Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What did you say? is Community Education?

The distinguishing feature of community education is that its emphasis is on student need. Relevant education for working-class people depends on schools and colleges forging partnerships with voluntary community organisations.
Middle-Class Adult Education
Within the UK education service the most common use of the term "community education" is to describe classes for adults in adult education centres and, less frequently, in colleges of further education. For traditionalists, its defining characteristic is that it is non vocational - not leading to examinations and, in their view, unrelated to preparation for work.
Although initiatives in the 19th century - the mechanics institutes, the workers' education association (WEA), programmes in university extra-mural departments - aimed to include working-class people, the middle classes invariably took control. Their control of adult education has continued throughout the 20th, and into the 21st, centuries.
However, although students attend in their own time, instead of being sent by employers, it does not follow that the education experience is unrelated to their work.. Valuable contributions of the adult education service in the second half of the twentieth century included classes for women who wished to return to work after caring for young children, and support for people made redundant who wished to explore a new career path.
Because, in recent years, tuition fees for non-vocational adult education have increased, the students are almost all from the middle classes.
Vocational Education
The basis for the establishment's position on vocational education is described by Professor Eric Robinson (head of Preston Polytechnic, now retired) in the following terms:
The justification of the vocational imperative in further education is that, in contrast with the more able who are free to pursue their personal development in universities, the less able can have educational provision only on condition that it prepares them for work: the more able perhaps need guidance but the less able need direction, in the public interest. The argument is reminiscent of those adduced in parliament 120 years ago to justify the objectives of, and the limitations on, the curriculum to be provided in schools for the children of the working classes. It also resembles the justification of the limitations placed on secondary modern schools when they were created 50 years ago.
This emphasises the persistence of class divisions in the education service. It is also a reminder that, when government ministers state that the purpose of their policies is to increase "choice", they are not thinking of working-class citizens.
The division between vocational and non vocational education was devised, and is perpetuated, as an administrative convenience: it has never made any sense in terms of educational need. Flower arranging is a frequently quoted example of non vocational education and it may be the case that most students who attend flower arranging classes do so as a leisure pursuit.
However, there are plenty of jobs where skill and expertise in arranging flowers is an obvious asset: for example for employees such as personal assistants, secretaries, receptionists and people who work in flower shops.
Community Education
The curriculum in schools and colleges is inadequate because it is restricted to academic and vocational traditions. Community education, the third set of traditions, is generally ignored because it has developed partly on the margins of the state education service, but mostly outside it. .
Distinguishing features of community education are that the curriculum reflects what people need and want and that they are involved in consultations about it. . Although community education traditions have a history at least as long as academic and vocational traditions, stretching back to the wandering minstrels of the middle ages, they do not figure prominently in the standard books on the history of education.
The community education traditions of working-class people are ignored because they developed outside state systems and, for this reason, are considered of little value or importance.

But education in the community, organised by voluntary bodies, has always been the most important means of education for working-class adults and this remains true for large numbers, especially ethnic minorities, in the 21st century. In addition, the hostile environment of schools, especially for ethnic minorities, means that voluntary bodies continue to provide essential education support for pupils of school age.
Although places of worship have always been a focus for education in poor communities, a whole range of voluntary bodies have been involved: co-operatives, drama societies, friendly societies, groups formed to support the disabled, sports clubs, trade unions, women's institutes, youth clubs.
Historical Origins
In the nineteenth century hundreds of reading and discussion groups were set up, led by volunteers who supported public education. The voluntary workers were described by the social historian, R H Tawney, as:
Humble men and women whose names are remembered Lovingly in their own little towns and villages, who would have called themselves anything but educationalists, whose students were disciples rather than pupils.
Because radical thinkers, such as the Chartists, regarded education for all as the most important means of social change, the emphasis was on the personal and social development of the individual. However, the fact that adult workers learned to read and write through this education in the community was of significant benefit to the developing economy.
Relevance of Community Education Today
The relevance of community education arises from the fact that it evolves from students' needs, not the requirements of external bodies such as governments, employers' organisations, and the examination boards created to impose national policies. The previously excluded become involved when they recognise that tutor expectations result from an understanding of their educational needs. .
This community education exists because people, denied suitable education by the state system, wish to acquire qualifications. The initial need is at basic skills level for teenagers and adults who missed out at the secondary stage. Incidentally, the classes offered by voluntary groups also cater for under 16s and one of the reasons for truancy is that pupils find this community provision more relevant than the curriculum they experience at school.
The community education relevant to millions already exists in the classes offered by voluntary bodies: it is relevant and suitable because it relates directly to need. Recognising its value, and developing it, is the only means of further education making a significant contribution to tackling the challenge of the exclusion of working-class people.
Democratically operating partnerships, based on the principle of partner equality, between schools and voluntary groups would result in a major reduction in truancy and negative behaviour. The same applies to partnerships between colleges and voluntary groups to provide suitable provision for school-leavers and adults.
The key to successful community education is a commitment to anti-racism and equality and a willingness to recognise the community partners as equals. Without school/college partnerships with voluntary community organisations, relevant curriculum for working-class people cannot be developed. The necessary expertise does not exist in the state controlled education system.

Community education officer: Job description and activities

Job description
A community education officer works to promote and facilitate access to a wide range of voluntary educational and developmental activities by all members of the community, regardless of age. The work involves liaising with local individuals and groups to identify community interests, needs and issues, and planning and running a wide range of activities and programmes in response. To make efficient use of resources, community education officers work in partnership with a range of other professional groups and a range of local authority and voluntary sector providers.
The aim is to enable individuals and communities to take control of their learning and to help break down barriers. The role is therefore closely linked to current widening participation and lifelong learning initiatives.
» Typical work activities
Community education roles vary widely, but typically involve an element of outreach work to increase participation in mainly informal educational activities. Some roles, such as in adult literacy work, may also include tutoring, but most involve the following tasks:
liaising with community groups, such as residents' associations and voluntary agencies;
identifying local interests and needs;
helping potential learners to overcome existing barriers to learning;
formulating plans and priorities, in cooperation with other providers;
encouraging and influencing the development of new learning opportunities;
supporting the development of community or local voluntary groups;
recruiting and training staff;
allocating and monitoring budgets;

evaluating provision and reporting to advisory bodies and management groups.
Depending on the role, some community education officers have responsibility for particular groups, such as young people, families, black and ethnic minority groups or unemployed adults. Others promote participation in specific settings, such as national parks, urban and rural areas, and in specific communities of interest, such as homeless people or carers' groups. Community education officers usually work in areas of social deprivation or high unemployment, to develop provision and to challenge individual, collective and institutional perceptions about learning. Some may have a specific focus on enabling access to appropriate qualifications and relevant training. This often involves working sensitively and creatively to overcome barriers and may entail many setbacks before success rates are obvious.
More senior roles include:
strategic planning;
staff recruitment and development;
policy development;
bidding for, negotiating and monitoring funding;
developing new initiatives, such as more flexible programme delivery.
Voluntary projects particularly emphasise education as part of a more holistic approach to inclusion and to empowering communities to overcome structural and other barriers. There may be strong links with social work, health or housing support agencies. Government initiatives are currently encouraging lifelong learning and increasing access to education in sections of the community that have not traditionally participated fully.