Abstract – The case studies and repor ts of local learning centres from all over the world draw a vivid picture of how colourful and diverse community learning is today. The names are different, but the idea is similar: to provide demand-driven, efficient and democratic learning oppor tunities near to where people live. In a world where the gap between rich and poor is widening, community learning as an essential part of non-formal education provides a power ful tool to bring education oppor tunities to those most in need of them. The examples you will find throughout this journal put the spotlight on a part of the education sector still neglected and dramatically under-financed.
Some years ago a German colleague who was delegated to the European Commission told me: “You know, Uwe, we have a new baby in Brussels, it is called ‘Community learning centre’. We think this could be the pathway to Lifelong Learning in Europe: close to the people, demand-driven, not expensive.” Reflecting on what she said, I thought: “Wait a minute, isn’t that what a ‘Volkshochschule’ (German Adult Education Centre, Ed.) is about in our country? Isn’t it just a new label for a reality we already have in many countries, but which we, unfor tunately, sometimes forget to value?”
When we decided to present a variety of Community Learning facilities in this issue, my discussion with my colleagues from Brussels came to mind. For me, it illustrates the tension between global concepts and local realities: There is on the one hand a necessar y global discourse about concepts, developments and common features, which ver y of ten includes a labelling exercise. In our case, “Community Learning Centre” is one of these labels, promoted widely by UNESCO and others, especially in the 1990s. There is on the other hand a variety of local traditions, a wide range of learning and sharing on the local level. We have Kominkans in Japan, Popular Universities in Morocco, Study circles in the Nordic Countries and so on. All of them of fer learning oppor tunities to the people. They represent the diverse and colour ful reality of Adult and Lifelong Learning. To recognize and value them must be the star ting point of any reflection about community learning. This is why we decided to give them considerable space in this issue of Adult Education and Development.
The good practices of community learning presented in this journal illustrate some of the key advantages of this form of learning: learning at the local level provides easy access for all with low costs for the par ticipants, it ensures diverse, demand-driven and tailor-made provision of learning opportunities and it ensures active par ticipation of the learners in decision making and the shaping of the institutions. In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, especially within the countries, community learning puts a specific focus on the neglected segments of the population. The claim is that the provision of a diverse range of learning activities allows community learning centres to reach out to the marginalized members of the community. If this is true, that education is the major oppor tunity to enhance living conditions, this statement is crucial. In a world where the formal education system still fails to provide adequate offers to millions of girls and boys, women and men, the strengthening of the local non-formal education providers should be at the heart of the matter. Otherwise, global and national development goals, the struggle for literacy and decent work – just to name two – will fail.
This might sound like “preaching to the conver ted”. But what does the reality look like? Many governments still neglect non-formal education. In Cambodia, for example, only 1% of the Education budget goes to this sector. Many governments mistrust the local level. Decentralisation, especially in the education sector, is hard to accept. Local levels lack power and – most important – budgets to design a community learning service which is controlled by the local population and meets their needs. As I see it, many donors and international organisations are used to focusing on the global, or at least national, level, neglecting or underestimating the potential of the local level. Let’s hope that the Post 2015 agenda for education can put a spotlight on this.
Learning in the community is a joy. It brings people together and offers them new experiences, skills and knowledge. It takes place in a safe and comfortable setting and is closely linked to the life of the individual and the community. It might be the most democratic and inclusive form of learning. Our examples would like to present the colourfulness of community learning in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. As stated, local traditions and customs play an important role, however, we hope that some of the examples presented could serve as a showcase for new ideas and initiatives.
Uwe Gartenschlaeger is the Deputy Director of DV V International. He studied Histor y and Philosophy in Berlin and Cologne and has been working in the Institute since 1995, including several years as country director in Russia and Uzbekistan. In 2010, Uwe Gartenschlaeger edited an issue of “Adult Education and Development” on Community Learning Centres. Since 2008 he has been one of the Vice-Presidents of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA).
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