Excerpts from

UNESCO: Transforming Community Schools into Open Learning Communities

A Resource Paper by Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zimmer

in collaboration with Dr. David Becker, Dr. Ulrike Becker,
Prof. Dr. Günter Faltin, Dipl.-Pedagogue Angelika Krüger, Dr. Christa Preissing
International Community International Academy (INA) Knutsford / England
Education Association (ICEA) Berlin / Germany and Santiago / Chile - 1998 



For background information, read Chronology of the National Education Association

One can imagine the sober disillusionment of UNESCO when, seven years after Jomtien, it has to admit that there is a widespread international misunderstanding about what exactly a Community School is. An institution by no means deserves the name Community School simply when a community builds a conventional school and more or less manages to finance it. Does this mean one should take another approach altogether? Forget the school, and concentrate instead on Open Learning Communities right from the start? Can schools, whose institutional self-preserving persistence resembles the lock of a strongbox, ever be cracked open? Where are the pressure points? And where are the safecrackers?"

"The Paper contains three major parts and a smaller supplement. Part I describes the concept of Community Education and, in the form of two documentary accounts, an illustration of the idea in two widely differentiating examples. The limits of Community Schools are outlined (Chapter 3) and ways of opening them to the community discussed (Chapter 4) - it is a movement from within towards the outer world. One could also start right off from the outside, however (Chapter 5), looking at the school as a peripheral facility and - when it is willing to open itself - including the school in what is actually happening beyond the school gates." (Page 1)

PART I: Pulling down walls frees the view


The roots of Community Education reach far back into the past. In 1896 John Dewey initiated his experiment "School-As-Social-Center" in Chicago and so gave impetus to a movement which extended well into the 1920's and 40's, particularly in the USA and Great Britain, gaining importance in the 60's and then spreading internationally. Exemplary for this development is the International Community Education Association (ICEA) which was founded in the 1970's, whose goal is to promote the concept of Community Education and help form a working network of worldwide initiatives. Today ICEA is represented in some 90 countries, accredited by the Council of Europe, and has operational relations with UNESCO.

Community Education stands for learning in the community, with the community, and for the community. [See Communitarianism] It is to be understood as an integrating element of urban, community, and regional development efforts, contributing to the construction and reconstruction of economic infrastructure, cultural vitality and diversity, ecological consciousness and structural forms. Community Education serves to expand individual and communal responsibility aimed at taking action for the improvement in the quality of life. Hence Community Education means interventional learning in the Polis, and assumes that learning persons are also active social, economical, ecological, and political beings. The concept adheres to the belief that sustainable development as called for by the UNO in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro can only then take place when problem-solving is implemented on the local level and carried out by many people. In turn, impulses springing from activities at the local level can grow into contributions to solutions of global problems. (Page 3)

If one attempts to summarize the foregoing comments into a programmatical catalog of points, the following distinguishing features of Community Education emerge as important:

* Community education is a holistic approach which supports the learning in, with and for the community. It counts on self-reliance, mobilizes the power of communities and focuses them on sustainable development, on the solution of social, cultural, technological, economic and ecological problems. All the social and all the age groups of the population can be involved. That is why community education overcomes the separatism of "hyphen-pedagogies", when the project allows it; it is more than just adult education or vocational training. It works in an integrating way.

* The key problems and situations of the people in the community are the starting point of the learning process. As generative themes in the sense expressed by Paulo Freire, many of these problems and situations have more than just a local meaning, they also contain supra-regionally relevant parts. The search for local alternative forms of energy can become a contribution to prevent global climatic changes. Many local problems (with their global aspects) cannot be solved without the supporting approach or community education. This is true for family planning just as much as for dealing with our natural resources in a responsible way.

* Community education is never just education, but always organization and action as well. Thus the application of acquired knowledge and abilities in complex real-life situations becomes an integral part of the learning process. Not only is the subject the point of concentration, but also the situation that should be dealt with and improved. That is why community education never just aims at the qualification of people, but also at a constructive dealing with the reality in which these people are living.

* Community education is especially sensitive and responsible with regard to the living conditions of marginalized ethnic groups. It supports social movements that aim at overcoming this marginalization. It makes an effort for full equal rights of women. It promotes the realization of human rights, the integration and acceptance of ethnic, cultural or religious minorities, it has an intercultural and antiracist orientation. It becomes active against the isolation of handicapped people.

* Community Education and popular economics [socialist economics] work together in many cases. From the beginning ICEA has seen and emphasized the importance of economics from below as a way out of marginalization. Here ICEA above all emphasizes the promotion of entrepreneurship. For where there is a lack of jobs, people have to be able to create jobs themselves. ICEA supports those, often from the informal sector, who want to get access to the regular market.

* Community education is an answer to specific weaknesses of institutions and curricula in the formal educational sector. Learning as participation in sustained development does not need any artificial motivation. It is easier to put new insights into reality. Academic knowledge is used for concrete problems and not taught in an alienated form. Knowledge and abilities can be acquired in a process of investigating learning with a close connection of theory and practice. Community schools are referring to local needs with their curriculum, they reconstruct the relationship to the neighborhood and lead children and adolescents at an early point and more intensively than traditional schools to social fields of action. (Pages 5-6)

This also outlines the paradigm of community education in contrast to conventional educational approaches:

* Learning processes are not cut up into meaningless units and placed beyond reality. Community education lays emphasis on holistic learning in meaningful connections. Technical qualifications with instruments are learnt in an enlightened social context.
Learning does not take place in parameters of phony security where tasks, the method of solving the problem and the solution are all known beforehand. Instead, learning takes place in the uncertainty of complex reality. People learn in a close theory-practice correlation. Community education favors the inquiring and discovering type of learning -learning through productive action.

* Community education emphasizes development of the curriculum from the bottom up instead of the top down. Subjects do not structure it but key situations and key problems. Their analysis makes the classification of desirable qualifications possible which allow autonomous, competent action and solidarity. The connection with key situations [using crisis to manipulate feelings and imagination] initiates learning processes close to reality and a focus of scientific knowledge on real problems.

* Community education contributes to an opening of educational institutions to social action fields without being fixed to educational institutions. Here it is accepted that important social learning processes take place - especially under conditions of marginalization -beyond the walls of educational institutions.

* Community educators are not shaped by white-collar convictions, they do not migrate from the land and they do not rely on teacher-proof curricula. They interpret learning as an active participation in local and regional development. They combine brain-work with manual work.

Projects aimed at developing an Open Learning Community would mistake their role if they did not become critical and simultaneously constructive adversary of only pragmatic variants of Community Education; the development of standards of excellence is necessary right there, where due to their existential situation, people cannot afford to grind through an examination-ridden curriculum alienated from reality.

See also Facilitating permanent social change

Using Dissatisfaction (a crisis) for social transformation