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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 6: Conservation of Native Biodiversity (Polylepis and Compsospiza) and Improving the Quality of Life in two Andean Communities of Bolivia (Emilio Aliss / Rebecca Hsieh / Rachel Silva / David Morimoto / Jean-Luc Gilles)

Emilio Aliss*, Rebecca Hsieh**, Rachel Silva**, David Morimoto** and Jean-Luc Gilles*** – – – –

* Simón I. Patiño University, Cochabamba, Bolivia** Lesley University, Cambridge, MA, USA

*** University of Teacher Education, State of Vaud, Switzerland

Chapter 6: Conservation of Native Biodiversity (Polylepis and Compsospiza) and Improving the Quality of Life in two Andean Communities of Bolivia


The University of Teacher Education (Switzerland), Simón I. Patiño University (Bolivia) and Lesley University (USA) conceived a multidisciplinary conservation project that joins faculty and students to serve three communities living in the Andean native quewiña (Polylepis) forest in the Cochabamba area, home of the endangered Mountain-Finch Compsospiza garleppi. In 2011 PEERS financed and installed 34 ecological stoves to reduce the use of Polylepis for fuel wood and developed a systematic education campaign to benefit about 40 families (half the population) in these communities. In 2013, a greenhouse for food and for Polylepis seedlings was designed and constructed, and education materials influenced by Freinet’s pedagogy, focusing on nutrition, science, culture and conservation were developed to expand the program in two of these communities, with the economic help of several institutions. Within the PEERS framework, the Swiss team developed cross-cultural and international education connections and joined local stakeholders in critical conservation efforts with Swiss and US global stakeholders in education.←107 | 108→

1. Introduction

1.1 Main goal and objectives

The main goal of this 3 year PEERS Project that began in October 2011 between the University of Teacher Education of the State of Vaud (HEP Vaud), Lausanne, Switzerland and the Simón I. Patiño University (USIP), in Cochabamba, Bolivia was to develop an interdisciplinary and creative educational service program based on preservation to help the rural communities of San Miguel, Janko Khala and Chaqui Potrero in Cochabamba. The two principal objectives were to improve health, education, and nutrition in relationship to the environment and to preserve traditional knowledge, in both cases in sustainable ways.

1.2 Global view of the project

In three years, this project influenced 28 students from three continents (15 in the first two steps and 13 in the last two steps), 5 faculty members from three universities and more than 50 families in three Andean communities (three communities in the first two steps and two communities in the last two steps).

We based our work on a quality approach paradigm (Gilles, 2002; Gilles, Bosmans, Mainferme, Plunus, Radermaecker & Voos, 2007; Gilles, 2010a; Gilles, Detroz, Crahay, Tinnirello & Bonnet, 2011; Gilles & Potvin, 2012) at the center of which we placed the needs of local stakeholders: children, teachers, parents, communities, and authorities. In order to ensure the coherence of actions undertaken, the international group adopted an approach inspired by the teaching model of Freinet (Freinet, 1956, 1960; Goupil, 2007; Reuter, 2008). This approach is in line with the options in the new Bolivian Education Law, in which certain of Freinet’s techniques are adopted by teachers.

The project was carried out in four stages which allowed us to address various dimensions of the three Andean communities’ lives in←108 | 109→ a co-constructive way, and to explore ways to help the sustainability of the program (Aliss & al., 2012). In section 2.1 we give a summary of the teams and their compositions in two last stages, and in section 1.2.3 we explain how they collaborated.

1.2.1 First stage (rocket stoves) 2011–2012

In the first stage of the project, two teams from USIP and HEP Vaud gave ecological stoves out to the communities, located near native threatened Polylepis forests, in order to reduce firewood consumption and to improve living conditions for people, since the stoves remove soot and smoke from the room. An educational campaign was also developed to improve community knowledge in relation to the environmental services of Polylepis forests (Zurita & Vargas, 2017).

