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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 9: The Added Value of an International and Intercultural Exchange: The PEERS-Mozambique Project (Moira Laffranchini Ngoenha)

Moira Laffranchini Ngoenha

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

Chapter 9: The Added Value of an International and Intercultural Exchange: The PEERS-Mozambique Project


In 1694 French scholar Antoine Furetière wrote that young people need to travel in order to learn how to live in the world. This is no less true in 2017, particularly when an intercultural and teaching exchange is held between two countries with cultures and educational systems as different as those of Switzerland and Mozambique. The discovery of alterity allows the individual not only to expand his horizon and broaden his mind, but also to learn a great deal about himself, his own ideas, and his own country. Mailos (in Groux & Tutiaux-Guillon, 2000, p. 183) clearly explains this intercultural purpose of international exchanges and comparison in education: “The goal is to lead to a change in professional practice by triggering a change in the conceptual framework in which this practice is situated. It is not a case of going out to look for solutions, or of importing models […] but really of causing a shock and triggering a questioning, perhaps a reassessment.

1. Introduction

Traveling is necessary for young people to learn how to live in the world” (Furetière, 1690): this was Antoine Furetière’s conclusion back in 1694 and anyone who has traveled abroad, no matter for how long, will have returned profoundly changed and able to confirm the truth of this statement. The discovery of Elsewhere, however demanding it may be←161 | 162→ to begin with, allows the individual not only to expand his horizon and broaden his mind, through plural and productive experiences, but also to learn a great deal about himself, his own ideas, and his own country1.

It is in this spirit that we have led, since 2013, the PEERS program (the Projet d’Étudiants et d’Enseignants-chercheurs en Réseaux Sociaux or Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Project) in collaboration with the Pedagogical University of Maputo in Mozambique. This African component of the PEERS program brings together three students from the Haute École Pédagogique du Canton de Vaud in Lausanne, Switzerland (HEP Vaud, the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud), three students from the Pedagogical University of Maputo, Mozambique (UP), and a professor from each institution, around a research project. The PEERS-Mozambique program allows participants to work on intercultural approaches to educational studies. Its aim, through an anthropological approach, is for participants to develop an understanding of interpersonal relationships and cultural diversity in the different disciplinary fields. It is a collaborative endeavor designed to enable students to open themselves up to “world knowledge,” to reach an international consciousness, and above all to develop transversal skills. In the context of personal development, these include people, interpersonal, and intercultural skills; in the context of the teaching profession, they include classroom management, teacher-pupil relationships, and teaching stance. These skills are an integral part of the Professional Skill Standards (“Référentiel de Compétences Professionnelles”, 2015) of the HEP Vaud2, which, in its pursuit of excellence, has two major objectives:

to offer a university level education to student teachers, as well as post-graduate training to teachers and all education professionals;

to stimulate the field of research and development of educational studies, particularly in the context of international research projects,←162 | 163→ and provide education professionals with a collection of pedagogical resources (“Mission et Organisation: la HEP Vaud en Bref”, 2017).

The PEERS program thus perfectly meets these institutional objectives by offering student teachers an opportunity to combine theoretical and practical training with scientific research, to experience the didactic-pedagogical and professional development aspects of their work, to be empowered, and to reinforce their understanding of the national education system in comparison with an international one, in our case, that of Mozambique.

In fact, following their stay abroad, the students return to Switzerland having experienced much more than this. Daily life in the peer-student’s family, and shadowing them at the university, in the classroom, and in their private life, particularly enriches the terms of the exchange. Project participants are confronted by numerous cultural differences, particularly in the educational context, for which they were unprepared by their previous teaching experiences. This leads them to reflect on how the same elements work in Switzerland, and on the way in which they will consider these in future. As part of the institution’s MSPRO35 module, which certifies the completion of a personal project, one student3 focused on the concept of “the experience of alterity,” a fundamental concept in anthropological methodology understood as a way of studying otherness, and wrote that:

This immersion in Mozambican culture, although short, had the effect of creating in me strange, mixed, and contradictory feelings. On one hand, I was fascinated by the sincere friendship that quickly grew between the three Mozambicans and us, the three Swiss women. The shyness and reserve of our initial meeting were quickly dispelled, leaving behind curiosity, and the desire to exchange, learn, and share. I quickly understood Dumont’s (2008) definition of interculturality: “The intercultural is facing the Other, not to confront it, but to complete it, to live in parallel with it, to hear it, open up to it, and build a dialogue with it. All cultures are equal, and mutually observe and inspire one another. The intercultural is the intersection of languages-cultures and their desire to understand one another”.←163 | 164→

Through stories of experiences and an analysis of the trips to Switzerland and Mozambique, this chapter aims to analyze from an intercultural perspective the impact of these study visits, both on individuals, and on their ways of thinking about teaching after their return from these short trips. It seeks to uncover the realizations, reassessments, and reflections triggered by immersion in a different culture, and to reflect upon the impact of this experience on the current practices of program participants.

