Alicia Merodo holds a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in social sciences with a focus on education and is a PhD candidate in the education program at the National University of the Center of the Province of Buenos Aires (UNICEN). She is a professor and researcher at different national universities in Argentina and also a teacher trainer. She specializes in teacher training, high school education and curriculum issues. She currently teaches “Residence I: The school field of teaching work,” “Curriculum Theory” and “General Didactics.”
Skills, strategies, knowledge and challenges in compulsory secondary schools
In 2006 Argentina expanded compulsory education to include all years of secondary education, i.e. up to 18 years of age. This was a continuation of the trajectory started in 1993, when a law was passed that made education mandatory for citizens up to 14 years of age. Expanding compulsory education posed big challenges, especially for leading teams in secondary schools located in areas of high social vulnerability. The challenges included taking on new tasks, managing programs aimed at addressing specific issues of the new student populations and overcoming challenges related to expanding education and maintaining enrollment.
Four interviews of school principals in Greater Buenos Aires who have gone through this change are a testimony of the cumulative experience. The thematic set is systematized into eight topics concerning focus areas, strategies, skills and learnings derived from those leadership experiences. (Video excerpts are below.)
Critical thinking questions to follow up the cases and the interview segments
Follow-up activities to be done together with the facilitators:
Topic 1: The social subjects historically excluded from secondary education: discarding our conceptions of students
Faced with the need to examine the specificity of working with adolescents from low-income households traditionally excluded from access to secondary education, principals focused on discarding the current hegemonic representations and discourses around the regular secondary school student as well as the underlying ideology. Whereas ideology organizes and gives meaning to representations, addressing the ideological and political dimension of education, and questioning current discourses and representations were necessary steps to build a democratic, inclusive school. The teachers said they did not know how to work with adolescents and youth from the poorest areas. They justified their failure citing a lack of effort, interest and dedication. In a way, this was a meritocratic view that gave legitimacy to winners and justified the fate of losers. Working on these views and setting up a pedagogic effort to counteract them became a priority.
Topic 2: Education as a political act: considering the differences between students as a non-decisive starting point
When education was first institutionalized by the state, it was understood as a tool to expand rights and opportunities that would make it possible to compensate social inequalities among students. Teaching socially relevant contents became a priority, as did validating the knowledge, expressions and languages that students brought with them when starting school. This implied taking their initial condition not as a predestination but as the necessary reference to prepare the teaching proposals: the students’ cultural diversity, their social difference and economic inequality had to be taken into consideration. For instance, it was important to understand the students’ linguistic variation and value this without trying to impose a homogeneous language. And to consider the students’ initial inequality as a condition, not a determining factor. When a school does not take notice of this initial condition, it causes the progressive distancing of adolescents.
Topic 3: Team work and pedagogic management: guiding and training staff to organize education
The leadership team organized the work to be done with the school team members: educational content department directors, secondary teachers, and tutors. Work meetings were held to agree on the proposals and the ways to implement them. Several spaces and moments were set up to work on pedagogic decisions taking into account the restrictions of teacher hiring, which is based on the number of hours in the classroom rather than on the teachers’ post in the institution. The pedagogic aim was to improve the students’ learning conditions. Teamwork and pedagogic management — a daily task for leadership teams — consisted in offering assistance to teachers with pedagogic decisions, talking with them about teaching, and watching out for any difficulties that arose. At the same time, the leadership team took on a training role to the service of teachers. There were interchanges of books chosen according to the issues identified in the teachers’ experiences, educational trips were arranged to respond to various teachers’ interests and projects, and training workshops were held at the school.
Topic 4: The relationship among school culture, life situations and youth culture: making students take part in the conversation
The influx of a new and larger student population to schools has deepened the challenge of every school cycle: namely, to understand and recognize the characteristics of adolescents. There is a need to suspend previous images and representations of an idealized youth to make room for complex life situations such as those of working students, who take care of their siblings or other relatives, or who are parents, many of them living in vulnerability. The daily challenge was to question the teaching proposals as a result of understanding the adolescents’ background. The proposals had to take into account the students’ situation and their characteristics. At the same time, several activities were implemented that incorporated specific aspects of youth culture: music workshops, instruction in comprehensive sexuality education (ESI for its acronym in Spanish), freedom of movement at school, and the possibility to stay on after school hours. Students were given daily opportunities to voice their concerns. Outings were arranged and carried out: to theaters, museums and exhibitions, as this was considered as a way to broaden their cultural horizon. Also, workshops were conducted on compulsory schooling and the right to education, including debates about what it means to say that education is a right, what they can demand and what their responsibilities are. There were instances of listening to participants and building citizenship.
