside the classroom. And facilitate collaboration and provide them with access to resources and platforms for collaboration (curated educational resources and technology) so they can stay updated  on rapidly evolving challenges and educational and social responses. There is no doubt that we have the opportunity to creatively manage immediate problems while building a bridge towards a reinvention of the education system.

Learning Ecosystems To Accelerate Change

AprendoEnCasa.org was developed precisely to face the challenges the pandemic has raised, but also the educational change that we have left behind for decades. We are a Latin American coalition and an ecosystem of organizations that promote the transformation of learning. We do this by connecting different disciplines and perspectives from expert organizations that are working in science, arts, pedagogy, technology, humanities, socioemotional learning, anthropology and other areas. All of them are united by a common goal to support learning that ensures greater inclusion and participation of children and young people from Latin America in the 21st-century society. We support teachers, administrators and parents in their transition to the digital world, providing high quality and prioritized content, strategies, and effective practices to address learning in hybrid contexts, as well as promoting the development of critical social skills for
students. We promote a regional educational ecosystem, through collaboration, non-duplication of efforts, joint work, and adaptability to different realities, through digital solutions to facilitate radical collaboration without borders. During this experience we have rapidly learned some lessons we would like to share.

5 ideas to transform education through radical collaboration

• Align efforts to develop 21st century and SEL skills
To meet these challenges, people must be equipped with a fundamental skillset that will help them, not only compete in the job market but also grow and achieve higher levels of well-being throughout their lives. Socioemotional skills (SEL) such as empathy, adaptability, perseverance, and resilience are more important. Other fundamental skills are digital skills; advanced cognitive skills such as teamwork, communication, creativity, critical thinking or problem solving, and the ability to aspire to lifelong learning. None of these skills are new, but they are critical now.

At AprendoEnCasa.org our model is based on an open and collaborative digital platform and embraces key principles of learning, including the assumption that it is effective when there is interest, exposure (access), it is done practically, it encourages reflection and collaboration. This vision of education is being included in all the interactions and spaces that we are designing in our platform.

• Promote inclusion through transformative learning experiences
The lack of interesting and transformative learning experiences, plus the disconnection with the real meaning of education has a brutal impact on school dropout. Exactly for this reason we must “refocus” students’ learning experiences. Among the main “active” didactic models identified to  promote transformative learning experiences (that are centred on students and promote greater inclusion), are personalized learning (Tutorials), flipped classes (hybrid learning); the development of competencies to creatively and strategically solve specific challenges; project-based learning; experiential learning that allows linking everyday life situations through real work (including Co-op); or maker spaces available for everyone. At AprendoEnCasa.org, we have enabled  a space dedicated to highlighting these transformative methodologies and it has implied recognizing the work of hundreds of teachers and organizations that have developed this type of pedagogies inside and outside the classroom. We understand that to innovate with pedagogical practices we need to consider multiple approaches and efforts. This kind of innovation usually demands permanent communication within partners, as well as rigorous processes to identify and promote better practices.

• Supporting teachers: the “vaccine” against exclusion and school dropouts
We know that teachers are those who have learned the most during this covid-19 crisis. We have seen their willingness to change their practices. It is not easy for them because it takes time, their schedules are complicated, however, their ability to adapt has been remarkable. We know that teacher-student relationships remain the key to success, as Michaell Fullan has been appointed so many times. The education that we need to reimagine should not be an agenda of students “learning on their own”; learning alliances and environments remain essential elements of a future-focused learning model. We need to
facilitate collaboration and provide them with access to resources and platforms for collaboration.

In that sense, what we have learned with AprendoEnCasa.org is the key consideration of diversity, both in the capacities of teachers and in the contexts in which they work. For us, it has been a priority to be able to incorporate diverse content and experiences, that allows its implementation in rural contexts or less connected environments, as well as in spaces with better conditions and connectivity, but above all, it has been key to link the work teachers must  do, with the specific demands from its institutions and the resources they already have. We need to complement them, instead of duplicate or simply distract their priorities. We do this for example, by complementing the work each Ministry of education is promoting (for example in Chile and Ecuador we are delivering our content and solution through the local Ministry of education platforms). In other words, we are driven by the demand of their local needs, but with a broad and diverse regional perspective.

• Democratize technology and make it more inclusive
Most countries in Latin America do not have a national digital education strategy to develop an effective distance educational model and to take advantage of the new technology. Digital inclusion implies, on the one hand, ensuring connections and internet access, but on the other hand, delivering high-quality educational resources, in a simplified and easy-to-access way. In  AprendoEnCasa.org (in addition to having simplified resources in terms of formats), we have ensured that they are in Spanish, very accessible and free of charge. This is because we know that we operate in a very dissimilar and unequal region and therefore, multi-platform and multi-channel strategies are undoubtedly the most effective way to address these challenges. Efforts to reduce digital gaps must be oriented to improve connections, allowing access for agile and effective contents, but also, to develop the capacities of teachers to enhance learning experiences
mediated by technologies.

• Promote open innovation and strong learning ecosystems
“When engaged with a variety of resources within a larger community, charged with the power of social interaction in the connected world, students of all ages, temperaments and abilities can take advantage of greater opportunities that better meet their needs.” It is clear that (among other benefits of having a collaborative learning ecosystem), the promotion of equity is one of the most important. This pandemic has shown us the need to establish extensive collaborative networks. Schools need partners, inside and outside the building, to share and shape their vision. The involvement of the entire community is essential if students are to have the opportunity to engage in meaningful real-world learning that extends beyond the classroom.

Through AprendoEnCasa.org we have been able to connect more than 70 organizations with a common purpose: to reduce inequities and transform 21st-century education for all students. We have achieved a real “glocal” impact (global and local at the same time) by formally integrating seven countries (Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Spain) and having visits from 90% of the countries in the region. At this time of the pandemic when we are facing the most challenging future that education can imagine, we know and embrace the principle of understanding that the real learning transformation is a shared process and not an individualized action.

AprendoEnCasa.org has been a real challenge and a very meaningful process of providing an open and collaborative digital platform. We  have no doubt that the future will be hybrid, but it will be very dynamic and with constant change, that is why
we need to assure more collaboration, a unified vision of how to reduce inequities, as well as how to promote better learning experiences that can ensure full participation in the society we are designing.

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