Teach For All looks beyond the classroom with new community lab

Teach For All has launched the Community Impact Lab. Photo by: Sabrina Dangol / Teach for All

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Communities not classrooms must be at the center of education programs to ensure children thrive, the leader of Teach For All has said, as the group launches a new program to accelerate community-led approaches to learning.

Speaking at the opening session of the Teach For All annual conference in Nepal this week, CEO Wendy Kopp spoke about the need to think beyond the classroom to improve education outcomes.

Addressing hundreds of staff and also funders from Teach For All’s partner organizations, which now operate in 48 countries, Kopp said: “We have seen through our work the complex nature of the issues facing children … To make meaningful progress we need to work within schools but also outside of them, to ensure family support, health, nutrition, social services, early education policy … Even the engagement of businesses [is] helping children learn and thrive.”

To help put this into practice, Teach For All announced the launch of a Community Impact Lab which will help train partners, teachers, and community leaders, while tracking progress to determine which strategies work best in galvanizing community support for education.

Teach For All was launched in 2007 to help replicate the highly successful Teach For America model, which Kopp founded in 1990. It involves placing promising university graduates in high-need schools to teach for a minimum of two years, with the hope they will stay in the education system in some capacity and help improve it.

But the organization says it “takes an ecosystem … a community to make transformative results,” according to Kaya Henderson, a former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system, who is leading the Community Impact Lab.

“Just giving kids a good education is not enough to change their lives,” since so much of what happens outside the classroom impacts their ability to learn in school, she explained.

The community approach is also rooted in the idea that educational change has to come from within the community. “Much of the global education community is still operating under the ‘somebody needs to save the people’ and not ‘the people need to be part of the solution themselves’ mentality, and that is something we are seeking to shift,” Henderson said. “It’s not about experts coming in from other places but about people who live and work in the community and who are closest to the problem.”

The lab will initially work with 12 communities across 9 countries — Haiti, Peru, Mexico, Estonia, Armenia, India, Nepal, the United Kingdom, and the United States — with funding from the BHP Billiton Foundation. Henderson said she is “agnostic” about what partners define as a “community.” It could refer to a community living directly around a school, a village, a city, or even a region.

The lab is designed to provide resources and capacity building to partner organizations to help them do community-centered work, while also tracking communities to “share the things that they are doing that look successful,” Henderson said. “We call it a laboratory because … we are trying to figure out what the answers are.”

The BHP Billiton Foundation, a new entrant into the global education space, is supporting Teach For All’s community leadership work with a $14.8 million grant over five years.

“Strengthening the community and the enabling environment around young people is really important … [because] 80 percent of learning is done outside of the classroom, and also success isn’t about just attainment now … It’s around how do we support young people in futures that are relevant to them in their context,” Brodie Vansleve, program director for education, told Devex.

One of the lab’s early activities will be pulling together existing thinking around community engagement and compiling it into an open-source database. At the end of three years, Henderson hopes the lab will be able to point to a number of communities demonstrating progress, and have generated enough evidence to identify the “ingredients” of success.

Teach For All is in a good position to do the work, she suggested, since “we have classrooms ... in 48 different countries and so ... we’re able to show [an intervention] works across lots of different contexts and [that it] it has worked over time.”

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.