Page 1


inspiration gudie



• Origin and concept• Globalisation is a reality. Teachers and school boards know that their pupils grow up in a globalised world. Globalisation is therefore not just a matter of offering pupils a glimpse of the world in other countries. Teachers and pupils from schools in both North and South want to be connected, and look at the world together. This way they obtain a better image of their own society. The SchoolLinks programme is therefore a logical consequence of the evolutions in society concerning globalisation and increasing diversity, as well as the resulting new ways of cooperation.

North and South


Of cours e the sch ools in th looking in e North and the to each South are other’s li through ves throu intereste other im g d in h a huma personal n lens, ra commun links part th e r th ic nerships, an ation cha the term nnels. Fo used, inst s ‘The No r the sch ead of th rth and T ool e ‘First W he South countrie orld’, ‘th ’ will be s‘. This is e T hird Worl to alread d’ or ‘de where all y help de veloping partners velop a p embrace ositive re lationship each oth er as equ als.



“’What exactly is world citizenship?’ is a question people often ask me. ‘Is it about throwing overboard your own culture or identity?’ I answer with this: ‘It is true that world citizenship deals with knowledge of the world outside of Belgium. But as a world citizen, knowledge of your own identity and culture, and your role in a diverse This is true for both an understand-

Globalisation and diversity

ing of the ‘small world’ – the society

The increase of globalisation and diversity is irreversible. Reasonably priced flight

in which you dwell – and the bigger

tickets lower the threshold for exploration far away from home. Worldwide migration

picture – the world as a global vil-

results in enriched cultural diversity. The distance between countries has shrunk, as

lage – and their underlying interre-

technology and communication channels rapidly improve. Social media increase the


speed and possibilities for interaction with the remotest corners of the world. The

society remains equally important.


food on our plate, the recipes we exchange and the clothes we wear come from all over the world. The extended contact between different environments strengthens the awareness that people influence each other across borders. This evolution has an impact on every school. Education deals with changesby strongly encouraging everyone to have an open eye for diversity. Intercultural abilities, such as cultural resilience and flexibility, critical thinking and self-reflection, language proficiency, respect and cooperation are rightly put forward as fundamental qualities for active world citizens in the 21st century.






founded upon a balanced curriculum, which defines those crucial competencies that students must develop




Because the world has undergone




World citizenship Citizenship recognises that we all depend on each other, that there is no such thing as self-made man or woman. For democracy to prevail, there is a strong need for good citizenship. Through collaboration of stakeholders in education, there is a need for commitment and solidarity towards your fellow man and the future, and for participation at local and global level, as no one is born a good citizen and no nation is born a democracy (Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations). Working together will help in understanding and embracing each other (I am because you are). Active world citizens: • acquire knowledge • break stereotypes • cherish diversity • are solidary • are willing to communicate • undertake action • persevere

such radical social, ecological, economic, and political changes, and is confronted by such great threats, the curriculum of the 21st century needs to take another form than the one of the previous century.” KRIS VAN DEN BRANDEN PROFESSOR LANGUAGE EDUCATION UNIVERSITY KULEUVEN, BELGIUM FROM VISION STATEMENT ‘SUSTAINABLE EDUCATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY’


New ways of cooperation “It’s true, we’re not going to spectacularly change the world with these exchange visits. But those small steps that we take together with our pupils lead towards more respect for people and knowledge of other cultures. It is an enrichment you cannot find in a book or a museum.” FROM THE FINAL REPORT OF SCHOOL GROUP OLEN, BELGIUM

The globalisation and diversity in our society require more and more global thinking and acting. Exchange, dialogue, and connectivity with as many actors as possible is a good recipe. In the world of international cooperation one is working more than ever before with partners across the globe. The citizens of different countries request and obtain a voice in defining the needs and the search for solutions on global issues. Their expertise occupies an important place in this process. Everyone is encouraged to internationalise. Different people in different levels of the education sectors are looking for partners all over the world. Students are yearning to go abroad on internships and to do research. Lecturers are offered opportunities to attend international conferences and to develop partnerships with peer institutions and research groups. School links make everyone aware that going abroad is possible. Schools should explore genuine and direct contact with schools in other countries, and form sustainable partnerships with them. The SchoolLinks programme responds to this by building bridges between two (educational) worlds. Moving bridges, as the interpretation changes and further extends continuously. Through dialogue a fruitful interaction is created. Correct perception creates more understanding and appreciation for the mutual similarities and differences. This leads to a stronger connectedness between Flanders and the South schools, therefore providing a forum to learn to appreciate diversity in one’s own environment.


“Through the project ‘Impakt Ghana’, contacts had already been made with schools in Ghana. This project has ended, and it would be unfortunate if we couldn’t continue our collaboration. We would like to contribute to a sustainable project. We want to create a school climate that demonstrates our open attitude. We really want to involve the pupils in the partnership. With activities and projects on class and school level we want to make the school link live among the children. We believe this is an interesting way to raise children who live in a welfare state, so they can become ‘world citizens’: solidary and responsible citizens who commit themselves to create a more righteous world. This international cooperation cannot be but an added value to a multicultural urban school. This way we can have our students experience the positive aspects of multiculturalism.” FROM A GRANT PROPOSAL OF URBAN LYCEUM CADIX, ANTWERP, BELGIUM




“The question ‘what would be your dream school?’ results in a comical contrast between students. Here in Belgium, they dream about a swimming pool. This is something children in Al Hoceima wouldn’t even think of. Over there they dream of

The living environment of children differs all over the world. Some parts of the world score well in the fields of life expectancy, health, income and wealth, while others are still struggling. One cannot take for granted that all children have access to schools or are permitted to go to school. There are millions of children, especially girls who still cannot go to school because it is too dangerous, they carry the burden of other tasks or they are being discriminated against. The reasons differ from one child to another, as do the educational systems, teaching

Wi-Fi in the classroom.”

practices, and school cultures of different countries. For example, not all schools in a


schools have rigid hierarchal structures and teachers do not automatically receive


authorisation from the school board to introduce extra activities within the framework


school link have the freedom to autonomously decide what lessons to focus on. Some

of a school link. There are, however, opportunities found in the many similarities which can lead a school link towards a stronger cooperation. The mere fact that the relationship is created between schools themselves is already a step in the right direction. Teachers are able to exchange experiences about their discipline, evaluation methods, management challenges and even the interaction in the teachers’ room, on an equal footing.

“During my visit in Flanders, I was really impressed by the time discipline - even with young students - the active participation of pupils in class, the time teachers take to prepare classes, and the inclusion








It is impossible to ignore the diverse nature of different education systems. There is an enormous diversity between regions, countries and population groups within each country, between the countryside and the city, and between generations.

“Here in Belgium, pupils are

“When 800 pupils are stand-

rarely let out of sight. There’s

ing neatly in line on a Monday

always someone nearby. In Bel-

morning to sing the anthem

gium, children spend a lot of

with pride and conviction, we

time with their parents. In Zam-

can feel the energy that ema-

bia it’s not like this. Over there,


it is not so likely for children

‘Committed to excel’, their uni-

to be helped with their home-

form says, and nothing less is


true. We get a taste of this im-





classes. 45 in one classroom. The thought alone makes our heads spin: how can you have order with such a large group? They eagerly make room for us curious white teachers, and they give us a sample of their top discipline. I didn’t understand much of the teacher Kiswahili, just that she inspires and teaches with a fire that can never be put out.” ANKI NAUWELAERT TEACHER DUTCH, ENGLISH AND CULTURAL SCIENCES – MARIA ASSUMPTALYCEUM, LAKEN, BELGIUM



How exactly a North-South partnership emerges into a school link cannot be laid down in a fixed roadmap. Each partnership is a unique project which gradually takes form through the interaction of at least two schools. It depends on the capabilities and wishes of both schools. The Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) chooses to support schools in the development of their cooperation in a manner that allows for autonomy in running their activities. The cooperation should focus on a number of educational goals and evolve into a sustainable partnership. A partnership which must take place on an equal basis.


