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Blue Sky Thinking Redesigns Refugee Education


Richard C C Davies 
ss1.pngSky School seeks to develop a Global High School for Refugees (Save the Children US, 2017)

As the International Baccalaureate celebrates 50 years of inspiring global engagement, open-mindedness and a commitment to lifelong learning, its Director General Siva Kumari believes that its expanding network will build an ever stronger community that seeks to create a better world (IBO, 2017a). From the outset, early IB influencers, such as Kurt Hahn, recognised the opportunity to develop a transformative, progressive curriculum that augments traditional elements, such as developing inquiring and caring students, with an explicit emphasis on taking action to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect (IBO, 2017b). Hahn believed that there are three pedagogical approaches through which such a curriculum could be delivered: you can preach at them (persuasion); you can say ‘you must volunteer’ (compulsion); and you can tell them ‘you are needed’ (Alchin, 2017). It is this final approach which, essentially, underpins the IB mission and places the onus on future ethical leaders and creative entrepreneurs to ‘carry the beacon of hope and incite positive change for the next generation’ (IBO, 2017a).

Sky School is an organisation whose co-founders, Polly Akhurst (Atlantic College, ‘06) and Mia Eskelund Pedersen (UWC Mahindra, ‘07), exemplify the next generation of ethical leaders and creative social entrepreneurs seeking to incite change. In 2015, 50 million children were uprooted from their homes, of which 27 million were a result of violence and insecurity (Unicef, 2018). Whether these uprooted children are refugees, migrants or internally displaced, every child has the right to an education, but there are 27 million children of primary and secondary age in 24 conflict areas without access to education, and less than 25% of refugee youth have access to secondary education (Unicef, p7, 2018). Empathising with frustrated young displaced learners denied access to education, Polly and Mia were inspired to tackle this perceived injustice and took direct action by drawing upon their experience in international education to establish Sky School in order to close the gap in quality secondary education provision for young displaced people (Martin & Osberg, p6, 2007; Sky School, 2018a). Rather than waiting for someone else to tackle this problem, it is precisely such direct action that characterises the entrepreneur who, inspired by the opportunity, seeks to realise their creative solution to overcoming the barriers and challenges that arise and act to maintain the status quo (Martin & Osburg, p6, 2007). Moreover, it is predicated on having such ‘alertness’ in the first place which economist Israel Kirzner argues is the entrepreneur’s most critical ability (Baumol, p2, 2006).

ss2.pngSky School Co-founders Polly and Mia, meet with Kakuma Camp Social Entrepreneurship Facilitator Daniel Christian (Twitter, 2017).

In seeking to articulate the difference between entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, however, Dees (p6, 2018) argues that, for the latter, the social mission is ‘explicit and central’ and that mission related impact, as opposed to wealth creation, becomes the central criterion. Against a backdrop of real terms funding cuts to secondary education in UK government schools (Sibieta, 2018), achieving the Sky School mission, ‘A Global High School for Refugees’, at scale does not raise the prospect of wealth creation through any avenue other than in the capacity of an agent of change that empowers refugees economically; indeed their value proposition specifically targets a neglected and highly disadvantaged population that lacks the financial means of political clout to achieve the transformative benefit on its own (Sky School, 2018; Martin & Osberg, p8, 2007). Such an explicit focus on mission related impact would, therefore, appear to substantiate its credentials as a social enterprise.

Moreover, those personal characteristics in a successful entrepreneur (including inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage and fortitude) so crucial to the process of innovation are abundant in Sky School’s co-founders (Martin & Osberg, p5, 2007). Innovation, in particular, is paramount because, rather than tinkering around the edges and refining existing systems and structures, entrepreneurs think creatively and eschew these in favour of finding wholly new ways of approaching the problem (Martin & Osberg, p6, 2007). Taking a pioneering and transformative approach to education that resonates with those earlier IB influencers, Sky School has embraced such innovation by using ‘hackathons’ to develop a 10 module, 2 year high school curriculum for refugees, delivered through a ‘new educational model’ predicated on blended learning which harnesses the content rich aspects of an online course with the power of physical learning communities (Sky School, 2018a). Sky School works with project partners in refugee camps such as the UNHCR Refugee Camp in Kakuma, Kenya, to facilitate each module, over the course of 10 weeks, with the students completing 60% of the course through face-to-face seminars and the remaining 40% completed independently through its app provided by Aula Education (Sky School, 2018a; 2017a).

