It’s five o’clock, and Óscar – student from year 3- has his hands covered in dust. He’s kneeling in a sunny corner of the playground together with his mother, Itziar, who is rolling up her sleeves before pouring soil into some recycled tyres. The soil has been brought by Luis, father of another student in year 2.
A few metres away, one of the teachers is helping students to craft the seedbeds for the organic tomato seeds donated by Edurne, a representative from the regional NGO CERAI – who dedicates his career to improving ‘food sovereignty’ and who came to the school last October to deliver a workshop on organic agriculture.
What, you may ask, does a vegetable garden have to do with social innovation? The answer is everything.
None of these students, parents or teachers are experts on gardening. In fact, it was not until very recently that they had any knowledge of gardening at all. This of course all changed some weeks ago when Mario – sharing the experience he has gained from upkeeping a local community garden – taught them how to design their own vegetable patch – and which species to plant in it depending on the season.
This is all taking place on a Wednesday afternoon in Los Albares, a Spanish primary school located in a village of 6000 inhabitants near Zaragoza. They are one of the schools implementing the NEMESIS philosophy of ‘social innovation’ into their educational model. But what, you may ask does a vegetable garden have to do with social innovation? The answer is everything.
Learning to be active citizens
Usually, on hearing about innovation – we tend to think of technology or entrepreneurship. But this is only part of the story. While both technology and entrepreneurship – understood as the ability realize one’s ideas – are an important part of this project, it it chiefly concerned with ‘social innovation’.
when we talk social innovation education, we’re talking cooperation and collaboration
Social innovation refers to new ideas (products, services or models) that simultaneously meet social needs more effectively than other alternatives, while creating new social relationships or collaborations. It’s that impact on existing relationship, that potential to change attitudes and behaviours, that we want to bring into education.
So, when we talk social innovation education, we’re talking cooperation and collaboration. Our emphasis is placed primary on the process: it’s not about creating new companies (although we’d be happy if the students do so) but about changing the current relationships between members of the community and make students aware of their own capacity of transforming their surroundings.
When we talk about social innovation education, we’re talking about learning the competencies and skills that will allow students to effect change no matter their professional pathways; skills that will help them to become active citizens, identify areas of improvement, foster relationships and collaborations, and allow them to mobilise resources to take action.
Engaging with the community
The vegetable garden we were describing before (which happens to be part of a broader, children-led project) is actually helping the school to create better relationships among parents, teachers or students while providing them with confidence and skills. As one of the parents from Los Albares told us: “these students don’t see asking for help as a negative or ‘weak’ trait, but as normal step into the consecution of an ending; and we’re also giving help in non judgemental and more generous way”.
the vegetable garden in helping the school to create better relationships among parents, teachers, students and external actors from the neighbourhood
Moreover, the effects of this project are being felt beyond the grounds of the school. This is because NEMESIS strives to foster relations with external actors – the Town Hall, local businesses entrepreneurs, and neighbours to name a few. The result? “We feel the school is full of life, full of future”, says Ana Echevarría, head teacher at Los Albares.
Do you want to learnt about other schools projects in NEMESIS? Click here.
Are you a school willing to learn more about NEMESIS or thinking about joining the project? Feel free to surf the web and drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or fill our contact form.
Are you a social innovator who – as those mentioned here- would like to collaborate with the schools in your area? Click here for more info on how to become a mentor.