Social Impact of Community-Based Educational Programs in Europe
Summary and Keywords
Community-based educational programs (CBEPs) have been recommended as a successful strategy for improving students’ results, family involvement, and community and social cohesion. However, research has shown that not all CBEPs generate the same results. An analysis of the social impact of community-based educational programs enables us to identify programs that achieve better social results and provide evidence of the extent to which these results contribute to improving citizens’ lives. To this end, this study describes the social impact of social improvements achieved as a consequence of implementing community-based educational programs informed by research and how those improvements contribute to addressing existing societal challenges and goals (such as EU2020 targets and Sustainable Development Goals).
Community-based educational programs (CBEPs) are said to have social impact by contributing to improving citizens’ lives in terms of responding to societal challenges and goals such as improving students’ results, increasing family and community engagement, and fostering social cohesion. This article is part of the analysis of the social impact of CBEPs conducted within the framework of the research project INCLUD-ED: Strategies for Inclusion and Social Cohesion in Europe from Education (2006–2011), funded by the 6th Framework Programme of research of the European Commission and led by a consortium of 15 academic institutions in 14 European countries. In what follows, the approach addressed by the INCLUD-ED project for the analysis of the CBEPs in Europe is presented. After that, one of the five-year longitudinal case studies conducted in the most deprived neighborhoods in Spain is presented as an example, particularly the social impact achieved by the transformation of the school—providing kindergarten and primary education—in the neighborhoods of La Estrella and la Milagrosa in a school as a Learning Community. This social impact has been reflected in the improvement of the students’ academic results, the eradication of absenteeism, the involvement of the community in all the implemented actions, and the creation by the community of stable self-employment through a cooperative.
Social Impact of Community-Based Educational Programs in Europe
An analysis of the social impact of CBEPs was conducted within the framework of the research project INCLUD-ED. This project enabled researchers to identify actions that achieve better social results and provide evidence of the extent to which those results contribute to improving citizens’ lives. In July 2011, the European Commission (EC) published a press release announcing that INCLUD-ED was selected as one of 10 success stories that have had social and policy impact in the European Union. INCLUD-ED was the only project in socioeconomic sciences and humanities included in the list of the most successful EU studies. Through this press release, the EC highlighted the important role of research in identifying innovative strategies to advance knowledge that ultimately leads to positive social and political impact (European Commission, 2011; Flecha, Soler-Gallart, & Sordé, 2015; Soler-Gallart, 2015).
In addition to the various types of impact that INCLUD-ED achieved—namely, scientific, policy, and social impact—the project demonstrated that the social impact of a CBEP is highly related to the extent to which successful educational actions are recreated by end users or participants before being implemented. This highlights how education may play a key role in the social impact of a CBEP, thus leading to the reversal of social inequalities. This approach is consistent with the literature, which has demonstrated that educational success is also linked to eventual inclusion in other areas of society (Kettunen, 1997; Lipman et al., 2010; Rudd, Moeykens, & Colton, 1999; Sen, 1999) and that groups with less access to formal education eventually suffer the greatest levels of social exclusion (Brandsma, 2002; Cremer-Schäfer et al., 2001; Wolbers, 2000). For example, in the domain of health, many studies have been conducted about how a community-based education program executed with and without active community involvement does or does not have social impact (Amalba et al., 2016; Osborn, 1996). The evidence of the importance of community involvement to achieve social impact has led medical schools to prepare students for future professional work at the community level, including the community in the whole process of implementation of a CBEP including the design process, the identification of the priority health needs, the implementation of health interventions, and their evaluation (Kristina, Majoor, & van der Vleuten, 2006; Miller, 2012); additionally, future professionals are also trained in the ethical obligations of universities and faculty members to guarantee the respect for the community in the whole process (Quinn, Gamble, & Denham, 2001).
CBEPs can thus become one of the fundamental strategies used to ensure that success in formal education eventually guarantees access to employment, health, housing, and social participation for the most deprived social groups. However, there are also CBEPs that are not effective in improving the life conditions of the populations they target, and it is therefore essential to identify which key elements of CBEPs have contributed to successful outcomes.