1.2.2 Second stage (assessment and relationship with the environment) 2012–2013

The second stage involved an evaluation of the stoves; this goal was reached by carrying out workshops and making videos that showed us how the conservation knowledge acquired by community members helped in the forest preservation and also in the fulfillment of the community’s expectations of whether the new stoves were assets or not. This evaluation informed our work to increase the number of installed stoves and to develop further the educational component to emphasize the integral relationship of the communities with the environment (Zurita & Vargas, 2017).

1.2.3 Third stage (Freinet’s pedagogy and greenhouses) 2012–2013

In the third stage of the project we concentrated our work in the communities of San Miguel and Chaqui Potrero. In this stage which occurred simultaneously with the second stage and involved another group of students, we applied some of the educational methods of Célestin Freinet’s pedagogy in the two local schools, choosing the strategies in collaboration with the teachers in both communities. We also constructed a greenhouse in the community of San Miguel and←109 | 110→ helped to enlarge the greenhouse in the community of Chaqui Potrero, in collaboration with the Armonia Foundation1. We expanded the original structure of the PEERS project by including a third academic institution, Lesley University in Cambridge, USA (LU), as part of an innovative ‘tripod’ collaboration. In this expanded project, the USIP’s team focused on the development of school spaces and building greenhouses with parents who were associated with the two schools. The LU team offered new teaching and learning practices by creating and adapting with local teachers three theme-based pedagogical sequences: environmental conservation, nutrition, and celebration of local culture and tradition. The HEP Vaud team co-developed with local teachers and the other two teams a general framework of organizing the work inspired by Freinet’s pedagogy, as explained by Peyronie (2013) and Piaton (1974).

This ambitious stage enriched the intercultural approach (not to mention the complexity) of the project by including the global educational perspectives of a third institution from a third continent. As the co-constructive work done in both communities during this third project stage has similar pedagogical, intercultural and environmental characteristics, after giving some specific information about each one of these two communities, we are going to focus on the work done in the community of San Miguel.

1.2.4 Fourth stage (sustainability) 2013–2014

In the fourth and final stage of the project, conducted again by teams from HEP Vaud and USIP, we concentrated our efforts (due to budgetary constraints) on developing sustainability of the work in the community of San Miguel, through the smart use of the greenhouse (to improve nutrition and at the same time to obtain profitability) and the development of a program of handicrafts made for marketing. An existing women’s association in San Miguel, revived by the project, allowed us to develop this program of handicrafts.←110 | 111→

The first two stages of this work are described in the chapter “Promoting and evaluating Polylepis forest protection as a way to improve living conditions in the communities of San Miguel, Janko Khala, and Chaqui Potrero” (Zurita & Vargas, 2017). After giving some specific information about San Miguel and Chaqui Potrero, the present chapter will describe and evaluate only two last stages, focusing on the work developed in the community of San Miguel, as explained above.

1.3 Context

1.3.1 Data collection process and preparation work

The community experts

Once we chose the two Andean communities, and before we visited them, we met two experts who had developed close working relationships with them. Noemí Esther Huanca Llanos2 and José Balderrama3 had worked with the members of both communities through social work and scientific projects, respectively, and they assisted us in making initial contact. They explained the work they were developing, informed us of some of the major needs of the communities, and briefed us on the basic norms of the culture and on protocols of respect. We also discussed ways in which we could make productive links with their work.

The community leaders

San Miguel is a small community with less than 25 families. Chaqui Potrero is somewhat larger, with a little more than 30 families. They mainly work as shepherds and as farmers in very poor conditions (Zurita & Vargas, 2017). Following the conversations with the two experts, we contacted the leader of each community and explained our project ideas and the goals of the PEERS program to provide a mutually enriching intercultural experience for everyone involved. We asked their permission to share our project goals with the whole community.←111 | 112→

The families

Each of the communities holds a general monthly meeting to discuss the needs of the community and to plan approaches to solving current problems. We participated in at least two of these general meetings in each village, and with the support of the community leaders, we shared with everyone the ideas behind our work and solicited their input for ideas, concerns, interests, and needs (within the limits of our financial means). During these early visits we had opportunities to visit villagers’ houses and talk with them to learn directly about their problems regarding health, education and relationship with the environment.

