Theses defended

Reading Beyond the Written Lines of Human Rights: Collaborative Learning Communities and Learning Schools as Drivers for Educational Change

Denise Esteves

Public Defence date
May 31, 2021
Doctoral Programme
Human Rights in Contemporary Societies
Paulo Peixoto e Cláudia Pato de Carvalho
Education as a right has become a crucial issue in restructuring Western democracies' educational systems. The growing tendency to discuss education from a rights-based approach makes it necessary to consider education in social transformation and claim more democratic learning territories. Collaboration, solidarity, empathy, engagement and critical thinking are rare and are increasingly difficult to establish, as reported by several authors and underlined by this study's interviewees. The school is one of the institutions of public life where common collective life practices can be built.

This research aims to understand how collaborative learning communities and learning schools broaden the notion of education as a Human Right in practice and drive educational change. We suggest that learning communities contribute to the quality of the learning process and the knowledge produced within these groups should be considered a valued contribution to the learning experience. Hence, expanding groups of agents contributing to the diversification of the learning process and changing schools from teaching institutions to learning organisations contributes to thinking education as an emancipatory process.

The point of departure for the discussion is the Institute for Education and Citizenship (IEC) - an institution of non-formal education that works as an intermediary between schools, universities, research centres, and Oliveira do Bairro municipality. The IEC claims for a new structure for community-based learning and research, leveraging schools-community-university partnerships' democratisation. The IEC's central role in facilitating relationships among institutions and people unrelated before, and forming a collaborative learning community, is worthy of being considered an essential educational enterprise.

Methodologically, we have triangulated different data generation methods and data sources, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, a literature review and document and thematic analyses.

We argue that the collaborative learning community is a bottom-up response developed collaboratively by local agents to the challenges identified locally in the educational field. This bottom-up strategy is one under which mutual engagement and reflection processes happen at different learning system levels. Findings also suggest that a knowledge-exchanging dynamic has been created and have ensured successful outcomes in its members' learning experience. Simultaneously, mechanisms for developing collaborative strategies amongst the members of the learning community were established. Both are giving the support needed to schools for taking risks to redesign their relationships with other schools, with universities and, in some cases, with broader community-based services. Research also highlights the importance of connecting the learning community's members, mainly through partnerships among schools and research centres. Indeed, the study demonstrates that the established partnerships between IEC, the schools and the research centres provide an appropriate context for rethinking and reinventing public schools and higher education institution, so they become dynamic places for developing and sustaining students' learning practices; providers of opportunities for the continued development of practising professionals and conductors of research and inquiry more open to society.

The effects of this collaborative learning community's action are much greater than the sum of its parts. Overall, we analysed the influence of collaborative learning community and of the transformation of schools from teaching institutions to learning organisations around three central axes: in creating conditions for improving students' learning and enhancing the overall learning experience of individual members of the community; in the implementation of collective learning mechanisms within the collaborative learning community; and in creating collaborative partnerships between schools and research centres. We demonstrated that agency, collaboration, and knowledge-exchange issues become a firmly rooted reality at schools incorporating collaborative learning into the school organisational dynamic. Creating conditions for knowledge-exchange, collaboration, reflection, and agency must be considered as crucial for the definition of public policies in the area of education if we want education as a right to become not only a real significant statement but, above all, a meaningful practice.

Keywords: Collaborative Learning Community; Learning Schools; Education; Human Rights; Educational Change; Institute of Education and Citizenship