To shed light on this relevant question, INCLUD-ED carried out a thorough literature review on this topic, analyzed 18 CBEPs, and conducted six longitudinal case studies of communities involved in learning projects that had demonstrated excellent results. The 18 CBEPs analyzed were selected based on whether they had implemented actions that linked education with other social areas and whether they had achieved significant results in overcoming social exclusion in the areas of health, housing, employment, and participation. Specifically, the selection criteria for the CBEPs have been the following: (a) to connect education and at least one of the selected social areas, and improve the situation in both education and that/those specific area(s); (b) to be successful and/or efficient (which must be proved with data in the analyzed documents as academic articles and scientific reports); and (c) to contribute to social inclusion or social cohesion (improve the situation and prospects of their area of intervention, in particular, benefiting the most vulnerable groups). For example, among the CBEPs analyzed in the health domain, there was the MURA program in Slovenia, which utilized an integrated approach focusing on health literacy to help people with low levels of education improve their capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information in the area of health, make suitable decisions, and manage information for a healthier life style. As an additional example, in the area of housing, another one of the CBEPs analyzed was a project led by the Cooperativa Sociale Biloba in a marginalized quarter in the city of Turin. In this project, affordable housing is offered to university students who, in turn, sign a contract to work as volunteers in social and educational projects in the neighborhood.
The schools involved in the six longitudinal case studies were selected using the following three criteria: (a) schools that implemented CBEPs that have been demonstrated to contribute to school success (as reflected by children’s or adolescents’ educational attainment) in relation to their context; (b) schools serving populations with the same social characteristics—low socioeconomic status (SES) students and students with minority backgrounds; and (c) schools with strong community involvement that are contributing to overcoming inequalities. Based on this analysis and 20 other case studies of schools in Europe, INCLUD-ED identified successful educational actions (SEAs), one of the project’s main findings. Those SEAs are not isolated practices; they result in improvements to school success and contribute to social cohesion in the many different contexts in which they are implemented. Because of the publication of the SEAs resulting from the INCLUD-ED Project, the SEAs have now been tested across more than 900 schools in 10 countries around the world, numbers that continue to grow. Specifically in Europe, the projects SEAS4ALL (Schools as Learning Communities in Europe: Successful Educational Actions for All, 2015–2017) and STEP4SEAS (Social Transformation through Educational Policies based on Successful Educational Actions, 2016–2019) are contributing to the transferability of the SEAs to European schools. Schools, universities, and institutions in five countries (Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Spain, and the United Kingdom) have participated in these projects funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Commission. The University of Cambridge, the Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service, Cyprus University, the University of Barcelona, and the University of Malta are among the partners advising on the development of the SEAs in the schools in Europe (see SEAs4All).
These SEAs were the foundation for the development of the CBEP implemented in the La Estrella and La Milagrosa neighborhoods and contributed to that CBEP’s social impact in one of the most deprived areas in Spain. Therefore, the CBEP in La Estrella and La Milagrosa was selected as a model for CBEPs with social impact in Europe, as it is among the CBEPs that have had the greatest social impact.
A CBEP’s Social Impact
The La Estrella and La Milagrosa neighborhoods were created as part of an urban plan that involved building blocks of social housing in the 1980s to eradicate slums in the Spanish city of Albacete. However, the plan that was designed to address the situation exacerbated the problems even further. The neighborhoods increasingly deteriorated and became a ghetto in which poverty and marginalization seriously harmed its residents. These neighborhoods are geographically isolated in the city center, and 90% of the population is Roma, the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Unemployment was among the most severe problems in these neighborhoods, as the rate of unemployment among the population of 3,000 inhabitants was 70% and most the families had low educational levels and a high rate of illiteracy.
Transformation of the Primary School Through Evidence-Based Actions: A School as Learning Community
As the neighborhoods deteriorated, the local school, La Paz Primary School, reached unsustainably high rates of absenteeism and school dropouts, as well as continual conflicts between students and their families and teachers. School enrollment dramatically decreased, and the school lost more than 300 students in 10 years. In the 2005–2006 academic year, there were only 40 students attending the school regularly. Given this challenging situation, the regional government decided to seek evidence-based solutions to address the school’s complex problems. To this end, representatives of the regional government and organizations that work in the neighborhood sought the best solution for their situation, and they contacted INCLUD-ED researchers to identify possible evidence-based actions that could contribute to improving student outcomes, eradicating absenteeism, and addressing problems related to coexistence. As part of our commitment as public scholars, we contributed scientific knowledge, built on decades of educational research, to provide evidence-based solutions for the school. However, we did not use a “top-down” approach; rather, we employed a dialogic approach grounded in egalitarian dialogue, and evidence-based solutions were discussed with the entire community—families, teachers, and policymakers. Consequently, those involved reached an agreement to transform the school into a learning community and implement successful educational actions.
