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Report from the European Democratic Education Community 2013 Conference

Peter Gray lecture at EUDEC

Note: This article was originally published in Other Education, vol. 2, no. 2 (2013), pp. 113-115, and is reprinted under Creative Commons license (BY-SA).

From July 28 to August 2, 2013, the European Democratic Education Community (EUDEC) held its fifth annual general meeting and conference. This year’s host was De Ruimte democratic school in Soest, The Netherlands, with an organizing committee comprised of staff members and alumni of Dutch democratic schools. 261 participants attended, ranging from students, staff members, parents, and interested community members. I attended as a member of the Sudbury Munich startup school’s scientific advisory board.

An affiliate of the International Democratic Education Network, EUDEC claims to represent about 58,000 people across 26 countries, including 42 schools, 19 start-up schools, and other member organizations and individuals. The bulk of the conference was organized into an open space, where all participants were invited to organize workshops, including ones that were organized spontaneously according to conversations and needs of participants during the conference. The annual general meeting was limited to voting members, but the final day of the conference was open to an additional 27 public visitors. At the last day, invited scholars, researchers, entrepreneurs, and school founders provided lectures and workshops.

Democratic education, as defined by EUDEC is comprised of two pillars:

  1. Self-determined learning: “Students in democratic schools and universities choose how to spend their school days, pursue their interests and prepare themselves for their lives and chosen careers” (EUDEC, n.d.).
  2. A community of equality and mutual respect: “Democratic schools have school meetings in which all members of the community have an equal vote, regardless of age or status. Students and teachers can sit together as equals to discuss and vote on school rules, curricula, projects, the hiring of staff and even budgetary matters” (EUDEC, n.d.).

EUDEC member schools have various models and approaches to how democratic education is practiced in their institutions, but many face similar obstacles in gaining the approval of government authorities across Europe, which nearly universally impose structural limitations that ban self-determined learning and disallow students to have an equal voice. The result is that many schools face constant legal battles to stay open, and, in some cases, even parents of the schools are charged as criminals for sending their children there (see esp. Thomas, 2013 for a typical case outline). For the schools that are under siege by authorities, the conference provides a valuable retreat to share experiences, learn from others, and expand networks.

The conference theme was “we create the future,” which from my perspective as an education futurist could not be more pertinent. This clashed with a sentiment shared by many of the schools, and particularly the Sudbury-type schools, that their approach to education is “radical.” I strongly disagree. In an era driven by accelerating technological change, globalization, and the emergence of a “knowmadic” society (Moravec, 2013a, 2013b), democratic schools are a necessary option for creating a near-future workforce that is creative, imaginative, and innovative in its application of personal-level knowledge.

As the democratic schools movement grows, the shift from their approach from being perceived as radical to a viable option presents new opportunities for research and academic discourse development. From my observations at conference workshops and in conversations with participants, there are tremendous variations in how self-determined and democratic learning is implemented. Deep research into differing practices could yield rich new, vocabulary and dimensions of democratic education that have been largely ignored.

In my overall opinion, the EUDEC conference in 2013 deserves high praise for both quality of content and organization. In my informal conversations with participants, however, the conference itself was not the star of the show – but rather the food. Chef Sytse Kramer from HetEten set up a full kitchen outdoors, employed at-risk youth as cooks, and produced restaurant-quality dishes that received near universal acclaim throughout the week. At the closing ceremony of the conference, we had a lot to cheer about, but only the raucous applause for Chef Kramer could be heard over several kilometers away in the center of Soest.

About the author

John Moravec is a scholar on the future of work and education; a global speaker; editor of the Knowmad Society project; a co-director of the Invisible Learning project; and is an advisor with Education Futures (http://www.educationfutures.com).

References

  1. EUDEC. (n.d.). European Democratic Education Community | Democratic Education. Retrieved August 05, 2013, from http://www.eudec.org/Democratic+Education
  2. Moravec, J. W. (2013a). Knowmad Society: The “new” work and education. On the Horizon, 21(2), 79–83. doi:10.1108/10748121311322978
  3. Moravec, J. W. (2013b). Rethinking human capital development in Knowmad Society. In J. W. Moravec (Ed.), Knowmad Society (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Education Futures.
  4. Thomas, A. (2013). Autonomous and informal education under threat: Summerhill, UK, Sudbury schools in The Netherlands and home education. Other Education, 2(1), 75–77.