Two distinct levels of influence of these experiences on the individual and on teaching will be considered: the first, more general, is purely linked to the encounter with cultural diversity, with no direct connection to the country visited. In other words, students participating in the exchange are led to reassess their way of considering certain aspects of schooling because they work differently, but this realization could just as easily take place in a country other than Mozambique or Switzerland. The proof of this is that the students observe a certain number of differences of the same “type”; for example disorientation, incomprehension, and astonishment (these aspects will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter). The second, more specific level, is on the other hand directly linked to the Swiss and Mozambican cultures. The students become cultural ambassadors of a kind, both of their native culture in the host country, and the visited culture back in their own country. It is these two levels of experience, particular and unique, of the encounter between cultures, that characterizes the added value of the international and intercultural exchange.

From a structural point of view, I will first introduce the underlying principles of the intercultural approach to educational studies that serves as a basis for my reflection. I will then briefly present the context and the schools in which these experiences have taken place. The focal point of the chapter consists of facts relating to the intercultural experience, its analysis, and impressions and reflection on the issues highlighted by program participants. For each aspect, I aim to proceed by comparison in order to develop criteria for the contribution that these experiences may make to personal development, and in the context of professional practice. Finally, in conclusion, I will return to the importance of international visits for both students and student teachers.←164 | 165→

2. Intercultural Approach

Since I am analyzing the PEERS program from an intercultural perspective, it is important to first present the theoretical framework for my reflection and observations. In order to synthesize the principles of the intercultural approach, I propose to answer three questions: firstly, to outline the definition of interculturality that I am using and its relation to the topic of focus; secondly, to show how this definition influences my working method; and thirdly and finally, to clarify the purpose of my approach.

The intercultural approach considers the relationship between different cultures. Claude Clanet specifically defines interculturality as:

the collection of processes – psychic, relational, group, institutional – generated through cultural interactions, in a relation of reciprocal exchanges, and from the perspective of preserving the relative cultural identity of the partners involved (Clanet, 2002, p. 21).

It is about observing what is produced when different cultures, or rather “individuals from different cultures,” (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2014, p. 18) meet. And in the setting of these international exchanges, students certainly enter into contact with another culture. While retaining their own cultural identity, they discover and experience a new universe for the space of one to two weeks. The intercultural perspective as an approach that studies the “zones of encounters, resemblances, differences […] between cultural models” (Guerraoui & Troadec, 2000, p. 26), thus lends itself well to the analysis of these experiences in the field of teaching and the comparative study of educational systems. In some cases, beyond contact with a new culture, these students experience “culture shocks” over the short period of time. But from a perspective of interculturality, these shocks can be the trigger for true questioning. Margalit Cohen-Émerique reminds us that the encounter with alterity can lead to a culture shock, namely “a reaction of disorientation, even frustration or rejection, upheaval and anxiety, or in a positive manner, an astonishment,←165 | 166→ a fascination; in sum, it is an emotional and intellectual experience” (Cohen-Émerique, 1999b, p. 304).

In his MSPRO35 module research report, one student (July 2015) explained that he had decided to participate in the PEERS-Mozambique project in order to:

[…] take a few steps in my father’s footsteps. […] My father, also a former teacher, had had the opportunity to lead a teaching seminar in Mali in his youth, when he was around about my age. […] I heard lots of great stories from him about cultural differences, for example when my father, who wanted to take an internal flight to the north of Mali to see the Dogon people, was told that his plane would not take off, because […] it had crashed.

I feel it is therefore very interesting to look in more detail at the nature of these culture shocks or at least these encounters, on the way in which they are experienced as well as what they later contribute to the student’s reflections. The way in which they are reported is profoundly inspired by certain fundamental principles of the intercultural perspective, taking into account the importance of observation by shadowing. In effect:

[…] cultural differences do not correspond to a reality, but result from the nature of relationships between individuals and groups […] the relationship justifies the cultural characteristics attributed (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2004, p. 58).

