Educational Landscapes:
Full Steam Ahead

More than 200 education experts, practitioners, researchers and policymakers came together at the Dampfzentrale cultural center in Bern for the Jacobs Foundation’s fourth conference on educational landscapes. The Jacobs Foundation has promoted the concept of educational landscapes for more than 10 years, and 22 such entities have been created in Switzerland. Now the Foundation’s managing director, Sandro Giuliani, is entrusting the project to new hands. On an interim basis, the foundation éducation21, which promotes Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), will assume responsibility for supporting and disseminating the concept of Swiss educational landscapes.

Crowds are gathering at this “marketplace” at the Dampfzentrale cultural center in Berlin even before the event officially begins. At individual booths, 15 educational landscapes are introducing themselves to curious visitors, revealing the diversity of these entities in Switzerland. A child-friendly map is handed out that shows the work being done in the various neighborhoods. At one booth, someone is discussing the importance of public schools and resources. Across the way, visitors are learning about the “Uri Musical Landscape,” which promotes active music making during the preschool years as well as by young people who have already finished their schooling. In Lausanne, efforts are being made to connect local businesses with young school leavers. All of the educational landscapes are designed to bring together a wide variety of individuals and institutions to benefit children and youth, and they respond in diverse ways to diverse local needs.

10 years of pulse generator

On May 21, 2019, more than 200 education experts, practitioners and researchers participated in the fourth conference on educational landscapes, which was held at the Dampfzentrale cultural center in Bern. In his opening remarks, Managing Director Sandro Giuliani pointed out that this conference marks both a farewell and a new beginning. Over a period of more than ten years, the Jacobs Foundation has invested more than 6 million Swiss francs in the establishment of 22 educational landscapes in Switzerland. Now it is handing over interim responsibility for the dissemination of this successful concept to the national foundation éducation21.

In his insightful talk, Hans Anand Pant, professor of educational science and school development at Berlin’s Humboldt University, discussed the clash between traditional schools and disruptive social trends. Homogeneous, age-level classes, a focus on achievement as measured by grades and the prevailing meritocratic understanding of educational equity will not be enough to meet the needs of a new and extremely heterogeneous student population. It is only by expanding the concept of education and sharing responsibility with outside actors that schools will be able to overcome the enormous challenges of inclusion and migration.

The 2019 conference in pictures

Educational landscape have a positive impact on social integration

An impressive video about the Kleine Kielstrasse elementary school in Dortmund provides a practical example. In the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis, the school was suddenly confronted with a huge influx of children who not only were unable to speak German, but had also experienced the challenges of life as a refugee. It responded by mobilizing all of the available resources in its neighborhood: before- and after-school programs, social and health services, parents, churches and the private sector. As Hans Anand Pant explained, this situation of necessity resulted in the formation of an educational landscape that is continuing to have a positive impact on social integration, far beyond a single school.

Stefan Huber, of the Institute for the Management and Economics of Education at the University of Teacher Education Zug, presented the results of an associated empirical study that looked at the impact of educational landscapes, and that was also funded by the Jacobs Foundation. Its main findings: Because it takes time to build an educational landscape, these projects initially impose an additional burden on the involved parties. Once cooperation has become established, however, there are significant emotional benefits.

Major impact on the integration of families from a migrant background

Crucial to an educational landscape’s success are motivated and engaged project managers who are also outstanding communicators. Although educational landscapes have only moderate effects on academic achievement, they have a major impact on the integration of families from a migrant background. The result is that parents make greater use of available programs and are better informed. In addition, educational landscapes facilitate transitions, whether from preschool to elementary school or from school to vocational training.

Educational landscapes blossom when they are needed

Rita Schweizer, who has been providing guidance to the 22 Swiss educational landscapes on behalf of the Jacobs Foundation since 2015, added a practical perspective to the scientific discussion. She pointed out that educational landscapes blossom when they are needed – that is, when the need is great enough to generate political support and mobilize financial resources.

Foundation éducation21 will take over responsibility on an interim basis

Beginning this summer, the foundation éducation21, the national center of excellence that promotes Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), will, on an interim basis, take over responsibility for providing assistance to Swiss educational landscapes. Its director, Klara Sokol, welcomes this new challenge. Her foundation, which has broad roots in Switzerland’s formal educational system, seeks not only to improve content and curricula, but also to make schools a place where students learn and work and an integral part of their lives. The approach taken by éducation21 is therefore similar to that of the educational landscapes, namely a “whole school” approach. Educational landscapes should be available for schools, communities and cantons, but this requires support at the national level. Accordingly, Education21 intends to develop a new plan by 2021 for disseminating the concept of educational landscapes and establishing them on a long-term basis.

The ensemble “Zugvögel” presented fast-paced theatrical interludes, which were greeted with great enthusiasm by the conference attendees. In two high-profile discussions, educators exchanged views with prominent representatives of teachers and administrators, the Swiss ministers of education and the Conference of Social Services Directors. All in all, it was a fruitful conference that underscored the truth of the oft-cited African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child.