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Month: May 2018

Financial education, Quo Vadis? – At the crossroads of individual empowerment

An interesting conference was organised by the international organisation of savings banks and microfinancing institutions, WSBI-ESBG on 22 May in Brussels. Participants from NGOs, government and international policy organisations as well as the savings banks sector were discussing topics related to financial education, its provisions, impact and measurability. Parents International was invited to contribute to the panel on how financial education can empower the individual, what its limits are and who should provide it.

Chris de Noose, Managing Director of WSBI-ESBG highlighted that today financial literacy equals to reading and writing for fair and inclusive societies. Lack of financial education prevents financial inclusion. It is also necessary to foster entrepreneurial spirit, a competence necessary in today’s and tomorrow’s realities. It is important to work on empowerment in a way that also ensures gender equality. A multi-stakeholder approach is necessary to have a real impact, but even that way it remains a question how to measure this impact. Financial education and empowerment should be high on the agenda of policy makers as it is absolutely necessary.

The inspirational speech of the conference was delivered by Silvia Singer, Director of MIDE, the finance museum of Mexico City. She outlined the basis of their design as well as the principles of their museum. Their goal is not to offer visitors to learn everything in one single visit, but rather to want to know and learn more as well as to have a fresh look at things. For this it is important for them to know the preconceptions their visitors have as well as what they think they know. They are aware of the general bad image of money in Mexico, so they focus on decision-making opportunities, gathering information and conscious decisions in real life examples.

She highlighted that getting financial and economic education is a right, and this approach can only be supported mentioning that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child not only defines education as a basic child right, but also underlines that it needs to be adequate. She also highlighted the need for a lifelong learning approach to it as new instruments (eg. digital financial tools) make it inevitable. Their experience is the same as educators have in other fields, namely that experiencing (rather than passive listening or watching), playing and sharing all strongly support learning. In their experience programmes targeting children have the biggest direct effect, but they have no long-term experience with empowering parents, yet. She also highlighted the life-wide learning nature of financial education as for achieving most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Reducing poverty, preventing hunger or responsible consumption all need a certain financial literacy level, not only SDGs like economic growth. When designing financial education behavioural economics need to be taken into account and digital technologies need to be integrated.

Several local and transnational experiences were briefly introduced during the event. Most of the participants agreed that inspiring practices need to be showcased for upscaling in order to have real impact. Participants also learnt that financial education is becoming part of core curricula in more and more countries especially in light of the related OECD results. There has been some discussion about the notion of ‘just in case’ financial education. There was an agreement on it being necessary, but not so much on who should provide it. Questions were raised about the role of banks in it and whether their staff have the necessary capacity for providing it. A recent report by the European Banking Authority on financial education in Europe was highlighted in order to have a more detailed review of the state of art.

The event was a great opportunity to underline the importance of financial literacy as one of the equally important literacies. Current national and international policies need to be revised in order to make it a reality, and participants – including Parents International – offered their willingness to advocate for it. Hopefully it was a first step in a long-standing cooperation.


Inspiring Change in Education

Just a few days before the Council of Education Ministers will adopt a major education package, the European Commission closed down its Thematic Working Group on Schools by a 2-day conference entitled Inspiring Change – The Governance of School Education Across Europe. The event was kicked off by an inspiring keynote by Andy Hargeaves. He inspired the participants highlighting a few issues and facts in education in order to prepare systems for the challenges of today and the future. Read a short report of this inspiring keynote below.

The years between 2000 and 2015 were a period when improvement was based on achievement questions, namely PISA questions: How are we doing? How do we know? How can we improve? and How can it benefit everybody? Since 2015 we are facing the challenge of new questions: Who we are? What will become of us? and Who will decide? This has been accompanied by focusing on soft skills, well-being and the sense of belonging.

“If you need more alignment, go to a chiropractor.”