The Schools as Learning Communities Project is aligned with international scientific theories that highlight two key factors for learning in today’s society: interactions and community participation. The Schools as Learning Communities collect the contributions of the sociocultural approach for the understanding of learning as an activity that arises through social interactions and is socially situated (Vygotsky, 1978). By this, it is understood that learning cannot be separated from the community where it occurs (Bruner, 1996; Rogoff, 1990). The importance of the interactions, the dialogue, and the participation of the community in these schools is also grounded in Paulo Freire’s (1970) theory of dialogic action, in which the role of dialogue in learning and in promoting the critical conscience for emancipation is highlighted, as well as in the theory of the communicative action of Habermas (1984, 1987), who also stated the capacity of all human beings to use language and dialogue to reach understanding and consensus.
The decision to transform the school into a School as Learning Community required teachers to commit to implementing SEAs via dialogues with families and community members to guarantee the right of every child to succeed in education. Accordingly, the existing teaching staff at La Paz school was reassigned to other schools, and a new selection of teachers who were committed to developing SEAs and evidence-based education were installed to lead the new school. To accomplish this transition, the school was closed at the end of the 2005–2006 academic year and reopened in the following year, 2006–2007. When the school reopened its doors, the process of transformation began by implementing the evidence-based actions that had been previously discussed and developed by the entire community: teachers, other staff members, families, and associations operating in the neighborhood.
The process of the school’s transformation has become an example for overcoming stereotypes about Roma people and their interest in education. Unfortunately, these stereotypes have too often promoted the notion that Roma families are not interested in their children’s education. However, Roma researchers have questioned those prejudices for decades, arguing that they are the foundation of a discourse promoted by non-Roma people to continue excluding the Roma from education and society (Hancock, 1988; Rose, 1983). Other studies have analyzed how the ethnocentric perspective of some educational systems leads Roma families to perceive school as an institution that exists outside their world. However, when a school values and includes the voice and culture of Roma families, a process of transformation occurs (Gómez & Vargas, 2003). The literature has also demonstrated that dialogue and communication between a school and families also contributes to improving children’s academic results and reducing behavior problems (Hill & Taylor, 2004; Sheldon & Epstein, 2005).
The process of transforming La Paz School—based on this evidence—has led school administrators to appreciate the families and to include them in all decision-making processes and educational spheres. In addition to participating in activities such as literacy instruction, secondary education certificate training, and literary gatherings, the families engage in the students’ learning activities both during and outside of classroom hours. All these activities and other needs of La Paz school are now organized by mixed working committees in which families and other members of the community collaborate with teachers, students, volunteers, and other professionals present in the school. Through these mixed committees, representatives of these diverse groups from the school and the neighborhood have an opportunity to monitor and manage all aspects of the school’s evidence-based transformation.
Impact on the Students’ Academic Results and the Eradication of Absenteeism
Some of the successful educational actions implemented in the children’s classrooms that involve families and communities and that illustrate the process of transformation include interactive groups, dialogic reading, and extended learning time. The functioning of these actions and the impact they have had on improving students’ academic results and overcoming absenteeism are outstanding.
Interactive groups are a type of classroom organization based on dialogic learning, and interactive groups (IGs) are the source of the greatest improvements in academic results and coexistence. The role of dialogue in learning has been the focus of many researchers, and it is a key element in major learning theories (Vygotsky, 1978; Wells, 1999). Dialogic learning emphasizes learning interactions that occur not only among peers but also among children and significant adults, whether those adults are teachers, family members, or other members of the community (García, 2012).
The activities involved in IGs promote these dialogic interactions, which are critical for the learning process. To accomplish this, children are placed in different heterogeneous groups in the classroom that are a mix of attainment levels, genders, language proficiency levels, or cultural origins. Each group is facilitated by an adult who may be a volunteer from the community: a family member, another teacher, an education professional, or a student participating in an internship. The teacher is responsible for the entire classroom and does not facilitate any one particular group; rather, he or she prepares the activities to be carried out and supervises them, manages the time spent on each activity and ensures that the adults in each group are promoting the necessary interactions in each group. The person who facilitates the interactions in each group is key. There is considerable research about peer-work in small groups that has broadly supported the notion that simply organizing children into small groups is not sufficient for developing the full potential of learning interactions (Barron, 2003). Therefore, teachers and other adults in the classroom are essential to promoting effective group collaboration among the students (Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Slavin, 1991).