Whilst empowering students with an education in a particular camp is a laudable goal and undoubtedly provides a social service, such an initiative is not truly a social enterprise unless the learning programme is designed to achieve at scale, without which it is unlikely to lead to a new ‘equilibrium’ in the education landscape (Martin & Osberg, p11, 2007). The combination of a strong technology platform, together with the outsourcing of course facilitation to aid groups already in situ, alert to the particular demands of their learners, means that Sky School does possess this transformational potential to scale up and re-calibrate this equilibrium beyond the confines of a particular camp. The key here, however, is persistence and seeking to engage in a process of continuous innovation and learning; investing time in developing a course in the first instance before scaling it up is invaluable (Dees, P9, 2001). This ‘Innovate, Test, Scale’ model of development can be seen as a framework for ensuring innovation and evidence are used to complement effectively to change lives (Glennerster, 2017). Sky School’s first module, appropriately enough on Social Entrepreneurship, was piloted with a small group of refugees in Athens. The feedback from this was used to refine the second iteration of the module, as well as the general approach for delivering this ‘new educational model’, before expanding the programme to additional locations including Kenya, Jordan and Hong Kong (Sky School, 2018a). In reflecting on the lessons learned from observing and participating in using evidence to help improve millions of lives, Development Economist Rachel Glennerster notes that such an approach, epitomising the ‘Graduation programme’, can be considered the ‘classic model’ for affecting change through ‘Innovate, Test, Scale’ (Glennerster, 2017).

ss3.pngStudents on the Social Enterprise Pilot Course prototype their final projects. Credit: Instagram (2017)

But what kind of knowledge, skills and understanding constitutes ‘Lifeworthy learning’ relevant to refugee learners in order to convince them that ‘they are needed’ and, given the limited financial resources, how do you design this? (Perkins, 2016). Once more, Sky School has demonstrated its entrepreneurial flair by dispensing with traditional models of discrete subject blocks and embraced design thinking to generate a learning programme that empowers these displaced young people to proactively affect change in their communities. Besides the initial pilot module on Social Entrepreneurship, a module on Peacebuilding has been developed in conjunction with UWCSEA’s Initiative for Peace and other modules in the pipeline include Global Politics, Identity, and Arts and culture (UWCSEA, 2018a). Such an approach predicated on exploring knowledge that can be applied beyond national borders, building skills (such as critical thinking and collaboration), and developing an understanding of how these can be used to shape attitudes and inform direct action, is an effective blueprint for realising Hahn’s objective of creating a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect, peaceful co-existence and sustainable development for the future of the human race (Hill, 2012; IBO, 2017a). There are essentially 5 strands to the Learning programme each comprising an entry level and advanced component. Taken together, it is hoped that the 10 modules would be accredited to constitute a high school diploma which could then enable these learners to access American higher education institutions and seek to redress the despiriting situation in less than 1% of refugee learners enter university (UNHCR, p4, 2016).

ss4.pngCredit: UWCSEA, 2018a

The late Jo Cox MP noted that: ‘we are far more united than the things that divide us’ (UK Parliament, 2016). Against an increasingly uncertain geopolitical landscape, and the rise of populism, the importance of international education that transcends national boundaries and focuses more on that which brings us together has never been so important. With the next generation of ethical leaders and social entrepreneurs, such as Polly and Mia, demonstrating that the understanding from their IB education ‘that they are needed’ has endured, those initial key influential educators can take comfort that they have inspired a generation to take action in order to help realise a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect; for the next 50 years at least, the ‘beacon of hope’ is in safe hands.


In depth: What is a Hackathon in the context of education?

ss5.pngAction stations: The group hard at work mapping skills and knowledge (Twitter, 2018)

One of the most compelling aspects of the Sky School movement, has been its ability to draw on specialists to volunteer their skills. Nowhere, is this more visible than at one of Sky School’s Curriculum Hackathons; an intensive weekend at which a group of professionals from a range of backgrounds, both within and outside education, map out the curriculum for an entire module. One of the first hackathons was held this summer at UWC Maastricht to design a module on Social Entrepreneurship.

An eclectic mix of individuals, including educators, students, parents, technical specialists, a UN Development Economist, a corporate financier, and many others assembled to hear Polly layout the objective for the weekend and emphasise the prescient nature of the task given that it would be delivered to students in Jordan in only 3 weeks. Early sessions were predicated upon team building and learning about the tremendous range of skills within the group, before turning attention to the displaced learners around which the mission is focused and trying to prioritise the competencies within the confines of the module. Informed by what needed to be prioritised, and why the demands of the refugee learners made that so, work continued on the framework for the unit by looking at possible concepts and grouping these by key themes which were then mapped to a timeline. Trying to allocate particular skills to a discrete section of the module seemed problematic, at times, so it was decided to embed some of these, such as communication which had been identified as a key learning objective by listening to interviews with prospective participants, throughout course. By the end of the first day, a much more refined understanding of the purpose of the unit had been developed which, informed by research, had started to be mapped out a curriculum with specific themes, such as stakeholder analysis, systems mapping and design thinking.

The second day, however, was very much where all the heavy lifting was completed. Polly and Mia introduced us to Daniel Christian, a refugee at Kakuma camp from Burundi, who had completed a module wholly online and was so inspired by what he had learned, that he volunteered to facilitate the first module of the face to face module, only to end up himself being resettled to Canada shortly before it began (Sky School 2017b,). His video message about the transformational affect Sky School had on him was inspiring and provided renewed emphasis on completing the module.

ss6.pngAAA+ Learning: Director of Learning Stuart MacAlpin explains his model of learning pioneered at UWCSEA.