Educational goals are central There are schools that will set up a project with other schools out of solidarity with countries and schools that have fewer opportunities, in an effort to respond to global injustice. As a school they want to contribute to a better world. Rightly so, schools and teachers can make a meaningful contribution to a solidary society. This first impulse at offering assistance is valuable, but schools must not forget to promote equal partnership. The core mission of a school is to teach. That is what teachers do, how they add value, “We have learned about each other’s cultures. Food (during the Week of Taste), cultural clothing, you name it. The ‘global’ has already been nicely realised. Within the framework of professionalisation we have received teaching materials. We are evaluating these and are considering which aspects we can integrate into our lesson packages.” DEBBIE YFEL SCHOOL LINK COORDINATOR – VSO THOMSONSCHOOL IN PARAMARIBO, SURINAME

and how they make an impact. In a school link the educational goals play a central role. The learning aspect is fundamental and can be fulfilled in diverse ways. Pupils learn about – and from – their peers in the partner school, and they learn how to cooperate. These forms of knowledge, skills and attitudes are increasingly important to meet the challenges of the globalised world. At the same time, the exchange of experiences between teachers and schools can contribute to a stronger school management and the quality of education.

13 “In the beginning I thought that this partnership would mainly serve to financially support our school projects over here, but along the way I realised that it is mainly about exchange, about the communication between schools. By engaging in this school link, I have learned a lot about these kinds of partnerships.” SISTER DOMINA MUREKATETE SCHOOL LEADER – ECOLE SECUNDAIRE DE KIRUHURA IN BUTARE, RWANDA.


“The development of the musical took three years. The first seeds were planted during the first year by jointly writing a peace song. One part was written in Zambia and the song was completed in Belgium. In between, we worked on other activities as well. The focus was not just placed on the musical during those three years, seeing as that’s quite a long period of time. To give you an example: we have come up with a scientific experiment about seeds that we carried high up in the stratosphere with a weather balloon, to see if they would still germinate and grow after we planted them. The second year of our collaboration on the musical, we wrote the ‘gender song’, which will also be sung in the musical. Part of the audiovisual material and some sort of animation film that we will project during the song were created by the Zambian students. And now, along with the musical’s finishing touches, we have received input by our partner school on certain costumes and a dance. They chose to perform a ritual that revolves around a Malian legend. We have covered this subject during classes when we were working on costumes and masks. In other words, the musical could not have been what it is now if it were not for the input by our partner school. Part of the songs, visual material, costumes as well as dance were developed by them. The icing on the cake was that we were lucky to have the partner school’s principal, singing teacher and two pupils over on a visit during the three performances. The singing teacher and the two pupils even played a part in the musical alongside all the pupils from our school.” JO VAN DER FRAENEN 5TH GRADE TEACHER – GIBO DE BELHAMEL, SCHELLEBELLE, BELGIUM


Collaboration implies the combination of strengths.

“I presume to say that the partnership is balanced. We work at the planning on our end, and send it

Partnership A fully fledged partnership is essential for a qualitative school link. A partnership should not be a one-sided transfer of knowledge or resources. Nor is it a one-off activity, or an official yet empty promise. A partnership is a collaboration process revolving around common themes and goals.

in. They take a look at it, give their input and take over aspects that we have already put in the planning. We have already visited them, they have visited us, and now we are visiting them again.” MARIA KAPONDORO

Collaboration implies the combination of strengths. Both partners provide input and


take initiative. Reciprocity is an essential element. This does not necessarily mean an


equal contribution, but indicates the effort that each of the partners pours into the


project. Both schools share responsibility for the success of the collaboration and the achievement of the goals. A mutual gain will be the result of such a collaboration. Collaboration is not always an easy achievement. Not only is there a substantial distance between the two schools, possibly there is a language barrier, and, quite often, a difference in school culture. Understanding each other’s educational context is crucial in this process. In order to guarantee the success of a partnership, a good agreement on what both schools need to achieve is necessary. Schools must have an open and honest communication about this from the beginning.


“We’ve encountered at first hand that, for them, it’s not evident to arrange all the administration. We once had to buy new airplane tickets, because people couldn’t make their flight because of these practicalities. They sometimes have to travel 600 km to get a hold of certain required signatures. You get a different view on their situation; for ‘less’ result, people sometimes need to invest more energy. We firmly stick to our planning, which is less the case with our partner, because things cannot be arranged as strictly over there as they are over here. But now we know that we should not be frustrated because of that. It’s

Based on equality

neither better nor worse… At our

No two schools are the same. The contexts, habits and potentials are fundamentally

school, we sometimes see that dif-

unequal. It is therefore unsurprising that the priorities, the expectations, the concrete

ferent priorities are set (by parents

input, and the ways of communication diverge in both schools. While the schools in a

as well as bypupils). This collabora-

partnership are not identical, the cooperation has to be equal.

tion helps us to better understand our own children. This is why we

Equality is a continuous balancing act. Both schools need an equal opportunity to

make transparent agreements on

express their needs. Each partner has to gain from the cooperation. Key concepts

what we can expect from each other,

for equality in a partnership are respect, openness and harmonisation. A partnership

in order to prevent any form of con-

where problems and conflicts are ignored will not last long. If the ambition is to act as

fusion. We have an eye for equality

equal partners one should not be afraid to point out where things go wrong, though in

of investment, instead of solely look-

a professional manner. Your partner school should have the feeling that they are enti-

ing at the output.”

tled to do likewise. Working as a team is very important at all times.


There are many activities on which the schools can work together. Schools should not hold back to give support or organise a fundraising whenever needed. But, be aware that a ‘donor-recipient’ relationship can put pressure on the equality of the partners.


“Our school has joined the Munici-


pal Advisory Counsel of Interna-

‘Sustainability‘ has different meanings. It aims – amongst other things – at the long-

grant proposal. During the visit of

term commitment, which, already from the start, forms part of the ambitions of both

our partner school, we had a joint

partners. It takes time to truly get to know each other and to be able to benefit from

consultation meeting with the offici-

all assets of a school link. Preferably there is no pressure to arrive quickly at concrete

ary of international relations of the

results. Experience teaches us that a school link often needs a warming-up period in

city of Lommel. Together, we wrote

order to establish contacts, to remove practical obstacles, and to synchronise goals.

the grant request which by now

tional Cooperation. As a school we attend meetings and submitted a

has been approved. This way we reSustainability also entails a certain degree of independence. At first there might be a

ceived a few operational resources

go-between who supports the school link (for example a person living in the neigh-

and the gardening project in our

bourhood, a parent, the SchoolLinks team or an NGO), someone who also takes care

partner school is being subsidised.”

of communication. This can help in establishing the first contacts. However, in order to function independently on the long run, it is important to construct a direct relation-


ship as soon as possible. A school link is a partnership between schools. Therefore


the initiative and the responsibility for cooperation lie with them. Others can inspire, advice and support, but should not take the place of the schools. Do not forget that sustainability also concerns the financial independence of the school link. Whenever external financial support is withdrawn, the schools commit to meet the costs themselves (possibly through fund raising activities, etc.). Finally, we consider sustainability as a qualitative condition within the framework of the school link. We have to take into consideration ecological, economic and social interests of the current generations around the world (both in the North and the South), without compromising the needs of future generations. Education plays an important role. For ecological sustainability, schools can look into environmental projects such as waste prevention, entrepreneur’s day for economical skills, or being a good citizen for social skills. Items like recycling containers can be placed in the school. Lessons about the climate can provide a link with the increased incidence of flooding and droughts. A school link not only offers a number of ideas in order to deal with these topics, it is also challenges one to think out of the box.




A school link helps to obtain a more realistic image of each other’s background. Direct contact between schools is a contributing factor – on condition that things are placed in the proper perspective.

