Fostering collaborative learning through SQC

                                                                 Narayan Prasad Sapkota, Executive Member, QUEST-Nepal                                                            

  1. Forewords

Three years back I got a call from Canberra Australia from one of my students who was involved in Students’ Quality Circle (SQC) stating that during enrollment in Australian National University she was asked- ‘What special skill have you learnt from your student life during your high school?’ She had responded that she was part of SQC and she has cultivated so many life skills. Immediately she was offered full scholarship. Her phone call was to thank for everything I had done to motivate, inspire and empower through SQC. Having stated this, I always feel myself motivated to work better for the young kids who have so much natural talent and as a learning facilitator our duty is to show right direction, move with them and learn along with them. Looking back my SQC involvement I reflect back my working days in Sudesha School, Lalitpur. In 2013 A.D., I got to know that there is one very good program for students that focuses on students’ problem-solving approach. As a school teacher it might be very useful to minimize reoccurring problems among our students. Then my first involvement in the program was in the Hub Convention in the Mount View School, me along with my first five SQCians were as an observer. My realization leaped frogged after 11th National Convention on 2015. Immediately after 2015, I was SQC facilitator -thanks to then vice president Mr.Ravi Bhattarai, my first SQC trainer. Presently, I am working in JCA School, Pokhara as an Academic Dean of the School – SQC is major part of School academia. As a curricular discipline in grade 6 and 7 and CCA in grade 8,9 and 10. “Catch them young” is the phrase which very appropriately defines and outlines the need for Student Quality Circles in the academia. I have seen visible positive changes among students in terms of positive attitude and behaviors, team work, communication, collaboration, leadership skills etc. and in a broad term personality development through it. The problem -solving process- tools and techniques teach them lifelong skills for self-management and contribute in the society.

Having said it need in the academia, there are several constraints for the effective implementation of SQC. From my experience of past years, it shows that as schools are focusing on competition rather than collaboration, so it’s really difficult to instill collaborative approach. Many schools are using it as business tool and SQC has been limited to seasonal activities- conventions. As a volunteer mission it is very obvious that many educators may not carry out with same enthusiasm and dedication, since our society is quite materialistic and we want instant return. Despite many constraints I am pretty sure that SQC and its mission has ever lasting scope as 21st century is all about progressive journey in all sectors of society. I invite every educator to be part of SQC- Long live SQC and its mission of total quality personality.’ Together We can!

  • What is collaborative learning?

In this article I am focusing on how Students’ Quality Circle (SQC) fosters the collaborative advantage. With around a decade indulged in the SQC mission, sometimes as an observer, sometimes as a facilitator, then as master trainer and hub coordinator, I found that collaboration is the heart of SQC. I have found that collaboration pools skills, knowledge and creativity and increasing innovation and success in their life.It can be defined as learning that involves working as a group to solve a problem or understand an idea. When used effectively in the classroom, this type of learning ensures students remain engaged in content while thinking critically and sharing ideas with their peers.

  • Essentials of Collaboration through SQC

However, before we step further into the value of collaborative learning through SQC, we need to bear in mind that, ‘A first step to learning how to collaborate, is learning how to “be together”.’ This means determining the norms that influenceour behavior. Collaborative learning involves students learning in pairs or small groups 4 to 10 in groups to identify, analyze and solve the problem.As opposed to teacher-centered, it is student-centric approach providing children with a sense of autonomy over their collaborative process.

While some of us may naturally be better at collaborating than others, collaboration, as a skill, is something that must be learned. Collaboration through SQC focuses on following core values:

  1. Respect: A true SQCian deals all the circle members or other people with dignity and respect.
  2. Acceptance: SQC members embrace and celebrate the differences.
  3. Integrity: SQC members value honesty and ethical behaviour.
  4. Responsibility: SQC members are accountable for all our actions and their consequences.
  5. Excellence: SQC members set high expectations and provide excellent collaborative achievement.

To achieve the core values of collaborative advantage through SQC following essentials are taken into consideration:

  1. A first step to learning how to collaborate, is learning how to “be together”

Which means determining the norms that shape our behavior. In SQC team, core values guide the ways in which students work independently and in groups.  Each of our values models for students the attributes necessary for effective collaboration. The SQC teams though are of same age groups, like minded, they are heterogenous community too. They develop negotiation skills and follow democratic process. There are always diverse views among circle members, in circle most of the active members want to lead the team but at the same time it is impossible to lead by all so they prefer voting or unanimous leadership. True SQCians always believe-“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

  • Collaboration requires effective listening skills

To work effectively as a SQC group, circle members must become highly effective listeners. SQC members learn active listening skills by experiencing these skills modeled for them by their facilitators and most of the time by the team convention made by themselves. SQC members believe- “all the ideas are appreciated but may not be accepted.”