Following an intensive half hour session in which learning engagements were added to the theme for each week, Sky School’s pro bono Director of Teaching and Learning from UWC South East Asia, Stuart MacAlpine, then led a short workshop on conceptual understanding and the AAA+ learning model (Awareness, Abstraction, Application, Deliberate Practice) to establish by design curriculum planning (UWCSEA 2018b). This was drawn on throughout the remainder of the day as, working in small groups, the conceptual understandings, learning goals and teaching activities for the face-to-face section and online learning were articulated. The final stage was to refine the assessment rubric in order to determine the extent to which the module achieves its objectives. Throughout the 2 days Olaya Garcia, who had taken the lead for designing this module, facilitated the discussion and activities and was left with the task of polishing up the final unit, before it was delivered to the project partners in Amman, Jordan, and later in 2018, the course will also be delivered in Hong Kong, Greece and Kenya.

It was humbling to see how much a small group of committed individuals with the same shared vision could achieve over a weekend. However, emphasising the importance of ‘alertness’ to which Kirzner referred to earlier on, the outcome for Sky School was even more notable as the number of volunteers to have signed up to the Hackathon was such that, less than 24 hours before the start, Polly and Mia realised there was scope to build 2 modules and set about making a second module on ‘Culture and Identity’ possible. Consequently, before the weekend was out 2 of the 10 modules had essentially been developed, which together with the Peacebuilding Hackathon in Singapore, meant that Sky School had developed 30% of the entire curriculum.



Alchin, Nick (2017) ‘School Should be in the business of adaptive work’, August 13th, 2017. Accessed 30/06/18, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/school-should-business-adaptive-work-nick-alchin/

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Glennerster, Rachel (2017) ‘When do innovation and evidence change lives?’, 9th November, 2017. Accesed 23/09/18 http://runningres.com/blog/2017/11/9/when-do-innovation-and-evidence-change-lives

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The digital classroom


This article first appeared in “The IB Review” No. 3, February 1,2015. London: Hodder Education

The development of the internet, pioneered by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, heralded the emergence of a new information revolution which has transformed the political-economic landscape and acted as a catalyst for the emergence of a global knowledge economy. In this new e-poch, international companies will only employ individuals with the requisite skills and competencies, and have more flexibility to base teams in whichever global region they deem most attractive. With an increasingly mobile workforce, graduates and school leavers find themselves in a global skills race to succeed in the knowledge wars of the future. Amidst this changing backdrop in the free market, in which firms such as BMW use technology to digitally taylor over 80% of their cars to precise customer requirements, is your school managing to evolve sufficiently to ensure your peers are also able to take advantage of such digital taylorism with a more personalised approach to learning? With some students still finding themselves in lessons being lectured at by a teacher and completing questions from a physical textbook, has there really been a commensurate digital revolution in education, or do you still feel trapped in the Victorian era? As you look ahead to forthcoming exams, what additional resources are there online for you to personalise your learning experience and transform the effectiveness of your independent study and revision in order to put you in the best position to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities in the global knowledge economy?

One of the biggest developments, in terms of making technology integral to student learning, has been through the advent of what is termed ‘flipped learning’. In contrast to the traditional educational model, whereby a teacher spends the first part of a lesson introducing a new topic which students then practice for the rest of the lesson, in the flipped classroom model students actually study pre-recorded instructional videos in advance of the lesson. The benefits of this approach are twofold and resonate with the principles of Digital Taylorism seen in business. Firstly, pupils can follow explanations and work through examples at their own pace, replaying key sections as appropriate, and, secondly, it enables students to spend more time during lessons applying these new skills, addressing misconceptions, and developing their understanding further by working collaboratively with their peers to complete more complex questions, or project work which requires them to apply these skills in consort with other techniques. Whilst many teachers take advantage of existing resources such as the Khan Academy, some find the idiosyncrasies of American terminology, for instance radicals as opposed to square roots, distracting and generate their own. One of the best examples of teacher generated instructional videos are from Colin Hegarty whose videos have been viewed over a million times. Whilst these resources are geared towards the A-level curriculum, specific topics are readily identifiable and, in addition, there are live sessions which are free to view and participate in. You can also find instructional videos grouped according to the IB maths curriculum at IB Maths resources thus enabling you to take advantage of the learning principles behind flipped learning, irrespective of your teacher’s approach.

Whilst the standard of professional instructional videos is high, it is fairly straightforward to actually produce your own tutorials. Research from influential Education Professor John Hattie has shown that when students themselves generate and share this content, as a form of peer tutoring, there is a significant impact on learning so, even though it may take longer than watching someone else’s, it will deepen your understanding. At the most basic level, you could simply video yourself working through a problem on paper and upload this to Youtube, but such an approach can be difficult for others to follow on screen, so consider using an application on an iPad such as ‘Explain Everything’ or ‘educreations’ which enables you to create something like Jonathan and Ryan’s tutorial on the Quotient Rule. If you do not have access to an iPad you can create a screencast of your work on a laptop using either the screen capture option from an application such as Quicktime Player or using an online application such as Screenr. Whatever mechanism you use to produce your tutorial, once you have taken the time to create it consider helping your peers benefit from your explanations an maximise exposure to it by promoting it through twitter. There is a huge mathematics community on twitter, and besides sharing your tutorials, you can also find people to answer your questions or just follow interesting mathematical articles and discussions. The best hashtags to follow are #math #mathchat #IBmath #AlevelMaths #mathhelp #STEM.