“Nature in Belgium is wonderful. There are so many trees - which I know from my old school books - to

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, NIGERIAANSE SCHRIJFSTER

be admired in full glory. Trees seem to grow so easily here, compared to Senegal.”

Often, simplified stereotypes are used about other countries. But stereotyping can lead to negativity (for example: “They are poor, dirty and lazy.”), or to the conversely


overly positive prejudices (“They are all friendly, warm, open,…”). These generalisations and simplifications do not rhyme with the complexity of reality. They do injustice to the differences between regions, populations and people. The recognition of this diversity within cultures is important in modern society.


“To get to know each other, we had made ‘identikits’ for them. Each class took care of this in their own way: with drawings, a photo report or a short film. In response, they sent us the same kind of identikits. This gave us a first impression of life in Suriname. Everyone can follow the evolution of the project on our ‘Suri-board’. Stereo-

Tips for a correct perception

types have been shattered, and

• Look for similarities! How do children worldwide think about friendship and

teachers! We were surprised to

games, festivities and dreams, sadness and anger? This attitude creates connectedness from where differences can be explored. • Be wary of ‘expertise from within the classroom’! A child with a migration background is not a representative of its country of origin. Chances are that he or she hardly knows his or her homeland and feels as much a part of the current country as other children in the classroom. • Reflect on the expressions you use. When possible, use the names also being used in the country of study and avoid condescending diminutives (e.g. name calling.) • Put yourself in the position of your partner. Give pause for thought on how you would want them to talk about you. Avoid stereotyping or prejudice in your language and images.

not just with pupils – also with see that they had glitter pens and coloured paper over there as well! In the pictures we could tell that they had resources we did not expect them to have (for example: a playing rack on the playground). Everybody is very excited to learn more about life over there.” FROM THE FINAL REPORT OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ‘GOEDE LUCHT’ IN ANDERLECHT, BELGIUM



• The broad application potential of a school link • The emergence of SchoolLinks, as a consequence of changing insights in society and education, makes sense. A partnership between schools in the North and the South is the perfect instrument for sensitising everyone about local and global challenges. It benefits to the professionalisation of teachers, while incorporating a feeling of solidarity.


Activities at the level of pupils A school link offers an ideal framework to work on world citizenship and international competences. Through the partner school, pupils and teachers are offered a direct window to another continent. The world comes alive in the classroom. Throughout the last five years of SchoolLinks, a whole battery of ideas has been assembled. Schools prove to be very creative in developing large projects and small-scale activities, while making use of existing teaching material. A school link presents opportunities to learn about each other (involvement), to learn from each other (exchange), and to learn with each other (cooperation). Starting up a school link is a good reason to take a closer look at another country. In which continent, region and environment is the school situated? Which languages are being spoken? What is the weather like? What does their flag look like? Which music and what food do children put on their wish list? The number of questions to be examined together with the students is endless. In a school link, pupils can ask their questions directly to their peers. This way, pupils get to know more about life at the other side of the world. A school link helps to create a true and honest view of other countries. Working on common projects is also possible and recommendable. Together, classes can write stories or search for the answer to a mathematical question. A minimum of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) equipment is often required, but even with limited access to the Internet a lot is possible. The inclusion of world citizenship in the school curriculum is a new concept for some. Even though schools might recognise the importance of world citizenship, it might be challenging to formalise this in activities. Therefore, make sure that the chosen theme is an added value for both partners. Otherwise, one of the partners might quickly pull out.


“Children can communicate with each other without speaking each other’s language. It’s a challenge to bring kids with different backgrounds together, so they can use this gift to get acquainted. Only if we get to know each other, we can respect each other’s similarities and differences to live together in peace.” NELSON MANDELA

“We think the school link is very rewarding, considering that nearly all the children at our school have a different (non-European) origin. For these pupils this project is twice as interesting, because they grow up in Belgium with a different origin, but they don’t actually know what things are like in the South.” FREYA VERDICKT TEACHER 1ST GRADE - PRIMARY SCHOOL VIJVERBEEK, ZELLIK, BELGIUM


“A school link creates the opportunity to contrast and compare. In other words, preserving what’s good and changing what can improve. Seeing things from a different perspective helps us learn to appreciate what is good. In Zambia, every school day is kicked off with singing a song on the playground. Here [in Belgium], we saw that they were doing joint gymnastic exercises before going to class. This clearly gave the pupils more energy to start the day. This already is an idea that we should be able to try out at our school without any difficulties. It would be a good thing to introduce ‘physical education’ in that way, as it does not exist anymore in the curriculum of our school.” KAHANI FOSTER SCHOOL LEADER – BUYANTANSHI OPEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL IN KABWE, ZAMBIA


Professionalisation of teachers Education is a crucial motor for progress. While access to education is a first requirement, the quality of education is equally important. Attending school makes no sense if

“Through our contact with educa-

a pupil hardly learns anything there. Many schools might request not only to emphasise

tion in Belgium, we have learned a

an exchange between pupils, but also between teachers. Many teachers have little op-

great number of things about their

portunity to develop professionally after their formal training. Contact and cooperation

way of teaching. This year, we’re

with overseas colleagues offer unique opportunities to learn about, for example, child-

trying to use more teaching mate-

centred teaching and active teaching methods. Professionalisation of teachers often is

rials and create our own material,

a motivating factor for schools to engage in a school link.

without having to wait for our parents to give it to us or buy it. We

Working together will give colleagues the opportunity to inspire each other with new

learned to use our creativity.”

teaching approaches. Colleagues can coach and support each other in the use of a computer in the classroom. As a school leader you can participate in the reflection on the improvement of the management capabilities of the school. SchoolLinks offers a platform to share own experiences. The focus on professional development is a very enriching process for teachers and principals. The confrontation with a different teaching reality, the exchange of knowledge with outsiders will help you look at your working habits from a new perspective.


26 “There definitely is a different level of quality and an entirely different system of education. Additionally, they have other issues, because they place children together who wouldn’t be in the same class over here. Because of this, they

Many schools might request not only to emphasise an exchange between pupils, but also between teachers.

[teachers and school board] have to be closely involved with the pupils and their parents. The kind of differentiation that should take place differs a lot, so we don’t really agree with each other in that regard. We do agree more easily

Tips for dealing with professionalisation:

in terms of the content of courses. For example:

• Give it time! Deal with professionalisation once the school link

a short item on quadratic equations was once

has passed its start-up phase. The first physical encounter is a

filmed by them and is now shown in our classes,

good moment to define a subject and take off.

to show an alternative explanation. Another

• Look for common ground! Search for common ground between

short film was made on economy, which we cov-

both schools or between key figures. What are your respective

er every year. During the visit of Andelene [prin-

occupations? Which fields is one of the partners strong in? What

cipal Waveren] we have taken the opportunity

are the interests and needs?

to broadly exchange information on different policies (pedagogic, administrative, logistical, personnel, care, etc.) and different aspects of

• Less is more! Create room within the school link to learn from each other about pedagogic and didactic themes. • Practice makes perfect! Observe each other’s practices, ask

duties and responsibilities of a school princi-

questions, and verify if you have answers to each other’s needs

pal. We learned about each other’s vision and

and practical challenges.

organisational structures, but we mainly got to know each other as individuals. Andelene was given access to a number of policy instruments and documents (for example: job descriptions, self-reflection forms for the personnel, agenda briefings, weekly memo’s, the school work plan schedule, etc.). This triggered valuable hallway conversations about school culture, norms and values, policy choices, accomplishments, mutual differences and similarities. Thanks to our smooth and open communication we even succeeded to propose concrete cases.” FROM FINAL REPORT OF SINT-JOSEFINSTITUUT, ESSEN, BELGIUM


A good support or fundraising action: • Is an instrument to strengthen the partnership • Is well framed at the educational level