While offering a critical approach to PISA and highlighting that for example the problem-solving test part of PISA does not require and reward thinking outside the box, but rather needs linear, sequential thinking, he also highlighted seemingly trivial but rarely considered facts, namely that creativity cannot be fostered by uncreative teachers, and we cannot educate democratic children applying a top down authority approach.

Leading from the Middle

Trying to find answers to the last of these questions different approaches to leadership were presented and analysed. Andy emphasised that not all top down leadership is bad, especially if the leader has a vision and easily achievable goals are set. Still, top down approaches often prove to be wrong ones.

Is bottom up the real alternative? In many cases it simply doesn’t work, especially not for change and innovation as people tend to think along their own prejudices and experiences. What is more, what we think bottom up is not necessarily real bottom up.

Still change is absolutely necessary, but one more factor is surely to be considered, namely that according to research teachers do not like change initiated by others. At the same time the change they think they initiated more often than not actually started somewhere else. Thus, for success it is necessary to make them believe they actually initiated change. The role of the top in general should be restricted to creating frameworks, inspiring, giving opportunities and support.

“If we are all on the same page, nobody is likely to have read the whole book.”

According to him the solution is leading from the middle. To illustrate this, Andy shared the approach implemented in Ontario, Canada. This approach is aiming at achieving excellence and ensuring equity (including that of identities). The approach promotes well-being, physical and spiritual. It is also enhancing public confidence. He underlined that in the European Union there is a desperate need for a narrative that creates a European identity that is more than a compilation of different existing identities. This can only be achieved by responding on unique diversities.

Leading from the middle means responding to local needs and diversities, taking collective responsibility for learning, exercising initiative rather than implementing others’ and integrating local efforts into priorities, while it should all be done in a transparent way. If you are interested in details, you will be able to read his related article in the ParentHelp Library here. It is important to understand that it is not the same as leading in the middle and in this sense the middle means the tear that makes the connection between top and bottom, but rather that the change is driven by the middle.

Collaborative professionalism

To be successful and overcome challenges of present and past need collaborative professionalism. Collaboration has been happening, but it is not necessarily impactful. In this approach teachers with low levels of professional knowledge are not made to do things they cannot, but to take what they are able to do and move that around. While professional collaboration is descriptive, collaborative professionalism is prescriptive. What is more, using this approach students are not only the target, but professionals also need to collaborate with the them rather than for them. Collaboration can take very different forms and shapest, partly depending on local culture, but it can still work even in strict hierarchies like in Hong Kong or in very informal networks like in Columbia. Research has been done in diverse parts of the world on this is will be published in a new book coming out in about a month’s time.

This approach can be implemented in engaging parents, too. For that you need to assess what went on before, see how it is possible to learn form other, what is in between and beside the collaborating parties and the institution (school), and you also have to consider how you can support people on the side. The main challenge everywhere in the world is how to go beyond 4-year government periods. You also have to consider that is very rare, nearly impossible to go from no collaboration to brilliant, there usually is a necessary bad experience. You should also always find your own solutions, not copy one example, but to look at more and combine innovate into what can work for your local diversities.

Equitable Access and Inclusion in Education for Every Child in Europe – EPA International Conference, 27/29 April, Milan, Italy

The conference focused on challenges countries, parents and children are facing for real equity in education. The speakers and participants took stock of equity and quality issues. Outstanding keynotes were combined with interactive workshops to explore the equity problems and trying to define solutions that parents would like to see in place. Some of the topics covered were: an equal opportunities approach of some countries, double financing by parents, inclusion of learners of diverse talents and needs, geographical differences, cultural differences, challenges of migration. Most of the issues raised are also applicable for countries outside of Europe. Some of the speakers could offer inspiration for parents, professional educators and policy makers alike anywhere in the world.

