ERG SES C 04, Interactive Poster Session
School failure is a huge problem in modern educational systems, especially in Spain, where it is up to 8 points higher than the European average (European Union, 2016). At a theoretical level it has been studied widely, using both broader approaches and more specific ones. These first approaches link it to the bourgeois domain of school, which necessitate seeing school failure as a weapon that helps to place individuals in their original class without excessive margin for change (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1996; Bowles & Gintis, 1985). On the other hand, micro approaches focus on students’ lives, at school and during conflicts in formal educational settings as well as outside of them, where the family is a fundamental factor in the creation of academic identities (Willis, 1988; Everhart, 1983; Lareau, 2011).
Nevertheless, nowadays it is necessary to enrich these approaches with research which gets closer to schools and completes the studies with direct intervention. In line with this idea, in recent years research has emerged based on the creation of workgroups in schools which represent all of the different collectives involved in formal education, working collaboratively to research and act. Examples of this approach are seen in projects such as A Estrada Inclusiva in Spain (Parrilla, Martínez-Figueira & Raposo-Rivas, 2015), One Square Kilometer of Education in Germany (Edwards & Downes, 2013) and others in places like Denmark, the United States, France, Great Britain and Australia, all of them which have achieved optimal results in terms of school success and inclusion (Díaz-Gibson, Civís & Longás, 2013).
In our case, we are carrying out a participative action research project in a secondary school for adults in the little city of Pontevedra (Galicia, Spain). It is a subproject of a nationwide scheme, Redes de Innovación para la Inclusión Educativa y Social (RIIES), shared by universities in Vigo, Cantabria, Seville and the Basque Country whose aim is to fight against socio-educational exclusion processes. To that end, a workgroup was created in which teachers, the management team, guidance counselors and students participate, as well as external researchers from Vigo University. The focal point of the group is school failure and due to this we collaborate with students who, at some point in their schooling, have suffered such failure. As such, the project's main objective is as follows:
"To contribute to the design, launching, analysis and evaluation of an innovative, participative community project aimed at approaching school failure in a certain context of vulnerability in the city of Pontevedra."
Currently, the project is in phase two of its development, having completed phase one which involved the creation of the workgroup and the analysis and assessment of needs in the specific context. In this second phase different actions are being designed which help to give visibility to school failure and the work of the adults at the secondary school, although they do not yet have a specific form. The first phase, the focus of this presentation, has given us very valuable information for the second phase, through the collection of life stories and the carrying out of questionnaires and interviews with different members of the educational community, combined with ethnographical techniques like participant observation.
All the information has been collected, organized and analyzed collaboratively with the participation of the members of the workgroup, all of whom have been actively involved at each stage of the research. There was a special emphasis on the design of the research, for example, the questionnaires that we used were created by all the members together and the students themselves have conducted interviews with their classmates.
The methodology of this project takes the form of participative action research, which implies the sharing, negotiation and consensus of the research process with those people "whose life, ecosystem and significant actions are under study" (Doval, 2015, p. 114). At the same time it is also compulsory to reference ethnography as another essential pillar of our research, because if we understand it as "the descriptive study (graphos) of the culture (ethnos) of a community" (Álvarez, 2011, p. 3), it is impossible to carry out participative action research without sharing the culture of the context we are entering or exploring it with ethnographical techniques like participant observation or interviews. These will help both the research into school failure and the review and permanent evaluation of the actions of our participative action research project. To carry out the participative action research, the centerpiece of the project, first of all a plural workgroup was formed by the different collectives involved in the educational phenomena of school failure. This group received methodological training, something identified as fundamental by authors like Van Unger (2012), and then decided horizontally how to carry out the proposal. So at the very beginning the aforementioned analysis was carried out, as well as an evaluation of the needs in this specific context, using exploratory techniques like documental analysis or interviews, especially through the collection of life stories from the school students and from those who, after leaving education, are now an example of success after failure. As was said before, currently we are immersed in phase two of the project, an intermediary phase after phase one and before phase three. Therefore we have a three phase proposal organized following Nind’s proposal (2014) in the field of participative action research. The first phase, which we carried out between September and January, allowed us to lay the ground for the current design, action and collaborative analysis tasks of this second phase. The third and last phase will involve an individual analysis of the previous shared work and the transference of the results to the specific context.
The first phase assisted us in identifying in our specific context the barriers and difficulties that students have gone through within formal schooling during their academic career and that blocked their educational path. As the most relevant findings to apply to the design and fulfillment of actions by our workgroup in the second phase of the project, we can point out that when focusing on failure external factors (especially the family) were given a similar importance to internal factors. Amongst this last group we find the curricular, didactic and motivational aspects, as well as the lack of academic and professional orientation at some points, and also the importance given to the peer group as a disengagement factor. From this shared discovery of the main barriers that students have found in their academic careers, plus the sum of perspectives which motivated them to rejoin their formal training, we have started to design our next actions, whose shape will be decided collaboratively and with a consensus. In any case, these actions will have to give visibility to the secondary school which hosts the research at the same time as fighting against academic failure both in our school and in its local area. In addition, the project must have a national and international scope (establishing close ties with similar projects within the RIIES and with other initiatives outside our borders), so in this way we will move together towards the improvement of the educational processes around us.
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