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Implementing self-organisation in Dutch education

Galvanised by self-organisation initiatives from around the country, Drs. Marja van den Dungen wonders whether future adult education can be coordinated in a similar fashion. “Could self-organisation of learning – in a partnership, for instance – be a viable and attractive way of remedying the significant decrease of student numbers in adult education?”

Galvanised by self-organisation initiatives from around the country, Drs. Marja van den Dungen wonders whether future adult education can be coordinated in a similar fashion. “Could self-organisation of learning – in a partnership, for instance – be a viable and attractive way of remedying the significant decrease of student numbers in adult education?” This article was at the heart of van den Dungen's address at het Festival van het Leren (Learning Festival) on 18 September 2015.My inspiration

I was first inspired to reconsider the re-organisation of Dutch adult education after a meeting with Remmelt Schuuring – this inspirational go-getter initiated a cooperative cleaning organisation in Den Bosch, in which all employees are also entrepreneurs. The organisation is run on the principles of responsibility, influence and a fairer form of sharing. Umbrella organisation Gewoon Doen (Just Do It) acts as one for all and also takes care of financial matters, while Schoongewoon (Just Clean) takes care of all executive tasks (all for one). Those who work in the umbrella organisation are rewarded equally to those  at the executive end. Currently in 2015, five cooperations are active (2 in Den Bosch, 1 in Eindhoven, 1 in Utrecht/Zeist and 1 in Haarlem), while five others are being discussed and one is being developed. My former employer CINOP is now also working with Schoongewoon. Apart from cleaning collaborations, healthcare initiatives are now also being launched. Help gewoon (Just Help) is one of these.

See also (in Dutch)Motive

The principle of the cooperation greatly appealed to me, and I wondered if self-organisation of learning – in a partnership, for instance – could be a viable and attractive remedy to the significant decrease of student numbers in adult education? When using the term 'adult education', I am mainly concerned with adult education that falls under the Wet Educatie en Beroepsonderwijs (Adult and Vocational Education Act) and is funded by the Dutch government. After an initial decline in means and participants, a further decrease of 50% was observed between 2006 and 2013: from approx. 50,000 to 20,000 participants (see graph, data provided by CBS, March 2015).


Aantal deelnemers educatie in Nederland
Number of participants education in the NetherlandsI view learning by self-organisation as distinct from existing forms of formal, non-formal and informal education, demarcating it from:
  • adult education as defined by the national government (WEB). This consists of course-based programmes for 18 years and older, mainly aimed at achieving a degree or getting a job. Contains second chance education,Dutch as a first language, Dutch as a second language, Dutch language studies and digital skills.

  • programmes aimed at the prevention ofilliteracy, like Tel mee met Taal(Count on skills)

  • adult education centres, specialising in evening classes. These are course-based, just like adult education, and contain language courses, ict-related and creative courses.

 DevelopmentsErasmus University Rotterdam's Transition Management professor Jan Rotmans is another visionary that inspired my thinking on self-organisation and coordination along horizontal lines. In Verandering van tijdperk (the Change of age, 2014) he discusses ongoing changes. Rotmans believes that we are no longer living in an age of change, we are living in a changing age. Vertical systems are being eroded, while horizontal communities and networks are on the rise. People are involved in creating non-institutional initiatives as a response to an established order that no longer cares about the individual. These initiatives can be found in various sectors like healthcare, welfare, energy, finance and education. Professor Rotmans calls this bottom-up development Nederland kantelt (the Netherlands on the move). A vanguard of 250,000 people are involved in renewal and change. If this number is multiplied by ten, an irreversible and sustainable change will be upon us.An interesting episode of Dutch broadcaster VPRO's programme Tegenlicht about Nederland kantelt can be found online (2015). Unsurprisingly, Schoongewoon is also discussed in this context, as this independent initiative is clearly in line with the observations of Rotmans.For more information, see: en www.ksinetwork.nlThe group United4Education is an important player in educational changes: United4Education.

 Finding examples of self-organisationMy interest in self-organisation has opened my eyes to all manner of civic and neighbourhood initiatives that offer educational and development opportunities. To mention a few:

  • Leeszaal R’dam West, (Reading room Rotterdam West): a number of passionate locals organise their own reading room in response to the decline of libraries. The reading room contains 7,000 titles.
  • Krachtfabriek Houten, (Powerhouse Houten): this social enterprise is housed in a former school and aims at acquiring and distributing knowledge and talents, as well as creating a network in which people can help each other out. The local municipality has made the school available to this initiative and it contains technical work areas, study spaces, a meeting room and workshops are held here.
  • Kompelproject Horst (Pal Project Horst, Limburg): Polish migrant workers are introduced to Dutch locals so that they can learn about each other’s culture and language. The integration of Polish people into this area has created growth in an area that was characterised by contracting region. It's a positive development for employment in the farming sector, schools, churches and local night clubs.
  • Theatergroep Wunderbaum: 'We doen het wel zelf' (Well take care of it ourselves, NRC newspaper, 2015). This group creates shows about different forms of community life and highlights examples of enterprising citizens that take over in areas where the government is reducing its activities. 

