Local Knowledge Integrated in Learning Experiences
The Case of Schools and Communities from Rural Border Regions of Mainland Portugal
Keywords:rural schools and communities, place-based education, local knowledge, curricular flexibility
Development, smartness, and equity are often defined through cosmopolitan perspectives. Schools and communities from rural regions in Portugal must develop additional measures to compensate for structural disadvantages. These measures often serve to achieve urban models and standards with which comparisons are made. This article explores rural schools and community leaders’ strategies to integrate place-sensitive knowledge into their students’ educational experiences. These place-based approaches are developed against the erosion of local knowledge and may contribute to broadening a perspective on development, keeping schooling still accountable to local contexts. This contribution grounds on a national-level study on young people growing up in border regions, their schools, and communities’ resilient approaches, and draws on semi-structured interviews conducted with schools’ head teachers (N=38) and policymakers from municipalities (N=36). The study took place in all 38 municipalities of Mainland Portugal that border Spain. Findings indicate that the majority of schools and municipalities cooperate to promote the best conditions for students’ school success, developing strategies that acknowledge communities as a resource and as curriculum, while meeting national-level demands and students and families’ expectations for high performance on national-level standardise exams. Other strategies include the incorporation of local knowledge into various learning experiences, in which students are co-creators and active participants and local-based subjects focus on local sustainability and development, environmental challenges, preserving traditions, heritages, and patrimony. These topics are often explored in the context of citizenship education, non-formal education activities promoted by schools or the community, or in purposeful and structured projects. Although schools from rural border regions recognise the national policy of curriculum flexibility as an opportunity to incorporate local knowledge they do not fully benefit from this opportunity.
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