Social Innovation has positively impacted the education sectors, with a higher incidence over the last three years, in a period in which due to the pandemic it was necessary to rethink and completely rebuild the educational strategies in the different sectors of education, both school and adult education. Focusing on Social Innovation in education is useful to fully understand how innovation, creativity and learning are interconnected: it was evident that new needs had to be met by adequate innovative actions, and here social innovation played a central role, in order to give space to learners’ needs and to quickly address the different educational difficulties that emerged.

It must be stated that social innovation in education is a process that has already been underway for decades at European level with a wide range of initiatives that have transformed the “education ecosystem” over time, through reforms of schools, welfare services: what is missing is a common framework that can frame innovation under a single direction at European level.

It is possible to identify 4 factors that have determined the progression of social innovation in the educational sector to date:

– Globalisation and highly integrated and competitive markets that increase the need for training, not only specialised but also creative and flexible, aimed at innovation;
– Technological transition, with the exponential growth of digital knowledge, access to information, development of new means of communication and related challenges for students, teachers and trainers in managing the volume of tools and information at disposal.
– Demographic, related to the ageing of the population which makes the process of “lifelong learning” necessary and valuable; in parallel also the difficulties of emerging countries in providing adequate education to young people, following global trends;
– Social, in relation to the change in the relational dynamics between the individual and society, because of the global pandemic situation and the need for new relational and educational channels. Social innovation has found an important space to respond to the needs of complex family relationships, of education useful to support personal and relational circumstances.

In light of these elements, schools, training centres, educational organisations (formal and non-formal) and care-services have been facing the important challenge of ‘educational reform’ following the debates of politics and the evolution of international educational systems.  Today, there are various forms of digital and innovative didactics and education, which are gradually leading to a transition towards new forms of teaching in which the digital has more space: these are activities that favour ‘learning by doing’ and experiential education, as well as approaches that tend towards non-formal education. Educational contexts have therefore absorbed and adapted information and innovations useful for improving the contents of teaching, in fact partly cancelling traditional teaching by favouring new strategies in which it has been necessary to redetermine the network of pupils’ social relations, learning rhythms, skills, the school/educational centre environment.

The success of innovative practices does not depend exclusively on institutions or on the relationship with learners, but on the ‘environmental’ conditions that govern these relationships. Regional innovation networks, entrepreneurs and investors, renewal of the educational culture: these are all factors over which it is complex to have an influence, often making bottom-up approaches to social innovation difficult. In response to these difficulties, we often look to local initiatives and policies, and from these, authorities steer their activities towards innovative transition, thus improving what they have available, in terms of means and resources.

Social innovation in the educational sphere thus concerns two different levels:

on the one hand relating to the purely technological transition in education, which has drawn a clear difference between classic and distance learning; on the other hand relating to content and the training approach itself, which suggests new training and educational plans, focused on individual empowerment, self-fulfilment, social inclusion, sense of belonging, which are often translated by the term ‘life skills’ and ‘life skills education’.

We are therefore witnessing a major shift between traditional teaching and a new conception of learning.  It is no longer possible simply to use multimedia to vary teaching: digital technology is an integral part of people’s lives, it must now be considered as a dimension of being. In this way – and only in this way – it will be possible to rethink the role of education within social life, its importance for the attainment of competences that allow any individual to successfully achieve objectives such as full self-realisation, social inclusion and an active role in his or her community, whether local or global.

The future is rarely mentioned in pedagogical circles, even in Adult Education. In the three months of the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, the future itself has entered powerfully into global issues, into our lives, into our thoughts, and has forced us all to stop. It has given us a very important, almost unrepeatable opportunity to reflect. On the one hand, the future calls us back to the category of innovation, and on the other it questions us about Adult Education and the meaning of a field of knowledge that must find alternative paths to those normally followed. Innovation, then, is to focus on continuous training and ecosystemic sustainability, innovation is to think of co-working hubs to invent work and new work, innovation is to think of school orientation that will then decline into professional orientation. All these aspects of innovation look to the future of communities and people. And so, putting communities and people at the centre, as well as creating enterprises, is a good process of innovation, referring to the definition of the European Commission we can say: Social innovation can be defined as “the development and implementation of new ideas” to meet social needs and to create new social relations or collaborations. It represents new responses to pressing social demands, influencing the process of social interactions, and is aimed at improving human well-being.

Just as social innovation is a transdisciplinary and transversal vector, the digital is what the future cannot be imagined without. So digital must be taught, it must be learned, it must be trained, it is a metaphor, if you look closely. In other words, it is the skills that will lead to an innovative understanding of innovative processes and products that must be creatively developed.

For example, the use of innovative technology creates a school environment that promotes greater success. According to one study, students can score up to 23% higher on tests when provided with technology resources. The benefits of using educational technology in the classroom, however, are supported by extensive educational research. Teachers who use technology in their lessons often note that with regular use, their students develop stronger communication skills and engage more often in class. It also provides more self-directed activities and opportunities for personalised or differentiated instruction for students who need it. Most importantly, studies suggest that a student’s retention rate is higher when lessons or study sessions incorporate instructional technology.

Below are two European experiences of innovative educational approaches that have positively characterized social innovation at European level:

The NEMESIS project uses a new approach, in which students are involved in a collective learning model that is based on partnerships between education, social innovators and community. Students, teachers and social innovators are involved in co-creation labs and these labs will develop innovative education resources which schools can use to improve the social innovation skills of students. These resources, such as guides for teachers, training materials and student projects will be placed on an Open Learning Platform for Social Innovation and are freely accessible for everyone.

NEMESIS is being rolled out at schools in Greece, Spain, Great Britain, France, Portugal and The Netherlands. Nemesis website to find out more about the NEMESIS project.

Educational Continuity 2.0, an intercultural dialogue for a functional distance learningThe suspension of presential school education has provoked profound transformations instudents’ learning. Distance learning became a widespread tool for European governmentsto tackle the health emergency, while often exacerbating socio‐economic inequalities. Thestrength of our Erasmus+ partnership is to curb the ontological and epistemological gap onthe impact and resources put in motion by distance learning: “Educational continuity 2.0”gives an answer to its needs, issues and potential for both schools and families.September 2020 marked the beginning of our KA201 Erasmus+ project; being the leadingorganization, Thomas More ScuolaParitariaScarl (from Italy) is the protagonist of a strategic,methodological self‐reflection on distance learning. The project entails a collaborationbetween five European partners (Directorate of Primary Education of Thesprotia (Greece),University of Western Macedonia (Greece); ProjetoScholé (Portugal); Cooperativa Ada Negri(Italy) to strengthen good practices about distance learning challenges and the socio‐emotional tools to best cope with them.

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