• Involves both partner schools in its execution

A school contacted us to ask for advice

Solidarity actions

about a fundraising activity. The plan

Education about North-South relations is never neutral. There is an underlying emotional

contacted their partner, who went

call, a call to act and connect. Development education elaborates on potential action.

along with the initiative. Initially, it

was to collect old schoolbags for their partner school. They had already

seemed like a good idea, but eventually When students and teachers learn about injustice in the world, or when they closely

a few practical objections were raised,

study the biased relationships between North and South, they ‘almost automatically’

namely: are the schoolbags still in good

resort to action. Children do not want to be left behind with a dissatisfied feeling.

condition? Are they conventional in

This drive for action can take shape in different ways. It makes sense for one partner

use in the partner country (big bags on

to help the other whenever needed, on the condition that help takes place within the

wheels might not be useful)? Will local

framework of a broader educational whole. The best-known ways to sensitise people

customs charge import taxes on the

into action are petitions, letter-writing actions, and so on.

bags? Is it possible that, by doing this,

Some partners might resort to fundraising, to support activities within the school link.

a local producer of school bags might

These actions are allowed as part of a school link, but some degree of caution is re-

lose his income?

quired. Preferably, fundraising is an instrument that enhances the partnership. There-

Consequently, we decided that it

fore, the financial aspects can never become the central element in the cooperation,

would be unwise for the school to send

and equality has to be pursued. Consider activities like a peace garden, where the one

schoolbags. A better idea would be to

school makes a vegetable garden and sells the fresh produce. The other school could

sell quality second hand school bags

match them by organising a music concert, after which all raised funds go towards the

at a flea market in Belgium, so that the

school project or needs agreed upon. Although the funds will most likely serve the

profits could be used by the partner

project in only one school rather than both of them, no school should just be on the

school in the South to locally buy new

receiving end without putting in any efforts. Reciprocity is encouraged.

gear itself.

GOOD PRACTICE ‘Saved by the bell’, a Belgian initiative to raise awareness in the world about children’s access to schooling, was picked up in Kenia. There, like in many other countries, they also celebrate the International Day of the Teacher. Ringing the school bell en masse, in the North and the South, combined the symbolic importance of the teacher and the right to education for all children. Some schools rang their bell, others organised a march around the school with their pupils, to convey the message. The school Lady of Fatima [from Nairobi in Kenia], who has a school link with Maria Assumpta in Laken, Belgium, organised special sensitising activities on this festive day, along with numerous other schools in the South.

ask the following questions in order to assess whether or not an action is meaningful:


my? al econo , sendstruct loc b o t o n r example o id F a s s? it st l o il W g eigh the c an buyin nefits outw st more th o c s e Do the be m ti some puter can ing a com y. one locall

Does aid ta ke into acco unt the loca computer cl l context? asses provi If a compu ded? Is an an ter is deliver software w tivirus progr ed, are ritten in the amme bein lo ca g financed? l language an solve poten Is the d is there so tial problem meone avai s? lable who ca n Are

the r esult s sus comp taina uter ble? sense f o For e r b if is t etter xamp here c omm Comm le, d i s no m unica onatunica oney tion te cl want t m o early akes pay f s and no or th and need e Int thoro s. erne ughly t. abou t the ing a

e not to Are we making sur the other dump our waste in recycle to country? It is better the North, outdated material in uth with it. than to burden the So




“Not cultures, but people meet each other” EDWIN HOFFMAN, AUTHOR OF ‘INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE’

We regard cultural differences encountered during the exchange in a school link as something valuable. But at the same time, this can sometimes lead to tensions. For example, in Belgium we can become agitated when we do not receive a reply to our email, or if the reply is extensive but does not actually answer our questions. The same happens if the agreed planning and arrangements are not being kept, or when ‘yes’ is said when ‘no’ is meant. In these cases, all of a sudden culture becomes a source of irritation and subsequently our own values and customs once more become the norm (‘commitments should be honoured’, ‘a planning has to be followed through’). This could result in blaming the problem on an inadequate cooperation and lack of interest with the partner. Some might even look for the causes in the partner’s ‘culture’. The solution to these conflicts lies in understanding each other’s cultural context. Therefore, it is important to understand the internal reasoning behind each other’s way of communicating and cooperating. Interpretations, appreciations and experiences in one culture are sometimes totally opposite to the ones in the other culture. What one recognises as plain language, the other might interpret as lacking in respect or being impolite. Furthermore, we should put the share of the cultural context into perspective. It is important to realise that an individual will never entirely be engrossed in a culture. However, this does not mean that one can ignore culture as a cause for certain behaviours. But it does mean that other factors can play a role (personality, external circumstances, infrastructure, politics, etc.). People behave differently in formal and informal settings. We need to learn about each other’s culture and embrace each other as human beings.




• Some practical guidelines for a good cooperation • The past five years of the SchoolLinks programme teach us that there are a number of essential keys for the development of a quality school link. Personal engagement and the involvement of a few pacesetters in school create enthusiasm and energy to take colleagues in tow. This way public support gradually grows in and around the school. The school link anchors itself in the school activities and is attached to the pedagogic projects. Smooth communication between all parties involved is crucial in the entire process. Planning and regular feedback keep the cooperation on the right track. The exchange visits bring the school link to life.


Critical questions during preparation: • What is the specific added value that you can obtain from a school link, for both your schools? Is it the similaraities in the diverse background of the pupils? Or rather the other way around: the very homogenous composition? • How much time can be invested? A

A good start is half the work Every school has a different story, and each partnership goes through a different

school link can be of any size, but a

process. The way in which a collaboration is created and what objectives schools have

minimum time of engagement is in

within it, determine to a large extent the further progress of a school link.

any case necessary. • What are the possibilities? Theoreti-

A school link is in fact a verb. School linking encourages partners to actively engage

cally, each school can engage in a

with each other, in order to form a strong foundation. It challenges mature and deter-

school link. Everything depends on

mined minds. The one who thinks to start with an ideal exchange from the very begin-

the motivation of the direction and

ning risks ending up dealing with frustration and disappointment. A good collaboration

the teachers’ team and how big or

cannot be established from day one.

how small you see the school link. • Is there public support in the school for the project? Do you already do


something about global themes,

To build on a foundation of previous experiences is much easier than starting from

such as conflict and peace, sustain-

scratch. It is recommendable, therefore, to make an overview of what already exists

able living, Fair-trade, or is this still

and what is going on in the school. This increases the engagement by both sides. You

an unelaborated field?

will incite colleagues faster if you can jump on board with the things they can offer from their previous experience.


“Our partner school has contacted us, after which we created a small work group. Our school principal has appointed two teachers to lead the project and examine if it would work in our school. So far it has been very interesting. We hope to strengthen the relationship and to increase the number of activities.” SCHOOL STELLENZICHT SEKONDER IN STELLENBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA


Drawing up a planning After having gotten thoroughly acquainted with your partner school, you can draft a plan together with your colleagues in your own school and in the partner school. This provides the necessary structure to your school link - a planning will help to align your activities to each other. A good work plan makes it easier to answer to project calls or to apply for subsidies. A clear timing and substance of the school link lightens the work load. If there is sufficient attention to discuss each other’s annual calendar during the preparation, the chances are smaller you overcharge your partner with questions, just at the moment

1/2 of the schools states that the school link requires additional planning

when they have exams, for example. Of course this also works the other way around. If a big audit of your school is planned of your school, you best inform your partner school. They will certainly understand the radio silence that could set in at that time. Do not merely look at the school calendars and holidays, but also swap information on openings in the agenda for extra activities.

For a good planning, reflect upon: • A good description of the activities. Give a general description of the event, of the concerned target group, of the result you wish to reach, and of the expected period in which the activities will take place. • The interaction. Try to show the engagement of both schools with each activity. These could be mirror activities (e.g. every one watches a movie by or about the partner school/country, and together reply to proposed questions), or shared long-distance activities (e.g. writing a follow-up story). • The link between each other’s activities. A school link means cooperation and interaction between both partner schools. This means that the event in your school builds on something that happened in the partner school or the other way around.


