Fostering a Culture of Collaboration & Creativity

This week we have a guest post from our Implementation Specialist, Felicia Dahlquist who is currently in Nairobi as her visa is processed and has been meeting with various organizations  – these are some of her reflections on her time there.

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As a teacher I often felt pressure to be creative and thoughtful in my practice. But with the many competing tasks required of teachers (both socially and administratively), it was challenging to come up with new ideas and be truly responsive to my students’ needs. Even when I did have new ideas, I didn’t always know how to implement or prioritize time for them.  I saw how busy other teachers were and perhaps felt too proud to ask them for help and advice. As a teacher you often feel like you should be able to do it all independently and that each challenge faced is on you alone- after all, it is your responsibility to ensure that each student learns what they should. Playing it safe and sticking to what you know therefore often becomes the easiest option. But will that lead to the best outcomes?

In many ways I think that the independent and ‘safe’ mind-set ingrained in teachers also translates into the wider global education sector. Governments, NGOs and private education organisations work independently to solve the big education challenges relating to access, quality and retention in school. Instead of asking each other for help and support, many actors keep their findings and challenges to themselves. This is partly due to the nature of the education funding, which is driven by competition for limited financial resources, causing education actors to rarely join forces or share successes and failures. But I would equally say it is due to pride and the desire to independently solving things, not admitting the challenges and failures.

I recently read an article by the CEO of Results for Development (R4D), Gina Lagomarsino, who talks about how the global education sector has a lot to learn from the global health sector. One of the things she highlights is the importance of ‘bolstering collaborative learning approaches’ for example through peer-to-peer learning and the co-creation of tools and resources. Strong collaboration has been ingrained in the health field for a long time, where health professionals frequently share evidence of good AND bad practice in order to achieve the best health outcomes for their patients. So why not do the same for students?

As I visit Nairobi, I am reminded of the importance of collaboration and learning from what others are doing. The education ‘ecosystem’ in Kenya is rich with a high density of innovative education initiatives. It is hard not to take notice of all the new schools (Bridge, Moringa School, Kidogo, Nova Academies), Edtech projects (BRCK Education, Enenza Education, KyTabu, Arifu and eLimu) and public school transformations that are ongoing. Kenya is ranked as having the highest education quality on the African continent yet still has a long way to go. But there is much to learn from what is happening in Nairobi and from the knowledgeable individuals who are seeking to drive change.

Attending the Metis Fund EdConect event in Nairobi in October, I had the pleasure of meeting educators and change makers from across the education space in Kenya. Metis, an organisation whose main aim is to create communities of practice and co-learning opportunities for individuals/organisations working in education, is one example of how collaboration is having a profound impact on driving quality. The 15 Metis Fellows this year include education professionals who work with girls’ education, education technology, early childhood education, indigenous education and improving government curriculum, among many things. Sharing their ideas and experiences with each other in the fellowship and actors in education more broadly is creating a dynamic atmosphere and pace of wanting to improve learning across the board. Read more about Metis and the inspiring work of their fellows here.

I also had the opportunity to visit a social-enterprise (Tiny Totos) working with early childhood education in Nairobi’s slum areas. Despite the stark contrast between Nairobi’s urban slum communities and rural and remote areas where Impact Network operates in Zambia, I was also struck by the many similarities during my site visit.  With lacking infrastructure, limited access to resources and high rates of illiteracy, parents in both places struggle to find viable options of quality education for their children. Equally so, the practical and logistical challenges are in many ways the same. But the use of technology is providing solutions to many of those challenges.

I was fascinated to learn more about how Tiny Totos have built their own app and trained staff and school mangers in data collection to find efficiencies in their implementation. The app allows the central team to collect information that helps them to detect risks and prevent issues in implementation. The team in Nairobi were equally fascinated by how Impact Network is using student and teacher tablets to provide a well-rounded curriculum and interactive learning for children. It was a wonderful experience to share examples of good practice and discuss how challenges might be tackled. Despite our different contexts and areas of focus, it became clear to me how important an investment in collaborative learning is, in order to prevent re-inventing the wheel and slowing down the search for innovative and impactful solutions.

I am humbled by the reminder that as a teacher, educator or manager of an education initiative we are most certainly not better on our own. I will carry on reflecting over how we at Impact Network can continue to foster a culture of collaboration, creativity and learning among our teachers and colleagues as well as with other organisations.  It is through honest conversations, partnerships and cooperation that we will be able to find even better solutions and creative alternatives for our learners as well as evidence for truly impactful change.