Bridging the (r)evolution between Europe and the Americas

John Moravec will represent Education Futures in “EduLab Live,” a three-hour livestreamed journey with educational innovators in Europe and the Americas.

From Philippe Greier (organizer):

Let’s connect, share and collaborate with the architects of the next generation of education.

Education for the 21st century is challenged into adopting new paradigms, driven by an era of technological revolution that has had a great impact on our society.

We invite 6 – 8 outstanding and innovative examples from all around the world to present and discuss their solutions.

Educational start-ups using new technology, educators building on alternative and reformative education. Individuals and organizations that are bond by the idea of being part of the education (r)evolution.

Via skype connected with people from all around the world. Be part of it!

Be presente! Let’s play the education (r)evolution.

For more information, and to join, visit the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/106698099490218/

Also…

Catch up with us in Europe!

In the next few weeks, we will be at: Pioneers Festival in Vienna October 30-31 | EduLab Live (streaming from Brno) November 2 | Otavan Opisto in Finland November 16-17 | Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki November 20 | Sudbury Schule-München November 29 – December 2 | Madrid (December date TBD) | Netherlands (December date TBD) | … and otherwise headquartering temporarily in the Czech Republic.

Building enclaves of entrepreneurship education through pirate-like thinking

On Tuesday, I stopped by the NEXT Berlin 2012 conference at STATION-Berlin to meet up with young innovators in the European education sphere. I had the pleasure of chatting with Inês Silva, co-founder of the Startup Pirates, a one-week startup school that works with various communities around the planet. Headquartered in Portugal, the Startup Pirates work to:

[…] help and foster new ventures that are going to be game-changers, capable of breaking the rules set in their markets. This way, we are creating an inspiring and informal environment, together with a great curricular plan and fantastic experts on the subjects. We expect to open minds and to provide the tools to come up with, and to develop some awesome ideas.

Watch my interview with Inês, where I ask her to describe what Startup Pirates works to achieve, and what the implications are for formal education:

Last week in brief: BIG things brewing

A lot has happened in the past week, and I feel that bits and pieces are coming together to form a huge break from the mainstream in human capital development in the Netherlands. In brief:

On Monday, I visited TEDxDelft at TU Delft. The day was very well organized and included a selection of talks from a book maker, an astronaut, constructors of a high tech opera, a parkour exhibition, and a talk by Marcel Kampman on how to close what he calls the Dream Gap. Marcel provides 9 ideas to tackle the issue, including re-organizing TED so that it it focuses on T-shaped approaches to EDucation (hence, T-ED), that work to connect people-to-people in knowledge creation and sharing. Smart idea.

During the lunch break, Marcel and I also got together and recorded videos for each others projects. Here’s what I had to say for the Dream School initiative he’s playing a major role with for Stad & Esch:

Stad & Esch & Onderwijs & John Moravec from Stad & Esch on Vimeo.

(I’ll post my video interview with Marcel in a future post, which will include his TEDxDelft talk, as soon as it becomes available.)

On Tuesday, I visited the UniC school in Utrecht, which flips the use of technology in the classroom around to allow students to engage in learning activities that enable them to follow their own passions and interests. They bring in their own laptops or tablet devices, and spend their time on individual and team learning projects that are guided by faculty that do more to attend to their learning rather than trying to manage it. Jelmer Evers showed me around, and explained that because higher level students are required to take a standardized learning exam, they must unlearn everything the school has taught them so that they can complete the tests in an industrialized manner. Jelmer writes about this difficult situation on his blog, and fears an NCLB-like nightmare in the Netherlands may be emerging:

So far so good. If it was up to a lot of teachers and students, learning would take place more outside of the school as well. But reality is different of course. That’s where the inspection comes in. The education inspection is an organization which visits schools. In general it sees to good educational practice and particulary it audits “weak” schools which produce bad grades, most notably exam results. We’re a new school and those results are continuously improving. So in the end I think we’ll do fine (and our students better in the ways that count as well). The thing is, a lot of the skills that we focus on aren’t captured in the official results and a lot of people are scrutinizing us to see if we will be able to produce these results. We had a real nice discussion with the inspectors of course and they were very generous, but in the end it is the “result” that matters. In fact there is an ever increasing focus on results and testing, like in the United States.