Collaborative efforts of enterprise and acquisition of means are also becoming more common at a local level: 

  • Crowdfunding for regional and sustainable initiatives:- Redding buurtcentrum Tilburg (saving the Tilburg community centre) after the local municipality closed it (€ 80,000)- New food hall Amersfoort for regional and environmentally friendly products (€ 160,000) 

  • Enterprise and ownership in local communities:- Neighbourhood initiative bewondernemers (excellent enterpreneurs) Lucas Community Osdorp- The aforementioned initiative Schoongewoon can also be identified as one such enterprise.


The common denominator

  • These initiatives are all bottom-up public initiatives that are quite often in line with what Rotmans identifies as a response to a retreating involvement of the governmental authorities (examples being Leeszaal Rotterdam West, Buurtcentrum Tilburg). Inspirational individuals lead the way and transfer their enthusiasm to others. Quality of life and the value of community are valued above monetary gain. A balance is created between individual and collective interests, a specific form of collaboration is chosen.

  • Self-organisation can be quite informal, not a lot of formal rules are recorded (de Krachtfabriek) – collaboration is the central theme. In certain instances, the explicit goal is transferring skills to one another (Wunderbaum and Krachtfabriek). Collaberation always leads to individual and collective learning, however. Those involved are learning about taking responsibility and having a say, networking, implementing work skills, organising, supporting one another, production, entrepreneurship, acquisition and sustainability. I believe that learning in cooperations should be a more explicit goal in self-organisation. 

GoalsCollaborative efforts can have a variety of goals. Think of the original aim of the Raiffeisen Boerenleenbank, for instance, cooperations engaged with joint purchasing or cooperative shops. In the context of adult education, I concern myself with different possible types of cooperation: an employee cooperation or a social cooperation (also see Whichever form is used, the members/owners should wield the utmost influence (in a General Assembly).A cooperation can be created in four steps:1.         Writing a business plan2.         Develop a charter3.         Register with the tax authorities4.         Register with the Chamber of Commerce)(see also forms might be used for self-organisation of education?

  • An employee cooperation (like Schoongewoon) is a definite option. Neighbourhood entrepreneurs can combine their expertise, knowledge and skills in order to meet the educational demands of a specific neighbourhood or area. Participants will pay for these services, but the cooperation isn’t aiming to make a profit, nor provide extra funds for the maintenance offacilities and buildings – self-sustainability of entrepreneurs is the goal.

  • Another possible form is a social cooperation. Self-organisation of civilians aims to achieve goals that individuals cannot, like improving self-sufficiency and income. Members offer their knowledge, experience and expertise in exchange for that of their peers.

  • The social alliance) focuses on achieving similar goals: 'an autonomous organisation of individuals that unite voluntarily in order to promote their common economic, social and cultural interests and ambitions, in which they have ownership themselves, and which features democratic checks and balances'. Collaboration between institutions is also a common thread with social alliances, especially when it comes to social justice and poverty reduction. 

Self-organisation and adult educationSelf-organisation is closely associated with concepts of self-directed and collectively directed learning. Students are involved in selecting their own study goals, study environment, means, etc. This sets self-organisation apart from formal, non-formal and informal education, as it is concerned with intentional learning. Knowles, the author of Self-directed learning (1975), accomplished in andragogy and one of the front-runners when it comes to self-organised learning, describes it as follows: 'Self-directed learning describes the process in which individuals, with or without help from others, signal educational needs, formulate study goals, identify human or material study sources, and select and implement suitable study strategies, while also evaluating educational gains.'Another significant proponent of self-directed learning was Allen Tough, scientist and futurologist. He wrote The adult learning projects (1971). Flavell and Zimmerman are other influential names. Clearly, self-organisation has been around for a while, but has not been applied in education.As we have seen with the example of Schoongewoon, it is not all about the great thinkers or theorists – when it comes to actual change, those that do and bring things into practice are vitally important. In my opinion, self-directed and collectively directed learning via self-organisation perfectly match the wide perspective on education that is favoured by het Festival van het Leren!I have opened my eyes and ears to the new possibilities of self-organisation in education, and have found myself greatly inspired. What about you?


The referenced media source is missing and needs to be re-embedded.

Marja van den Dungen was a board member at the CINOP foundation until July 2015. CINOP is a social enterprise helping learning organisations in educating youths and adults for a place in the labour market and tomorrow's society.


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