static image

Month: November 2020

Teaming up with the Digital Futures Commission

The Digital Futures Commission is an exciting research collaboration of unique organisations that invites innovators, policy makers, regulators, academics and civil society, to unlock digital innovation in the interests of children and young people. They are focusing on three areas: play in a digital world, beneficial uses of education data, and guidance for innovators. Each of these work streams will be informed by the voices of children and also parents, and underpinned by a research programme and outputs geared toward real world change for children.

This ambitious research programme is guided by a group of Commissioners with expertise in how children and digital technology intersect. Our programme of work led by Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE during the three years of the Commission will be focused on real world change for children and young people. The Commission was officially launched in 20 November, and the initiator 5Rights Foundation and Parents International decided to team up on parental engagement – first in the United Kingdom and later in a broader context.

To understand what good looks like for children’s play in a digital world, the Commission cut through today’s anxious confusion by integrating insights from multiple sources of expertise to synthesise the value of play in childhood. Informed by public consultation, the Commission will then evaluate opportunities to transpose the qualities of play into digital contexts, and propose ways to enhance them. The first report, A Panorama of Play, reviews the rich history of ideas about free play and proposes the qualities of play that matter in a digital world. Download PDF here. What do children and young people, parents/carers, civil society and the children’s workforce think about children’s play in a digital world? In the Digital Futures Commission’s first consultation, questions are asked on how the qualities that make play an integral and valuable part of childhood manifest in the digital environment. What are the barriers and enablers that the different groups consider important, and what do they want to change?

High hopes are held for the advances of big data, learning analytics and AI to benefit children’s education. To ensure these serve children’s interests, the Commission will create a review of policy and practice in combination with new school-centred user research will generate recommendations for child-rights-respecting data governance mechanisms that can unlock the potential of education data.

To embed children’s best interests in the design and development of digital products and services, the Commission will map existing and emerging rights-based and value-sensitive guidance. Combined with consultations with children, parents, industry and other relevant actors, and tested through industry case studies, the outcome will be practical child rights-respecting guidance for digital innovators.

#ParentsFirst – the way to better child rights protection now and in the future

Our message for World Children Day 2020

We observe World Children Day on 20 November since 1989, the birth of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2020 we have little to celebrate, but observing the day means we need to raise our voice and help raise all parents to do the same for the rights of our children. UNICEF had highlighted that this year, COVID-19-related regulations and restrictions have resulted in a child rights crisis. They call your attention to the fact that the costs of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed, may last a lifetime. Their call for action states it is time for generations to come together to reimagine the type of world we want to create. Parents International has advocated for this when we say #ParentsFirst: to empower the primary caregivers, the parents and guardians who are the protagonists of ensuring and protecting child rights. The current child rights crisis is as much a result of a dramatic change for the worse in the lives of parents as that of governments stopping service provisions. This is what needs to change and now. Today’s children and youth, be them young children or even university students, are losing the only chance in many ways if these trends are not stopped and reversed.

UNICEF published the Six-Point Plan to Protect our Children calling governments to take action in various fields. The first of these is “to ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide”. The first part doesn’t need any action, all children do learn, the real question is what, when and how. In a recent conference about the Sustainable Development Goals, it has been acknowledged that SDG4 on quality, inclusive education is the overarching SDG. Lifelong learning of both children and adults, especially that of parents is the key to achieving all other action points on the UNCEF agenda.

Universal access to health care and nutrition as well as informed, free choice of vaccination is on the one hand a basic obligation of the state, but on the other hand the most fundamental job of any parent. While access to clean water and sanitation is again mainly a government’s obligation, parents educated in this field play a crucial role in hygiene regardless financial or physical circumstances.  Abuse, violence and neglect are also best prevented by empowering and educating parents, but it needs to be kept in mind that the overwhelming majority of parents actually protect their children from such traumatic experiences. This is an element that child rights activists tend to forget about. We can only applaud the wish to redouble efforts to protect and support families and children within them living through conflict, disaster and displacement. In the current dystopic world nearly all families are living through conflict and disaster – of different proportions depending on the country they live in and their personal situation. The detrimental effect of government regulations on interpersonal contacts must be stopped and – if it is still possible – reversed.