Wednesday centered on a collaborative workshop at the Third National Self-Organization Day, organized by Stichting Zelforganisatie in Rotterdam, with Edwin de Bree and three students from the Sudbury education schools in the Netherlands. I spoke about Invisible Learning, and Edwin moderated a panel discussion and “speed dating”/Q&A session between the students and the workshop participants. Later in the day, Ronald van den Hoff gave a talk on his vision of Society 3.0. One interesting projection I took with me: He projects that 45% of the workforce will be comprised of knowmads or engaged in knowmad-like work.

On Thursday, my journey continued with a visit to the NHL Hogeschool in Leeuwarden for a day-long workshop on Knowmad Society and Invisible Learning, entitled “MEAT with John Moravec.” The group of faculty and students at NHL, lead by Jooske Haije, was a lot of fun to work with, not only because they are working to implement ideas from Invisible Learning and Knowmad Society into their own institution, but also because the group were excited to remix and share new ideas. I was delightfully surprised to find that they had made morning snacks out of the brain imagery that Cristóbal Cobo and I originally intended to use for the cover of our Invisible Learning book. The faculty are fired-up on making invisible learning visible, and I look forward to hearing about they will present from the workshop to an assembly celebrating the school’s 40th anniversary later this month.

Later, in the afternoon, I joined the Otava Folk High School in Finland for a talk on Invisible Learning via Adobe Connect:

On Friday, we began to bring all these pieces together. Ronald van den Hoff hosted a round table on education in Society 3.0 at Seats2Meet in Utrecht. In the world of educational innovation, with various stakeholders and initiatives largely operating independent of each other, we recognized a need to better connect and integrate the work and thinking of all key players — including students. With interim futuring activities to keep us thinking and acting, our group will again meet in January and March to plot next steps. Already, Ronald has pledged in-kind support from Seats2Meet International to support the initiative, coordinated by Annemarije Bakker, so I am quite optimistic about what we may accomplish in the coming months.

During the second half of the day, I traveled to Amsterdam with Thieu Besselink for a quick visit to the Waag Society and the Creative Learning Lab, where they have recently released a book entitled Open Design Now: Why design cannot remain exclusive. As they describe it, the book:

surveys this emerging field for the first time. Insiders including John Thackara, Droog Design’s Renny Ramakers and Bre Pettis look at what’s driving open design and where it’s going. They examine new business models and issues of copyright, sustainability and social critique. Case studies show how projects ranging from the RepRap self-replicating 3D-printer to $50 prosthetic legs are changing the world.

Finally, upon hearing that Otto Scharmer was visiting Amsterdam, I crashed the final minutes of the Crossing the Tipping Point congress:

I apologize to anybody that may have been upset that I didn’t register before stoping by (I wish I had known about the event sooner!), but I really enjoyed meeting all of you. 🙂


Coda

Throughout Northern Europe, and, in particular, in the Netherlands, I sense a real push for creating educational reforms that will enable the countries to leapfrog beyond old industrial paradigms to 21st century innovation and knowmadic paradigms. In these countries where education policies are so deeply rooted in the old Prussian tradition that aims to produce loyal factory workers and government bureaucrats, perhaps we can also find the greatest potential for meaningful change and leadership in developing Society 3.0.

The stars seem to be aligning for this shift. And, when it happens, it will be big. The right people are connecting to bring new ideas to the table, and are generating new ways for generating positive futures. For leading, facilitating, and hosting many of these conversations, I extend my greatest gratitude especially to Seats2Meet International, Ronald van den Hoff, Iris Meerts, Jooske Haije, and Edwin de Bree. Thank you for making this happen!

(I’ll be back in January.)

Wanted: 30 Knowmads

Remember Knowmads in Society 3.0? Something amazing is brewing in Europe. And, they’re looking for thirty candidates from around the world.

