This idea actually started in 2010, and arose from several conversations with "our" researcher and professor Dr. Pedro Russo, who is originally from Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo and is currently a professor at Leiden University. I confess that my original idea was to create an astronomical observatory, due to the wonderful dark sky of our region. But over time we matured this idea, and Pedro convinced me to widen the scope of the project, while focusing on open education and open science, as tools to bring together science, technology and innovation to the local community, particularly to youngsters.
So, in 2017, we started this partnership with Leiden University, we opened a call for scientists and educators, and we were very happy to see a big openness and acceptance towards the project. And so, after a few months, we were already on the ground!
Since the beginning, we knew that it was an essential condition to integrate the school community in this project. As such, one of our first actions was to challenge the school group of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo to join us, who openly and readily accepted. And since then we've been working together. And with the progress of the project, it became even more evident that the involvement of the local community, in particular of the school community, is essential to create meaningful impact. This whole-community perspective creates the ideal conditions for the project to thrive and for innovation to emerge, and very importantly for everyone to feel involved and committed, with their role intervention.
If we follow this idea of an ecosystem, the ecosystem concept tells us the following: we need a place, we need a community, and then we need the relations between the different elements of the community, and between the community and the place. So, we have the community, we have the place, and now what we need is to strengthen these relationships. We need to remove the unfavorable relationships that exist in ecosystems, like predation and parasitism, and then we need to favour cooperation. And above all, symbiosis. This will all become effective when the different institutions depend on each other for the success of the projects. School, OSHub-PT, Municipality, and other partners. And only once it becomes natural that all these partners need to be part of the system for it to continue and succeed, then we will be able to overcome all these challenges.
Our main role is to support the schools and teachers integrating, in their educational practices, the open schooling approach - which is grounded on tackling local challenges and opportunities together with local partners -, in a relevant and sustainable way. Part of this work entails strengthening the cooperation between these different elements of the community, as Tina mentioned, namely between the school and local partners. This can happen, for instance, by identifying partners that are relevant for the work that the school is doing, or by bringing partners to the school and promoting the engagement with students and teachers, under the scope of these open schooling projects. Another big effort has also been to understand, together with the school, what are the best strategies to be able to integrate this open schooling practices within the school daily life, namely to identify what are the curricular and institutional moments when it is possible to put this approach into practice.
Currently we are piloting these ideas both formally - in the Citizenship and Development discipline, and non-formally - in the school’s science club.
This work consists of bringing the daily-life problems, local and community problems, to inside the school, or to extend the classrooms to the place where those things are happening. However, that's not easy, because there is this formalized concept that the class needs to work inside a room, and preferably with the door closed, and to deconstruct this is difficult - to open the door, to have other people inside our classroom. Another obstacle is to make people understand that when we embark on these kinds of projects we are not wasting time, on the contrary, we are gaining time because we are developing and building a lot of competences. Step by step what we are trying to do is to open our doors, to take our children to the streets, and make them understand that science exists to solve problems and to make our life easier. I need to learn science because that helps me to understand and to tackle my daily-life problems, that's the attitude that we want to promote and to reinforce with these methodologies. Since it's harder to implement this in the more traditional disciplines, let's call them like that [e.g Math, Biology], with a very well-defined curriculum and with final tests and exams - which is a big worrisome for everyone, but at same time is what the central government continues to demand - we decided to take an alternative approach, and to explore curricular opportunities that allow more openness, namely the discipline of Citizenship and Development. This is a discipline that started recently (2018/2019), and since we had to design it from scratch, we decided to incorporate this open schooling approach in its core, in the skeleton of this discipline. As such, we are supporting other teachers to understand that it's possible to work like this in this context, and then hopefully they will bring this work to the other, more traditional, disciplines. Overall, this process starts by understanding and knowing more about what surrounds us, because oftentimes there's some lack of knowledge about it. We observe and talk to our family, friends and colleagues and we identify what works well and what does not. And then we analyse which challenges and problems we can actually tackle and how, because there are a lot of things that immediately do not depend on us - us students, us school, us young people with limited resources -, and it's important to be aware of what's in our hands, and how we can effectively contribute to these problems and challenges. After this, let's then join efforts with other people! First, we identify entities and citizens working on projects with similar or complementary goals, and then we decide either to give our contribution to those projects or to design a new project by following those examples and inspirations. Hopefully this will contribute to make things better.
I just would like to complement what Tina said by telling about the process that we've been building over the last years. First, it's important to acknowledge that things take time, that this is a continuous and evolving process, and that each year is the product of the work that has been done in the past years. So, looking back, since 2018/2019, when the discipline of Citizenship and Development started: in the first year, the work was much focused on working together with the teachers inside the classroom, understanding how to integrate in the daily practices this attitude of collaborating with community partners to tackle local challenges, and to co-create these activities with teachers and with the school psychologist in such a way that they would fulfil simultaneously the open schooling approach and the mission and objectives of the discipline; in the second year, we went from 5 to 17 classes, as such the strategy started being more focused on capacity building, so that teachers could perform this kind of work, in an active and autonomous way, together with their classes; and now in the third year, we are reinforcing this capacity-building strategy, by making it also also institutionally rewarding for teachers. We are currently running a certified teacher training program on open schooling, that started in november 2020, and will last until may 2021, in a total of 6 sessions (25h), with more than 20 participants from 4 different schools, including from Lisbon.
