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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe

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Astrid Søe, a Community Story from Denmark

29/05/2020
by EPALE Moderator
Language: EN
Document available also in: DA FR

Astrid Søe

I am 47 years old and I live in Copenhagen. I am a public speaker, an adult educator and I have been involved in online teaching since 1995. I am especially interested in life-long learning, building, folk high schools and in freeing learning of strict systems and pressures. I have been an ambassador for EPALE in Denmark since 2016 and have spent a lot of time spreading the word of EPALE. We need to work together across borders, cultures and opinions!
EPALE is a great place to learn both formally and informally and it makes it easy to find the partners you need in adult education and to read about what is going on abroad.

Life is full of changes. Sometimes those changes are felt more intensely than others.

When Coronavirus broke out across the world, we all stood in shock and watched as the reality unfolded. A reality that we could only otherwise have imagined seeing in research labs, watching in films or reading about in novels.

All of a sudden we all became vulnerable and together we were faced with countless unknowns, not just as a planet, but as communities, nations and as individuals.

We all watched as Italy battled with scary infection rates and soring death tolls. We cried for Spain as it too faced a similar reality, and then the UK, the USA, Belgium – all of us. And then borders closed between countries, where normally people would be moving back and forth in a constant stream of cooperation and cohesion. A sense of claustrophobia began to envelope us and it all suddenly got very serious.

In Denmark, as across the rest of the world, this meant that we discovered something real and substantial. That our lives are fragile. That our model of society can be threatened. That the welfare state is not just about benefits and security, but also about creating shared faith and hope, a sense of public spirit, in a time when so many stood in fear with no idea how to make things work. Businesses crumbled and people lost their jobs. Children were left without school. The state of emergency and the odd 'breaking news' reality we entered into, with its R rate, infection curves and daily death tolls, will nevertheless, after a period of shock, lead to something fruitful in society. When we react to the reality we live in and discover that when we are no longer able to meet up or hang out, to hold each other or to grieve together, to go to school or to work, something happens inside. A defiance. A determination to tackle hopelessness head on. We rethink ourselves and our ways of interacting.

All over the world, we stood and sung on our balconies.

In Denmark we all took part in communal sing-a-longs broadcast on TV, and we discovered digital meeting spaces and new ways to express our longings and our trust in one another. In the education sector, we saw a long-awaited move towards the digital.

From one day to the next, we were all to teach online, to condense and to discuss all possible and impossible online media under the sun.

It was a steep learning curve for educators, unlike anything else we have seen in recent times. And it is something that will continue, even once we are on the other side of the Coronavirus crisis. Trying to operate via exclusively online media is difficult. We are creatures of habit, and when a certain mode of teaching has an analogue form that we already know and feel at home with, it is very hard to do away with physical presence to such a great extent. One comes to miss that smile from a classmate, the odd giggle here and there, a sense of presence and togetherness. Pedagogical practices are not easily transferred into the digital space. But now that we are in the process of this transformation, and enjoying it more and more, we must continue to develop our use of e-learning. I have been a huge proponent of e-learning for years. I believe it is a form of learning that provides a freedom unlike anything its analogue counterpart can offer. Time and space are no longer important.

We can learn across boundaries without displacing ourselves, and we can meet people who we would never have met in a traditional context.

E-learning can be adapted to the individual far more easily than traditional face-to-face classes ever could be. It provides freedom and, for some, the courage to participate when they otherwise would never have managed or dared to. Moreover, at a time when we have an ever greater responsibility for the future of our planet, it is an added benefit that we can learn together in the digital classroom without needing to burden the planet with our long journeys to physical meeting places. And of course, there are considerable financial benefits to digital learning as well.
But we need to practice. It takes time to settle in, to acquire that sense of presence and to find other ways to express an intimacy that would otherwise be read in our body language.

In Denmark, things in the learning sector have been quite difficult. A large part of our work depends on physical meetings. Folk high schools and ‘Efterskole’ schools are both types of boarding schools that require a physical presence and which simply cannot survive exclusively online. It is not possible to create that space of personal development and sense of spirit online.
During lockdown, I hosted a webinar for all Efterskole principals, teachers and governors. The format was straightforward. A Zoom webinar where attendants put their questions in the chat.
As the speaker, it is something of a challenge to speak and read questions at the same time. It is difficult to gather the threads, not least because in this kind of webinar, with so many listeners, you cannot see anything save for your own face on the screen. It extinguishes much of the flame that otherwise burns in the realm of popular education. But it also points to something important, which is namely that we do not teach or speak into an empty void, but rather that, through our words, we come into being together with one another. I am immensely looking forward to once more standing before an assembly and speaking, but I also want to continue putting on lessons online, so that everyone has the chance to participate, to do things at their own pace and to skip back and forth through my words.

The most important thing about teaching is that we are all present, whether physically or digitally.

Another joy that has arisen out of all of the hardships that Coronavirus has brought us, is that we have learned that we cannot do without one another. We live, learn and hope best when we rediscover that we are each other’s possibilities, as N.F.S Grundtvig would have put it. Grundtvig founded the Danish folk high schools and through his belief in popular education, he laid the foundations for the Efterskole, free schools and popular education in our particular cultural age. The free school model with its down-to-earth learning style and its emphasis on the merits of all and on the importance of enlivening before enlightening is an important concept.  In Denmark it has proven its worth, even in the time of Coronavirus. We emerge shaken but strengthened out of our lockdown. We have lost people we love, relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, citizens, people of the world. But we have also learnt to remember that we cannot stand alone. That unity and cross-border trust in others, even beyond our own borders, is important.

We learn only when we find curiosity for something in others; in their words, their culture, in our shared sense of co-belonging.

Our hunger for lifelong learning has remained intact, grown even, as we have furthered our knowledge of one another through digital media. We have thrown caution to the wind and dived bravely into new ways of expressing ourselves; new ways of teaching, learning and acting together. That strength is inalienable. Our mission here at EPALE is to nurture and maintain that joy and belief that we are willing and able to attain something special with one another, despite our differences. Our determination to rediscover and to maintain our learning remains firmly intact.


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