Knowmads is a new school for the world of tomorrow, starting in January 2010 in The Netherlands. After two years of learning with and from KaosPilots (International School for New Business Design and Social Innovation) in Rotterdam, a couple of entrepreneurs will join together in Knowmads-land. KaosPilots Netherlands transformed and the body of thought is very much alive!

Their purpose is to create a life-long learning community that starts with a one–year program and the possibility to add another six months after that. They work from the principle of a team-setting based on Action Learning; meaning that they work with their heads, hearts and hands. They believe in action, creativity, fun, diversity, social innovation and sustainability in real life assignments.

The program consists of the following elements:

  • Entrepreneurship and New Business Design
  • Personal Leadership
  • Creativity and Marketing
  • Sustainability and Social Innovation

The real life assignments for the students will be realized by collaborations with several international business partners and organisations. With this they will create constant win-win-win situations. And, the student themselves are stakeholders and owners of the school.

They are looking for thirty knowmads from around the world to join the inaugural team, with a deadline of November 20 December 18.

For more information, stories or applications check www.knowmads.nl or write to: carianne@knowmads.nl / pieter@knowmads.nl

“Welcome home!”

Thank you, Europe!

I just returned from my talks at the Creative Company Conference, ITSMF Academy, and the University of Oxford. The themes of each presentation were different, but I was able to work from a common subset of slides that built from ideas shared in the Designing Education 3.0 series at Education Futures:

Special thanks and greetings go to Rudolf van Wezel, Jamila Ross, Linda van der Heijden, Corrine Nederlof (@nederlof), Fons van der Berg (@helikon), Jeroen Bottema (@jeroenbottema), @roscamabbing, Donna Schaap (@SoyDonna), Ralf Beuker (@iterations), Arne van Oosterom (@designthinkers), Sir Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson), the Kaos Pilots, Amnon Levav, Michael Krömer, J. Roos, Agnes Hadderingh, Bert van Lamoen, Dan Sutch, Cristóbal Cobo, Ken Mayhew… and the many others I met and worked with over the past week!

2020 skills forecast for the European Union

Europe

Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, supplied a comprehensive assessment of Europe’s skills requirements up to 2020 to the European Council.  In the study, they identified six employment trends leading to the year 2020 horizon:

  1. Services sector still expanding: Europe continues to shift away from manufacturing and agricultural industries
  2. Around 20 million new jobs in Europe by 2020 despite the loss of well over 3 million jobs in the primary sector and almost 0.8 million in manufacturing
  3. Workforce shortages by 2020: based on demographic developments, there will be an increase in retirees and a decrease in the working-age population
  4. High and medium-skilled occupations on the rise as will the demand for the number of lower-level jobs (such as agricultural workers and clerks)
  5. Polarization of jobs as high and low-level occupations increase: “Skill supply as an important push factor on the demand side of the labour market, however, raises concern. Are people’s skills adequately valued? Do the skills provided match those required? Are people overqualified carrying out jobs that could be done by people with lower educational attainment?” (p. 11)
  6. Increase in qualification levels: The growth of skilled occupations require an increase for qualified workers.  Fewer jobs will become available to workers with few qualifications.

From these trends, Cedefop generated a set of policy implications, most notably:

Based on these findings, overall demand for skills is likely to continue to rise. For Europe to remain competitive, policy needs to ensure that the workforce can adapt to these requirements. Europe needs a strategy to satisfy the demands of the service-oriented knowledge-intensive economy. Continuing training and lifelong learning must contribute to a process that enables people to adjust their skills constantly to on-going structural labour market change.

The young generation entering the labour market in the next decade cannot fulfil all the labour market skill needs. This has implications for education and training. Lifelong learning is paramount. It requires implementing a consistent and ambitious strategy that reduces the flow of early school leavers and drop-outs, establishes a comprehensive skills plan for adults/adult learning and which increases the supply of people trained in science and technology.

[…]

Labour market and other social policy measures need to be more flexible for those needing to change their job. Alongside flexicurity measures, Europe must make proposals to maximise the employment potential of its workforce. Bringing more women into the labour market and longer working lives are crucial and unavoidable measures for Europe’s sustainable future.

How to balance work with personal and family lives? Reconciling the work-life balance in the context of social policy agenda and corporate social responsibility is a challenge for the coming years. (pp. 14-15)

[View the report in its entirity here.]