Collaboration at the heart of school reform

Collaboration has always been a key aspect of school education reform – from collaboration among students in the classroom to peer collaboration among teachers, and parent-school collaboration to collaboration for policy reforms.

The challenge is, how to make these collaborations effective. How to set the right expectations for the participants. How to ensure there are benefits for all those involved. Francis Joseph is Executive Director (India) of GEMS Education and has been named one of the top 25 changemakers in India.

He shares with Teacher learnings from his experience of establishing more than 100 schools of multiple curricula in India and the Middle East, and working with the Government in large-scale educational reforms.

Trust is essential for true collaboration

‘Ensuring collaboration in its true sense is one of the most challenging tasks in today’s time and mutual trust is essential for its success,’ Joseph says.

‘In my perspective, true collaboration happens when stakeholders are at par with each other and trusted by each other. It can’t happen with one having an edge over others. It’s about appreciating each other’s perspectives and opinions.’

Setting a culture of collaboration

Within the school community, the focus of collaboration for teachers, students, and parents is usually on improving the learning of students.

Joseph adds: ‘A school is the biggest example of collaboration, where parents, teachers, and students collaborate to collectively enhance their future. Teachers aim to be better teachers; parents aim to be better in parenting, while students work to be better prepared for their future.

‘A school is all about their relationships with each other and how they collaborate to enrich their personal learnings for life.’ Having said that, he stresses, ‘In collaboration, you should move from “self-interest” to “mutual interest”.’

Success stories

Joseph shares 2 successful collaborative projects he’s participated in, highlighting that it becomes a powerful tool, especially in emergencies.

Cancellation of Board exams

Board examinations were cancelled in 2021 due to the rise in COVID-19 infections. Joseph, one of the experts working on behalf of the Government of Maharashtra, was collaborating with the International Baccalaureate Board, Cambridge Board and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations to work on measures for the cancellation of exams.

He says every Board had its own challenges which each stakeholder had to understand and support. Working on the protocols for the cancellation of exams was only the first step for intra-Board collaborations, followed by opportunities in areas of planning examinations, reopening schools, safety protocols, online teaching, curriculum reduction, and so on.

Marathi made mandatory

The Government of Maharashtra intended to pass the Maharashtra Compulsory Teaching and Learning of Marathi Language in Schools Act, 2020 for making teaching and learning of Marathi language compulsory in all schools in the State of Maharashtra.

Joseph was part of a series of consultations that enabled the schools to implement the Act. School leaders, teachers, parents, and students were consulted so that they understand and accept the implications of the policy.

These efforts developed trust among stakeholders, which led to the implementation of the Act and opened doors to many other policies being successfully implemented through collaboration and consultation among all stakeholders.

Developing a global voice for education

Joseph continues to work on collaborative projects − regionally, nationally, and globally. ‘In November 2022, 5 of the largest private global school operators – Nord Anglia, GEMS Education, Cognita, Inspired, and XCL Education – joined hands to create a Global Independent Schools Association to work together with governments worldwide,’ he says.

‘Many other local operators have also joined in this collaborative effort to develop a global voice for education, keeping the education ecosystem and the child as the core beneficiaries.

‘The world is “one” in collectively ensuring equity, access, affordability, and quality when it comes to education.’

Is your school part of a collaborative school network? With a colleague or group of colleagues:

  • Discuss the potential benefits of creating or joining such networks for leaders, teachers, students, parents and the wider community.
  • Consider how to improve collaboration between public and private schools, or rural and urban schools. Can some schools become resource centres for facilitating collaboration?