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Social change and informal learning


One of my declared interests is social change. Been musing a bit on informal learning and social change.

In a sense all learning/education is about change. There is a sense in which knowledge is power. I reckon this has particular resonance when related to informal learning and within the context of community development, community action and ‘self-help’.  I’ve seen the effect of informal learning in the parent support group I am involved in; parents of children with SENs are frequently at a loss over how to best help their children. Within a parent support group, parents share their experiences of schools and discussions with education officials, learn how to complete forms, etc. Increasingly, parents find out how much they know and have learned through assisting other parents. No longer is it down to somebody like me to act as the fount of wisdom, as I know and others know that they know.

The story, as narrated by Lovett, of Liverpool EPA (a 1970s education initiative) is one of people engaging in learning from a position of being labelled as education failures – people who had left school at 15 with no qualifications and few, if any, aspirations. Through learning, or rather through discussion and gleaning information and taking new levels of responsibility, people were empowered and enabled to make choices and contribute to processes which made decisions about their lives. The same change process is evident in the community development projects of the 1970s and other community initiatives and in the various case studies described by Foley. Reading these accounts reminds me of my own work in the early 70s working with parents to set up holiday play schemes. In one, I recruited members of the neighbourhood social work team as volunteers, and in the post-project review, I recall their amazement at seeing parents they had viewed as inadequate and unable to cope with raising their own children organising large groups of children and volunteers for trips to the swimming pool or to the beach – perhaps wouldn’t be possible now in an age when risk assessment precedes just about any activity.

Although there are other  aspects of informal learning which are beneficial to the individual, the community or society more generally, the social change agenda cannot be ignored. It was that agenda which lay behind the Sunday schools, both christian and socialist, of the early 19th century. It was that which fuelled the development of trades unions and the establishment of Ruskin College. It was that which led to the establishment of the WEA. Even today, education is presented as an agent of social change in creating greater equity of opportunity by admitting more young people to universities where they are the first member of their family to enter higher education. Years ago Michael Young wrote of the rise of the meritocracy. We still haven’t seen it, but perhaps there is hope for those formerly considered failures.


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