The teachers

We held several meetings with the teachers in both communities. Mr. Jaime Tames was the teacher of the community of San Miguel and Mrs. Delia Mancilla was the teacher of the community of Chaqui Potrero. They worked at the schools during the week and returned home only on weekends to rejoin their families. Through our meetings we came to understand a great deal about the needs of both communities in terms of education, health, nutrition, preserving traditional culture, and improving their relationship with the environment.

The educational authorities of the department of Cochabamba

Thanks to a long-standing educational project developed in Cochabamba by USIP in collaboration with Belgium and the universities of Liège and Mons (Aliss, Gilles, Galarza & Dethier, 2010; Aliss, Gilles, Bruyninckx, Detroz, Cauchie & Dethier, 2010) the educational authorities of Cochabamba were very interested and invested in all the educational aspects of our PEERS project. In meeting with these authorities we explained Freinet’s pedagogy and organized with their agreement the application of Freinet’s techniques. They agreed to extend an official certificate to the teachers of both schools, in order to honor their dedication and acknowledge them for their work.

1.3.2 Living conditions of the two Andean communities targeted

The two Andean communities are rather isolated and remote from the valley city of Cochabamba. They occur at high elevations between 3,000 and 3,500 meters above sea level, and the people living there are subjected to harsh living conditions. High dropout rates, malnutrition, and health problems affect most families in a very much-endangered cultural and←112 | 113→ natural environment. Their diet at the time was mostly composed of carbohydrates, primarily potatoes, which has a multitude of negative health implications for these communities when it comes to the physical and intellectual development of children.

1.3.3 Environmental context

From an environmental point of view, there is a strong threat to the forests essentially composed of quewiña (Polylepis spp.), a crucial endemic tree for the endangered Cochabamba Mountain-Finch (Compsospiza garleppi) and several other species. The people of these Andean communities use the quewiña wood abundantly for cooking and warming up, thereby accelerating deforestation and pushing the endemic Compsospiza garleppi towards extinction. The use of open fires inside houses also leads to respiratory problems as well as eye irritation and ocular infections.

1.3.4 Educational context of the department of Cochabamba and inside the two Andean communities

The Department of Cochabamba has 1,900,000 inhabitants4 (18 % of the population of Bolivia). Private education is of a higher quality than public education by virtue of having more substantial financial resources. In Cochabamba, we count 4,500 public schools and only 300 private schools. The consequences of low funding on the quality of education in the department are dramatic. In addition to this issue, there exists a high dropout rate the causes of which have been widely studied in research conducted by Dr. Cynthia Nava Romano of the University Simón I. Patiño, in Cochabamba, through a project funded in Bolivia by the University Development Cooperation of the government of Belgium, in collaboration with the Universities of Liège and Mons (Nava Romano, 2012, 2014, 2015). Dr. Nava’s research has developed with the help of the assessment center of Simón I. Patiño University (Aliss, Gilles, Bruyninckx, Detroz, Cauchie & Dethier, 2010).←113 | 114→

In addition to a lack of resources related to public education, there is only one school in each of the two communities, at only the primary level and with only one teacher per school. Schools in both villages have at most 2 classrooms, in which kids are split in level groups, such as 1st, 2nd and 3rd year in one room, and 4th, 5th and 6th year in the other. Moreover, the remoteness of houses scattered widely in the expanse of the villages means that children have to walk long distances in the mountains to reach school. Coupled with malnutrition and early morning work commitments, the consequences of this distance are significant on students’ fatigue, concentration, and motivation. The harsh living conditions lead to more or less random school attendance.

1.4 State of research in the field

Research has been carried out on the environment of the Andean communities of the department of Cochabamba, including studies of an endemic bird in danger of extinction, the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch (Compsospiza garleppi), and the quewiña tree (Polylepis spp.) threatened by deforestation (Huanca, Hosner & Hennessey, 2009). On the other hand, regarding the living conditions of the isolated communities inhabiting this region, as far as we know, there is no research identifying problems and leading to proposals for solutions. However, such population-based research is crucial to achieving a human-environment (socio-ecological) balance in a sustainable development perspective. It is in this perspective that our PEERS project aims to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in the high altitude Andean communities by using an integral approach respecting the natural environment, preserving the culture of the populations, and ensuring the sustainability of the results through education.