This form of IG organization leads to increasing and diversifying classroom interactions, while simultaneously increasing effective working time, which is consistent with findings in the literature demonstrating that when children work in smaller groups, they can develop higher levels of interaction (Galton, Hargreaves, & Pell, 2009). Additionally, teachers are able to create spaces for dialogic inquiry to facilitate the search for solutions through dialogue (Wells, 1999). These learning interactions increase and are enriched when family members from different backgrounds are also involved in the interactions (Rogoff, Goodman Turkanis, & Bartlett, 2001).
In IGs, the adult facilitating the work of a group ensures that the necessary interactions occur to produce peer learning so that all the participating children can succeed in a task. The assumption that interactions within mixed-attainment groups may hinder the learning process of high achievers because they are placed with low achievers is not supported by research. On the contrary, cooperation among peers with different capabilities results in benefits for high-performing students that are equivalent to the benefits realized by lower-performing students when this learning method is compared with traditional classroom methods (Slavin, 1991). The increase in interactions that results from IGs accelerates the learning process of all participating children regardless of their level of achievement (García-Carrión & Díez-Palomar, 2015).
In these interactions, it is important to avoid having high-performing children provide the solution to the rest of the group. Instead, the high-performing children seek strategies to explain how to solve the activity to the others, thereby consolidating the knowledge and skills they have already mastered and acquiring and improving new skills, such as communicative abilities. In terms of how IGs function, each group works on a different activity that can be completed in no more than 15 to 20 minutes. When the time limit for the activity is reached, the children move to another table to engage in another activity with a new adult facilitator, or the children remain at the same table and the adult facilitators change tables. The teacher’s preferences determine whether the children or adult facilitators change tables. When the session is over, the children will have completed four to five activities. Because IGs enhance and accelerate learning it can be implemented to improve any particular subject areas; still, schools tend to use this SEA more often for subjects such as mathematics, literacy, and the sciences which are more relevant in the learning curriculum. IGs prevent segregation and promote effective inclusion based on solidarity. Children engage in dialogic interactions in which they share knowledge and learn from each other while being supported by their peers (Valls & Kyriakides, 2013).
Dialogic Reading and Extended Learning Time
Another of the actions implemented in La Paz Primary School was dialogic reading (Soler, 2001), which promotes more reading and writing spaces with more people and for longer periods of time (Purcell-Gates et al., 2002). Dialogic reading addresses the lack of access to reading resources among some low-SES families and families with a low home literacy environment that may subsequently lead to reproducing inequalities in reading and academic skills (Heath, 1983; van Steensel, 2006).
Dialogic reading may occur while children engage in literacy and reading activities in IGs, but it can also occur in other spaces, such as in a full classroom setting. In La Paz School, both children and families engage in dialogic literary gatherings (DLGs): educational and cultural activities in which participants read and discuss the best examples of universal literature. To start a DLG, participants need only to decide which book they will read and how many pages they will read before meeting and discussing. Then, the participants read those pages at home and commit to selecting a paragraph, sentence, or idea to share with the rest of the group during the session. When the group meets, each person reads his or her selected passage, introduces the idea that he or she wishes to share, and explains why that paragraph appeals to him or her. Then, all the participants comment on each other’s ideas. Dialogue in a DLG aims to be egalitarian, drawing on validity claims and argumentation. This type of dialogue enhances critical thinking, which is essential for social transformation and emancipation (Freire, 1970). Evidence of this can be observed among the very children participating in literary gatherings from early ages (Hargreaves & García-Carrión, 2016).
Children’s contributions to DLGs (and those of adults in family gatherings) place the children’s experiences in the context of universal topics that concern humanity, regardless of culture and moment in history. The debates that are generated are based on egalitarian dialogue; all opinions receive equal regard and respect, and the aim is not to convince others that one’s own interpretation is correct. The gatherings enable participants to debate and reflect deeply on major topics in life such as love, poverty, immigration, war, conflict, peace, friendship, and many others.