Mathematics is a subject that, especially, lends itself to myriad digital applications and programs. There are several platforms which effectively serve as online classrooms providing both instruction, through lesson slides and activities, but also enable students to develop their understanding further through applying principles to additional questions. The most relevant for International Baccalaureate Mathematicians is IB Maths, run by Adrian Sparrow, which, if your school does not already have a subscription, will cost you $50 for a year’s access. Others such as My iMaths also have excellent resources, but these are aligned to the A level curriculum and you may need to decipher the different terminology to locate your particular IB topic. A more comprehensive stock of past papers and exam questions can be acquired from the IB itself through its question bank and IB prepared resources available through its online store. Other useful software to consider, alongside your graphic display calculator, is the powerful free graphing website Desmos which may well be a more user-friendly complement to your school’s subscription to Autograph.


Desmos graphing website: Are you a maths superhero?

Another avenue through which to digitally tailor your learning in mathematics is concerned with the uniquely challenging IB requirement of the exploration. An essential piece of advice to remember when embarking upon this mathematical magnum opus is to choose a topic that genuinely interests you. Whilst you may already have visions of exploring number theory Prof. Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, it can be hard to know where to look for inspiration. If you are interested in science the University of Cambridge’s NRICH site has a page dedicated to STEM with an array of topics and investigation that may appeal and catalyse your imagination. Similarly, if you are interested in the (very much) bigger picture, NASA has a site dedicated to Space Mathematics with an array of resources, data and investigations such as a problem involving how to ship cargo to the International Space Station. Other useful sites worth research include plus magazine from the University of Cambridge and Johnny Griffith’s Rich Starting Points for A-level Core Mathematics.

Perhaps the greatest marginal gains from subscribing to this digitally tailored learning approach can be realised in the frantic last minute panic revision that fills the vacuum between the end of classes and the IB exams. Having practised all the questions in text book so much that you can remember the answers off by heart, and not being able to access your teacher as regularly as you might like, it can feel like an isolating existence in which new challenges and discussions could prove fruitful. But what if your teacher was able to hold a half hour google hangout for a small group of your class who, say, needed some support on integration but did not want to lose 2 hours of valuable revision time travelling in to school and back? Similarly, if you are struggling with how to plot a regression line using your calculator, why not view an online tutorial and then try to produce your own version and share it with your peers through social media. Allied to the myriad sites that have already been highlighted, with their plethora of additional question banks, past-papers, tutorials and live question and answer sessions, the ability to personalise your learning and recognise the “unknown unknowns” through online interaction should help you transform the effectiveness of this pre-exam hiatus!

Whether your teacher is on old-school advocate of ‘chalk and talk’ or you are completing interactive quizzes on your wi-fi enabled graphic display calculator, there have never been more opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and embrace all that technology has to offer. As students of the International Baccalaureate, itself designed to provide global citizens with the skills they need to succeed, capitalising on this digital educational infrasture to help tailor your learning in this way may just confer on you a competitive advantage in the global skills race, and prepare you for the changing face of Higher Education. Although the education sector as a whole may be somewhat pedestrian in its response to the digital revolution, as Digital Taylorism proliferates at the macro-level driven by multinational companies, and the number of Private-Public initiatives in Higher Education increases, its effects can be expected to filter down enabling you to demand a personalised and modularised university course more closely aligned with the needs of your prospective employers.

Richard Davies is Head of Personal and Social Education at the United World College of South East Asia.

Download The digital classroom


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Project Jugaad

An International collaborative School Research Project exploring the Role of Maths in Technology

facebook comms

Figure 1: Global Communication Flows (Butler, 2010)

Globalisation is the “shift or transformation in the scale of human organization that links distant communities and expands the reach of power relations across the world’s regions [which] can be mapped by examining the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patterns of social interaction” Held (2004, p1).

Irrespective of the precise nature and institutional architecture of globalisation, there are a series of ‘deep drivers’ that will continue to operate for the foreseeable future including the global ICT revolution; global markets in the knowledge economy; and economic migration (Held, 2010, p243). These particular ‘drivers’, representing technology and information dissemination, can be thought of as prerequisites for a knowledge economy which the World Bank (2003, p2) explains is predicated upon four pillars, including an ‘educated and skilled population to create, share, and use knowledge’. With science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects critical, therefore, to this emerging global knowledge economy, Project Jugaad was established with the aim of providing pupils with a real world, open-ended project which would not only develop their mathematical understanding but, in addition, foster key skills such as inquiry, collaboration, communication, leadership, global awareness, and cultural understanding which will be crucial to success in further education and employment wherever they ultimately end up working.

