Global Development Institute Blog

Francisca Álvarez-Figueroa, PhD Researcher, Global Development Institute

I began my PhD in 2018 on the broad area of citizenship and organisational citizenship behaviours within the education sector under the supervision of Dr Chris Rees and Dr Kate Rowlands. My fieldwork was conducted from October 2019 to January 2020 in Chile. My research focuses on educative leadership, diversity management, citizenship and inclusion. 

“My fieldwork experience: learning from voices, perspectives and citizenship behaviours of members from school districts”

One of my priorities during this PhD has been to never lose the connection with the communities that I am attempting to reach with my research. To me, research makes sense when you see the faces, and are able to talk with those people that you dream to be able to help. Words can’t express how much their stories, visions and perceptions can touch you.

Francisca presenting at the annual meeting

Francisca presenting at the annual meeting

In this context, I recently completed my fieldwork in Chile, a country that has been experiencing deep social transformations in the last few decades. My aims, are to analyse how members of school districts experience citizenship, and in this regard, what are the perspectives of citizenship that these organisations encourage in their territories. But the scenario is more complex than that since currently, two types of school districts coexist in the country: the “old” and the “new”; where the first is organisms created during the dictatorial era and are in essence, political institutions that seek to administer the resources of the schools from the territory. The latter, which are still in implementation, are participative in essence, since these are called to manage the schools from the territory, with a strategic view that takes into consideration the voices of all educative actors, who for the first time in the history of Chile, have a “voice and vow” in the decisions taken in their school district.

My fieldwork consisted of visits and interviews to members of four school districts with outstanding performance in both academic and “citizenship and participation” results, according to the records of a national survey implemented annually by the Ministry of Education in Chile (SIMCE). Because of the location of the participant school districts, I was able to discover the realities of the North, South and centre of Chile. Although each area is different and unique, I discovered that despite these differences, their members share something in common: their love, engagement and commitment to the improvement of the education of the students in Chile.

Breakout discussions with educational leaders in Coquimbo district.

Breakout discussions with educational leaders in Coquimbo district.

Indeed, one of these school districts invited me to present at their inaugural annual meeting, which was the first time all educative leaders from the territory had come together in one place. The aim of the meeting was to provide space for participants to reflect about their daily tasks, whilst at the same time allowing them to acquire and develop tools to support their roles in the schools moving forward. My invite and participation in this event was, and still is, extremely meaningful to me, as I aim to contribute and return, at least a little bit, all their support, help and honesty. Also, from their perspective, it was important to count with a researcher that is both, coming from an important international university, such as The University of Manchester and who at the same time is developing research in an important issue to them, the citizenship education.

My task wasn’t easy with over 130 participants, representing the 49 schools from the “Local Service of Public Education Puerto Cordillera” (representing the zones of Coquimbo and Andacollo in the north of Chile), participating in my seminar. All of them had more experience and empirical knowledge in the field of education, than myself. But together, we reflected in a seminar and workshop-oriented to analysing the role of educative leaders in the formation of citizens. I shared with them my theoretical knowledge, and they shared with me the instances of participation developed in their particular schools, revealing that you don’t learn to be a citizen only through formal instances, such as being a student representative, but also from all the informal instances, interactions, and the “informal” curriculum.  In this sense, leaders are key in promoting these practices, because if they are open to promoting these in their educative communities, the communities, in turn, will have the opportunity and space to develop such examples.

In a context of national policies with a focus on accountability, and with high consequences when the outcomes are not good enough (for instance, low performing schools risk their closure), this task is even more challenging for the educative leaders and teachers, who on many occasions, are caught in these paradigms. For this reason, I think that the words that Paulo Freire wrote in the ’70s are more meaningful than ever: “Education is an act of love, and thus, an act of courage” and because of that, members of educative communities are key in education and in consequence, in the achievement of social transformations.

Thank you to all my participants, for giving me this great learning experience.


Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole