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Schools as Community Development Centres in 2013

The purpose of the initiative Schools as Community Development Centres in 2013 was to support further transformation of small schools (with primary emphasis on crisis-hit communities in the rural areas of Latvia) into multifunctional community resource centers and to promote sustainable solutions for viability of the achieved results at the local and national level. It has been successful continuation of the first stage of the SFL initiative “Development of small schools into community learning and cultural centers, initiated in 2009 with the funding from OSF Emergency Fund.

In 2013 main emphasis have been put on following aspects:

  • improving access to formal and informal education for all generations with special emphases on expanding and improving early childhood provisions;
  • promoting civic participation and grassroots engagement in diverse activities for increased well-being and inclusion;
  • diversifying employment opportunities by raising entrepreneurial skills and building culture of inclusion and social cohesion in the communities.

Implementation of the initiative consisted of two main layers: general activities for all involved community and school leaders (training, capacity building, networking, raising visibility etc.) and 41 specific local projects implemented jointly by schools and local municipalities. These projects were directed at fulfilling following tasks:

  • To promote civic participation and involvement in community development;
  • Build strong partnerships between local governments, educational and culture establishments, entrepreneurs, NGOs and local initiative groups to ensure the sustainability of the project activities;
  • To support access to quality education for pre-school and school children, as well as young people in the Latvian countryside;
  • To promote innovative solutions in life-long learning, employment and social spheres in accordance with the needs of people and using local community resources.

In order to emphasize needs based solution in the localities additional grants were available for the participants of the initiative during the year. Grants were  awarded after specific selection process in three areas:

  1. Promoting entrepreneurship and micro-business in the local community through adult education, vocational training and motivation programs (17 grants);
  2. Promoting active citizenship and capacity-building skills for civic participation (17 grants); and
  3. Promoting and implementing support for young children and their families (38 grants).

In most cases mini-grants were given to the NGOs, local grassroots organization that  have the capacity to work together with schools in attracting additional resources as well providing services and opportunities for diverse audiences. Schools and NGOs received support in the preparation of the grant proposals; they also receive extensive, needs-based support during project implementation as part of capacity building for future activities. Mini-projects can be recognized as very successful part of the project methodology and design; their implementation proved that relatively small money together with support and mentoring can make large and sustainable impact in the community.

The Baltic Institute of Social Sciences was contracted to carry out the evaluation of the SFL initiative. The evaluation showed that the schools involved in the initiative are really acting as life-long learning centres covering a wide range of target groups from pre-school children to seniors which is very important taking into consideration the access to educational services in rural areas. Several schools are developing the functions of social help or support.

In order to demonstrate the advantages of the community-based activities and target mainstream public opinion, a series of public events and activities have taken place, such as conferences, regular press releases and articles in the newspapers, interviews on radio, participation in the Task forces, seminars and discussions, meetings with national level decision makers etc. It is important that representatives of various sectors, such as education, welfare, health, regional development, and environment have been invited to take active part in developing better solutions for small rural schools in the context of national planning documents.

In order to disseminate project ideas and to build sustainability, the project Director and the members of the Core team have participated in several conferences, task forces and other events to develop links and build partnerships at the national and regional level. Methodology, implementation process and best practices from the project have also been presented in the numerous national and several international conferences and events, e.g., International Forum „School Dropout: In Search for the right approach”, Sofia, Bulgaria in August 2012; expert panel of the EC Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) Capacity Building and Capitalisation Workshop in Latvia, organized on behalf of the European Commission by the ECDEAR Support Team with support of the Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation (LAPAS) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia in September 2012; in the ATEE Spring Conference 2013, conference in the University of Leipzig in May 2013, conference, organized by the University of Latvia and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on Citizenship education in September 2013, etc. The Director of the project has served as a head of the Reform Task force of the Ministry of Education on transforming small schools. Student teachers of the University of Latvia have been introduced with the experience of the project in order to discuss changes in education in the 21st century.

A series of publications (8 editions) with the general idea of the initiative and descriptions of the best practices have been produced and disseminated nation-wide together with the largest national newspaper for educators “Izglītība un Kultūra” [Education and Culture].

An intensive exchange of information and dissemination of the results is on the project created web/blog site www.parmainuskolas.lv which is one of the most powerful tools for dissemination of information and sharing existing experiences. In average there are more than one publication posted each day; the site is well visited and highly evaluated by practitioners, policy makers and general public across the country.

The experience gained during the initiative has affirmed that community school is not a universal, one fits all, but open and flexible tailor-made model of small rural schools which is changeable depending on the inner resources of the particular school, local context, municipality infrastructure, needs and interests of the community. The schools have become a valuable resource in local communities in various aspects, both in the viewpoint of schools themselves and the communities. Schools see not only their contribution to building and improvement of local people competencies, but are also aware of their possibilities to get involved in identification and solution of wider problems within local communities. Looking at a school as a local community resource local governments consider that as a result of activities implemented by schools, participation of local people in various processes and their self-confidence has increased, more positive mood dominates in the community and social relationships between local people are improving.

The many facets of evaluation of the school projects suggests that the community school has asserted itself in practice as a social and educational innovation with high potential, although, for the time being, with insufficient political and financial support, which largely determines the sustainability risks of the model. The groups of schools involved in the initiative can be absolutely considered as one of small schools’ policy pilot projects which can be used for further development of the policy at the national level.

For more information  contact the Director of the initiative Aija Tuna at aija.tuna@latnet.lv

53 Sprouts of Changes to Better Life

Aija Tūna, coordinator of the SFL initiative „Change opportunities for schools”

While Latvia still was in the very middle of the crisis, 29 November, 2009 brought new opportunities to 53 schools in Latvia to show what they can do, to justify the meaning and significance of their existence, to open the doors to every member of communities transforming the life-long learning notion into a lucid reality.  Implementation of the projects within the SFL initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” started where schools worked together with municipalities to improve life in their neighborhood. After a year, looking back we can see that the sprouts of change are thriving bravely, assuring and pleasing the project teams and participants, providing experience and encouraging others to act.

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