By Minjeong Goh, MA student, Education Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.
International school partnerships are a powerful way for pupils to learn how to change the world peacefully by creating meaningful connections between two very different parts of the world (Marion et al., 2009). Moreover, in the globalised world, intercultural understanding is a core capability for all students (Walton et al., 2015; Yang, 2017). The International School Twinning Project (ISTP) aims to promote peace and reconciliation through twinned schools and is run by The United Nations Association Coventry Branch (UNA-Coventry) in conjunction with Coventry Peace Award (Coventry Peace Award, 2021).
2. Survey design and results
The ISTP was at an early stage in development. Therefore, all possibilities were considered regardless of its initiative and aims. In order to assess the needs of schools and identify how to support schools, it was needed to find out what experiences and thoughts teachers have. Given the timescale and scope of the placement, an online survey was the most appropriate method as online surveys have the advantages of quick responses and easy analysis (Saleh and Bista, 2017). The survey design was general rather than technical to explore teachers’ various experiences and thoughts widely. Moreover, the design and distribution techniques were carefully considered with academic literature and the placement supervisor’s support as they affect response rates. Although the survey was planned to cover three countries (the UK, South Korea, and China) selected in consideration of accessibility, China was eventually separated from the unified survey due to technical issues. It aimed to have at least 100 respondents from the three countries, including around one-third of all the respondents involved in school partnerships. However, we only received responses from 13 Korean teachers, apart from British and Chinese responses. With regards to the Korean responses, among 13 Korean respondents, only one teacher had previously engaged in school partnership. The teacher commented that the school linking project increased staff and pupils’ motivation along with other benefits, but it took extra time for planning and execution. Likewise, the majority of teachers who had not yet participated in school partnerships anticipated that school linking would offer staff and pupils motivation. They also considered extra time for planning and execution as a potential problem.
3. Findings and recommendations
It is worth focusing on the potential difficulties for school linking to provide insights into the development of the ISTP. The bar chart below shows what the possible problems for school partnerships might occur. Extra time for planning and execution, language problems, and inadequate financial support are the main potential challenges.
*Note: 12 Korean respondents who had not yet participated in school partnerships answered the question, which allowed them to choose multiple options.
It is probably not surprising that extra time for planning and execution is seen as the potential problem that might occur the most when linking schools, given the existing literature. For example, the exchange of letters that seems simple should be carefully managed and requires much assistance (Marion et al., 2009; British Council, no date). Whereas ICT facilitates joint activities as part of school partnerships, designing and implementing them are often dependent on individual teachers’ interest and enthusiasm (Blum et al., 2017). Furthermore, although teachers often do not have enough time to fully engage with joint projects (Gilleran, 2019), programmes and associated activities should be well planned and managed to minimise negative impacts on intercultural understanding (Walton et al., 2015). In order to lighten teachers’ burdens, parents are able to contribute to and organise activities (Marion et al., 2009), and head teachers should play a key role in school linking to establish and maintain a partnership with governors, parents, and the local community (British Council, no date).
Regarding language problems, Internet tools and services can help address them, but technology has not broken the barriers yet perfectly. For instance, the eTwinning portal, a multilingual online platform for teachers to conduct joint activities, comes in 28 languages, but teachers still experience language difficulties (Gilleran, 2019). In this case, if the local community and local NGO already have connections with the partner country, they could provide language support and practical advice about culture (Marion et al., 2009).
Fund-raising to cover visits, project resources, and equipment will be challenging but has valuable benefits. Nevertheless, it should be recommended to identify the aims of school partnerships and the impact of fund-raising on each aim (British Council, no date). Marion and colleagues (2009) highlight that inviting guests who have connections with the partner country, such as exchange students and staff from NGOs to schools to share their stories, can be a practicable alternative to teacher and student’ visits between the schools and maintain enthusiasm for school partnerships.
The survey offers some insights regarding the potential problems when linking schools across the world. Recommendations are as follows:
- UNA-Coventry and Coventry Peace Award, together with head teachers should set up a group comprising of teachers, parents, pupils, and the local community to support teachers to plan and run joint activities and projects with the partner school.
- UNA-Coventry and Coventry Peace Award should become or find the local community or local NGO that already has connections with the partner country to help schools overcome language barriers.
- UNA-Coventry and Coventry Peace Award should provide advice and support to schools in setting and ranking the aims of school linking for prioritising and allocating resources efficiently.
The potential challenges are based on the Korean respondents who had not yet participated in school partnerships. Although one of the possible problems, extra time for planning and execution, matches the actual challenge, the rest are still potential obstacles. Furthermore, the data analysis and interpretation draw on the Korean responses, and thus the recommendations need to be complemented with the findings from the survey for British and Chinese teachers.
Blum, N., Bourn, D., Mattingly J., & Ndaruhutse, S. (2017). Overview of UK development education landscape with a focus on partnerships between UK schools and those overseas. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
British Council. (no date). International School Partnerships. [online] Available at: https://connecting-classrooms.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/sustainable_partnerships_toolkit_0_0.pdf (Accessed 3 April 2021).
Coventry Peace Award. (2021). School Twinning. [online] Available at: https://coventrypeaceaward.uk/discussions/#/discussion/38/school-twinning (Accessed 8 March 2021).
Gilleran, A. (2019). eTwinning in an era of change – Impact on teachers’ practice, skills, and professional development opportunities, as reported by eTwinners. Full report. Brussels: Central Support Service of eTwinning – European Schoolnet. [online] Available at: http://files.eun.org/etwinning/eTwinning-report-2019_FULL.pdf (Accessed 3 April 2021).
Marion, M., Rousseau, J., & Gollin, K. (2009). Connecting our villages: The Afghan sister schools project at the Carolina friends school. Peace & Change, 34 (4): 548-570.
Saleh, A., & Bista, K. (2017). Examining Factors Impacting Online Survey Response Rates in Educational Research: Perceptions of Graduate Students. Online Submission, 13 (2): 63-74.
Walton, J., Paradies, Y., Priest, N., Wertheim, E. H., & Freeman, E. (2015). Fostering intercultural understanding through secondary school experiences of cultural immersion. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 28 (2): 216-237.
Yang, Q. (2017). Intercultural communication in the context of a Canada− China Sister School partnership: The experience of one New Basic Education school. Frontiers of Education in China, 12 (2): 200-218.