Last but not least, we can only repeat what we have already said several times: child poverty and inclusive recovery is only possible if the primary target of any action is the family raising the child. Programmes directed at the child and only them are deemed to fail the test of sustainability.

Organisations and experts gathered in Parents International are grateful for the support of some governments in making our #ParentsFirst and #NewEducationDeal initiatives a reality, and we can only hope putting parents in the focus of child and child rights protection will become as universal as the observation of 20 November.

Parents and formative assessment

Within the framework of the Assess@Learning project, a European policy experimentation which aims to support the systemic uptake of Digital Formative Assessment (DFA) practices in schools, Parents International was invited by the European Schoolnet to provide experiences and views of parents on assessment and formative assessment in particular. It was a very topical question for us as one of the main action points of the #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst initiative is this: “Since schools have already collected ideas on replacing these tests, it is a great opportunity to use the replacements – mostly based on evaluating student effort over a longer period of time – instead, if there is an agreement that summative assessment is necessary at all. The best deal would be to only have formative assessment in a new education deal aiming at real learning. This is also a great opportunity to introduce inclusive ways to reduce competition stress. We all know that some students are very competitive but in a formative assessment regime they can still compete – against themselves. For the overwhelming majority of students, this would be the opportunity to experience real and deep learning instead of learning for the test.”

The questions raised covered topics around parents’ expectations about and views of learning, ways of adopting new practices, use of digital tools, parents’ supporting the learning of their children and assessment methods themselves. When discussing these topics, it is necessary to discuss what is to be assessed – and included in school curricula – not only the how, but it is beyond the framework of this article (while actively discussed in our Basic skills initiative).

We were trying to help them avoid generalisation about parents, and advised them to consider diversity of parents’ own experiences with school and learning, cultural background, linguistic register (or even knowledge of the language teachers speak), parenting styles, academic expectations of their children, relationship with teachers and school, and also aspirations for their children. At the same time, it is of utmost importance to understand that all parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them. While this is often not understood by teachers, it is even more difficult for many to understand that all parents have the capacity to support the learning of their children, but some will support their learning in other ways, not by doing homework. Formative assessment done properly gives a wonderful opportunity for parents to understand what and how their children learn at school, and how they can complement the work done by teachers as partner educators.

We know from research and experience that it is difficult for schools to engage parents, especially others than white, middle class parents. Discussing about new assessment methods, especially now, when parents are much more focused on this topic as a result of recent school closures, makes it possible to build on experiences of harder-to-engage parents – both their school-related experiences with their own children or with their own schooling, and experiences of assessment in other walks of their life. Making the link between real life and school is especially important in the case of parents with bad own schooling experiences who are often afraid of school as an authority, but also in the case of high-tech methodology, it is an excellent opportunity to engage parents working in technology in co-designing the process. When designing formative assessment methods, it can also be attractive for parents to be engaged as assessors: co-evaluating children’s learning as school may not be aware of factors at home or generally outside of school parents know well that have an impact on outcomes, but also as assessors of teachers and the school.

Using digital technology in the process can also help certain groups of students to achieve more. It is a clear wish of parents that technology stays as a tool used in schools and for supporting learning. In the case of special needs children, for example dyslexic, blind or having special physical needs their assessment has been supported by technology for some time. It is time to think about other students. One example is those whose mother tongue is not the language of instruction. It has been – not surprisingly – proven by research that they have much better outcomes if they can use their own language. And in this case, their parents also understand more what their children are doing at school.

The most important message to convey to any system considering the introduction of new formative assessment is to engage the parents and engage them ALL from the very beginning. Before introducing anything, make it possible for everybody to understand all details of the plan, raise their questions and concerns, and last but not least contribute to the new system with their ideas. Parents are co-educators, equal partners of professionals in educating children, so it is only natural that they should also be engaged in developing assessment. Co-created methods can be especially beneficial for students who are not the most successful in traditional academic achievement, but with the right incentive they find their own passion possibly outside of this framework. Our aim at the end of the day should be to raise happy professors as well as happy street cleaners, to ensure children that neither path is inferior to the other. Summative assessment is not the right tool to support this, but well-designed formative assessment can be.