  • Collaboration is an exercise in curiosity

This means that in addition to being skilled listeners, students must also learn the art of asking questions that provoke SQC members to go deep down the cause and effect of the problem during problem analysis using several SQC tools. Questions that lend themselves to thoughtful answers are neutral and encourage participation. These participations help to find qualitative and quantitative data.

  • Collaboration requires negotiation skills

A good negotiator has mastered active listening skills, is able to regulate herself or himself to the pace of the group discussion and group work, is agile to change, and is able to identify and articulate shared ideas and areas of group agreement. Effective negotiators, and collaborators, also have the leadership skills necessary to motivate and inspire others toward the achievement of a shared vision.

  • How can collaboration be implemented in the SQC process?
  • Establish group agreements:

From the beginning, the SQC facilitator in conjunction with the students must decide on circle norms, or agreements, as this will provide each student with a voice and provide accountability for all during three phages of problem-solving journey. During team formation process there might be several differences and that is to be resolved through democratic process. One of my close friends, Mr. Roshan Thapa who is nurturing students and teachers since a decade found that during leadership formation process many students wanted to take the responsibility of team leader, when he went for election process, different candidates had equal voting count so he formulated the rotational leadership, which worked effectively and resolved the conflict through consent. Similarly, during brainstorming also different techniques can be applied so that there will be generation of creative ideas.

  • Teach students how to listen:

Knowing when and how to listen is not a skill that comes naturally to all students in early childhood. For students to be competent listeners, they must be taughthow to listen and ask good questions. Collaboration is most definitely an exercise in curiosity as students learn the knack of asking questions that elicits deep learning and engagement. Questions that lend themselves to thoughtful answers are neutral and encourage participation.

As a SQC facilitator,it is important todemonstrate that once someone in the group poses a question, a few minutes of brainstorming using think-pair and share technique is effective. The cyclic mode of sharing ideas in SQC meeting run by team leader enables effective listening skills. During facilitation time, students should be made aware that people who really listen offer empathy, refrain from cutting others off; are easy to like and respect. Children also need opportunities to restrain themselves from speaking to keep their attention on listening. One of the SQC master trainers Om Raj Mainali, shared me a wonderful idea which he implemented during SQC meetings- “Three, Then Me” to the meeting norms. This basically means that before one can speak and share ideas again, they need to wait for three others to share first.

  • Teach students how to negotiate:

As collaboration requires negotiation skills, it is important that students are taught the art of negotiation. A good negotiator would have mastered active listening skills, is able to regulate themselves to the pace of the group discussion and group work, is responsive to change, and is able to recognize and articulate collective ideas of the group agreement.

A facilitator’s role is to make students aware thatsometimes even though a group member who speaks the loudest and most frequently may get the most said, but it does not mean that they will convince a group of anything. The SQC facilitator should ensure students that a good negotiator listens well, shows patience and flexibility, points out shared ideas and areas of group agreement, and thinks under pressure.

Surya Poudel a SQC Master trainer from Butwal shared ample of experience to foster the negotiation skills while facilitating the SQC activities. Before directing to the core SQC activities several team building activities are effective. Mr. Poudel starts with the ice break activities like making paper tower, balloon burst, Chinese whisper, tug of war and many more activities. He found significant team spirit and collaborative skills before main SQC activities. So, the teacher should be designing collaborative learning activities that fosters student engagement. From my experience too, there is a marked improvement in students’ social skills as there is active student participation. The teachers planning should include problem-based learning.

  • Start with a clear goal:

This is important part of collaborative journey through SQC. A facilitator should be clearly acquainted with the tools, techniques and approaches of SQC. So only they can foster the collaborative activities. Facilitator should not be in hurry to conduct activities. Enough incubation period on idea generation, maturation of ideas and proper action plans are always a must. A clear goal of facilitator and circle members is must.

  • Monitor circle:

As students engage in collaborative tasks and discussions, a facilitator should be vigilant to observe each member of the circle. Ask guiding or driving questions if a team gets off-task or offer encouragement when teams work together effectively to accomplish their goals.

  • Provide time to reflect:

 Reflecting on the collaborative process can enhance learning and help circle members improve their skills in future sessions. Students should be provided with enough time to discuss their thoughts on the collaborative process together, then give everyone the chance to reflect individually through Brainstorming or brainwriting. An effective QC approach PDCA or PDSA is best way to reflect.