GOOD PRACTICE Last year, school Zonneweelde in Belgium started a school link with Thomsonschool in Suriname, full of anticipation. They [believed to have] found a rather similar school. The exchange could take place in Dutch, the action plan was drafted and approved by the partner school, and VVOB supported

“A school link brings additional administration.” 61% OF THE SCHOOLS AGREE.

the project. Nothing could go wrong. Pupils as well as teachers were enthusiastic, and, to put Suriname in the spotlight, several fun activities were organised. However, communication with the partner school didn’t go smoothly, and after one year Zonneweelde reported: “At this moment we cannot yet call our school link a cooperation. The upcoming school year we

A lot of time is invested in the preparation of activities

would like to plan our first joint activities and have more contact with our partner school. We have learned that the pace of both our schools need to be aligned better. We have


limits preparation time


thinks the preparation time is as it should be


says they need more preparation time

learned to be patient. We are happy with every received message from Suriname.” In Thomsonschool it took some time before the concept of a school link became completely clear and the necessary means of communication were installed. At the same time, large constructions on site absorbed a lot of energy. One and a half year after the start-up, after having visited each other for a first time, things are starting to turn towards a very stronger partnership. Those first communication issues now belong to the past.


Also the evaluation of the activities consumes time. 58% of the Flemish schools thinks the evaluation is arduous work, contrary to 27% of the partner schools


Debriefing The end of the school year differs from country to country. And when your school year has come to an end and your activities have been wrapped up, you will look back satisfied at the previous months. This motivates schools to keep developing the school link further. However, it is also possible that some problems will have occurred, or that not all objectives were met. This does not have to be a problem, as flexibility in the execution is a must. By looking at the causes of problems you can help shed a light on the working points of your school link. Provide some time for a debriefing in your planning during the school year. It is important not to wait until the end. Before that time, important information may have already been lost. A debriefing during the year could prevent resentment and misconceptions. The cause for possible failed objectives will then not be sought in a lack of motivation or interest. An e-mail or a short phone call (or any mode of communication you agreed upon) can easily establish if the implementation of an assignment was feasible or not within the agreed timing or elaboration. The reflection on the school link should preferably be integrated in an existing consultation meeting and in reports which would be collected anyway. Consultation is also necessary with the partner school about which debriefing of lessons and activities they keep track so that these can be aligned. Possible challenges can then be taken on with a similar feedback. If you discuss the right things, the school link and could resolve problems and find new ideas and solutions more quickly.

Use the terms ‘reflection’ and ‘debriefing’ instead of ‘evaluation’. The latter term could have a negative association, and could be considered as if one party would have control over the other. Both partners are equal and have to work together to reach amicable solutions, which in turn will motivate both parties to continue with the partnership.

“Because of the fall-back last year, we think it’s important to recharge our batteries for a while. We need to think about our cooperation. We want our teachers to really work together, this way the pupils will be reached better. From experience we know, now more than ever, that goals need to be realistic. We need to sit together and rekindle the flames, so we can really make this partnership flourish. By momentarily downsizing the cooperation a little bit and renegotiate, we hope to find new ways to make our school link succeed.” FROM A FINAL REPORT OF MARIA ASSUMPTA LYCEUM, LAKEN, BELGIUM


“The time that can be spent on activities of the school link is very limited, because the teachers’ schedule (a 30-hours week) is overcharged. Additionally, there’s also the time needed for creating a necessary framework for the children. To keep improving teaching methodologies within this limited timeframe, the collaboration and exchange of expertise offer many opportunities.” ZUSTER DOMINA MUREKATETE SCHOOL LEADER – ECOLE SECUNDAIRE DE KIRUHURA IN BUTARE, RWANDA

Feasibility The best way to build a school link does not exist. There is no such thing as ’the perfect conditions’ to be able to start with a school link either. Every school can build a school link, on the condition that the implementation can be tailored to the school itself as well as to its partner school. That is why drafting school profiles is very useful. It enables you to assess the situations of the schools from the beginning. The activities to be developed within the school link could afterwards be linked to existing events and initiatives. In that way, the school link will become truly viable for each party involved. The financial and material capacities differ from school to school. However, this should not limit any school to set up cooperation. Big, bigger, biggest, is not the main aim of a sustainable partnership. The focus lies on supporting each other, not on competing.


Human resources For a school link, there is no need to hire additional staff members. Schools themselves decide how intensely the partnership will be shaped and how much time will be invested in it. But a school link does demand a certain engagement of the teachers’ team. Integrating a school link into the functioning of a school or into the lessons is, of course, not offered on a silver platter. It demands creativity and engagement to develop a school link in a qualitative manner. Does your school lack the experience in approaching certain subjects or projects? In that case, do not aim too high by having the school link programme already affecting the entire school from the start. A school link preferably starts up small! You could begin with certain teachers who show interest, while giving others the time to adapt and join in. If, through contacts with the partner school, it appears that there is time for a bigger engagement, start to mobilise others only then. Do not overly complicate your activities, certainly not in the start-up phase. Existing initiatives like the FairTrade Week, Global Citizen Week, Healthy Living Week,... could easily get another dimension by linking them to the school link.

Bigger is not always better for a sustainable partnership

There generally are about 20 to 50 computers available in


schools. There is, however, a big difference between schools in Flanders and those in the South. In Flanders only 16% of the schools have less

than 20 computers

available for pupils, while in the South only

20% has more than 20 computers in school.


Top three moments when students use computers ICT classes (65%) Main courses (62%)



Breaks (44%)


In the South it is often difficult to find sufficient finan-


cial means of support for school link activities. In Flanders, on the other hand, about 60% easily find their way to

additional financial sources.

Undeniably, there are additional costs connected to certain activities within the context of the school link. Only 8% of the surveyed schools in the North and the South have no

extra expenses.

Financial resources Costs for a school link can be minimal if you limit yourself to simple actions like exchanging letters, communication between pupils, or a common blog. However, keep in mind that even the slightest costs could be an obstacle for the partner school. Their resources could be limited, or they might have no autonomy on how to spend their budgets. Draft an honest cost estimation for all activities (however small they may be) when you plan them. This way, both schools could can quickly discover if they have the sufficient means for it. “We just don’t have school savings. Costs to send material or letters from pupils can also be limited. You can, for instance,

Even when a lamp in school is bro-

do an appeal on someone from a different organisation, who would coincidentally visit

ken we need to call the Ministry to

the region of your partner school.

have it replaced.”

For some activities you will definitely need a budget. If the partner school does not


have this available, this does not necessarily hinder the plans. Such a problem can be


overcome by a fundraising action. This can cover the costs of an activity. Communi-


ties and municipalities can give some financial support. Organisations like VVOB offer contextual and financial support.


Deeply rooted in class practices “Our school actually has two common threads: arts and the environment. As a school you are required to handle the linking of activities to these threads in a creative way. Everything is very much connected. A school link helps us to be creative. Without the school link, maybe our musical show would never have been developed. And because it involves a school in the South, you yourself learn a lot about a different country and a different culture. After all, we should make the world a little bit better.” JO VAN DER FRAENEN 5TH GRADE TEACHER – GIBO DE BELHAMEL, SCHELLEBELLE, BELGIUM

A school link should not be regarded as an extra task, but as an educational tool that could make class more interesting. In the long run, the school link should get a place in the year calendar of your school, as a nice bonus which takes time but also supports the course of the calendar. Your partner school should be like a far friend with whom you would do things together, things which you would otherwise have to do alone. The more a school link is embedded in the class and school workings, the more it becomes an essential part of the teaching programme and school life. This embedment does not happen overnight. It takes time to gain a firm foothold in the school. Do not forget that preparation is required as well, in order to lay a firm foundation within which a school link can anchor itself. Once the cooperation has truly filtered through into the school culture, the impact of the activities – concerning world citizenship of the students as well as professionalisation of teachers – will be much bigger. Thorough embedding in the pedagogical projects guarantees that the extra activities can be more easily worked out, as they share common ground with other themes or projects that the school carries out. Each school link is nevertheless confronted with some issues: the expected exchange of material might fail to occur, and the questions asked by students during correspondence might remain unanswered. Things like this lead to disappointment, and therefore put pressure on good cooperation. When this happens, it is useful to investigate the causes. Sometimes the problem is very obvious. But, of course, unexpected situations can also interfere. For example, a sudden departure of a teacher, or a decision from higher-up can hinder the agreements made. When the activity is embedded in the common school practice, this hiccup will feel less as ‘loss of time’. The activities should therefore be multifunctional. In other words: they should not only fit within the framework of the school link, but also take part in achieving your own teaching goals. The exchange of material is not a goal but a means – to give shape to the school link as well as your own teaching practice.