Increasing the local awareness of the extinction danger of the quewiña tree (Polylepis spp.) and the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch (Compsospiza garleppi) is a primary goal of research and reforestation programs. Thanks to work developed in 2009 by the Bolivian biologist Noemi Esther Huanca Llanos, an award winner of the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP), the bird is now a true symbol for conservation of the natural environment←114 | 115→ in the region. The Mayor of Quillacollo (secondary city near the targeted region and home of the two teachers in the villages) has ordered that an image of the bird be displayed on all official vehicles. An educational campaign was also developed in the communities belonging to the endemic area, to increase local appreciation for this bird and its equally special habitat. A project entitled “Preventing Habitat Loss for the Endangered Cochabamba Mountain-Finch” and focusing on reforestation efforts for the endemic quewiña tree, was approved in the community of Chaqui Potrero (October 2012 to January 2013) by the Foundation Armonia in 2012.

The enthusiasm generated in the region through these campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch has been an excellent lever for mobilizing the Andean communities around socio-economic projects aimed at exploiting the potential of this endemic bird for ecotourism. The work done in Guyana by the stage three team from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA), in which students become ‘ecovolunteers’, or ‘ecovoluntourists’ and earn academic credit through cross-cultural coursework and rigorous community-based service projects5, is an interesting model for sustaining the work undertaken in San Miguel.

How to lower school dropout rates and build educational alliances to help accomplish this goal are among the research fields of Prof. Dr. Jean-Luc Gilles (Gilles, Potvin & Tièche Christinat, 2012). He has demonstrated the importance and necessity of building partnerships between parents, teachers, school authorities and the socio-cultural and economic environment to fight effectively against the phenomenon of dropping out. Our work modeled a place-based project approach with full community and multi-partner support and involvement and an integral educational component as one manifestation of this strategy. Importantly, this PEERS project added a rich intercultural component that has had an equally profound impact on the remote high Andes villagers who do not normally have much outside contact and the PEERS project faculty and students from three countries and continents. The enthusiasm for this important locally acting globally cooperating work has spread to spark the interest of potential donors.←115 | 116→

2. Procedure

2.1 Multidisciplinary approach

This ambitious project required the convergence of many people with a very large spectrum of expertise, knowledge and skills, especially in these two last stages, when we had the collaboration of 13 students and 3 faculty members from three universities on three continents:

LU (pedagogy for primary education)



Morimoto, David (Ecology)


Hsieh, Rebecca (Education) and Silva, Rachel (Education)

HEP Vaud (Master in Educational Sciences & Practices)



Gilles, Jean-Luc


Lehmann, Roch (Educational Sciences & Practices), De Bonhome, Stéphanie (Educational Sciences & Practices) and Snapir, Dimitri (Educational Sciences & Practices)



Prosperi, Oliver


Ruchet, Julie (Educational Sciences & Practices) and Käller, Martin (Educational Sciences & Practices)

USIP (scientific knowledge associate to the project in the areas of environmental and commercial sciences and in architecture and bioingeniery)



Aliss, Emilio


Rojas, Josué (Architecture), Iturri, Aracelli (Architecture) and Gutiérrez, Richard (Architecture)



Aliss, Emilio


Müller, Alejandra (Commercial Sciences), López, Gabriela Bioengineering) and Rendón, Adriana (Environmental Science)←116 | 117→

