Constitutional and Climate Crisis and Democratic Deficits all round!
It is Friday the 13th of September at the eleventh-hour and I am watching BBC’s ‘Newsnight’. Will Hutton (the author and journalist) has just said that “the British Constitution has proven itself to be broken”. He refers to the proroguing of parliament, the court judgement in Scotland and the honours list fiasco.
Not with-standing the intricacies of Brexit, and the Climate Crisis, these recent controversies have further highlighted the need for an empowering democratic engagement curriculum at the heart of our education. My contribution to the Learn and Work Institute’s forthcoming publication titled: ‘Making the case for a new democratic engagement curriculum for Adult Learning’, discusses how our changing and digital world calls for a different approach. It suggests some of the skills and strategies that would facilitate the future workforce of the sector in its delivery. My employer Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales has developed and piloted some new approaches, often in conjunction with Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales and other partner-organisations.
Other flashpoints world-wide from Hong Kong and Kashmir to Catalunya raise questions about democracy, accountability, human rights and self-determination. A lack of equal opportunities and blatant discrimination against women, the LGBT community, minorities and migrants prevails world-wide. In a global market where big business often has more power and influence than elected governments, inequalities, child poverty, in-work poverty and homelessness are growing.
Activism and cultural democracy
Earlier, I visited a conference at the Welsh Museum of Rural Life, ‘Activism: The future for Museums and Universities’. Nia Williams from the Museum of Wales noted that our democracy was under siege. The Museum had however been established on sound activist principles by Iorwerth Pete who advocated its role in developing a cultural democracy. Forging the future creatively and democratically was as important as appreciating the past. The key-note speaker Professor Lisa Lewis had been inspired by the National Museum of the American Indian, a space where issues and grievances could be discussed. Unfortunately, Universities in Wales had lost their founding principles.
At a time where there is an increasing need to change career and re-train and when communities are increasingly dependent on volunteers to secure their vibrancy and sustainability, Adult Community Learning is narrowly targeted at vocational and essential skills and has been devastated by severe cuts. University Extramural Departments are now an endangered species. The Adult Education 100 Campaign has been set up to address this decline: Link
New Democratic Engagement Curriculum
I argue that vocational skills on their own will not secure sustainable, resilient and prosperous communities and workplaces. Context, wellbeing, creativity, culture, democratic engagement and co-operative community entrepreneurship are also needed in the curriculum, either as cross-cutting themes or standalone elements. Democratic engagement is a key factor in sustainable development, and life-long learning is conducive to community democracy. The potentially critical importance of education in the Welsh post-devolution democratic deficit has not been fully explored.
Adult learning practitioners need to be acquainted with the range of new technologies and software packages that can empower citizens to engage democratically and campaign. Also, there is a need for tutors to creatively and impartially integrate democratic engagement with other essential and vocational skills, from Information Technology to the Creative Arts. We need to give our learners the communication, organisational and scrutiny skills to question and verify facts, challenge opinions, lobby, campaign, solve problems and engage in positive solutions. These non-partisan political courses and cross-cutting themes would encourage tolerance, exchange of views and co-operation.
Identifying fake news and establishing truth and objectivity is certainly a key skill for the modern age!
Local participative democracy and co-operation
Ultimately, it is at the local level that adult learners are most likely to make a difference to their community or workplace by participating democratically, campaigning, lobbying, co-operating, volunteering, fund-raising or being creative. Before visiting St Fagans, I had listened to Meleri Davies, Director of ‘Ynni Ogwen’ present at a Community Energy Wales Conference where the democratisation of energy production, consumption and transport was discussed. ‘Ynni Ogwen’, a community funded hydro-electric scheme was already operational and ‘Partneriaeth Ogwen’, were in the process of establishing an electric car sharing scheme using locally produced fuel. She recognised the role of green energy enthusiasts in establishing the project. However, the challenge in terms of creating a truly democratic and sustainable green community was to engage with the majority who were not yet on board and would benefit the most from cheap electricity and transport. Is this where Adult Learning could have a role? Likewise, in the context of the Future Generations (Wales) Act, Adult Learning could facilitate those in most need of their voices being heard to gain the confidence and skills to articulate their opinions and visions and improve their communities and services.
Despite the fact that Friday the 13th had gloomy messages for democracy and education, I am not superstitious! I believe that is a matter of co-operatively and objectively forging our future. More than ever, it is timely to campaign for a broad, empowering, adequately funded life-long learning!
Dafydd Rhys has a background in Geography and Recreation and Parks, and has worked in the Schools, Further Education, Higher Education and Adult Community Learning sectors. He has also established community and co-operative enterprises in the creative, publishing and recreation industries.
Currently, he works for Addysg Oedolion Cymru / Adult Learning Wales as its Democratic Engagement and Welsh Medium Co-ordinator.
You might also be interested in:
- Where next for the adult learning workforce? (blog) - visit the thematic page that links to all of the published blogs that have so far contributed to this exciting blog series focusing on adult learning and workforce development
- Workplace learning and upskilling – the secret to success for workers and organisations (blog) - discusses the rapidly changing technological landscape, how this effects job roles and why learners need to focus on upskilling to secure continued professional success
- EPALE 2019 Stakeholder Conference, Warsaw (blog) - a PhD student from Lancaster University discusses her experiences at the EPALE Stakeholder Conference in Warsaw, which focused on the impact EPALE has had on adult education
- Journey to Work: A Success Story of Working and Living! (blog) - discusses a programme that aims to improve the earning potential of young people by enabling them to take work placements abroad