Promoting community education

community education

A lockdown opinion poll found that 73% of people would like society to be more connected in the future; they wanted “a new, country-wide moment that celebrates communities and what we have in common.” Some of that spirit of community was shown during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, in which an astonishing 17 million people took an active role. The words ‘community’ or ‘communities’ appear hundreds of times in the UK government’s recent levelling-up white paper, as well as phrases like ‘social capital’ and ‘community covenants’. We can all agree about the importance of a sense of community and belonging and the many benefits it brings with it. Take the practice of ‘social prescribing’, increasingly used to support health and wellbeing. But we need to nurture that sense of community; we cannot just assume that it will always be there. That’s why community education matters, teaching children and young people about community, teaching them with the support of the local community, and teaching them to become active participants in community life.

Social prescribing shows the value of community

Our recent blog Building stronger communities described valuing, protecting and strengthening our communities as one of the urgent life challenges we face.

The increasingly popular practice of social prescribing shows the value and importance of community. The NHS describes social prescribing as a key component of universal personalised care, the central concept underpinning its current Long Term Plan.

The National Academy for Social Prescribing is a UK organisation dedicated to using the power of community – “across the arts, health, sports, leisure, and the natural environment, alongside other aspects of our lives” – to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level.

Social prescribing links to a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations, for example, volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

from the website of the National Academy for Social Prescribing

Community education in schools

Back in the early 1980s this author ‘did’ a subject at school called ‘community studies’. It was very obviously regarded by teachers and by us pupils as merely a timetable filler, a lesson a week to tick boxes covering content that we now call citizenship education. Life-Based Learning (LBL) would massively raise the profile of community education by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered, at least for younger children.

Take history, for example. We have written before about history as key for building strong, vibrant and closely knit communities. History gives us an understanding of people, events and developments in past times and how they have shaped the present. Taught sensitively, history promotes community cohesion. It is through history that children develop an increased sense of identity and belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours.

Meanwhile, political literacy is a prime example of the limitations of the subject-based approach to learning, which relegates everything that isn’t a recognised ‘subject’ to second-tier status, regardless of how important it might be. And yet, a cohesive society, founded on strong communities, needs people to be politically literate and actively engaged as citizens.

So we need to be teaching the key elements of political literacy. That includes:

  • showing children how to get involved and become active participants in their community and/or civil society more generally, and encouraging them to do so
  • promoting a culture of shared values based on tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence
  • teaching children about their rights and their responsibilities

Education through the community

But we can also promote communities by doing much more than just learning about communities and promoting community values. We can strengthen the link between schools and communities, learning about the value of community through direct community involvement in education.

Life-Based Learning means being 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. At the core of Life-Based Learning is a vision of much greater community involvement not just in general school life but in helping deliver parts of the curriculum, further reinforcing the two-way bond of support between school and community and helping to enhance and enrich children’s learning.

And why in the end does this all matter? Michael Mac, the originator of Life-Based Learning, has written:

Stronger community-focused shared action across a range of issues will make the difference into the future, whether that issue is tackling climate change, people getting on with each other in more positive and productive ways, or neighbours looking out for each other, especially to support the isolated and the lonely.

Read More About Community Participation

The image at the head of this article is by banathemobile0 from Pixabay.

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