  • What are the benefits of collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning in SQC allows students to learn in an enjoyable and effective way. It also helps students develop indispensable skills like communication and problem-solving. Collaborative learning has the following benefits:

a. Improves problem-solving skills

The center event of SQC is systematic problem solving through Collaborative approach.  It assists students to develop their own critical thinking skills whilst fostering active participation. Students follow these steps of problem-solving.

b. Improves communication, confidence, encourages social interaction and engagement

Collaborative learning approach in SQC develop verbal communication skills to share ideas, explain concepts and provide clear and concise feedback. All SQC members have a clear understanding that all ideas are appreciated but not be accepted.

Throughout problem solving process or other collaborative events like Collaborative story formation, Collaborative Quiz and other workshops, students practice and develop social skills such as active listening, empathy, and respect. Another key point is that the social skills attained during collaboration in SQC will help students form and maintain strong inter-personal and after SQC professional journey. Similarly, collaborative tasks encourage passive students to be more actively involved in the project or discussion because the circle expects their inputs. I have a good experience on it. Few years back a group of 10 grade had problem of unmanaged school uniform, the Mentoring process through SQC problem solving process helped students to solve the problem not within the circle but whole school community.

The boys significantly became more responsive, gained higher academic achievement, developed higher self-esteem, and higher motivation. I have even experienced that SQC  learning process is beneficial for introverted students, as team members encourage more reserved members to share their opinions and contribute to discussions. Consequently, more introverted team members realize their value to the group. Having a supportive group atmosphere can assist them to build confidence.

c. Promotes diversity

Involvement in SQC brings students of various backgrounds, beliefs, education levels and ages together which is equally important. The like-minded people of diverse gender, caste, ethnicity etc. collaborate in a team.   In the process of problem solving, students hear a variety of thoughts from their peers with different opinions and perspectives. Their peers might present innovative ideas and perspectives that are unique to their culture or upbringing. As a result, collaborative learning can encourage open-mindedness and acceptance in the learning environment and henceforth exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.

During my study I tried different approaches of circle formation:

  1. Homogenous group with only either boys or girls
  2. Heterogenous groups of boys and girls
  3. Homogenous groups of only girls of different age groups
  4. Heterogenous groups of boys and girls of different age groups

The most openness and generation of ideas and collaborative learning was found in the case of heterogenous groups of same age groups.

d. Inspires creativity

Combining different views and ideas can result in creative solutions to many problems related to students. One individual’s idea or suggestion might inspire a new and creative idea from their circle members. During my management of SQC case study in 23rd ICSQC I was astonished with the creative ideas of the students during the various SQC activities. 

e. Creates trust

Collaborative learning circles work together to identify, analyze and solve the major problem they have identified. The feeling of oneness and ownness help to trust each other. This trust can transfer to future workplace interactions, which could lead to increased productivity and morale.

f. Develops critical-thinking skills

This type of learning can encourage participants to think at a higher level. In SQC case study, students identify analyze and find solutions of a problem. Because these groups require team members to explain their ideas and interpret and assess the ideas of others, students can improve their critical-thinking skills through collaborative tasks. Critical thinking is important for resolving conflicts, brainstorming strategies, creating content, and evaluating ideas and results.

g. Builds relationships

Collaborative learning in SQC can create new friendships and strengthen existing relationships. It often brings together individuals who would not have met or worked with each other under normal circumstances. During SQC hub conventions or national and international convention several collaborative events are designed in such a way that students across the country or world spend time working on a collaborative learning project together, they get to know each other better. This can lead to positive personal relationships and higher morale.

  • Final words: Collaborative Learning as an Essential Skill

In the era that we are living, it goes without saying that schools must prepare students for the 21st -century quality human resource, where they emerge from their education as highly collaborative and curious, life-long learners, who are better equipped to confidently conquer hurdles and tread beyond their comfort zone. At this present time, the 21st century workplace is a collaborative one, which means its workforce must have the skills to collaborate effectively and to respond to challenges with confidence, creativity, and thoughtful action. Collaboration pools skills, knowledge, and creativity increasing innovation and lead to good and smart citizen, where we say total quality person.

After all, as educators, is it not our goal to mold students to have the skills and capabilities where they can function independently and within a team? So, lets work to nurture our students with good and smart characters through joyful learning through SQC. At last. a Chinese proverb- The best time to start SQC in the school was 20 years ago and next best time is now. Together we can! Together we grow.


Alber, R. 2017. Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key.

Selyn School,2019, Collaboration: An Essential Skill for 21st Century Learners

Chapagain, D. A Guide to Students Quality circle: QC Circles Re-engineered for Developing Student Personality,2022

SQC case study; CLS Seekers, Mount View School