Embedding a school link increases the chances of success: f the ject o o r p l . ogica chers pedag er tea e h t h t o f h it to itmen link w comm clear e a h t e s t se Crea increa . This l o o h sc

Write down

goals in a sh ared vision. The school lin k becomes co ncrete and helps teache rs to find com mon ground with their pu pils. Turn the sc hool l the st ink in aff m to a fi e xed a e t i n g. Thi remai genda s way n a po point , the s int of at c attent h o o l ion th link w rough i l l out th e year .

Develop a sc ript with scho ol link inform to be able to ation, in orde build further r up on experience will also obvi s and grow. It ate potential staff change s.

ith other nnections w Establish co d build in school, an work groups ch as the ds themes su bridges towar g. ICT and bullyin environment,


Spread the message The extent to which a school link inspires, influences and intrigues all directly and indirectly involved stakeholders at school strongly defines the success of the school link. A school is not an island in its neighbourhood or municipality. There is a proverb that says: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. A school link can reach out far beyond the boundaries of the school walls.

Involvement within the school The school board and the teaching team carry the school link. It would be less motivating and more burdensome if this task would rest on the shoulders of only one person. Moreover, it would be a major risk for the sustainability of the cooperation. And it would be more difficult to broaden the internal level of support at a later stage. In the beginning there is no need to actively involve too many people. Start small. You do not know yet what the level of support and the rhythm of your partner school will be like. The school board, however, has to be 100% behind the school link, and everyone involved should at least support the idea. They should all have a say in the project and the eventual choice of the partner school. Your colleagues should at the least be prepared to cooperate regularly in an activity. For, as an example, the organisation of a theme day on “One challenge is to keep involving

the environment, the input of your colleague from geography department definitely mat-


ters. Chances are that his or her interest is automatically triggered by the subject matter.



the shifts that take place over the

When planning a visit to your partner school, you can call in that super organisationally

course of years. Keeping the school

talented colleague, in order to help put together the programme. Look for connections

link alive may be the greatest chal-

with the interests of your colleagues and, by all means, let it be a natural growth process.

lenge and could, for our school, be

Forcing someone to be enthusiastic seldom leads to a good result.

a possible pitfall. In what way can we keep the school link alive every-

Are you planning to start a workgroup? Then try to involve the ICT-manager, the ad-

where, so that not just one small

ministrator, the care teachers, the board and/or someone from the maintenance team.

group of teachers but the entire

They will definitely be an added value to your project. They can, for example, take

school is able to familiarise them-

charge of administrative tasks and provide logistical support.

selves with the school link and the partner country?”

Chances are that the pupils will quickly show interest in the activities of the school link. They will be curious about meeting their peers from the partner school. In order to


fully explore this curiosity, stimulate the involvement of the existing pupils’ councils or


the creation of a workgroup. This provides ownership of the school link with the pupils.


Let them propose themes about which they are willing to exchange. Give the pupils also room to exchange with their peers, for example through Skype, SMS, WhatsApp, and e-mail sessions during class.


“To monitor the partnership, in our school we have established a committee of ten pupils who make the other pupils aware of the school link’s existence. The board has in-

Commitment has to grow organically, but can be stimulated: • Planning a visit from the partner school? If so, organise a mini-conference

cluded the programme in extra-curricular activities and school clubs, in order to bring pupils closer to the school link.”

about a common theme. Encourage the exchange between visitors and teachers. • Share your knowledge about the partner school and partner country. You are the ideal intermediary and you finally get to do something real with those photos that are otherwise gathering dust. • Get inspired by exemplary activities and teaching material. This helps to explain to your colleagues what a school link can mean in practice and how it can be developed. • Point out the image improvement for the school. A school link shows that your school is dynamic, open and progressive. You will quickly have a story with which to draw the attention of the broader school environment and maybe even the press. • Take some time for feedback during and after the visit. Your enthusiasm will be very contagious. It helps to reflect on the learning experience and to find common ground with the school link activities. • Explain how a school link fits in seamlessly with certain learning outcomes (the knowledge and skills that a learner is supposed to have acquired).



Involvement in the neighbourhood Pupils and teachers do not live in their school. They take their experiences back home after class. A theme week about the school link is also discussed at the kitchen table. Consequently, parents and the community come into contact with the stories and the experiences of the partner school. This increases local commitment and it is a poten“Without doubt, last year’s highlight was the exchange during Easter holidays. Three teachers of our school, visited Oña, Ecuador. We were given the opportunity to meet our three partner schools, the teachers involved, the children and daily life. We were able to participate in the school’s activities, which was a very enriching experience. Once we were back home, we noticed our colleagues had an increasing interest in the school link. In the classroom we noticed we talked about Ecuador with more enthusiasm and involvement than before. Several weeks after our trip we organised an infor-

tial enrichment for the school link. Parents might have hidden talents which could support the school link. Maybe someone can speak the language of the partner school and is willing to read over the action plan. There is, however, no guarantee that a parent with a link with the partner country (for example through birth or work) wants to involve him/herself. This can be a sensitive matter. In that case do not persist. Same as before, the rule applies that if it is not done with full conviction, it will not have a great life expectancy. Through local population, a connection with the school link can be found. In the school neighbourhood an organisation might already have a project in the country of your partner school. Inquire whether a community member of your municipality has a link with that country. There is a lot of interest in municipalities concerning international contacts and cooperation. Many municipalities form a city link or create an international cooperation around solidarity. City links and municipalities with an active North-South department could be valuable partners and can provide support for the school link.

mation and photo evening, sharing our experiences. This was a great success. Lots of people showed up: colleagues as well as parents, city council members, and others who felt connected to school and city link. It was satisfying to know that so many people supported our project. The students were fascinated by our travel experiences as well.” FROM A REPORT OF THE SCHOOL GROUP IN BIERBEEK, BELGIUM

“Within this school link, our city is very important as it provided the impetus. Lots of children in our school come from the region [Morocco] where our partner school is located, which definitely is an added value for this school. During the exchange, participants had the opportunity to visit their relatives. This increased the level of engagement immediately. Also the non-Moroccan children who joined the immersion trip were encouraged to talk about their own family in another country.” ILSE MARTENS SCHOOL LEADER – ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SINT-CAMILLUS, SINT-NIKLAAS, BELGIUM


Do not forget to communicate about the school link! Put it in the spotlight: unknown is unloved. It is a great deal easier to engage people for something they already know.


GOOD PRACTICE When the Belgian elementary school ‘Scharrel’ started a school link with an Ecuadorian partner, nobody spoke a word of Spanish. Along with the choice for an Ecuadorian partner, the school committed itself to have at least one of the teachers take Spanish language courses. Fast-forward three years to 2014: three teachers are learning Spanish and are using the school link to practice their new skills. This is why communication between the partner school and themselves only takes place in Spanish.

Communication means more than understanding each other Good communication is an important key to a successful school link. Practical obstacles such as language or a deficient Internet connection often serve as arguments for a failed exchange project. In reality, the differences in communication culture are at least as important. The importance of communication acts at different levels.