The intercultural exchange discussed in this chapter takes place in Mozambique and Switzerland, and the specific function of the students in this exchange thus determines the kind of observations made. Other kinds of exchanges, through the setting in which they take place, and their study focus, may lead to other kinds of experiences, and different culture shocks. In addition, Martine Abdallah-Pretceille (2004, p. 64) notes that “cultural traits are less the reflection of a reality than the mirror of a situation,” and cautions that “cultural differences are significant only in one context and one relationship” (2004, p. 63). Therefore, the examples given here cannot be taken as representative of the Swiss or Mozambican cultures, but solely as the product of an individual intercultural experience.←166 | 167→

Cohen-Émerique (1999b, p. 304) describes culture shock as “an important way of realizing the way one’s own social identity is renewed and analyzed.” It is therefore an important element in the training of student teachers, not only for them to acquire the foundations of an intercultural approach to education, but also to develop an intercultural pedagogy in teaching. This realization must also be accompanied by personal work based on the principle of decentering. As a consequence, rather than a simple description of culture shock, I will focus my attention on the analysis and the decentering that it requires. Reflecting on a culture shock demands the individual who has experienced it to “take distance from oneself […] by being a subject who perceives himself as an object, the bearer of a culture and sub-culture, […] to consciously reflect on certain presuppositions that we perceive to be facts” (Cohen-Émerique, 1999a, p. 232). With the culture shocks that I have chosen to report, I will aim for a reflective analysis of our own cultural codes, the manner in which we have interiorized them, and the way they orient our interpretation of the world. While focusing on the foreign culture phenomena that interest us, it is thus as much about “questioning […] other cultures, others, as much as one’s own culture” (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2004, p. 64).

Interculturality implies the linking of two diverse cultures, and as a consequence we ask the students to adopt a comparative approach in their experience of alterity, and in their observations. This approach is a reflexive source of richness since “comparison […] also enables an opening up of other interpretations, and other avenues, by favoring the renewal of questioning” (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2004, p. 67). Thus, the Swiss students’ experiences of Mozambique relate to their perception of their teaching and/or the Swiss and Mozambican systems of education.

Marie-France Mailos neatly encapsulates the goal of the experience – in Mozambique – from an intercultural perspective:

The goal is to lead to a change in professional practice by triggering a change in the conceptual framework in which this practice is situated. It is not a case of going out to look for solutions, or of importing models […] but really of causing a shock and triggering a questioning, perhaps a reassessment (Mailos, 2000, p. 183).←167 | 168→

The intercultural experiences (or shocks, to retain this term) presented in this chapter are therefore the source of a possible change or improvement in teaching practices, but also of teaching stance. By developing an awareness of cultural differences, the students have an opportunity to rethink some of their ways of working and to change them, if necessary. Beyond the factual presentation of the experience of alterity in the international and intercultural exchange, it is important to strive for an improvement in teaching, or at the very least an improvement in the way such elements are considered in the context of their function in Switzerland.

3. The PEERS-Mozambique Project: A Unique Experience

In the beginning, it was about exotic lands and the allure of exploration; the journey, like a kind of religious duty to escape, absorb, often to bear witness. A project set in Mozambique was obviously the opportunity for a change of scene abroad, but above all to travel to Africa for the first time and to confront my impressions with a reality that promised to be at the very least unsettling. The justification was interculturality, the context that of a PEERS project […] I had never been to Mozambique, or Africa, so you inevitably make comparisons, as insignificant as they may be. We exchange views, we tell one another stories. Trivial in sum, but it gives you ideas. […] Dragging my sandals down long avenues to soak in the atmosphere and unearth a few curiosities. The smell of the earth, the Portuguese accents and the sound of klaxons, the old-fashioned pictures in the hair salons, the mango trees, the uniforms, the washing balanced on heads; I drank in every detail. Mere trifles, but the total is sufficiently disorientating for the traveler who knows nothing of these African tableaux. And I was also there for this kind of strangeness! (Epiney, 2014, p. 6–7).

Apparent here are the will and the desire to make new discoveries. This is a founding presupposition for the encounter and the learning experience. Fear, distrust, and contempt of the Other simply prevent the encounter. One project participant (January 2017) went further in such reflections, denying diversity at first, or rather emphasizing the similarities:←168 | 169→

[…] We told one another about our lives, we laughed, we talked about friendship, family, school, love. These discussions were simple and sincere, and I was surprised to find they were the kinds of conversations I could easily have with one of my friends in Switzerland.