The European Commission has announced its commitment to creating a European Education Area partly to establish a policy framework providing the path towards Sustainable Development Goal 4: Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education. When the European Parents’ Association published its Manifesto 2015 envisaging 21st century education provided by education systems providing equitable learning environments for all children and their parents, based on a free and informed choice for parents on the education of their children that should never be restricted by the financial capacity of the family, UNESCO published its own vision calling for establishing education as a common – rather than public – good. This approach, based on children’s and parents’ rights, demands governments to make informed and unrestricted choices possible for parents for an education that is best for the individual child as well as society. This was the backbone of discussions at the Milan conference.

The first inspirational speaker was Janet Goodall (University of Bath, United Kingdom) highlighting the importance of involving all parents and reminding participants that it is something organised parents still have a lot of work to achieve this. This is the starting point to provide for social justice in education. She highlighted that parents are often seen to be on the demand side of education, but the fact that they have an important role on the supply side, too, is often overlooked. Once it is realised, a partnership can be initiated between parents and school professionals. When analysing the background of the achievement gap, it became clear that 80% of the difference in learning outcomes comes from what happens outside of school. It is of crucial importance that this on the supply side is supported properly.

Another regular mistake is that parents are treated as a homogeneous group, while they are a very diverse one. It is important to put enough emphasis on those parents that the school system did not work for. It is a mistake to only wait for parents, especially these ones, to come into school, rather teachers should go and reach out to them. All parents, not only the lowly educated ones, need support at some points, and it is important not to see it as a deficit. It is also very important to praise parents for all of their good parenting practices.

She also highlighted some areas that has the largest impact on student achievement, and they are not necessarily school related (eg. helping with homework). Interestingly enough, children generally do better if their parents regularly talk about social and political issues at home with their children. Children of parents who read regularly are likely to become readers, and reading to your children is also crucial, for example re-telling stories have a very important educational value. Research shows that parents academic guidance helps in certain countries, but not in others – no real reason for that.

She called for systemic change of reportedly unjust school systems. In many countries school had become a battleground of policies. For the necessary change we need to stop talking about education, and start talking about learning and the role of schooling in it. Current education discourse and policies have a school-centred view that need to be changed. However, there is no one single solution, the right answers need to be found locally.

She quoted data from Parent Voice (2006), OECD’s Parent and Community Voice in School (2006) and another OECD publication on parental involvement (2012) among others. You can find these in the ParentHelp Library.

In the panel discussion later there was a mention of hidden children (who are doing well and not striking out), hidden parents (who do not come, but have no problem children) and also disengaged parents (in there case it is not obvious if they are really unengaged or just disengaged with school). The fact of power relations interfering with learning was also highlighted as an element to consider for equity.

Another great inspiration was Professor João Costa, Secretary of State for Education of Portugal. He presented the details of their current education reform in Portugal focusing on learning rather than passing or failing. When analysing the situation, it became clear that their system has had a social justice problem as the main predictors of school failure are poverty and the mother’s level of education. The goal of the reform is to create equity and justice, and innovation may be a tool for it.

The elements of the complex Portuguese education reform are

  • defining a student profile with desirable competence levels in several areas by the end of schooling while moving away from traditional subject focus,
  • inclusive education based on responding to differences of children
  • a formative and performative new assessment model
  • an essential curriculum to avoid curriculum overload
  • and school autonomy and flexibility of curriculum with citizenship education re-introduced as an important curricular area.

Their final goal is to establish individual and societal well-being – very much in line with the UNESCO approach of education as a public good. They consider it a global issue and thus cooperate with OECD in their 2030 project, while reform is done in a participatory way (“Portugal is discussing education”). They introduce reform measures in a gradual way with a right balance between stability and reform. He highlighted that not only reform is an experiment in education, education in general is an experiment in the case of each and every child. Portugal is determined to make decisions, and when it comes to budgetary constrains there is a need to remember that abolishing slavery was also expensive, still had to be and had been done.

He highlighted that the lack of cooperation between teachers and parents results in children being empowered to disrespect their teachers and playing their parents against them. This is definitely not a desirable outcome. He also raised the issue of parental guilt that is raised by societal requirement. Very often overprotective parental behaviour is a result of this.

