Harvard’s UWC Impact Study
At UWC, we’ve set ourselves a pretty ambitious mission to "make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future". And up until recently, the potential inherent in our educational model to empower young people to become changemakers and to have a positive impact on the world has mainly been demonstrated through the stories and actions of our alumni and students, who live out the UWC mission and values in their work and in their day to day lives.
However, there has been limited empirical research to illustrate how exactly a UWC education impacts the skills and attitudes of its graduates. Does a UWC education really help them to become forces for a more peaceful and sustainable future, and if so - how?
This is the question that researchers from The Good Project of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have been trying to find an answer to by conducting a scientific study: Harvard’s UWC Impact Study.
The potential impact of the findings are huge. Not only will it help us at UWC to improve our education programme in a way that will get us closer to making the UWC mission a reality, it will also help inform other educators and programmes around the world on how education can be tailored to help future generations to positively impact their communities and our planet.
And now, after 4 years, the Study is coming to a close with the results expected to be finalised by the end of 2021.
The study began in 2017 and consists of two strands. The first is a longitudinal study involving two cohorts of UWC students (beginning in 2018 and 2019 [2019 and 2020 for Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa]), who were surveyed, interviewed and observed at different points between their first year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme through to their UWC graduation. It sought to explore how students develop or change particular conceptions and behaviours over the course of their two years at a UWC school or college. It also aimed to identify experiences that were particularly influential to the students. Alongside this strand, the researchers additionally studied students at 11 non-UWC schools to compare between the two experiences and identify what is unique or specific about a UWC education.
This timeline meant that the second student cohort of the first strand of the study was particularly impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent temporary closure of almost all UWC school and college campuses. Although these unexpected hurdles will now need to be taken into account by the Project Zero team, the researchers still plan to analyse and integrate all collected data into the findings.
The second strand focused on alumni who studied at UWC for at least their last two years of secondary school. 6,894 UWC alumni participated in an online survey and 250 were involved in follow-up interviews with the Project Zero team in order to help the researchers understand how a UWC education impacts UWC graduates’ lives, and whether it affects the impact UWC alums are having on society or their communities.
The study has been financed by anonymous UWC donors but conducted entirely independently by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. All interviews and surveys have now been concluded. The Project Zero team is currently analysing the results, with a view to finalising them at the end of 2021.