In 2013 UK Prime Minister David Cameron led the largest business delegation ever assembled on his state visit to India with ambitions of doubling UK-India trade by 2015 (Nelson, 2013). There are tremendous opportunities for firms to benefit from economic growth in countries such as India and, given the changing economic landscape, providing our pupils with experience of working on collaborative projects alongside their peers in developing economies should help prepare them for myriad opportunities in the global knowledge economy. Jugaad is a Punjabi term that can be translated as using innovative approaches to solve problems effectively given limited resources. As such, it was chosen as the name for this collaborative educational research project into the role of Maths in Technology initially set up between Bluebells International School in New Delhi and Southfields Academy in London (Radjou et al, 2012).

For the inaugural project, two top set year 9 classes (13/14 year olds) were selected and the project was deliberately open-ended to promote a growth mindset by exposing pupils to areas of mathematics that extend beyond the confines of the syllabus and challenging them to develop new approaches to thinking about the role of maths in the technology that surrounds them (c.f. Dweck, 2008). Groups consisted of two pupils from each school and, although they were free to communicate however they saw fit (Facebook, BBM, Skype etc), their activities were scaffolded by the fact that each member had to adopt a specific role (Project Manager, Chief Researcher, Digital Engineer, Communications Director). Whilst some groups did struggle to establish contact at first, as the deadlines approached there was a flurry of activity and nearly all groups established effective communication in order to submit their projects on time. In so doing they formed new friendships with their peers in an international collaborative environment which seeks to simulate what pupils can expect to find when they embark on a career in the global knowledge economy.

The array of topics covered by the pupils was huge and the deliberations involved in shortlisting the final four were agonising. These 13 and 14 year old pupils completed extensive research into topics as diverse as maths in medicine and maths in space, and discovered, for themselves, topics that go way beyond the curriculum such as the Bernouilli Principle and calculus. Eventually, the four shortlisted groups were agreed upon and the pupils set about preparing to present their findings. This was a more intimidating task than normal, however; not only did the pupils have to present to a class full of pupils and a panel of judges sitting in front of them but, via Skype, they were also addressing pupils and judges in a class 5,000 miles away where the other members of their group were. Coordinating such a presentation within the strict 5 minute time limit required thorough planning, and it was brilliant to see how all the groups managed to achieve this with aplomb! In order to facilitate cultural understanding, pupils were also encouraged to produce short videos on ‘Life in London/Delhi’ with the best one being selected to be screened in the partner school immediately before the final.


Figure 2: Shortlisted pupils presenting to UK class and class in India in real time via Skype.

Now in its second year, Project Jugaad has expanded to include schools as far afield as the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore and, appropriately enough given the myriad extreme environmental phenomena experienced on both sides of the Atlantic, this year the focus is specifically on the role of mathematics in Green Technology. In so doing, it resonates on more that just an economic development level with Hill (2012) who extols the virtues of international mindedness into education as:

“The study of issues which have application beyond national borders and to which competences such as critical thinking and collaboration are applied in order to shape attitudes, leading to action which will be conducive to intercultural understanding, peaceful co-existence and sustainable development for the future of the human race’.

Where once skills were recognised as a key lever for prosperity and fairness, and material forces dominated growth, globalisation has led to the situation where countries can outsource their material production and concentrate on research and development: increasingly skills are the key lever (Brown et al, 2008, p132). As the rate of technology transfer increases, the link between education and economic growth becomes ever stronger as scientific knowledge accelerates the pace of technological innovation (Sab & Smith, 2001). Equipping pupils with the skills to succeed in this new economic landscape through classroom activities such as Project Jugaad is surely, therefore, not just in our interests as education professionals. It is, moreover, a powerful vehicle through which to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future in a manner that resonates with Hill’s vision (United World College, 2014; Hill, 2012).


Brown, P., Lauder, H. & Ashton, D. (2008) ‘Education, Globalisation and the Future of the Knowledge Economy’. European Education Research Journal, 7, 2, 131-156

Butler, P. (2010) ‘Visualising Friendships’, Facebook Inc. Accessed 16/02/14 https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=469716398919

Dweck, C. (2008) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine: New York

Held, D. (2004) Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus. Cambridge: Polity Press

Held, D. (2010) Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities. Cambridge: Polity Press

Hill. I. (2012) ‘Evolution of Education for International Mindedness’, Journal of Research in International Education. 11, 3, 245-261

Nelson, D. (2013) ‘David Cameron to lead second trade mission to India’. The Daily Telegraph, 15 February 2013. Accessed 16/02/14 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/9871786/David-Cameron-to-lead-second-trade-mission-to-India.html

Radjou , N., Prabhu, J., Ahuja, S. and Roberts, K. (2012). Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth’. Willey & Sons: New Jersey. Accessed 16/02/14 http://as.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-102985,descCd-release_additional_material.html

Sab, R. & Smith, S. C. (2001) ‘Human Capital Convergence: International Evidence’. International Monetary Fund Working Paper, WP/01/32. Washington, D.C. cited in World Bank (2003) p5

United World College. (2014) ‘United World College Mission and Values’. Accessed 16/02/14 http://www.uwc.org/about_uwc/mission_and_vision.aspx