Although the two students inhabited such different realities, they already felt close even though they had known one another for only a few hours. The geographic setting, the physical space, and the sociocultural context were very different. The house, the area, the customs, and the movements of the young Mozambican woman differed totally from those of the Swiss female student in question; and yet, as surprising as it might seem, a connection was made in such a short time. How? Why? The desire and the will to discover, the personality of the people considered, participation in the project, research, and certainly the fact that they spoke the same language, French4, provided them not only with a means of communication, but also of comprehension; the fact that they were both studying at a university to become a teacher was also a bridge between the two strangers. For the exchange to succeed and for us to be able to speak of added value, however, much more than just these elements is required. It is therefore through “shadowing” that the students must analyze the different moments of their trip abroad, as well as during the return visit of their Mozambican counterparts to Switzerland, in both the school and home life contexts. Stéphane Martineau (2005) describes shadowing as a data collection tool where the researcher becomes the witness of individual behaviors and practices on the ground by staying in the same setting they take place. This type of observation thus asks the researcher to adapt to the observed setting, to exercise a certain ability to adapt and certainly to work on this flexibility of spirit. These are undeniably intercultural abilities. During class visits, students instead used the direct observation method, not participating but observing the lesson from the back of the class without intervening.

This method enables consideration of the different actors and their interactions, as well as an appreciation of space. The teaching method←169 | 170→ captures the students’ attention from the outset: the teacher is the one with the knowledge, the expert, and they transmit this to the pupils who listen and learn. The Swiss students do not feel as if they are observing education via questioning or critique: the pupils do not seem to be invited to question the information given or involve their own reflection. They take their teacher’s words as gospel. One student (2015) proposed an analysis of teaching in Mozambique (in regard to these observations and thus without wishing to generalize) according to the three models described by Meirieu (2006), and saw this stance as corresponding to the “cleric model” associated with so-called traditional teaching. In this model, the cleric gives the truth, he holds his knowledge and power on high and embodies legitimacy. The audience, in this case the pupils, consume the knowledge, without having to work toward it themselves. This directive method does not lead to cognitive guidance. “The major problem with lecturing is not that it lacks efficacy, but that it is too effective, and cultivates dependence when it should be emancipating” (Meirieu, 2006, p. 5). It is the model par excellence in university teaching, where the lecturer occupies a higher hierarchical position and shares his knowledge with the students who listen to him. In contrast, the student in question did not see teaching in Swiss schools in this way. Teaching in Switzerland, in her opinion, is closer to Meirieu’s “teacher-librarian” or “teacher-companion” models. The first model is characterized by the fact that the teacher does not pass knowledge on, nor does he possess all the knowledge, but helps his pupils to find their way through the maze of knowledge by guiding and advising them. He explains how to access the information in order to give the pupils independence. In the “teacher-companion” model, the teacher shows the pupil what to do, guides him, and comments on the result until the apprentice achieves the level of the teacher and is able to take the knowledge in hand. Through both models, the pupil is pushed to assimilate knowledge and to become independent. The student analyzed the different teaching stances and questioned the appropriateness of each by highlighting their advantages and disadvantages: “the spoken word has a power of ‘extraction’ and clarification; the book tames the spirit and forms critical thought; the←170 | 171→ accompanying act leads to perseverance and the exigency of quality” (Meirieu, 2006, p. 7).

The Swiss Romandy teaching syllabus, the PER (Plan d’Etudes Romand) (CIIP, 2010), recommends following the “teacher-librarian” model in order to develop reflective skills among pupils. One of the transversal skills outlined in the syllabus is the reflexive approach that allows for “taking a step back from the facts and information, as well as one’s own actions; it contributes to the development of critical thinking” (CIIP, 2010). The “cleric model” makes it difficult to build this skill; it seems easier with the two other models outlined above. The student was then able to question her teaching and make direct reference to the lessons that she had to prepare for her placement5, and thus challenge not only her own teaching stance, but also the didactic conceptualization to which she referred. Concrete examples are discussed and analyzed in regard to the teaching discipline of each participant in the PEERS project. The analysis of practice is carried out on the basis, for example, of the taxonomy drawn up by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001, p. 67–68) for tasks demanded of pupils: level 1 – remember; level 2 – understand; level 3 – apply; level 4 – analyze; level 5 – evaluate; level 6 – create. The few observations made in class do not allow for a clear determination of the development and mastery of these different levels in teaching in Mozambique nor, equally, in Switzerland for the Mozambican students. In the end, the result does not matter as long as the students are able to return to the theory they have learned in class and not only question their practices, but above all challenge these in the light of comparison.

