informal

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.

Did you miss the live Webinar with Cristóbal Cobo? Don't worry. We made a recording for you.

cobo-webinar

Life in the 21st Century has become international, multicultural, and inter-connected, requiring new skills for educators to succeed. What are the so-called “21st Century skills,” and which key conditions are needed for the development of these skills within and outside of formal educational settings? Learn what it means to learn in a “knowmadic” society, and explore the shift from what we learn to how we learn in this free, online webinar.

Event co-sponsors: Education Futures LLC, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, TIES education technology collaborative, and Whitewater Learning

Twitter hashtag for discussion: #knowmad


coboAbout the presenter: Dr. Cristóbal Cobo is a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, where he coordinates research on innovation, open knowledge initiatives and future of learning research projects. Currently he works on Internet Science, OportUnidad, K-Networks and SESERV (European Commission). He is also coordinator of a collective project on informal, non-formal and invisible learning – a collaborative book and an online repository of bold ideas for designing cultures of sustainable innovation. Cristóbal has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance, University of Oxford and Professor and Director of Communication and New Technologies and editor of the educational platform of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Mexico.

He has worked on academic projects with organizations such as the Open University (UK), the University of Oxford, the University of Minnesota, the University of Toronto, the Open University of Catalonia, the Mexican Ministry of Public Education, and the Ministries of Education of Chile and Argentina, the Telefonica Foundation (Argentina and Mexico) and the European Union. He has been an invited expert for RAND EU in future trends on technology and education commissioned by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors (BEPA).

Dr. Cobo currently serves on the board of the Global Open Educational Resource (OER) Graduate Network.

Free Webinar on Thursday: Skills and competencies for knowmadic workers

We are pleased to announce a free webinar with Dr. Cristóbal Cobo this Thursday:

cobo-webinar
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There is no cost to participate. Join the live Webinar by visiting http://www.educationfutures.com/live on August 8!

Life in the 21st Century has become international, multicultural, and inter-connected, requiring new skills for educators to succeed. What are the so-called “21st Century skills,” and which key conditions are needed for the development of these skills within and outside of formal educational settings? Learn what it means to learn in a “knowmadic” society, and explore the shift from what we learn to how we learn in this free, online webinar.

Event co-sponsors: Education Futures LLC, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, TIES education technology collaborative, and Whitewater Learning

Twitter hashtag for discussion: #knowmad


coboAbout the presenter: Dr. Cristóbal Cobo is a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, where he coordinates research on innovation, open knowledge initiatives and future of learning research projects. Currently he works on Internet Science, OportUnidad, K-Networks and SESERV (European Commission). He is also coordinator of a collective project on informal, non-formal and invisible learning – a collaborative book and an online repository of bold ideas for designing cultures of sustainable innovation. Cristóbal has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance, University of Oxford and Professor and Director of Communication and New Technologies and editor of the educational platform of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Mexico.

He has worked on academic projects with organizations such as the Open University (UK), the University of Oxford, the University of Minnesota, the University of Toronto, the Open University of Catalonia, the Mexican Ministry of Public Education, and the Ministries of Education of Chile and Argentina, the Telefonica Foundation (Argentina and Mexico) and the European Union. He has been an invited expert for RAND EU in future trends on technology and education commissioned by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors (BEPA).

Dr. Cobo currently serves on the board of the Global Open Educational Resource (OER) Graduate Network.

Scale it sideways!

One of the key points we make in Invisible Learning is that new technologies and new possibilities for social configurations are expanding the ecology of options we have for learning. “Schooling” is no longer limited to just schools. Rather, we can now learn in formal environments, online, informally, and serendipitously. Moreover, we can leverage technologies to remix these modes together — so, for example, it is now possible to have a meaningful and recognized learning experience at coffee shops, city parks, bowling alleys, etc.

Just as wise investors diversify their investment portfolio, so should we build diverse portfolios of our schools. This means that we should not invest too heavily in any one strategy. If we do not know with any precision what the future will be, we cannot have one-size-fits-all schools. We need to expand our ecologies of options.

Many times we find something that works. Perhaps a new pedagogical technique …or, maybe a new type of school. One of the first things we often ask ourselves when evaluating an innovation is: How do we scale it up?

FORGET SCALING UP.

WE NEED TO SCALE SIDEWAYS IN EDUCATION.

Scaling up is how we industrialize ideas, and employ them within a top-down managed system. This works in an educational monoculture, but not in a diverse ecology. Rather than industrializing our best ideas, why not share them horizontally? That is, let’s invite people and schools to adopt them if they work for them?

Scaling sideways invites co-creation. It is dialogical.

The question we need to ask is, how can we facilitate broader horizontalized communications and sharing of best practices, etc., between schools in a diverse ecology of options? Perhaps this means that top educational leaders, governments and other interest groups need to focus less on managing; and focus more on attending to the chaos and uncertainty of a more dynamic educational ecology.

And, let’s make sure to invite the kids into the horizontalized co-creation. We are all white belts when it comes to understanding and acting on our futures. We do not have any role models to draw from. We have never been to the future before.

We must engage kids in this conversation now. Knowmad Society is their’s, but it is up to us to build it together.


Note: Adapted from my plenary talk at the Onderwijs en ondernemen “op expeditie” conference in The Hague, Netherlands on October 6, 2011.

Cobo and Moravec discuss Invisible Learning

John Moravec and Cristóbal Cobo engage in a one-on-one dialogue on new dimensions for thinking about learning. In this conversation, they share some of the most important ideas developed in the book, Aprendizaje Invisible (Invisible Learning), to be released next week. More information is available at www.invisiblelearning.com.

(Note: Conversation alternates between Spanish and English.)Картини