The World Bank (2003) The Knowledge Economy and the Changing Needs of the Labour Market. Accessed 16/02/14 http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLL/Resources/Lifelong-Learning-in-the-Global-Knowledge-Economy/lifelonglearning_GKE.pdf

To find out more about Project Jugaad and see last year’s winning entries along with videos and other material visit www.projectjugaad.yolasite.com or join in the discussion on twitter #projectjugaad

Improving Teacher Effectiveness through Student Surveys


Amongst a cacophony of noise in the educational community from the competing and adversarial self-interested cries of practitioners, policy makers, education providers and  teaching unions, there is a deafening silence in one crucial area in which there appears to be a broad consensus of agreement. More than anything else in a school, teaching quality matters as more effective teachers are an essential prerequisite in the elusive quest to produce high performing students equipped with the skills to succeed in the 21st Century (Ripley, p1, 2012; Jensen, p3, 2011). A similar agreement surrounding what exactly constitutes effective teaching amongst the fractional parties remains elusive in spite of an increase in research, however ‘appraising and providing feedback to improve teachers once they enter the profession and are working in schools’ is one of the five mechanisms through which Jensen (p7, 2011) argues teacher effectiveness can be improved and will provide the focus for this study. Whilst traditional instruments such as quantitative analysis of pupils achievement gains and observations from senior leaders will be considered, one of the most significant developments for education reform over the past decade has been the advent of student feedback in teacher evaluations (Ripley, p5, 2012). The aim of this study is, therefore, to develop an effective student survey to be used alongside traditional instruments of appraisal and feedback as part of a ‘balanced scorecard’ approach in order to improve teacher effectiveness (Jensen, p10, 2011).


Dr Goldacre (2013) extols the virtues of the transition to evidence based practice in the medical community in the face of vociferous inertia and now advocates the proliferation of evidence based practice within the arena of education. In particular, he makes the following recommendations:

  • research on what works best should be a routine part of life in education

  • teachers should be driving the research agenda, by identifying questions that need to be answered.

  • teachers should be empowered to participate in research

  • myths about randomised trials in education should be addressed, removing barriers to research

  • the results of research should be disseminated more efficiently

  • resources on research should be available to teachers, enabling them to be critical and thoughtful consumers of evidence

  • barriers between teachers and researchers should be removed

It is the first two of these recommendations which this study encapsulates most clearly. The question that has been identified in the introduction is how can student surveys be used alongside traditional instruments of teacher appraisal and feedback to improve effectiveness? In order to develop this survey, it is important to draw on existing studies.

1. Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching

As part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching 7,500 lessons from 1,333 teachers in six American districts were recorded and compared using five classroom observation instruments and compared with measures of achievement gain for 44,500 students on state tests and student evaluations of teachers (Kane, p35, 2012). Analysis of student achievement gains revealed that teachers with a track record of producing high gains are likely to achieve similar gains with another group and, in maths, this correlation was 0.48 (Kane, p36, 2012). The key value, therefore, in this quantitative approach is its ability to foresee the achievement gains of future students which, moreover, are associated with higher earnings and greater participation at higher education (Kane, p36, 2012; Chetty et al, 2012). If this measure alone is so powerful at predicting future success, why bother with other instruments for appraisal? In spite of its high predictive power, focusing on quantitative measures of growth has a relatively low explanatory power, that is to say that it can reveal large levels of progress (or not!) but it cannot shed any light on what a teacher can do to increase this growth further through detailed and effective feedback on an individual teachers strengths and weaknesses (Kane, p36, 2012). Given that the greatest impact on student learning comes from meaningful feedback (Hattie, 2009), if we re-contextualise student learning as teacher learning, we can see that relying on such measures of achievement gain alone is unlikely to result in learning or, more pertinently, any increase in teacher effectiveness.

The second tenet of teacher appraisal is classroom observation, but of the three in the study this appeared to be the most problematic. 900 observers received between 17 and 25 hours of training on one of five observation criteria and graded 7 500 lessons; each lesson was graded 3 times by three different observation criteria (Kane, p37, 2012). The results from each observer were then compared to an agreed master observation and any that fell outside set parameters from the master were disqualified – in all 23% of observations (Kane, p37, 2012)! Allied to such inconsistencies in observations, concerns about observations stifling innovative teaching styles and the opportunity cost of senior leaders time in completing such observations raise concerns over the suitability of relying too much on classroom observations (Kane, p38, 2012). Moreover, eschewing these concerns, although such observations do, in theory, enable teachers to receive specific feedback about how to improve their practice which, if implemented, should manifest itself in improved teacher effectiveness, there is little evidence to suggest that the feedback does lead to improved student outcomes (Kane, p37, 2012).

The third tenet of teacher appraisal to be explored is the new component of student surveys. Student surveys have been a component (often the only component) used to feed back on instruction in Higher Education but it is only recently that this practice has been implemented in Secondary Education (Kane, p38, 2012). Two articles relating to this use of student surveys in Higher and Primary Education led to me to first consider using student surveys to improve my own teacher effectiveness last year and are explored in detail in  ‘Pupil generated feedback: the wisdom of crowds?’ (Davies, 2013) In the first, a university Professor, used to teaching final year students, struggled to engage Freshers until he enlisted the support of one of his former students (Brighouse, 2013) and in the second, a Primary Teacher in Florida who periodically asks her class: “What are ways that I teach you that you like or that are really working for you? What could be changed to help you learn even more?”