The teacher or person facilitating the DLG is responsible for ensuring egalitarian participation and guaranteeing that all opinions are respected. By reading and discussing works such as The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Ramayana, or Arabian Nights, children improve their learning by delving deeply into universal topics and by sharing their reflections and experiences, and they learn to respect the opinions of and create friendship ties with others (García, Girbés, & Gómez, 2015). This activity has led to improvements in literacy skills, such as increasing vocabulary, fostering reading comprehension, and making meaning of classic texts (Hargreaves & García-Carrión, 2016). DLGs also ensure that the most relevant works of humanity are not restricted to the cultural elite and that every person has access to them and can learn from them (De Botton et al., 2014). This approach to dialogic reading is associated with critical contributions to educational theory, such as the association with a deeper comprehension of the text through the chain of dialogues produced from the interaction among the participants (Bakhtin, 1981) or the very dialogic orientation of learning as a key to achieving shared thinking (Mercer, Wegerif, & Dawes, 1999).
Nevertheless, dialogic reading does not occur only in DLGs; it also occurs in other spheres during and outside school time. Extended learning time is an inclusive measure that consists of offering more learning opportunities, such as dialogic reading beyond school hours. This option provides a greater support for students who have difficulties or cannot receive support at home. Furthermore, extended learning time is a means of preventing the segregation of some students who may be located outside of the classroom and may therefore be unable to follow the official curriculum and unable to realize improvements in their results (Boaler, 2006; Braddock & Slavin, 1992). Extended learning time in La Paz School is also organized through the after-school tutoring library. The school opens the library to the children, families, and community after school hours. Various adults and children engage in reading and literacy interactions while reading books or doing homework. The library becomes a vibrant and rich learning environment. These interactions extend beyond the school to the children’s home environment, where children read the book selected for a DLG and discuss it with their relatives on the weekends. As demonstrated in the literature, sharing a joint reading space with their families has a very positive influence on students’ progress in linguistic areas (Senechal et al., 2008).
The results of the implementation of these actions were analyzed by INCLUD-ED during a four-year longitudinal case study. The improvements were consistently sustained in the academic years that followed. Some of the most relevant improvements can be highlighted, such as children’s average grades, which doubled in six competency areas only one year after the actions were implemented and continued to improve over several years. Specifically, the improvements included an increase in the students’ scores in all subjects on standardized tests in one academic year (nine-year-old students); an improvement in the students’ mathematics scores, from one to three (out of five), on standardized tests; and an increase in the students’ scores for cultural and artistic skills, social and citizenship skills, learning to learn, autonomy, and emotional skills from two to three (out of five) on standardized tests. In addition, the absenteeism problem was solved in three academic years: In the 2006–2007 academic year, the absenteeism rate was 30%; in 2007–2008, the rate had been reduced to 10%; and in 2008–2009, absenteeism became merely occasional. The number of new students in the 2009–2010 academic year increased 27.66% compared to the previous year, and in 2010–2011, the increase from the prior year was 10.56%. Students’ perception of whether they had improved “very much” in mathematics increased from 63.89% in 2006–2007 to 94.59% in 2009–2010 (Flecha & Soler, 2013).
One of the critical aspects of this transformation process has been the whole-school and community-based approach to improving the lives of children, their families, and community members. Consequently, these actions expanded to other school spaces through strong family and community participation. For instance, children in the families that participated in family education programs or the school’s decision-making processes not only improved their academic results but also initiated a process of empowerment to encourage their mothers and fathers to participate in other aspects of the school community (such as meetings in which decisions were made about the actions that would be included in the CBEP), thus contributing to improving the adults’ self-confidence and increasing their employability.
