2003 Convention - Opening Presidential Address

International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI)

Sydney, Australia, 5-8 January 2003

Schooling the Knowledge Society

Professor Louise Stoll, University of Bath, England

As President of ICSEI, on behalf of the ICSEI Board I would like to welcome you all to the sixteenth annual conference of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and School Improvement in the beautiful city of Sydney. It is eight years since we last had our conference in Australia and it's wonderful to be back.

I'd like to offer my thanks to Professor Peter Cuttance, the organising committee and all of the assisting national bodies for the hard work and support that has made it possible for us to be here this year.

This year's conference theme - Schooling the Knowledge Society - is a particularly important topic for ICSEI. I'd like to take a few minutes to make some connections between the theme and our organisation. I'll organise this under four linked headings: creating knowledge; sharing knowledge; applying knowledge, and knowledge with purpose.

First, creating knowledge

Members of the ICSEI community are brought together by a common passion to improve schooling - to make it as effective as it can be - and to make an important difference to the lives of young people and prepare them for the future, whatever that may bring. In the last three decades or so, members of ICSEI have found out a huge amount about school effectiveness and school improvement, and have built up a valuable evidence base that has already had a significant impact on many young people in many countries. Bringing about change, however, is - as we all know - a challenge. We have also learnt that there are limits to the transformations that are possible through trying to take and apply this evidence, particularly in a fast changing world that faces us with complex issues requiring increasingly creative solutions.

It's not that we're short of information to help us - indeed, we live in an information-rich society, but knowledge is more than information. Knowledge is created in the dynamic sharing and processing of information, where people develop new understandings together. This takes me to my second point.

Sharing knowledge

Here, I'd like to make a link with last year's theme in Copenhagen, democratic learning. As I noted then, Michael Apple and James Beane have said, in a democratic society, no one individual or interest group can claim sole ownership of possible knowledge and meaning. This is a key and special feature of ICSEI setting us apart from many other organisations. ICSEI is a wonderfully rich and diverse community, with people from about 70 countries: teachers, school leaders, policymakers, researchers, university academics, those working in NGOs, school districts, consultants and many others.

ICSEI has a number of existing mechanisms for knowledge sharing: annual conferences, its journal and networks developed between members. We have also recently launched our new website, address www.icsei.net.

Please visit it, interact with others through it, and give us feedback to ensure that it is appropriate to your needs. This year we will be focusing our energies on enhancing our activities for members to continue building the capacity of the ICSEI learning community. I do hope you will come to our annual general meeting where we will be discussing these ideas. In addition, for the first time this year, the programme includes a business meeting for a special interest ICSEI network - this one is on school leadership and leadership development. We hope that future conferences will have more of these network meetings focusing on special interest topics.

Third, applying knowledge

ICSEI has been a leader in bridging the worlds of research, policy and practice. ICSEI members are action -oriented. In the last 15 years there have been many partnership projects where people inside and outside schools have worked together using evidence to help improve schools, and many others will be sharing their experiences at this conferences.
Hopefully, everyone will go back after the conference with new ideas and having made new connections. High quality staff development experiences, however, are those that are sustained. In this spirit, each of you - individually, or better still, with someone else - may want to reflect on the following questions on your return home:

  • Who have I/we met who has changed my/our thinking?
  • What is the most exciting new knowledge that has come out of this conference for me/us?
  • How am I/are we going to use and develop this new knowledge over time?

Finally, knowledge with purpose

ICSEI has a vitally important mission - to help ensure that schooling will serve young people well in the future. Most people here will be familiar with UNESCO's four pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. In our efforts to improve schooling in the knowledge society, it is vital for us to consider how we will ensure that learning continues to be for all, not just the most advantaged. In doing this, we apply one of the key tenets of school effectiveness - equity. Furthermore, at a time when world peace is a critical issue, we need to consider how UNESCO's learning pillar - learning to live together - isn't just a learning outcome within our own countries, but can become a reality across countries. ICSEI plays an important role here in its aim to be a truly inclusive community. I am delighted that there are presenters from 43 countries at this conference and attendees from many more. ICSEI is an organisation where people are enriched by and enrich the ideas of those from other countries. Part of our mission is a desire to contribute to knowledge development in all of our countries.

In conclusion, ICSEI aspires to be an international learning community where colleagues from all parts of the world, and bringing different educational perspectives, can engage in dialogue, create new knowledge, enhance our collective intelligence, and work together to understand how best to use this knowledge to improve schooling in and for the knowledge society. I hope that those of you who are new to ICSEI will join the community, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the next few days.

Have a great conference.

Conference slides