2.2 Meetings and working online

During the third stage (cf. global view of the project), the teams of HEP Vaud, LU and USIP worked in a very coordinated way to develop the project and achieve the principal goals. They used three benchmark meetings, in Boston (September 2012), in Cochabamba (March 2013), and in Lausanne (May 2013) to develop their work, carry it out, and report and reflect on it. These meetings were focused, intensive, and rich in cultural exchange. They also worked throughout the academic year using social network applications (Skype, Facebook, email) as part of the project goals, to update each other on progress and ask to questions, to develop didactic material collaboratively (HEP Vaud and LU teams), to consolidate the planning of nursery construction with the leadership of USIP team, and to exchange information on the follow-up of the relationship with the two Andean communities. Monthly reports were presented that allowed faculty to monitor and engage in all aspects of the process. The meeting in Cochabamba was particularly significant for all the teams, because it allowed for the dynamic interchange of four rich cultures: two northern cultures of the USA and Europe and the two southern cultures of rural communities and the city of Cochabamba. The resulting experiences had high emotional impact and powerful team-building influence. Testimonials are very significant. Here and later we present some of them:

The project is going on concerning the construction of the green house. I would like to increase the monitoring about the communication between my students and those of other countries. In general, the project is very good (Mr. Jaime Tames, teacher of San Miguel)

PEERS Experience is an important event in my life, which I learned to have ideals, commitment to my country and my people, learning that small projects may have a big impact in many lives, learning to value how others perceive the world and thanks this fill me with significant knowledge. The project is also a trip to the own inside world. (Josué Rojas, USIP team)

The fourth and final stage of the project, focused on project sustainability, was developed in the same way by the teams of HEP Vaud and USIP. The teams held two general meetings, one in Cochabamba (October←117 | 118→ 2013) and the other in Lausanne (May 2014), and they worked all year using social networking, maintaining the disciplined habit of presenting monthly reports. The last meeting in Lausanne allowed both teams to evaluate all of the results of the project. We present one of the testimonials from the last HEP Vaud team (July Ruchet):

We strengthened our taste to meet the other. This desire to learn more about the other, about his habits of doing, his customs, his ideas … This desire to know how he thinks, how he sees you …

2.3 Financing institutions

The following institutions contributed financially to the operations in order to ensure the success of the project:

LU: Financing the hosting of Bolivian team in Cambridge, the LU team trip to Cochabamba, and didactic material for rural communities.

HEP Vaud: Partial funds for the rocket stoves, funding of teaching materials necessary for the chosen rural schools and local trips to visit these remote communities (San Miguel and Chaqui Potrero) of the city of Cochabamba.

UNESCO group of the school Belvedere (BV) in Lausanne: Partial funds for the rocket stoves.

Fondation Simón I. Patiño: Financing the trip of the Bolivian team to Cambridge, the construction of greenhouse in San Miguel and local travels of Bolivian team in San Miguel and Chaqui Potrero.

Simón I. Patiño University: Funds for developing the handicraft program in San Miguel.

Organisation ARMONIA: Funding for the improvement and enlargement of the greenhouse existing in Chaqui Potrero.

Hervé Burgener: A Swiss citizen concerned with ecology. Funds for developing sustainability in the community of San Miguel, in the final stage of the project.←118 | 119→

2.4 Improving education with the help of Freinet’s Pedagogy

Lesley University’s role within this particular PEERS project was to create lesson plans that reflect the teaching strategies of the LU students, while also incorporating Celestin Freinet’s teaching methods, as explained by Freinet (1956, 1960); Goupil (2007) and Reuter (2008). Children are all individuals that express themselves through different means. Their personalities, cultures, desires, and needs must all be considered within the classroom – not every child is the same nor do they learn using the same methods. The focus of these lesson plans was to integrate the arts and experiential learning into everyday school learning as a means to connect the student’s lives and experiences to the curriculum. These activities were not meant to replace current curriculum, but to enhance student learning by utilizing their individual strengths and various intelligences. They use multiple approaches to learning and incorporate a variety of materials and mediums. Using multiple methods will contribute to a healthy development in all the intelligences, as suggested by Gardner (1983, 1993) and Schneider & McGrew (2012).

Other considerations made during the development of these lesson plans that tied into Freinet’s pedagogy included the idea that children flourish at their own pace, and children construct their own knowledge as a means of taking responsibility for their learning, and developing autonomy in interaction with others and the world around them. Adaptations and modifications were included in the lesson plans for teachers to utilize to meet students’ specific needs. Students were also given the opportunities to create whether it was art or poetry as a means of showing their own knowledge and understanding gained; and due to the emphasis on culture preservation throughout the lessons, students are able to connect with and be active members of their community.