One student ventured to make a link between observation in class and the attitude of these foreign colleagues: can we therefore deduce that the supposedly frontal teaching observed in Mozambique holds back the fellow PEERS adventurers from sometimes taking the trouble to make decisions or give their opinion? Is it a factor resulting from education, culture, or simply a personality trait? These questions will remain←171 | 172→ unanswered. The key is the approach underpinning these questions: scientific comparison, decentering, and relativism.

In her June 2016 dissertation for the Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) II in Secondary Teaching, Camille Schaer (2016) also used Anderson and Krathwohl’s taxonomy (2001, p. 67–68) to put into perspective and document certain exercises through a comparison of two foreign language teaching handbooks in Mozambique and Switzerland. By considering each handbook in the light of the other, she was able not only to highlight numerous cultural and didactic issues, but also to develop a discussion of school handbooks linked with her own teaching practice. The ultimate (but not only) goal of this approach is the acquisition of critical thinking that will enable the future professional to make judicious choices with regard to teaching methods.

Of course, these are only a few examples resulting from one international exchange, and questions raised by participation in the PEERS program, the goal of which is “the collaboration of students from the HEP Vaud and from partner countries on a chosen educational issue” (“Programme PEERS: collaborer au delà des frontières,” n.d.). This encounter generates enthusiasm for a dissertation subject or study in a specific field that brings together the didactic-pedagogical and cultural aspects; between the two lies the human experience; implicitly, the knowledge of another educational system.

4. Conclusion

At a time when cultural diversity is highly present in the Swiss classroom, it is without doubt an advantage for a teacher to master intercultural skills and to welcome the encounter with alterity. International exchanges contribute favorably to developing world knowledge. Even a short visit, if properly framed, is enough to trigger a decentering. Noting that the foreign partner understands events from another perspective engenders the questioning of one’s own perspective, in shock and confrontation, or in dialogue and←172 | 173→ exchange. To provide an example, one student talked about a situation that occurred in Mozambique where they saw men violently fighting. People in the street watched them with amusement; the Mozambican students explained that this man probably deserved to be beaten because he had done something unacceptable. He had stolen from the other man and for that reason the crowd did not intervene. The two men, from the Mozambican point of view, were fighting to settle a score: it was thus legitimate. From the Swiss point of view, the situation was unacceptable: the Swiss students had been taught, both at home and at school, that conflict should not be resolved through violence, but through dialogue. Of course, we should not fall into generalizations with regard to either Mozambique or Switzerland. However, this discussion allowed the students to understand that in discovering the Other, it is in the end ourselves that we question, and that the encounter with diversity is a continual source of richness if we are ready to welcome it and challenge ourselves. The encounter leads to an exploration of the self that allows an individual to mature and become aware of aspects until then considered to be “taken for granted” or obvious. Paradoxically, it is ordinary or everyday facts that seem to enable decentering and enable true intercomprehension. From this, the comparative analysis of the educational systems is enriched by a contextual dimension.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the importance of a stay in another country as part of teacher training. Whatever the country and the objective, the visit to another country offers the possibility of encountering a new culture, a new way of seeing, thinking about, and doing things. But above all, it invites a reconsideration of one’s own culture, one’s own bearings, and one’s own practices. As highlighted in this chapter, travel abroad thus enables a student to acknowledge numerous aspects they had not been aware of previously, to step away from their routine and their prejudices, and thus become a better teacher in their home country.

I will conclude with the words of a student participating in the project, who described in an email to his thesis supervisor on June 21, 2014, in no uncertain terms, the added value of an international and intercultural exchange like the PEERS program, no matter how short in length: “[…] This project has been without doubt the best moment of my 2 years at the HEP!←173 | 174→ ←174 | 175→

1 For ease of reading, male pronouns are used in the text with reference to both male and female students.

2 The HEP Vaud is a training institute for student teachers in the public education system, for all levels of compulsory and post-compulsory education (from around 4 to 18 years).

3 Supervised by Mrs. Laffranchini Ngoenha, January 2017.

4 The exchange is conducted with the French Department of the Faculty of Language, Communication, and Arts Studies at the Pedagogical University of Maputo.

5 The HEP Vaud practices the model of direct alternation between university training at the HEP and professional placement in the schools of the canton, organized in a weekly format throughout the training.