The decision of the Municipality of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo to start a project like OSHub-PT, in 2017, is a reflection of that, in the sense that it's a specific, surgical and targeted strategy aimed at supporting schools and local stakeholders to use research and innovation to tackle relevant challenges, in a way that meets the aspirations and concerns of our local community, and takes into account the perspectives of teachers and of the school community as a whole. We look at the OSHub project as an opportunity to make something different and innovative in terms of science education, by combining existing opportunities within the guidelines of the central government together with the needs and assets of our local context, while at the same advocating for this integration to be more effective and meaningful for our local communities.
Following on this, and complementing what has been said already, I just wanted to highlight some additional aspects. For example, at the level of the Citizenship and Development discipline, there's a manual being developed, which is a result of this co-creative and collaborative work between the OSHub-PT and the school group of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, which will be released in the next couple of months and hopefully will be used at a national level. In addition, we are also developing a project focused on circular economy, where we created a local coin (Sustento) that rewards our citizens for sustainable behaviors (like reduction of plastic consumption and recycling) with discounts in municipal services, like the gym or the cinema. Also, we joined an international citizen project aimed at monitoring the water quality of river streams - Drinkable Rivers - and together with our students, we have been performing regular analysis of the Douro river with the objective of assessing the impact of river tourism on the water quality.
We are confident that the OSHub-PT project, that gradually is leaving its mark in the territory, will have a strong and sustainable impact in the territory. Let's see, time will tell. We'll continue working towards that goal.
I expect that this process will be so well embodied in all the different elements of this ecosystem, that things will emerge organically. And what do I mean by this? On one hand, I hope that this need to tackle local challenges will come naturally from students, instead of being proposed by teachers or partners. And on the other hand, everytime that partners consider developing a project that involves students, they should reflect beforehand if the school is already developing some work on that topic/approach, and if yes how to best combine and integrate efforts.
I also hope that more teachers will be working with this open schooling methodology, in an autonomous way, and that this network of exchange with other schools, which is currently still small, grows a lot. Finally, I would like the other partners that benefit from the work that we have been doing with all these projects, namely the local community, to realize that their quality of life is getting better, because the Municipality and the OSHub-PT facilitated the process, students got involved, and things happened.
If we still have a high school in 50 years, it's a sign that we did a good job! My wish is to continue having people in this territory, with children going to school. That would be a sign that all these actions that value the territory have succeeded and that the community will continue existing.
My aspirations follow what Tina just said, namely that this need and desire to be active citizens in our territory starts emerging naturally from students. In addition, I also hope that this leads to an increase in student's motivation and to widen their professional perspectives, which was also one of the main objectives of this project since the beginning.
A lot of the projects that we discussed today have in common this feature of innovation and entrepreneurship, however for these projects to have an effective impact in the territory they need to go from the scale of the school to the scale of the territory, which requires time, continuous effort, and the increasing involvement of more partners, namely partners that are geographically distant, like universities and research institutes, artists, industry. And then, hopefully, these innovation projects will bring people to the territory that will want to live and remain in the interior of Portugal.
First, I would like to see the OSHub-PT project strengthened and enriched through the involvement of more partners, universities, schools, associations or even the private sector, that could eventually embrace some of the projects that we are developing and to make them more impactful and sustainable and, who knows, the starting point of new entrepreneurial projects. Secondly, an increase in student's motivation towards science and science careers, and the consequent increase in their agency to tackle local challenges and to become part of the solution. And thirdly, to be able to measure the impact of all this in the lives of our citizens and well-being of our community.
To have a more systemic and systematic open schooling approach, both at the level of the school - by involving all disciplines - as well as at the level of the community and of the territory, with more partners involved in the education of our students. If students know and are passionate about their territory - their heritage, culture, roots -, they will care about it and will want to contribute to their development and innovation. As such, we need to work together to provide the conditions for our children to become more creative and entrepreneurial, and to give them the space to dream. This will allow us to continue moving towards the development, innovation and well-being of our communities and of our territory.
Are you a student, teacher, school head,
and you would like your school to be part of the OSHub Network, contributing to the development, innovation and well-being of your community?
and you would like to join your local OSHub and help co-creating this project with your local community?
and you would like to join us in this venture to co-develop school-led projects to tackle local relevant challenges?
and you would like to work together with us to co-create a strategy to support schools to become agents of transformation in your community?
Please send an email to
Project Manager OSHub.Network, Leiden University