Different class organization methods were progressively introduced with teachers, from adaptations of Freinet techniques of “What’s New”, the “Class Council”, the “Correspondence School”, the “Vegetable Garden” and “Jobs” to empower children. In all its actions and interactions,←119 | 120→ the international group was particularly attentive to the values of local communities and project stakeholders.

2.4.1 Lesson development

The curriculum was based on Creative Writing and Integrated Teaching through the Arts. A thematic unit with three strands including Cultural and Natural Preservation focusing on the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch and the Polylepis tree, and Nutrition was created focusing on experiential learning. The USIP team created an aquaponics system tying in with the nutrition lessons while the HEP team planned an international pen-pal program connected to the lessons surrounding cultural knowledge and literacy.

These lessons also integrated perspectives of experiential learning. This perspective is described as learning through physical actions, but also reflecting on those specific actions (Kolb, 1984). Along with Freinet’s perspective, students do not learn just from books or teachers’ words but need to create experiences for themselves to have a better understanding of the information being taught. Children need to interact with their world where they can have hands-on experiences with their learning. Instead of just reading about plants’ various uses, students are encouraged to go out and find these plants and put the uses to practice.

An additional goal of the project was to create lessons that were applicable to student’s lives and their communities; therefore the thematic curriculum focused on the preservation of the land and the culture of the students’ communities, as well as the students’ lifestyles, leading to many activities regarding the endangered Cochabamba Mountain-Finch and students’ knowledge of their own culture related to local stories or even recipes of local cuisine. To facilitate the preservation of local culture and sustainability of the project, the planned activities incorporated many uses for natural materials.

Since the schools have limited resources, the situation lends itself to John Dewey’s idea of place-based education where students, teachers, and community members work together to solve neighborhood issues (Zeece, 2003, p. 14). A major component of the lesson-writing process was making sure the lessons addressed the actual needs of the←120 | 121→ communities as opposed to introducing an outside perspective of what they should be learning in comparison to western schools.

2.4.2 Co-constructing with community teachers

During the meeting with Chaqui Potrero and San Miguel teachers, LU students explained the ideology behind the curriculum, the teaching methods and a description of the themes of culture, nutrition, and natural preservation. The teachers expressed their interest in partnering with PEERS and were excited that the lessons contained experiential learning methods instead of lecturing methods. They cited the importance of addressing the endangered species, the applicability of the work with their students (aged 5–13), and the importance of having coverage of all content areas. We agreed that at least one lesson would be tried during the visit to the community in order to assess its effectiveness.

2.4.3 The pedagogical experience in Chaqui Potrero

The PEERS teams from Bolivia, Switzerland, and the USA went with the local students, their teacher, and some interested parents on an excursion into their local natural environment to collect leaves of medicinal plants. During the walk, students spoke about the purposes of each plant and how they learned what they knew. Students then wrote their personal stories and knowledge regarding each medicinal plant.

The LU team shared letters written to them by first grade students from a Cambridge, Massachusetts school. The teacher challenged students to write response letters and include their own illustrations. The lesson was adapted to meet each of the students’ capabilities. Older students wrote with more detail, and younger students drew pictures.

2.4.4 The pedagogical experience in San Miguel

To help create some structure in the multi-aged classroom, students were divided into two groups by age, and they then engaged in lessons separately. The teachers were thus better able to match lesson content to the ages of their students. One teacher had chosen to display clay artwork the students created, from pinch bowls to figurines of local animals, and←121 | 122→ engaged students in discussion about how the clay was from nature and how it got there as part of the local geology.

The students used a previous PEERS projects which consisted of a wood burner stove that needed less of the Polylepis plant and created less smoke. (Zurita & Vargas, 2017).

2.4.5 Self-analysis of PEERS students

To conclude this third step of the project, as explained in section 1.2.3, HEP Vaud, LU and USIP met in Lausanne, Switzerland, sharing their final products and synthesizing the overall outcomes of the project. Partners centered in Bolivia stated that teachers were looking forward to using the methods presented within the curriculum in their own classes. The Cambridge first grade students who wrote letters to the students in Bolivia continued to do a whole unit on Bolivia and did a whole unit on birds inspired by the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch.