In the Measures of Effective Teaching report the most powerful finding is the reliability of student responses to the survey. Student responses had a greater degree of correlation with student achievement gains in Maths and English than did classroom observations and, moreover, not only were the responses consistent across classrooms but they were also predictive of student achievement gains across classrooms (Kane, p39, 2012). In response to the question: “our class stays busy and does not waste time” less than 36% of pupils agreed in one classroom whilst more than 69% agreed in another (Kane, p38, 2012). Also, it was shown that feedback for teachers tended to be consistent across multiple classes with a correlation factor between different classes of 0.66 which was greater even than the original achievement gains measure (Kane, p38, 2012). It can be argued that even without the 17-25 hours of training that classroom observers were provided with students themselves were better at evaluating teachers because they have had months to form an opinion rather than the 30 minutes which senior leaders are typically present for (Ripley, p4, 2012). Whilst there will always be some “knuckleheads” who just mess the survey up and do not take it seriously, these may constitute as little as one-half of one percent which means the wisdom of crowds should prevail to allow teachers an accurate reflection of pupils experiences (Ripley, p4, 2012). Taking into account the effectiveness of student surveys and the fact that they are a relatively inexpensive way to add predictive power and reliability to evaluatory systems, they would seem particularly well suited to augmenting classroom observations in grades and subjects where student achievement gains are not available (Kane, p40, 2012).

2. Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance

Systems of teacher appraisal and feedback which are directly concerned with improving student performance have the potential to increase teacher effectiveness by as much as 30% (Jensen, p3, 2011). With a view to improving Australia’s current broken system of teacher appraisal and feedback the report encourages schools to employ at least four methods of teachers’ performance from the following list (Jensen, p9, 2011):

  1. Student performance and assessments;

  2. Peer observation and collaboration;

  3. Direct observation of classroom teaching and learning;

  4. Student surveys and feedback;

  5. 360-degree assessment and feedback;

  6. Self-assessment;

  7. Parent surveys and feedback; and

  8. External observation

Although schools are free to employ the methods most appropriate for their context, there is manifest support for the inclusion of student surveys and feedback on the basis that students are able to report on teachers with a high degree of reliability, indeed their ratings of teachers have been found to be better predictors of student achievements than self-assessment and principal measures of effectiveness (Jensen, p16, 2011).

3. A Balanced score-card approach

To address the individual weaknesses inherent in any system of evaluation that relies on any one instrument the Measures of Effective Teaching Study explored a combined approach. Even with achievement gains, classroom observations and student surveys equally weighted the explanatory power was increased (Figure 1). However, by more accurately weighing each instrument to 0.758, 0.200, and 0.042 respectively on the basis of their effectiveness the resulting criterion-weighted or balanced score-card approach yields more of the two desirable properties – predicative power and reliability- than any of the other measures alone (Kane, p39, 2012).


Having explored the rationale for embracing a balanced scorecard approach to teacher appraisal and feedback, this section focuses on how best to design a student survey. In order to elicit student’s perception of teacher effectiveness – the questions within the survey are paramount: if you ask pupils the right questions, they can identify with uncanny accuracy, their most – and least- effective teachers (Ripley, p8, 2012). Whilst students are able to report on teachers with a high degree of reliability, the validity of the survey results depends on the instruments used (Jensen, p16, 2011). Of the 36 items included in the Measures of Effective Teaching study studied earlier, the following five correlated most with student learning and are surprisingly effective (Ripley, p4, 2012):

  1. Students in the class treat the teacher with respect.

  2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

  3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

  4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

  5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Using this architecture as a starting point and augmenting it with college specific questions relating to values and learning principles, the following survey was designed:


The survey is to be introduced by the regular classroom teacher at the beginning  of the lesson with an accompanying explanation that its purpose is to help the teacher develop their professional skills. This also helps to prevent any recency effects whereby a the particular lesson in which a survey is conducted skews responses in either direction.


In initial versions of the survey students were encouraged to leave their name in order to enable teachers to continue the discussion of any specific issues. However, in order to reduce the risk of pressure from teachers or peer pressure from fellow students and prevent pupils masquerading as others, it was considered important that the school takes steps to ensure anonymity of individual student responses.


The results remain solely with the individual teacher who themselves sends the link to the google survey and the results which are automatically populated on a colour-coded spreadsheet to facilitate analysis. Teachers are encouraged to share their results but there is no obligation to do so. Instead, there is, however, an expectation that the individual teacher will include reflections on the outcome from the surveys in their individual Professional Portfolios.


In order to prevent saturation, each department will have a designated month when it alone completes the surveys. The Head of Department has discretion as to which year group or ability range to target and even if some individual teachers decline to formally share their findings it would be expected that, at a departmental level, key findings and themes are at least discussed.