Parental Engagement in Digital Citizenship Education Policy and Practice

The Council of Europe (CoE) organised a videoconference with about 260 participants entitled “Digital Citizenship Education Days” on 3-4 November 2020 in conjunction with the États généraux du numérique pour l’éducation organised by the French Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports on 4-5 November 2020. The videoconference brought together education policy makers and practitioners including various educators and school administrators from around Europe. The videoconference aimed to raise awareness of digital citizenship education and present the work of the CoE’s in this field. Having been part of the expert group that developed the CoE Recommendations on Digital Citizenship Education and the draft Guidelines on partnerships between schools and the private sector, Parents International was invited to contribute on parental engagement as active citizenship and its implications for school policies.

According to the organisers, the COVID-19 crisis has shown us all how much useful digital technologies can be useful to learn, to work, or for instance to keep in contact with friends and family while their misuse has given rise to fake news, caused cyberbullying, increased well-being problems due to more screen time, lack of social contact and anxiety. Thus, a global reflection about digital citizenship is more necessary than ever. Societies need citizens who are educated and prepared to face current and future challenges in a world in which there is no distinction or boundary between online and offline.

In our contribution, we elaborated on why parental engagement is beneficial and necessary, what kind of citizenship education approach we consider the right one and how we see parental engagement in digital citizenship education. We also summarised how it should be reflected in school policies.

You can watch the recording of the whole conference here:

Day 1

Plenary (Welcome and Keynotes):

Session A:

Session B:

Session C:

Plenary (Conclusions):

Day 2

Plenary (DCE Survey, Draft report of the conference and closing):

Our contribution:

Parental engagement is crucial in all necessary education transformation for three reasons. The first one is legal: parents have the right and responsibility to choose the education that is beneficial for their children’s development according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and thus must be engaged in policy and practice change. The second is that research clearly proves the primary role of parents as educators, having the largest impact on learning outcomes regardless of the level of education of parents. The third reason is that while school systems are struggling to engage parents with low or very high socio-economic status, engagement in the digital citizenship transformation can lead to the engagement of these group. On the one hand, parents bring the real world to school, and very high SES parents are often the decision makers and large employers with a high stake in education transformation. When it comes to digital technologies, certain marginalised groups, for example migrants are often much more competent users than average, thus this topic is a way of starting to engage them as well.

When we talk about digital citizenship education, we would like to focus on trust and responsibility as main drivers rather than having a rights-focused discourse only. We believe that citizenship education should be a learning-by-doing process happening in a democratic school, teachers, parents and students alike have their responsibility being part of decision making and implementation. In the school environment it is – or at least should be – a low-risk learning process, and recent events clearly show that teachers and parents alike have a lot to learn in this field, not only students.

The CoE categorises active digital citizenship as three main domains: being online, well-being online and rights online. We have also highlighted the need for parental engagement per domain.

In the Being online field, first of all parental engagement in school activities is crucial for the school to understand the realities their students live in. It also provides a great opportunity for mutual, partnership-based learning. Children often more competent in technology use, and thus adults must not shy away from learning from them. A parent working in IT, law or other relevant fields may be way more competent is many sub-domains than the teacher. The main stakeholders can not only learn from each other, but it is also absolutely crucial to establish the rules of the ‘game’ together. This is why we welcome so much the draft guidelines – that hopefully will soon not only be draft – on partnership between schools and private companies, engaging the parents and students in the process, too. This also links us to the well-being element. If rules of technology use (eg. defining when you can expect a reply for a message sent at 10 pm) are defined and enforced together, it will lead to higher levels of well-being in all stakeholder groups.

For protecting rights online, we see an absolute necessity for tackling online and offline as a continuum. We need to have clear and open communication about all rights, responsibilities and duties -regardless them being related to online or offline activities and different stakeholder groups. Schools and school professionals, however, have a professional responsibility for supporting parents if necessary to become conscious of their responsibility for the education of their children. At the same time, we also know from research that teachers still need a lot of support in order to understand their role as co-educators and co-learners, and to consider the empowerment of parents as a peer support activity.

With regards to well-being online we wanted to highlight one element so well depicted in airplane security demonstrations. Well-being of teachers and parents is a necessary pre-requisite to support children in their well-being, so we need to focus on the “oxygen mask” to be put on the adults first.

The organisers asked us to provide examples of schools training and/or empowering parents, so we have introduced 4 programmes: ELICIT+, ParentHelp, Open School Doors and Parent’R’Us.