The lessons sampled during the visits were successful and helped to form relationships between the communities and the PEERS teams. Overall, the shared learning experience was a powerful one for all PEERS participants from the three countries, setting a hopeful precedent for future PEERS projects and building lasting collaborative partnerships between institutions. Sustaining the program financially remains the biggest challenge.

3. Results

As explained in section 1.1, the principal objectives were (1) to improve health, education, and nutrition in relationship to the environment and (2) to preserve traditional knowledge, in both cases in sustainable ways.

The first objective was accomplished partially with the stoves installed and with the educational campaigns developed during the two first stages of the project (cf. results of Zurita & Vargas, 2017). This objective was completed in these two last stages of the project with the←122 | 123→ construction of the greenhouse and with the applied techniques of the Freinet’s pedagogy, as explained in section 2.4. The lessons created by LU team integrated perspectives of experiential learning, and we saw how the learning through physical actions was significant for students (cf. sections 2.4.3 and 2.4.4). The lessons were applicable to student’s lives and their communities and we saw how students, teachers, and community members worked together to solve neighborhood issues, such as malnutrition (cf. section 3.2.2).

The second objective was accomplished with the development of the handicraft program. In this section, we explain these results in more detail and the how we helped to develop project sustainability.

3.1 The construction of the Greenhouse and the development of a handicrafts program: from theory to practice

3.1.1 The design of the nursery in San Miguel

The green house was constructed on land adjoining the school. USIP architecture students designed the nursery after consultation with several firms specializing in gardening and agriculture construction, seeking a good balance between the dimensions of the building and the price and quality of materials.

The construction occurred in many stages. For each stage, students reserved entire days to advance the work (eventual purchases, travel back and forth to the community and construction activities). To be truly participatory and engaging, the construction had to be a community activity, led by USIP students. Daily fieldwork of people and long distances to school made it difficult at first, but participation of the community gradually increased as they saw the results. High altitude climate conditions (especially strong winds) damaged materials during the process, but it gave the architecture students challenging opportunities to enrich their experience and to strengthen the construction, adapting their work to natural conditions of the environment. At some point in the process, some pieces of the construction (tensors) disappeared, delaying the process, since it was necessary to go back to the city to repurchase the←123 | 124→ items. This led to a community reflection on the ownership of the project, which led in turn to an increased quality of work and strengthened relationships of parity between the various protagonists of the project.

3.1.2 Recuperating the traditional knowledge in handicrafts

Elder women in the community kept the traditional knowledge in handicrafts, but they no longer had the material resources to develop their work. Furthermore, the grazing of lamas and sheep occupied most of the women’s time. Therefore, this project aimed to find a way to rescue the ancestral techniques of weaving. At the same time it was necessary to incorporate the most modern techniques to facilitate weaving and dyeing because this project also aimed to incorporate women’s groups in economic activities that could contribute to the income of their communities and households and promote the development of a tourism activity. In order to contribute to this goal, the project donated five looms, needlefish, crochet, sticks and other equipment and organized workshops on how to use it all, so that the women’s association of the community could start making their first garments.

3.2 Constructing sustainability

One of the aims of the project was to find a way to guarantee sustainability. All the team of the last PEERS project worked to construct sustainability in three principal areas developed in the two last steps of this ambitious project.

3.2.1 Education

USIP students followed up on the educational activities in the schools through periodic visits to the community, coordinated with the school teacher visits, to ensure the continued use of the Freinet techniques. They found a way to associate the educational activities of the school with nursery production and with the handicrafts program. Practicing←124 | 125→ Freinet’s techniques, they also developed a handbook of medicinal plants with the help of the students and their teacher.

