Partnerships? Stop! Think! What first pops up in your mind at the idea of partnerships in education? What experiences prompted your first thoughts? Where did they come from and what do they mean?
Prominent in the descriptions of partnerships in international education are activities and relationships that involve global actors such as international donors and high-level national stakeholders such as Ministries of Education. Partnerships between global agencies and specific governments often influence national educational policies and especially in the Global South, are often themselves influenced by the global educational discourse, because of colonial histories and postcolonial dependencies on foreign aid in terms of financing, information and specialists. What is often not sufficiently captured is the place of key players at the lowest levels of the system within the range of things that tie into these stakeholder activities and relationships.
We think that academic and practice-based writings on local, context-based collaboration or partnership may contribute to localising problem-solving approaches. We argue elsewhere for example, concerning endogenous systems leadership for education in crises, that useful collaborations must take into account the viewpoints, considerations, activities as well as the adaptability and even defiance of local stakeholders that are most affected by the conditions on the ground. For us, this includes the collective and collaborative roles that educators, learners, parents, school committees, community members, researchers, local businesses and other agencies play to achieve or sometimes challenge national and international priorities, interests and agendas for teaching and learning and research. It also includes the ways that partnerships by and with high-level actors impact these collective efforts and vice-versa, and in turn shape how teaching-learning and research come to be experienced. We are therefore more than delighted that BAICE 2022 opens up an opportunity to address these and other important dimensions under the ‘Experiencing Education Partnerships’ conference sub-theme.
In our experience in international education research and ‘development’ practice over the years, we have seen collaborative work on the ground alive and making a difference in learners’ experiences in different learning spaces. In a small-scale qualitative study that we conducted on the need for teachers’ professional development during the school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several different dimensions and dynamics of local partnerships, including between education and other sectors, were indicated as was the important role of lower-level stakeholders who put their hands on deck to reduce learning gaps resulting from school closures. One government education officer described some of it: “We are collaborating with community cable TV network providers. We have made a pool of expert teachers who record classes, and the cable TV providers broadcast those in their local channel every morning and afternoon.”
Indeed, such collaborations are not new, both for improved learning experiences and educational research: they have only become more apparent in recent times and especially, during the pandemic.
We have listened to stories of how “big changes from top partnerships”, or “small changes from bottom partnerships”, or “incremental changes fostered through top-bottom partnerships” have brought about improved educational experiences. But we have also witnessed challenges and tensions that may arise through and/or within local collaborations as well as multi-stakeholder and multi-level partnerships. And we have experienced how understandings, mediations and realities on the ground can disrupt and threaten on the one hand or promote and support on the other hand, what may be constituted as a successful partnership outcome.
As convenors of this sub-theme, we anticipate contextual nuances in the exploration of these and other ups and downs of experiences of education partnerships in the contributions we receive. We are excited to envisage new understandings that may emerge from a range of work based on different contexts, how the learnings might contribute to explaining the diversity of educational experiences and how these connect to both historical and contemporary socio-cultural, economic, political and other relevant local conditions: in our experience, the existing knowledge of collaboration or partnership often undermines the understanding of diverse contexts. We also anticipate the troubling of predominant conceptualisations of educational partnership experiences in some contributions and the use of critical or creative approaches to thinking about and understanding such partnerships and experiences in others. We hope to debate how these add to familiar discourses but we also expect to be blown away by other interesting areas related to our sub-theme that are not limited to our anticipations.
While appreciating the relevance of ‘big data’, our aim is to engage with discussions about small stories from partnership encounters on the ground that may develop our understanding of the internal and external forces that trigger partnerships, the values at play in shaping the nature of these partnerships and the ways that they interact with the educational ecosystem in any specific context.
So, partnerships? Yes! Think again! How might different experiences count? What might this mean? We keenly look forward to learning.