To understand each other literally

Be creative in order to overcome language differences that could be an obstacle for cooperation. • Involve parents or other volunteers. They could translate short texts. • Make an agreement with language

The chances that the language spoken in your partner school is also your own are very small. This is undeniably part of the charm of a school link. One obviously has to take into account that a way needs to be found to understand each other. For French and English this is relatively straightforward. Should the partner schools not have a common language to communicate, someone in the working group would best master a common language in which to reflect and plan. However, do not be scared off by the language difference. It is an additional challenge, but a captivating and educational one.

schools in the neighbourhood. Now and then their students could per-

A word can have different meanings, depending on when and how you use it. In your

haps make translations. Include their

own language you do this without thinking. However, in a foreign language it can hap-

respective language teachers in the

pen that the meaning is not exactly clear. Sometimes both partners do not understand


a message in the same way. For example, a formal tone could be misunderstood for a

• Test the efficiency of translation

condescending one. In another classic example, a person from a culture where a mean-

software. Several ones on the Inter-

ing is always expressed truthfully and honestly will be confused by someone who is

net are free of charge.

modest and will say no when actually meaning yes. Avoid the use of jargon; this requires a good and very specific knowledge of the language.


“Most of the time we write e-mails to communicate with our partner school. The frequency with which we do this depends on ongoing activities. Now that we can look forward to a visit to Belgium, we communicate on a nearly daily basis. Last

Choice of communication media

year we held a video conference twice, but e-mail is much easier.

Have you reached an agreement about which language is to be used? Does a teacher

Now, we also use the telephone to

have the courage and conviction to enrol him/herself in evening language courses?

remind each other of sent e-mails.

The colleague who is fluent in the language of command, is (s)he prepared to read and

Language plays an important role

interpret the action plan?

in the partnership between our

Good! Next, we have to consider our way of communicating.

schools. However, we never encountered any problems with this,

In most cases Flemish schools have better ICT-equipment, and have better access to

because the Belgian teachers speak

the Internet. But a lack of ICT in partner schools should not be a problem. If the agreed

English very well, even though this

communication would take place via e-mail, generally the partner school will find their

is not their maternal language.

way to a computer. There is, for example, the option of smartphones. Widespread in

They do their best, and we can un-

many countries, they could offer mobile connection. But connection is not limited to

derstand each other. When I visited

the Internet. The telephone is easily used to verbally deliberate and reach agreements

Belgium, I could even talk and joke

(even formal ones). Not everything needs to be written down. If this is necessary at a

with the children. Everyone tries to

certain stage, try to find an intermediate solution. Combine different communication

have a clear and smooth communi-



Example: Formulate a few questions in an e-mail. Send an SMS to inquire if they have received it and had a chance to look at it. Discuss, if necessary, by phone at a well-chosen time. To confirm the agreements, e-mail a small report of the conversation afterwards.



Most common means of communication E-mail (71%) Facebook (36%)



1/2 of communication problems are due to a lack of response.

Chat/post/sms (13%)


74% of

communication problems are due to ICT equipment

When and with whom to communicate To avoid neglecting your partner school during busy school periods, it would be a good idea to create a concrete schedule for the communication. Define specific moments when contact can be made with you and stick to it as much as possible. Also appoint someone to be responsible for communication (either the coordinator, the school board, or the teacher assigned for school links). It differs from one school to the other which agreements would be best. This depends on the school culture and how cooperation is being communicated about. It would be best if one single person would keep an overview of all agreements and keeps track of a to-do list. But, at the same time, keep communications as open as possible, in order for multiple people to follow the communication. This way you avoid a bottleneck effect, whereby everything depends on one person.


The exchange of school material usually takes place several times per year.


70% of the school links

More than


of the schools have contact moments once or even multiple times each month

most often communication is initiated by a specific

work group

“During the first year our priority is communication. In both schools work groups have been established, which shape the school link. Communication happens through e-mail, Facebook and Dropbox. During the

Tips for good communication • Combine written and oral communication. While a phone conversation is warmer and offers more possibilities to clarify things, e-mails and letters can be used to confirm clear and formal agreements. Generally, a phone call in the South is more efficient. • At the end of a contact moment, summarise what the next step will be and who will make it (who writes what, to whom and when). • Do you not have time to answer an e-mail in detail, or do you first need to consult with your colleagues? Send a short response regardless. Your partner will then know that you have received everything. • Avoid forcing your partner to guess what’s going on at your end. At the same time know that radio silence does not necessarily mean disapproval or lack of interest.

first phase, the exchange only takes place between the members of the work groups. In a later phase, the entire school will be involved. During the immersion trip, Regina Caeli learned about the workings of the partner school through talks and class visits. Groendal Secondary in their turn met Regina Caeli through short films of the school, talks and a quiz.” FROM THE ACTIONPLAN OF THE REGINA CAELI-LYCEUM, DILBEEK, BELGIUM



External help Unspoken expectations, hidden pitfalls, invisible obstacles, different frames of reference, misunderstood contexts, etc... Understanding another culture – with other possibilities and difficulties – is often a difficult task. The lack of knowledge about the other, but mainly the physical distance is a hindrance for your mutual engagement. This is why a partner from outside the school, one who also supports the partnership during the early years, is worth his weight in gold. (S)he may help to take care of a good development of the school link. Ideally, this is an organisation or a person who knows both contexts and who will add value to the growth of the partnership. The majority of the schools within the SchoolLinks programme work together with a school from one of the partner countries of VVOB. It is a major advantage that VVOB staff in the North and South can support the development of the school link. They know the sector of educational and intercultural communication quite well. This allows them to aid in building bridges, to clarify misunderstandings, to talk about expectations, and to promote communication. For example, the VVOB SchoolLinks team will be able to make it clear to the Flemish school that activity X is not self-evident to a class with 60 children, or that activity Y requires more time and effort from a school in


the South than what would be expected in Flanders. A school in the South

• Discuss with your partner school the

needs to clearly indicate what the essence of a school link is to them and

possibility of giving an exchange stu-

what their expectations are.

dent or volunteer an assignment. This will make the exchange more dynamic

It should be noted that school links do not limit themselves solely to schools

and the link stronger. Make sure that

in the partner countries of VVOB. Other experience-based experts can be

the instructions are clear. Will the

involved to help interpret the context of your partner school. There are many

student receive sufficient guidance?

people providing support to the school who can offer guidance or educational

What happens after the departure of

material around global themes. Some organisations work with specific partner

the student?

countries and can therefore possibly make direct contact with the school in the South.

56 “During my final year of high school teacher training at Vives University College, I was able to (through VVOB) do an internship in the Ecole Secundaire de Kiruhura in Butare, Rwanda, along with two other students. This school has a school link with the KAM (Royal Atheneum Mariakerke) in Ghent, Belgium. Following an action plan, both schools try to develop targets, in order to exchange information and experiences so as to achieve better education. How do they teach over there? What is the relationship between pupils and teachers like? What is their curriculum? Which differences are there in the schedule? Our internship could contribute to and strengthen the school link. Apart from teaching, we paid attention to the school link: first and foremost advertising to attract new members to join the school link work group. During these meetings we had the pupils write letters to the ones at the KAM. Reversely, we also had them answer letters from Belgium, but this time with short videos. Since we wanted to make an extra effort for the school link, we had collected laptops before we left, and then donated those to the school in Kiruhura. The ICT classes now run more smoothly because of this. Also, communication between the partner schools has improved. A school link between schools of the North and the South is important, even necessary. It takes a little bit of effort, but what you get in return is priceless!� STEFFI VANDENDRIESSCHE INTERNSHIP STUDENT AT ECOLE SECUNDAIRE DE KIRUHURA, RWANDA

Schools indicate that they could use some support: Financial (93%) Coaching (85%)



Training (82%)



