Dynamic, thriving communities are the bedrock of society. We urgently need to address the issue of community fragmentation and to strengthen social cohesion. One way to do this is by promoting community mindedness — and schools have a key part to play.
Schools are themselves living, breathing communities. Every day is an opportunity for children to learn about how communities operate.
We have argued elsewhere about the need to use the curriculum to promote community values of trust, respect and interdependence, and to educate children in how to contribute positively to their community.
But we can also be much more ambitious in how we involve the community in the education of children. Our communities are a priceless educational resource, a vast fund of local expertise, talent and enthusiasm. A recent letter in the Guardian newspaper gives a flavour of what is possible:
If we had someone with imagination as secretary of state for education, we would be looking forward to a summer of active, creative and inspiring activities for our youngsters. They would harness the skills of under-employed actors, writers, artists, musicians and technicians to run a festival of learning away from Zoom and textbooks. They would pay the outreach teams at museums, art galleries and theatres to restart their best projects. They would work with the community branches of sports clubs up and down the country to develop children’s physical and mental fitness.
They would fund conservation groups, ramblers, wildlife trusts and city farms to extend their work with young people and get them out into the open spaces of towns, cities and countryside. They would recognise that you can learn and “catch up” with the help of people other than a tutor. They would value teamwork and collaboration as much as individual learning and competition for exam results.Rob Watling, Guardian letter, 27 February 2021
One doesn’t have to share the author’s obvious disdain for the current education secretary to see the merit in what he proposes. Brilliant ideas and innovations are sometimes conceived in the most challenging of circumstances. This particular letter was written in response to the government’s announcement about post-Covid catch-up for the nation’s children, who have missed months of quality face-to-face education. However, the underlying concept — that we harness the expertise and goodwill of the community around us to enhance and enrich children’s learning — is worthy of consideration for the long term and is at the heart of life-based learning.
The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates the introduction of a life-based curriculum for primary school children, with ‘Community’ as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered. It is an attempt to address our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.
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Image at the head of this article is from the website Artists in Residence.