UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGEMENT OF COMPLEMENTARY LEARNING SYSTEMS: A Tool to Acquire School and Nonschool Skills
Conceptualization of Complementary Learning Systems
Understanding and management of complementary learning systems critical for educators, teachers, parents and community members. Complementary learning is the idea that a systemic approach-which intentionally integrates both school and nonschool supports-can better ensure that all children have the skills they need to succeed in school and in life (Bouffard, Goss and Weiss, 2008:4; Bouffard and Weiss, 2008:3). Complimentary learning emphasizes the linkages-such as those among the home, early childhood setting, and school-that work toward consistent learning and developmental outcomes for children (HFRP, 2006). Complementary learning builds on a long history of theory and research about the many contextual influences on children’s development and on the understanding that neither schools, nor families, nor communities alone can ensure educational achievement (Bouffard and Weiss, 2008:3).
Putting complementary learning into practice requires that learning contexts be connected in meaningful ways. According to Hong and Keahiolalo-Karasuda (2011:1), complementary learning systems are systems of education that benefit both learners and their communities through integrated and holistic programming. Complementary learning systems, according to HFRP (2008), align resources to maximize efficiency, create a web of opportunity so that no child falls through the cracks provide disadvantaged children enriching opportunities that are the norm for middle class children, and promote success from birth through adolescence so that all children are ready to enter school and ready to exit.
Contrarily to traditional programmes, complementary learning systems assure learning supports are intentionally connected. A complementary learning approach provides and aligns effective schools, supportive families and opportunities for family engagement, early childhood programs, health and social services, out-of-school time activities (including sports, arts, and mentoring programs), and community-based and cultural institutions (Bouffard, Goss and Weiss, 2008:4 and HFRP, 2008). Complementary learning approaches, according to Bouffard, Goss and Weiss (2008:4) range from simpler (example, linking schools with after school programs) to more complex (example., comprehensive initiatives that coordinate many learning supports).
Children need multiple opportunities to learn and grow - at home, in school, and in the community. According to HFRP (2008), complementary learning is a comprehensive strategy for addressing all of these needs and ensuring success for all children and youth. Bouffard, Goss and Weiss (2008:5) suggest to create and mainstream complementary learning. They describe that to create and mainstream complementary learning means a major shift in the understanding of what learning is, where it takes place, and who enables it. They emphasize that to create and mainstream complementary learning means shifting from a view of learning as an act that happens exclusively in school to a view of learning as an ongoing process achieved through a variety of experiences and settings, times of the day and week, and stages of development.
The children and youth need a new set of skills that include the ability to use technology, excel at interpersonal communication, and solve complex problems (Bouffard, Goss and Weiss, 2008:5). Young people also need to contend with and meet the challenges of new social forces and trends, such as globalization, and the increasingly collective nature of knowledge generation (Bouffard, Goss and Weiss, 2008:5). This implies that it is through complementary learning systems where the children and youth as well as adults can acquire a new set of skills in their life.
For children and youth to acquire a new set of skills, education system should have strategies in place that enhance complementary learning. According to Bouffard, Goss and Weiss (2008:5-6), an effective education must include strong families and opportunities for family engagement; access to early childhood learning experiences; quality after school learning opportunities; community and cultural resources; and adequate physical and mental health services. Moreover, an effective education links all of these elements together in a way that promotes a comprehensive and holistic approach to learning. Making this vision a reality requires fostering a sense of shared responsibility and accountability among all of the stakeholders who educate and raise children”.
It is important to note that complementary learning systems are systems of education that benefit both learners and their communities through integrated and holistic programming (Hong and Keahiolalo-Karasuda, 2011:1). According to Weiss et al. (2005:2-3) two essential principles define complementary learning systems. First, complementary learning systems offers both school and nonschool supports to learners and their families; and second, these supports complement one another. Research has shown that most complementary learning programs that successfully prepare learners for higher education include similar types of support. These supports, identified by Bouffard, Goss, and Weiss (2008:4), include: effective schools, supportive families and opportunities for family engagement, early childhood programs, health and social services, out-of-school time activities, community-based institutions, and colleges and universities.
It is important to note that complementary learning systems are potential for learners, parents and communities. The research on complementary learning systems has clearly demonstrated that complementary programs are more effective in achieving positive learner outcomes than programmes that operate independently of each other. According to Hong and Keahiolalo-Karasud (2011:1) complementary learning responds comprehensively to multiple learner needs through a cohesive, community-centered network of programs that are tailored to address the specific needs faced by learners in different communities. Forming a comprehensive network of programmes that encourages active participation and fosters the creation of educational opportunities by learners and communities is optimal because it allows learners to build on the synergistic benefits from multiple services in their network (Hong and Keahiolalo-Karasud, 2011:1).
Features of Complementary Learning Systems
According to Weiss et al. (2009:6-7) complementary learning systems require that stakeholders come together to create a system with a set of core features. These features, as identified and clarified by Weiss et al. (2009:6-8), include:
- A commitment to ensuring access to complementary learning for disadvantaged children and their families. The disadvantaged children and their families have less opportunity to experience complementary learning than their more affluent peers. Thus, they don’t experience the rich set of learning opportunities that the research suggests is essential to positive learning and developmental outcomes, thus further widening achievement gaps.
- A systemic approach to supporting the role of families in learning. Parents who are involved early and throughout the school years have children who are more likely to enter school ready to succeed and to graduate and go to college. Further, families play a critical role in accessing and sustaining participation in a network of quality learning supports. Many families lack the social and political capital necessary even to know about, let alone make good choices in, learning opportunities for their children. Thus, a systemic approach to family involvement is one that helps families understand the value of continuous learning of all kinds, and offers the network of supports necessary for that learning.
- Access to an array of quality comprehensive and complementary supports from birth through adolescence. Complementary learning starts at birth and continues through adolescence. Home visiting and early childhood programs set children on a path to school readiness; participation in after-school and other learning programs affords children and youth access to crucial developmental supports and opportunities that prepare them for later success in life. Health and economic supports are also necessary precursors to children’s being prepared to learn. Throughout the child’s development, families remain a core out-of-school learning support which should interface with all others.
- Focus on a range of academic, social, and behavior skills . From birth through adolescence, access to an array of out-of-school learning supports promotes learning both directly and indirectly, building skills and knowledge as well as the conditions for learning (for example, motivation and engagement, social skills, and health). They help to address achievement gaps and the challenges that living in poverty pose for children’s educational and life outcomes and build the skills they need to become successful citizens, parents, and workers.
- Complementary learning means that out-of-school supports are aligned with and connected to schools and to each other to maximize learning and developmental outcomes. Across a child’s development, aligned and connected supports aid important educational transitions and ensure that children and youth get and stay on pathways to learning and life success.
- Recognition that there are multiple ways by which localized complementary learning approaches can be implemented. Approaches to implementing complementary learning can and should vary depending on the needs and resources of any given community.