“The school link started out small,

With heart and soul A cooperation most often grows out of a personal experience, out of an urge for more connectivity or resentment of injustices, such as poverty in the South or racism in Flanders. A purely rational choice for a school link as a means for acquiring learning goals will seldom work. A school link stays afloat thanks to individuals and their personal and passionate engagement. This emotional commitment as a driving force is an important asset, and often even turns out to be a necessity when overcoming obstacles in the development of the school link. A school link demands extra time investment and can cause friction with colleagues. At certain times you yourself can also become frustrated or develop doubts about the added value. It is because of all of this that a school link requires a personal commitment, which goes further than the charm of a purely professional challenge.

with the school board and a teacher visiting a city together, to check if a collaboration would be a good idea. It started growing from this, and now it’s like they’re family. The entire city knows about it when we’re there, which is a very nice feeling. So there’s not just the link with the school, but also with the city. During the immersion trip, we didn’t just visit the school, but also engaged in playground activities during school holidays. This way we got to understand how they spend their leisure time.” ILSE MARTENS SCHOOL LEADER – PRIMARY SCHOOL SINT-

It helps to create a personal link with colleagues from the partner school. Knowledge about the other and his or her environment will result in a better understanding of their personalities and interests. This personal commitment is an essential key to build a successful school link and foothold during challenging times.


58 “During the visit, one of the teach-

“It’s meaningful and it fits within

ers stayed at my place, and she con-

our pedagogical project, within the

nected very well with my family. We

idea of solidarity. The enthusiasm

constantly cooked together, and in

of certain teachers affects you, and

the garden we searched for vegeta-

as a result you almost cannot say

bles she would or wouldn’t know.

no. It is, however, important that

We talked about everything: food,

the base of support remains ade-

habits, etc. When she came to our

quate. The power of the school link

house, she immediately asked me:

lies in personal contact. Whenever

“When are we going to see your par-

people come to visit us here, they

ents?” This surprised me somewhat,

bring along so many extra aspects.

but in their eyes this is a normal

Their differences are almost tangi-

thing to do when visiting. They think

ble. But there are pitfalls. There has

it’s very important to meet the rest

to be a sufficient amount of people

of the family.”

who want to support the project. This is not always easy, for example


whenever a situation calls for close


control and quick decisions.”







whenever needed. One of the nice outcomes is that we also have informal contacts through Facebook, email, and chat. This way friendships with our contacts can grow in a private environment. You could say ‘an informal spin-off of this school link’. We are growing towards each other on the level of understanding – cultural differences keep proving to be interesting discoveries.” FROM A REPORT OF SCHOOL SINT JOZEFINSTITUUT, ESSEN, BELGIUM


Tips for building bridges, pushing back frontiers and developing personal contacts: • In Flanders, work and private life is strongly separated. For individuals from such a background, being in contact with a local reality where this separation is less strong can often be challenging. • Know that informal exchange is as normal as formal communication. This way you get to know more about real life in and around the partner school. Additionally, you get to know someone as a human being and not just as a colleague. This will give the school link more depth. You could start with sharing information about personal interests. As you communicate, feel free to ask about the personal interests of your colleagues on the other side of the globe. Tell them about an important event in your life or your activities outside school. • Call or text your distant friend, once in a while. Even though you can be somewhat uncertain about the language, you will find that there is nothing to be worried about and that you can have more impact this way than through e-mail.



Meet each other live! By visiting each other you get to know each other’s living and educational environment. This way you are better able to identify the opportunities and difficulties surrounding the exchange and cooperation. With regards to your partner school there are numerous things that need to be dealt with. Some teachers are seasoned travellers and have no difficulty in planning a long distance trip. For others it will be the first time they fly to another continent. The visit should be preceded by good, practical and content wise preparation. And remember: the exchange does not end upon return.

“Our goal in this student exchange is that our pupils get a better understanding of life in another country. What it’s really like for young people over there. Through social media, a certain image of the South is imprinted on us. But youths everywhere all have the same dreams, because, to give an example, they’re all the same age at one point. This is what we want to focus on. That they will see more similarities instead of the differences that force themselves upon us here. Our students will join them and attend the same classes for one week. They will also prepare and manage a few classes over there. Carrying a part of here to there. And also bringing a part back. For now they believe that the point is providing aid, while youths over there might not be waiting for that. It mainly is in that regard that we want to adapt the image of our exchange, because, at the moment, our school link is mainly known for a fundraising activity in our school to rebuild the dormitory (which burned down).”

“We returned from South Africa exhilarated. It was a fascinating, intense and nice experience. We took and taught classes, attended meetings, talked with pupils and alumni, met with a department of the Stellenbosch University who can support us, and were in contact with the responsible for secondary education in the school’s district.” FROM THE REPORT OF SCHOOL SINT JOZEF-




“The exchanges have really con-

The importance of the informal meeting

tributed to the friendship between

Teachers with a school link experience testify how a visit creates a much-needed

the teachers and the school board.

boost, and how, after a visit, the collaboration gains a new momentum. Many chal-

Because of this, there’s more will-

lenges in the fields of communicating, matching agendas and courses, planning, and

ingness to help each other out. In

evaluating are clarified during personal talks. Furthermore, it is a fact that the personal

the long run, personal meetings are

commitment and connectedness with the programme can only be sustained through

definitely necessary for the continu-

regular real life meetings.

ation of the project. Everyone is motivated to commit. But still, there

To meet and get acquainted is a valuable goal of a school visit. During shared leisure

always needs to be someone willing

time in the programme one can create a time and place for this. However, there is

to take the lead.”

more than one way to accomplish this. Staying in a host family reduces costs, and it is an ideal way to be immersed in a new environment. Do not hide yourself in a hotel, but


actually live with colleagues and their family. Often, many contacts are made during


these informal moments. You get to know the colleagues in different ways. Potential


problems can be discussed openly and informally. These are important and not to be underestimated aspects of the visit which will benefit your school link! Life in the school surroundings will be an eye-opener about the broader context of the school, as it shows a true image of the environment where you are staying. Not all activities in the programme have to take place within the framework of the school link itself. A meeting with a local authority, cultural organisations, or participation in a sports event can widen your horizon and help further smoothen the cooperation. Remember: travelling offers an opportunity to see and learn. So go out there and experience life beyond your host school.


“Communication has increased by meeting each other. Now we communicate differently because we know each




learned tricks to get quicker responses, by, for example, making exactly clear when and what we need, and we learned to understand those times when it’s difficult for them to respond or make decisions.“ GREET VAN BERGEN 6TH GRADE TEACHER – ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SCHARREL, MINDERHOUT, BELGIUM

How can you involve teachers and pupils? • Have the pupils help prepare the visit. For example, they could join you in reflecting about the programme? They could also write letters, make pieces of art or drawings, or create a video message which the representatives could take with them. • Have the pupils ask questions or give assignments to their peers in the partner school. Pupils of both schools could, for example, make a basic dictionary containing greetings and local slang words, to send in advance. • Ask local colleagues if something can be taken along on the trip which they would like to use in class over there. • Clarify the expectations of the school when returning: in what way will they share their experiences with the rest of the school?

Have you always wondered whether a school link is something for you and how it works? Are you thinking of new ways to have your pupils collaborate with their peers in other countries? Do you agree that, by cooperating with your colleagues in a partner school, you can improve the quality of education? Do you have specific questions concerning intercultural communication, organising a visit to your partner school, or increasing public support for a school link in your own school? This inspiration guide bundles our experiences and lessons learned since the start of the SchoolLinks programme in 2009. This is not an instruction manual which will help you develop the perfect school link. Rather get inspired by our ideas and stories so you can get started yourself, and add your own ideas on partnerships in education.

VVOB School Links Inspiration Guide - English  
VVOB School Links Inspiration Guide - English  

Inspiration guide with experiences and lessons learned for everybody who is interested in a partnership with a school elsewhere in the world...