Tensions in formal vs. informal education solutions

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Education Equity / International Education / Questions

During the break-out sessions at the GNF Women’s Forum, I participated in “Leaders as entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs as leaders” and “Innovations & challenges in education” and was pleasantly surprised to hear how the conversations blended so seamlessly.  Entrepreneurs from around the globe raised questions about the role of formal education in preparing youth to lead.  “How can we teach our students differently?  How can they learn to harness the opportunities in their environment?  How can they learn to be entrepreneurs?  In Africa, we can’t create jobs for all of our people.  I wish that there was a way for the schools to give them the skills to create jobs for themselves.  How can we give skills to students to make them more self-sufficient?”

One of our facilitators, Irina Anghel-Enescu (EF, Romania), is on the jury for Global Teacher Prize and asked us directly if we thought the entrepreneurial ecosystem would be improved if educators taught these skills explicitly.  All of the finalists for last year’s prize shared an entrepreneurial spirit—they created new models, founded schools, and expanded education access.  While they are all highly impactful teachers in their parts of the world, what set them apart was their entrepreneurial mindset and how they took the initiative to change outcomes for all of their students.

There is a growing debate about the role of formal education vs. informal education to prepare this generation for the future.  When our conversation took an overly critical turn of formal education, Pilvi Torsti (EF, Finland) of Helsinki International Schools reminded us that these are not competitions.  Me & My City is a Finnish example of how formal and informal education partner in the best interest of learning.  We have to invest in both levels for deep national or systemic change.  She shared that Finland’s decision to invest in education was made when it was a poor agrarian country.  Pilvi encouraged us to invest in our human capital now.  All sectors need to make conscious decisions to value formal education and integrate role models from other sectors into the sphere.

Our panel during the “Innovation in education” session continued to explore this tension.  Bernardine Vester (EF, New Zealand) gave an overview of how the marketization and commodification of education has impacted New Zealand and asked what the growing privatization of education means for equity and inclusion.  Amr AlMadani (EF, Saudi Arabia) shared his start-up success for how deep, intentional partnership of informal education (robotics and STEM competitions) and formal education is reinvigorating student interest and parent support in his country.  Maria Guajardo (Kellogg Fellow, Japan) brought in cross-cultural perspectives on leadership and women’s empowerment. Common threads across their diverse experiences: formal education alone does not change social practices, expectations, or real-world outcomes.

“What’s missing is not the tools.  Everybody is watching, but nothing is changing.  Passion and love of the game is missing.” – Amr AlMadani

In Saudi Arabia, education has a high cultural value and high government investment (25% of budget towards formal education), yet those two high-level alignments have not inspired passion-filled teaching and learning.  Instead of blaming teachers, parents, or cultural practices, Amr decided to offer a solution to the passion question and inspire learning and positive parent participation.

Maria inspired our group conversation with her One Good Question : As we become more globalized, how do we lead across differences?  How does leadership look the same or different?  For her, the question of intersection—where leadership development intersects with culture and tradition— is essential.   Education has to be the vanguard for leadership change.

Like in every group of education thought leaders, our participants challenged each other to consider different lenses:

  • On questions of feminization and devaluation of formal education: It’s the economy, stupid. How can we look at the curve of where education attainment and economics meet (personal earnings and GDP)?
  • On questions of the role of women in formal leadership spaces: The perception of being a leader is different in various cultural contexts. You can be a leader outside of the home and inside of the home.
  • On equality/inclusion: Can we explore this more? Urbanization and growth of the middle class are all supporting the privatization of education.  Does it have to be a negative view or is it an opportunity for more people to come to education?  Making the whole system public doesn’t seem realistic at this moment at all.
  • On informal education: Are there growing demands within our countries where privates are stepping in to fill the gaps? Particularly where the state has failed minority/marginalized populations?  Are we seeing this growth and is it a long-term positive trend?
  • In NZ we moved from social democratic state to one more focused on markets. I have not given up on public education, which is why I’m working with a nonprofit group to insure that t the best teachers end up in the schools with the highest poverty needs.  The rising social inequalities arise out of the growing tendency to commodify education and marketize it.  It’s no use trying to hold back the tide.  How do you use the process to ensure that those who have the least get the most potential?  Their potential is our future.  Most of the students in Auckland are no longer white and middle class.  They’re brown.  WE have to do something about it.






The Author

Passionate about education reform, multilingualism, peace, diaspora dance forms, and intersectionality.

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