Topic 5: Working with the school’s education statistics: an examination of the relevant data
School statistics showed a very steep pyramid in the distribution of forms (course groups) per year of secondary school: out of ten 1st year entrants, three made it to the last year — in other words, three out of ten students graduated. A school’s foundational mandate regarding selection led to repetition, with rates above 60% in the first and second years, and dropout. Considered as a right, access to and completion of secondary school led to introduce each institution’s education statistics as a management tool. The statistical data produced by a school accounted for its leaders’ decisions and actions. A revision was started, using the data to inform diagnoses and hypotheses about the situation, and drawing on these to think up intervention strategies aimed at changing the reality expressed by the data.
Topic 6: Coexistence and care: building a living space collectively
The rules of coexistence in the school’s social space were set collectively with the participation of all the members of the school’s educational community. The guiding principle was that civil coexistence and care is everyone’s responsibility. Also, the purpose of youth participation spaces was clarified based on the recognition of adolescents as political subjects. Regarding coexistence, principals sought to build a cheerful atmosphere for work and exchange at school: a place for play, laughter and creativity.
Topic 7: The role of evaluation in the continuity of the school trajectory: revising what and how the students’ production is assessed
Evaluation became an object of scrutiny and reflection as it was considered that the scores produced Increased the number of students that had their school trajectory interrupted or altered. The starting point was considering that when a student repeats a year, for instance, they do not learn more just by retaking the subject. Thus, by focusing on the contents and forms of evaluation, multiple questions arose. Adolescents developed and exhibited various skills that exceed the limits of school subjects: graphic design in graffiti and murals, communication skills with community members, the ability to play instruments, their acting chops. On the other hand, the predominant evaluation method, the written test, did not allow students to display the value of those skills. At meetings, school teams debated what to evaluate, what to assign value to, how to build marks, how to avoid using tests and accreditation as punishment, among other topics.
Topic 8: The link with the community: opening the institution to build accompanied schooling
One aspect that was examined at schools was the need to not condemn what was happening in the neighborhoods where students lived. With this aim, the proposal was to introduce a view of a wider community. Work on this perspective was done alongside and within the education community. Also, at parents meetings the topic was addressed in a way that avoided condemnation or complaints regarding their children’s performance. The families were invited to participate in various activities to be held at school: film-making workshops, political debates, dissemination of various types of programs. There was also a specific space to meet with the families of students in the first few years and share what was expected of a secondary school student and the support they needed to transition from primary to secondary school. At the family meetings, families were invited to ask questions and express their needs and concerns.
Bellome is a professor in Mathematics, Graduate in Management and Administration of Education, PhD in Education (UNER). Secondary school professor in the Province of Buenos Aires, Professor of Residence I teachers training (UNGS), professor Residence II in Mathematics (UNGS), member of the central training team of the Training Directorate of the Province of Buenos Aires, author of several articles on mathematics education, author of texts for secondary level and teacher training. At present, Deputy Director of Academic Affairs at the secondary school from the National University of General Sarmiento (UNGS).
Cabeda is a teacher, professor of Special Education, Bachelor of Education (UNQui), has a diploma in Social Sciences focus in Educational Management (FLACSO). He served for four decades at different educational levels as a teacher, librarian, professor, and director [principal] running a secondary school for twenty years. Luis has worked as a teacher trainer as part of teams from CePA, Flacso, Unipe, UNSaM, UNDav, INFoD, Suteba, Ctera and the Ministry of Education. He also was the national coordinator of the Youth Activity Centers (CAJ) at the National Ministry of Education. He is a speaker at seminars and congresses in numerous Argentine provinces and abroad and has multiple school management and education publications.
Gatica holds a degree in Social Communication with an orientation in Institutional and Community Planning. Secondary education teacher in the area of media, communication and culture. He has carried out studies on School Management and Organization for Secondary-level Directors and Supervisors. In addition, he has coordinated various radio workshops in schools and social organizations. He currently works as a secondary school teacher and as a director [principal] of the E.E.S. N ° 7, from the town of San Miguel, province of Buenos Aires.
Lamela is a professor in Educational Sciences also holds a degree in Quality of Education Management and Specialist in Education and New Technologies. She worked for 28 years as a professor [teacher] in secondary schools in the Moreno district, Province of Buenos Aire. She coordinated the project “Credits and Solidarity Internships-Signifying the School ” at Secondary School (EES) N°2, Marina Vilte, and was a management team member between 2008 and 2016. As of 2016, she carried out tasks in Teacher Training at FLACSO, the Provincial Directorate of Secondary Education and the Provincial Directorate of Higher Education. Since 2020 she has worked as a teacher at the University Initiation Cycle (CIU) at the National University of José C. Paz (UNPAZ), Buenos Aires, Argentina.