3.2.2 Greenhouse and nutrition

To guarantee the sustainability of the activities linked to the greenhouse, Mr. Jaime Tames, the teacher of San Miguel helped us to develop a new program, considering the needs of the community. This program covered three components:

An educational campaign, to empower children and adults in the field of nutrition;

An adequate distribution of the production (25 % for children’s nutrition, 25 % for adults’ nutrition, 50 % for selling);

A marketing program for selling 50 % of the production in the neighborhood and reinvesting in seed.

3.2.3 Handicraft program

Students at USIP developed guidelines for the organization of the manufacture and sale of handicraft, with the idea of integrating it into a tourism promotion program. The logo made with the women’s association implies embodies this idea.

At the end of this last step, the activities for these three areas, education, greenhouse and nutrition, and handicrafts, were set to continue as a reflection of sustainability, and as the responsibility of the village teacher and the women’s association of San Miguel.

4. Benefits of the whole project and conclusions

After 3 years of working in a co-constructive way, practicing PEERS concepts, keeping our main goals and adapting our actions to reality, we can summarize the principal benefits of these 4 linked projects (described←125 | 126→ in two chapters as explained above), influencing 28 students (15 in the first two steps and 13 in the last two steps) and 5 faculty members of three universities and more than 50 families in three Andean communities (three communities in the first two steps and two communities in the last two steps).

As the conclusions of the first two steps of the project are contained in the chapter “Promoting and evaluating Polylepis forest protection as a way to improve living conditions in the communities of San Miguel, Janko Khala, and Chaqui Potrero” (Zurita & Vargas, 2017), we concentrate here on the principal benefits of the last two steps:

Theory joined practice in a real living experience, allowing us to find the links between the cultural, environmental, health, socioeconomic and educational aspects of life in the two Andean communities and help improve the quality of these five aspects. Through the work of this project Freinet’s pedagogy and other synergistic strategies came alive in the linked educational, environmental, socioeconomic, health, and cultural aspects of the nursery, nutritional education program, and handicraft program, engaging whole communities.

Interdisciplinary research construction with stakeholder involvement allowed the development of Real Community Service in a sustainable way, helping to build intercultural relationships and solidarity.

Intercultural enriching activities allowed the development of intercultural skills in a mutually significant and profound life experience.

Disciplined coordination of collaborative work at a distance through Real-Life situations happened, thanks to a periodic contact using social networks and monthly reports.

Self-analysis of students occurred, thanks to the culminating face-to-face meetings (cf. 2.4.5).

Management of this international project in order to promote research publications, which allowed faculty to participate in at least five international symposia (AMCE Reims 2012, Eskisehir 2016, PEERS SUMMER SYMPOSIA San Diego 2013, Brussels 2014 and Lausanne 2015).←126 | 127→

We can represent the benefits of this project with the following testimonial:

Working with real people on real projects made me realize there’s much more to consider than just applying what is learned in the academic pursuit of a career, we need to be more aware of the history, needs and rights of communities we are working with and realize that you can teach as long as you notice you are learning (Adriana Rendón, USIP student).

With regard to durability, we must honestly point out that this has been achieved thanks to the long duration of the four successive projects, but that to follow up on it in the years after the project, it would be necessary to organize future coordinated activities, with additional specific funding, which is not part of the PEERS program. We acknowledge the ambitious nature of this project involving three teams from three continents working with several other groups in remote communities, and the logistical and financial challenges that come with it. However, given the power of impact the project had on its participants, those we served, and the natural environment alike, we suggest that it is well worth the effort and cost. We continue to explore models that would support the PEERS objectives in more financially sustainable ways over the long term.

We can conclude that the teams that have participated in this project have been able to successfully accomplish the objectives of the whole project and to face several of the challenges posed by the PEERS program, as explained in the introductory chapter “Origin, Foundations, Objectives, and Original Aspects of the PEERS Program Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education (Gilles, 2017).←127 | 128→ ←128 | 129→

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2 She worked with the community of Chaqui Potrero and produced several publications on conservation. Huanca, N. E. 2011. Reducing threats of endemic and endangered Cochabamba Mountain-Finches (Poospiza garleppi). Ecotone 3(1) 18–20.

3 Biologist teaching in USIP and working with Armonia Fondation (

4 In 2013.

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