Parental engagement ESalamon

To finish with, we have summarised the impact of the above on school policies. It can be summarised in two main points: good legislation and appropriate funding schemes in order to make parental engagement in active digital citizenship education possible and to make it a reality. Parents International’s recent research shows that in half of Europe there is no legal framework that guarantees parental engagement and in a further ¼ it is only a formality, ticking a box rather than meaningful engagement. As only 16% of the countries examined have meaningful parental engagement in decision making, there is a major need to include this in legislation. As 24% reported that participation is only a formality and 8% told the researchers that it depends on the school leader if the legal obligation translates to meaningful engagement or becomes a formality, it is also necessary to invest in supporting teachers and school leaders in creating meaningful engagement structures. At the same time, there is an investment need, specifically a technological one, in tools that make it possible to engage all parents, including ones who cannot be physically present during school working hours, who do not speak the language of instruction or for example disabled. Digital technology encapsules endless possibilities for this. As mentioned before, meaningful engagement is also a means to engage generally difficult to reach high status parents. It will only become a reality if the crucial role of school leaders and organisations with outreach to large groups of parents are involved in the process, and decent funding is available for their work with schools. We do not only mean parents organisations as especially national parents organisations often only have contact to middle class or white middle class parents, while other organisations have better outreach and also experience with engaging parents not connected to parents’ organisations.

G-STIC conference highlights

The Global Sustainable Technology and Innovation Community community held its 4th Annual Conference on 26-28 October 2020 in Brussels and Antwerp, but also online. It brought together inspiring world-renowned keynote speakers on sustainable development for empowering breakthrough innovations for the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals). One of the main strands was Education, and our Director, Eszter Salamon was invited as a keynote speaker there You can read here contribution here). SDG 4, aiming for quality, inclusive education provisions and opportunities throughout life has been identified as the critical factor in achieving all other SDG’s, and speakers addressed issues around learning and learning provisions in light of that. All keynotes will soon be available in a written format, we are only aiming for highlighting some main ideas in this report.

The implementation of SDG’s is commonly considered to take place in a VUCA world – one characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Francoise Chombar, a Belgian “STEMinist” (feminist focusing in STEM) called for a braver approach and identify VUCA with vision, understanding, clarity and agility.

Dirk Van Damme (OECD) highlighted the fact that the current, partly digital transformation of education is not a highly technical thing, but it is rather about social and political transformation around education provisions. Education innovation is driven by technical skills demand, lifelong learning needs, social innovation elements and a focus on well-being. He flagged that while education is not a fast changer, historically when education was lagging behind societal and technical evolution, it resulted in social pain – for example around the World Wars in the 20th century. He also demanded that the “damage done to our children” by covid school closures needs to enter political debate. He also called attention to parents moving away from public education as a sign to re-thing the purpose of education as well as provisions. Moving away from standardisation is one of the main elements of necessary change according to him, as well as according to our own research leading to #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst

Won Jung Byun (UNESCO) introduced the UN Resolution on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and highlighted the importance of stakeholder involvement. The ESD framework will officially be launched in May 2021 and will demand transformative action, structural changes and a technological future.

Ides Nicaise (University of Leuven) focused on paradoxes that have arisen from transforming education. Focusing on advantages of technology, such as a it being a partial solution for teacher shortages or making it possible for teachers becoming innovative by relieving them of repetitive teaching, he also called the attention to the risk of commercialisation and the need for universal accessibility, low cost and quality.

Sara Baiocco (Centre for European Policy Studies) made a presentation on lifelong learning very relevant from a parental perspective. She highlighted the role of lifelong learning policies and practice in building on skills from informal and non-formal learning for up- and re-skilling.

Nuria Oliver (Vodafone Institute) elaborated on the definition of Artificial intelligence (AI). According to her, AI will impact education in 2 major areas: supporting and improving learning, and helping teachers and administrators. For the first, she highlighted the ever growing possibilities of language translations, adapting teaching to special learning needs or difficulties, outreach to rural areas with the best teaching available and personalisation opportunities.

Chandika Bahadur (SDG Academy) recalled the detrimental impact of school closures on achievements with learning poverty increasing by at least 9%. At the same time, she also highlighted the possibilities arising from this, especially in focusing more on lifelong learning. She made the optimistic statement that currently we have better chances to bridge the digital divide than ever as there is attention to the topic.