Arizmendi Ikastola is a non-profit cooperative school in the Basque Country that is highly committed to social innovation. The aim of the school goes far beyond the curricular contents and focuses on the development of the person. A model of a person that has been defined is the target of all our pedagogical processes. Our world doesn’t need people full of content but needs people who will be able to change our world for the better. In this liquid society, our students need to develop a critical and analytical view towards the world, to be able to create a transformation that will be carried out in cooperation with others. For us, working cooperatively is one of the keys to any task to be carried out successfully. But working with others also means knowing oneself deeply, our strengths and weaknesses, and understanding the others. This is basic to work cooperatively for a common objective.
In brief, our dream is to help our students be the ones that will innovate our society, starting from the close reality of the Basque Country.
In this direction, we have designed a whole Pedagogical process:
We already had a pedagogical framework we named the Pedagogy of Trust, which was completed and published in 2015. Based on that pedagogical frame we have now designed another level of specificity that defines how will carry our pedagogical programme always focused on the model of person we dream of for our students.
For such a purpose we have followed a process where we first defined the model of person, we identified the 7 characteristics of traits that we thought were important for our students to acquire.
Then, we identified the Basic Education Guidelines: BEGs are contexts that we want to create to help in the development of the model of person. That is to say, they reflect what should happen in the school so that the model of person we have devised can be developed. And to respond to these BEGS we made a choice of the Methodological Options that were useful for us. Once all the planning and design was done, we created the school material to work with students, which is now being tested with the 12-year-old ones.
Can you tell us a little bit more about how this project Gipuzkoako Gaztedi Eraldatzailea (Youth for Change-GYChg in Gipuzkoa) leading by Arizmendi Ikastola started?
Arizmendi Ikastola was already developing a pedagogical process based on the person. We had already started the way with infant and primary education but realized that it was in adolescence when our students had the opportunity to start impacting society. That’s why we focused our prototype on this age. We defined the model of person for teenagers 12-14 and we designed all the materials for this stage.
How did this idea come about? What social challenge(s) is trying to solve?
The aim of this project is to impact on society. At the moment a vast part of our society is still focused on personal benefits and do not take part in social issues. Thus, the impact expected although it may seem quite pretentious is to help our students acquire all the abilities they need to be able to create a new way of social governing a social transformation.
In Arizmendi Ikastola, how do you define social innovation?
For us, social innovation means social transformation. We are working closely with social agents in our Valley and trying to identify together the needs that our society has. Following, the idea of the leading authority on innovation and creativity Charles Leadbeter, school is a gate towards the social agency, that is, students need to understand the rights and responsibilities towards the society in which they live. Students should be able to identify opportunities to contribute to the local, national, or global.
We think that we need to put into practice everything we do, we have to socialize it. We also cooperate and share everything we do. All our process has been documented. At the moment, we have collected this specific process into a book that is not being translated into English too. We think that the key to social transformation is in the whole community and that is why we share anything we do with anyone who is interested in joining our dreams.
Social innovation, often represented as a six-stage process supported by a set of tools, can be learned.
- the ability to define the challenge,
- prototype and test solutions meeting the users’ needs,
- implement and finance,
- grow and scale the solution, to ideally
- be able to bring about true systemic change
Can you tell us how this process helps you in developing your project? Which stage of the process did you find most interesting and most challenging?
Our process started with the definition of the model of person and the basic educational Guidelines. Then, we chose the methodological options we would put into practice. 15 people were working on this first stage which was documented and the first version of a book was published with the aim of contrasting the ideas with the different members of our cooperative. The first contrast was carried out with a broader group of 40 professionals, another contrast with 250 professionals, and the last one with 4000 partners. So the final version of our project is a work that has been enriched by thousands of people.
After the ideation was done, a group of teachers created the material to be used with students aged 12. Now, we have put it into practice in a testing phase. At the same time, we are designing an evaluation for this prototype which is not being easy at all. We need to measure the model of person defined, as far as we know this kind of evaluation tools to evaluate impacts have been designed, not at least for education. So, at the moment, the most challenging part of the process is being the design of the evaluation tools.
In creating programs or supporting people who are in the process of creating their innovative solutions, what process do you follow? is it a collaborative process? If yes, who participates? Do you test it? Can you describe to us how you start your process of creating solutions?
As explained in the question above, all our processes are collaborative processes. As a cooperative, we usually develop a proposal that will be enriched with the contributions of the different members of the cooperative. Who participates in these processes depends on the characteristics and dimensions of the project. But as an example, I have already said that a project as the one we are speaking about was contrasted with over 4000 people.
How did/do you make sure that your idea fit(s) the needs of the users/beneficiaries?
Though evaluation. The evaluation tools that are now being designed are highly important for us. We intend to take our theoretical basis and the praxis to the scientific category. And we could only do that through a reliable evaluation.
How important is it to go through a testing/prototyping phase? Can you share, an experience where someone from your community did a lot of prototypes and is now successful?
We have created a prototype that will be tested in students age 10-14. Once the prototype has been tested it will be developed for all the stages in our school, which is from the age of 0 to the age of 20.
As you know, a lot of social entrepreneurs and organizations face a lot of failures along the journey, we are interested to know what hiccups Arizmendi Ikastola had when you were just starting and how did you overcome them?
We, the members of this project are teachers, we are teachers who have been trained to teach so getting into this process has been a learning process for all of us. We have been trained in different aspects and have also self-learned a lot. In our way, we have learned a lot and have also designed training sessions for members from other schools. Little by little, we have been experiencing in new methodologies like the PBL or new ways of evaluating our students. And are sharing our knowledge through training courses with anyone who is interested in learning together with us.
In Arizmendi Ikastola How did you attract the public to join your centre? Can you tell us how Arizmnedi Ikastola got the public’s attention?
We communicate what we do. We open our doors and let parents, and future parents in our classrooms and make them live what’s going on in our classrooms. Our students are ambassadors of the school, they are the ones that explain parents or visits we get, what is going on in school, what we do, and what we do it for.
Can you tell us how you change the whole system? What is your definition and take on Systemic Change?
It is a different education in a different school. The rigid educational curricula and educational laws are often an impediment/obstacle for innovation processes. We need to do things in a different way and share what we do. So we had to ask the administration to let us do, we are negotiating with them. If they don’t give us freedom, we can’t do it. And we need to change it. We need to change the educational paradigm. We need to put the person in the center and the contents in the peripheria.
What piece of advice can you give an aspiring educational center that wants to innovate, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, who only has two things as of now: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Cooperation. We could define ourselves as a net of cooperative people with a common dream to change our world. I have mentioned this idea of cooperation once and again, but for us, it is the ley. We need to be self-determined, free to choose, and do. We need to cooperate to carry out the project but also share it with others and accompany them in their processes. It’s important to share materials and experiences. To learn from others and teach others, that’s the key.
Watch this interview with Mireia Muruamendiaraz.
Interviewed by Igone Guerra (UPV/EHU))
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