Recreation of Evidence-Based Actions in the Neighborhood
The success achieved by La Paz School led the community to consider implementing evidence-based actions, such as those developed in the school, for the entire neighborhood. After experiencing the realization of many of the dreams they had for La Paz School through evidence-based solutions implemented in collaboration with the entire community, families, community members, and policymakers sought effective solutions for the neighborhood. A similar dialogic procedure, involving a Dialogic Inclusion Contract, established the basis for promoting the transformation of other social spheres using evidence-based solutions (Padrós et al., 2011). As part of this agreement, a dialogic process was initiated in which researchers, policymakers, stakeholders, and end users jointly recreated the evidence-based actions to be implemented in the neighborhoods (Valls & Padrós, 2011). This dialogic approach to implementing CBEPs has also been used in the past in other contexts (Miller & Hafner, 2008; Pittendrigh, 2007; Redondo-Sama, 2016; Valls & Ruiz, 2016). This approach prioritizes the inclusion of end users or less-empowered people who are directly affected by the results of a research study in the recreation of evidence-based actions in their community and—as some authors propose—throughout the entire research process, from design to development to the evaluation of the results (Denzin, 2012; Gómez, Racionero, & Sordé, 2010; Mertens, 2011; Mertens & Sordé, 2014; Torrance, 2012). This type of research recognizes the cultural intelligence of participants who have traditionally been excluded from debates that affect them directly (Oliver et al., 2011).
This dialogic and transformative approach to research developed within the Dialogic Inclusion Contract established the ground rules for the CBEP to be developed in La Estrella and La Milagrosa. In July 2009, after a two-month period of meetings and debates involving researchers, policymakers, stakeholders, and neighborhood residents, an intensive week of training was held in the neighborhood. This training involved all social actors and was designed to acquaint them with the research knowledge that would be discussed and recreated in the community. The researchers presented evidence-based actions for different social areas. As the actions were presented, the potential for implementing them in the neighborhood and how they could address specific needs was discussed. The agreements reached always reflected the final objective of the CBEP: to improve quality of life in the community. Moreover, the Dialogic Inclusion Contract established that the CBEP’s follow-up and evaluation would be conducted through a managing commission consisting of representatives of the public administration, researchers, and community members using the same dialogic approach. Two of the agreed-upon actions that were implemented and had the greatest impact are the Worker-Owned Cooperative and the Weekend Center.
One of the first problems identified by the neighborhoods’ residents was the lack of job opportunities. In the very first meeting, the researchers presented successful actions in employment that had been implemented worldwide and lessons learned from those actions. The Mondragon Cooperative, which has been widely studied at the international level as an approach to competitive cooperativism (Cheney et al., 2014), was one of the successful actions presented. The Mondragon Cooperative has transformed a Spanish community with high poverty rates into a community with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Flecha & Soler, 2014), and Mondragon Cooperative Group is now one of the country’s major corporations. Notably, education and training have been one of Mondragon Cooperative’s fundamental pillars since its creation in 1950. The corporation has various centers of professional training and has established a university in Spain. The corporation adheres to the large body of research supporting the notion that education is the key to actions designed to address social exclusion in employment and other social areas (Cruikshank, 2007; Fung & Wright, 2001; Gornstein & Terrell, 2016; Mircea & Dorobantu, 2008; Renta-Davids et al., 2016; Rudd, Moeykens, & Colton, 1999). This notion of the centrality of education adopted by Mondragon is also the basis of the actions implemented in La Estrella and La Milagrosa neighborhoods.
One evidence-based action related to cooperativism that was debated in the training workshops in July 2009 involved cooperatives adopting the community’s potential instead of its deficits as a starting point. People from the community corroborated the importance of taking advantage of the neighborhood residents’ existing capacities. For example, most of the neighbors who had been employed in the past had worked in the informal economy. Some people had developed social and communicative skills by working in markets as peddlers, other people had developed skills in the area of social assistance by caring of the elderly, and yet others had worked in construction and cleaning. The debate revolved around how to combine these strengths in order to promote jobs that transformed services performed in the informal economy into self-employment opportunities. The participants also discussed the need to provide training based on the residents’ own interests to improve the residents’ existing skills and aid them in acquiring new ones, thus increasing their job possibilities.
The possibility of creating a cooperative for training and self-employment was the proposal that arose from this first debate. However, it was not until after various meetings that this proposal became a firm decision. In collaboration with and supported by the INCLUD-ED research team, some community activists partnered with 10 neighborhood families (the same families that were involved in the transformation of La Paz School) to create a cooperative, which was formally established in November 2011 after working on the project for a longer period of time. The cooperative project was open to anyone from the neighborhood who was willing to participate. One of the project’s first actions was to identify possible services and jobs needed in the neighborhood, in the city, and in other cities nearby. The direct involvement of the families in this process facilitated the identification of these work areas due to the families’ direct knowledge of the region.