“No information is perfect. But better information on teaching effectiveness should allow for improved personnel decisions and faster professional growth” (Kane, p41, 2012)

Whilst measures of achievement gain, classroom observations and student surveys all have their relative strengths and weaknesses and no mechanism of teacher appraisal will ever be completely accurate, analysis of the literature reveals that by incorporating student surveys into traditional measures of teacher evaluation, teacher effectiveness can be improved and is more likely to result in higher performing students equipped with the skills equipped to succeed in the 21st Century (Ripley, p1, 2012). By building on existing research relating to what works with regards to student surveys and augmenting it with College specific questions relating to learning principles, a student survey and framework has been designed to be trialled across all departments in the High School through which, alongside traditional methods of teacher appraisal, it is hoped to elucidate a range of information through which teachers can better inform their practice. Although the student survey will not form part of official appraisals, it can be used by teachers alongside walk-ins by senior leadership, peer observations and achievement gains predicated on examination data to provide additional information upon which they can improve their effectiveness and therefore exemplifies the following four methods which Jensen (2011, p9) advocates:

  1. Student performance and assessments [Exam results where available]

  2. Peer observation and collaboration [Peer observation]

  3. Direct observation of  teaching and learning [Formal observation / SLT drop ins]

  4. Student Surveys and feedback  [To be introduced]

Whilst the introduction of student surveys is currently being restricted to the High School, there is no reason why it could not be extended to the Middle and Junior schools as even young children can evaluate their teachers relatively accurately with students in the same kindergarten class agreeing with each other across thousands of surveys (Ripley, p7, 2012).

Incorporating student surveys in to teacher appraisal (albeit it informally) as an additional instrument with such a high level of reliability that is independent of the race or income of pupils is truly, therefore, one of the most significant developments for education reform over the past decade however, the success will depend on the extent to which teachers themselves act on the results in order to ensure the feedback they receive is translated into higher performing students.

Improving Teacher Effectiveness through Student Surveys


Brighouse, H. (2013) ‘Employing a student to criticize my teaching’. Accessed 04/01/14


Chetty, R., Friedman, J. & Rockoff, J. (2012) ‘Great Teaching’ Research, Summer 2012

Jensen, B. (2011) ‘Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance’. The Grattan Institute, Report No. 2011-3 APR 2011. Accessed 04/01/14 http://grattan.edu.au/static/files/assets/cdbcfbfe/081_report_teacher_appraisal.pdf

Davies, R. (2013) ‘Pupil generated feedback: the wisdom of crowds?’. Accessed 04/01/14 https://rccdavies.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/pupil-generated-feedback-the-wisdom-of-crowds/

Goldacre, B, (2013). Teachers! What would evidence based practice look like? Bad Science, March 15th 2013. Accessed 04/01/14 http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge

Kane, T. (2012) ‘Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching’. Education Next, Fall 2012. Accessed 04/01/12 http://educationnext.org/capturing-the-dimensions-of-effective-teaching/

Marshall Memo No. 453 http://www.marshallmemo.com/headlines.php

Marshall Memo No. 461 http://www.marshallmemo.com/headlines.php

Ripley, A. (2012) ‘Why Kids Should Grade Teachers’. The Atlantic, October, 2012. Accessed 04/01/14 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/why-kids-should-grade-teachers/309088/

Sandford, H. (2013) ‘Want to Improve Teaching? Listen to students’. Accessed 04/01/14


PICTURE CREDIT: Alamy in Tait, P. (2014) “Forget ‘Asian Tigers’ we need to focus on learning smarter”. The Daily Telegraph, 08 January 2014.

What is the role of Tertiary Education in Promoting Economic Development in India?


Secondary analysis of macro-economic data from the World Bank is conducted in order to investigate the role of tertiary education in promoting economic development in India since the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1990’s. Globalisation Theory provides the theoretical framework to analyse the economic rationale for expanding Higher Education (HE), by incorporating a greater role for the private sector and directing a greater proportion of public funds towards specialised Institutions, as an instrument through which to realise economic growth and emerge as a key player in the global knowledge economy.

Comprehensive background analysis reveals that globalisation manifests itself in HE through commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation which are driven through financial considerations rather than a coherent strategy for improving education. The de facto privatisation of HE in India, which emerges against a background of reduced government investment, appears chaotic and unplanned. In 2005 the government belatedly began to recognise knowledge as the key driving force in the 21st Century and the National Knowledge Commission it created has helped influence educational policy by emphasising the importance of HE not only in contributing to economic development but also social progress and political democracy (NKC, p62, 2009).

Statistical analysis reveals significant correlation between enrolment in HE and economic growth over the period but cautions that HE is only part of socioeconomic policy and that additional research is required to prove causation. Establishing HE as a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition for economic growth, an education production function is developed which incorporates other precipitant factors, such as digital communications infrastructure, innovation, and a business friendly regulatory environment. Only by considering investment in HE in consort with these other components of socioeconomic policy prescription, and in conjunction with action to address market failure in the sector through the introduction of a credible and universal system of quality assurance, can India seek to maximise the contribution of HE to economic development.

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