Anna Barbieri from the European Commission informed the conference participants about the EU’s policy initiatives for excellence and equity. She started by defining excellence: an education system that makes it possible for everybody to reach their full potential. She talked about updates to the key competences framework, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, improving the quality and image of vocational education and training and the European Education Area initiative.

Peter de Zoete, representing the European School Heads Association raised the question if evolution is enough in education, especially in schooling, or if we need a revolution to offer today’s children what they deserve.

On the second day of the conference Italy was in the limelight. After Luisa Ribolzi’s keynote on the Italian challenges of equitable access to education, inspiring practices from Italy were presented and discussed in workshops. Professor Ribolzi put the negative Pygmalion effect on the table to consider: if you tell a child often enough they are not going to achieve, they actually will not.

The good practices presented were

  • Maestri di Strada from Naples working with children deemed to fail at school
  • Dschola, an initiative from Piedmont to close the digital divide
  • and Eugenia Carfora’s personal example being a school head dedicating his life to equity and quality in education.

On the last day of the conference the focus was on equitable access to education after the refugee crisis in Europe. The inspiration of the day came from Professor Mika Risku and Matti Pennanen from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland on collaborative learning for equity in education. Professor Risku compared Finland to a huge research laboratory in transition from a Newtonian to a quantum paradigm. In their mind equity also means that some will necessarily go further than others, an element that we are often shy to say, but there is nothing wrong with it. He highlighted that there is no agreed definition of equity and inclusion among experts, but there more or less is a common understanding. Collaborative learning practices in their case primarily mean peer-to-peer learning of teachers, but an approach that people collaborate who are at different levels and stages of their lifelong and life-wide learning.

During the conference several workshops were organised, most of them feeding into different international projects around parental involvement and engagement, some focusing on teacher training, some on migration, some on education areas such as STEM.

Child Safety Summit at Facebook and Google

Experts from all over the world were hosted by the two internet giants at their European headquarters on 18/19 April 2018 to discuss a breadth of issues around child safety and to show their latest developments as well as innovations in the pipeline. Speakers included experts, researchers, bloggers, users and representatives of Facebook, Google and YouTube. Parents International was invited to be part of the panel on empowering and educating parents for digital parenting.

The event was kicked off at just the right tone by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, child protection lawyer from Ireland emphasising that protection should mean empowerment building resilience of children, parents and professionals. The key is to provide as much information as possible in an age-appropriate way. We need to understand that children are not passive bystanders in the digital world, and their physical and emotional well-being should be paramount in all actions taken. This should not be done by introducing restrictions of access for children, but strict prosecution for offenders.

Referring to the current debates around the age of digital consent he rather emphasised – very much in line with what organised parents have been advocating for – the systematic application of the right to be forgotten, especially in the case of minors. Policing the online world is not the job of parents, but that of social media companies. He recalled that age verification technology only gives a false sense of security.

Not surprisingly he highlighted that education is key for internet safety. He demanded that online safety should be part of the core curriculum, and he also emphasised the need for teacher training that leads to abilities for supporting children. Digital literacy should get its required place in formal education, too.

Both companies introduced tools developed for parents:

There was a presentation for mostly US use of tools that are in line with COPPA and can be used by under-13 US children. There needs to be a discourse about child safety without violating the rights of the child ensured by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – in the case of internet the right to information, play, education, peaceful assembly, freedom of expression to name a few. The providers – although they are US companies, and thus in their native country context these rights are not ensured and protected – seem to be open to continuing this discussion with us, the representative of parents worldwide.

A number of interesting initiatives targeting children – by the two giants or supported by them – were also introduced. We will go in-depth introducing some of them in the coming months.

The first will most likely be Parent Zone UK, a great organisation that wishes to join Parents International. We are ready to internationalise their efforts.