Another strategy that the cooperative implemented from its inception was seeking institutions with which to collaborate. The cooperative signed a noneconomic collaboration agreement with the University of Barcelona, through which the research center CREA offered to share its knowledge of evidence-based actions and conduct a case study of the cooperative. The cooperative also signed an agreement with the University of Castilla-La Mancha, which offered support by providing a training team in business and other areas related to the residents’ existing work experience. The members of the cooperative determined and specified the actions that were developed in meetings, and these actions were always grounded in the needs and concrete reality of the cooperative’s members and the neighborhood residents. However, as referents in the debates that occurred in the meetings, the members of the cooperative also had evidence-based actions that cooperatives such as Mondragon had developed and used for decades. The cooperative’s decisions were designed to generate evidence-based actions leading to the creation of sustainable employment opportunities in decent conditions for the residents of the neighborhoods and to ensure that those jobs provided efficient and useful services.
The cooperative’s first years were during a time of major economic difficulties in Spain. Despite this, in its first year, the cooperative increased the number of people in employment contracts by 10. Subsequently, 18 people obtained training scholarships. In the first year the cooperative was established, it initiated new training actions that reached 204 students. Shortly thereafter, the cooperative members decided to open an agricultural section to take advantage of related job opportunities in the region. This was one of the cooperative’s most important fields in terms of creating self-employment: The cooperative hired 317 people from the neighborhood and facilitated a total of 570 employment contracts for people in vulnerable situations. Another of the cooperative’s important accomplishments was the creation of a team composed of six people who developed social and educational projects for the entire community (Miguel Fenollera Cooperative, 2016).
The Weekend Center
A lack of cultural and educational activities during the weekends places many children and youth at risk for getting into trouble, abusing drugs, or engaging in other risky behaviors. During discussions regarding the transformation of the inner-city neighborhoods, the residents requested alternatives for their children and young people, as the weekends represented a risky period with no alternative to the streets. Similar to the approach followed for the cooperative, researchers contributed scientific knowledge and presented different evidence-based actions regarding the extension of learning time beyond school hours, including weekends. Based on this information and using evidence-based actions as a starting point, various entities from the neighborhoods decided to create the Weekend Center (García, Duque, & Mircea, 2010). This project was a collaboration of the City Council, La Paz School, different associations in the neighborhood, and various families from the school. The school provided space during the weekend for the Weekend Center, and education and sport activities were offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. One of the pillars of the project was the decision that all related activities should increase children’s motivation to learn through games and educational resources to which they do not have access at home, such as tablets and the Internet. In addition, the sports activities practiced fair play and respect for all participants.
The teachers who worked on these activities noted the high degree of motivation of both the children and families who participated. The level of participation increased rapidly during the first weeks, from a few dozen to more than 200 people in various activities (Council of Albacete, 2012). Hundreds of children left the streets and began to participate in activities that had a positive effect on their academic results and reinforced the community’s cohesion. The strong cohesion between the neighborhoods’ families and the school led them to organize and demand that secondary education be made compulsory in the school, a demand that reached the regional public administration. This demand was accepted, and the administration granted the families and the school permission to introduce compulsory secondary education. In 2012, the first class of secondary education students graduated. For the first time in these neighborhoods, a generation had achieved education beyond the primary level.
Educational Research and Social Creation to Guide CBEPs With Social Impact
The extent to which CBEPs have social impact is closely related to how education is integrated into them, whether the educational actions are evidence-based, and whether the educational actions have been jointly recreated by researchers, policymakers, and community members. Educational research has an important role in providing evidence-based actions to ensure that a CBEP exerts a social impact. It is important to consider which needs to include in a CBEP’s design, the most appropriate approach to educational research on CBEPs, and how the dissemination of the results will be carried out to ensure that CBEPs have social impact. In other words, it is important to know how research results should be applied in order for a CBEP to achieve social improvements.
Results that have been transformed into actions promoting social improvements via the concept of social creation have also been highlighted by educational research. Social creation clearly reveals the experiences associated with improving a specific social reality. This may involve a qualitative leap that contributes not only to the improvement of society but also to overcoming the question of the validity of educational research. In other areas of social sciences and humanities, the concept of a painter leaving an artistic creation as a legacy for humanity to enjoy is well understood. Educational research can use the concept of social creation to promote the acquisition of new knowledge that contributes to the development of policies and actions. It is those evidence-based policies and actions that will help communities become more sustainable, egalitarian, and fair.
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