DEEEP – a transformational action experiment

DEEEP4There was not much activity on this blog in the last, well, 11 months – my apologies to the faithful reader who comes here regularly (if you exist). This is because the DEEEP project took most of my energy since the beginning of the year. DEEEP? Read more about it in this short article, which was originally published in the Smart CSOs Blog on Theory and Practice. Enjoy – and come back! You won’t have to wait for another 11 months for updates – promise.

DEEEP4 – Advancing towards system change in in the development sector

The Smart CSOs Lab proposes a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year.

Getting out of the business as usual and starting to pull the “key leverage points” such as systems thinking, cultural transformation and building a global movement is a major strategic shift for most CSOs. At CONCORD, the European Development NGO Confederation, the DEEEP4 Project was recently set up as an action experiment to try out some of the Smart CSOs thinking in practice, and hopefully to scale up its experience in the wider confederation.

DEEEP is an EC-funded, project-based support mechanism created by the confederation’s development education working group (the DARE Forum) 10 years ago. When DEEEP entered its fourth project phase, running from 2013 to 2015, many elements of Smart CSOs thinking where already considered during the drafting process, and more concretely implemented in the first months of the project, when the team and strategic orientation was set up. With our team of six and a range of stakeholders from CONCORD, we introduced Smart CSOs thinking in a two-days “DEEEP retreat”, the project’s official kick-off.

As result, the project’s stakeholders resolutely positioned DEEEP as a tool for social transformation: DEEEP’s vision is “systemic change through engaged global citizens”, and its mission “a renewed civil society based on values and citizen participation” – an ambition which goes far beyond previous project phases and the objectives of most development NGOs. The participatory vision process led to broad ownership of this radical repositioning of DEEEP, from a support mechanism for one CONCORD working group to a confederation-wide recognized tool to bring upon meaningful transformation within civil society and ultimately in the economic and political system. All work areas of DEEEP have integrated this transformative ambition in their respective strategies (for example to develop a “new advocacy”, to explore system change approaches through the research portfolio or to implement a resolutely emancipatory practice in the capacity development field).

The implementation of this vision results in activities which go far beyond a traditional charity approach to development education (reinforcing public support for development aid), and privileges actions with a more system oriented, cross-sectoral and long term citizen engagement with social change. For example, DEEEP facilitated the participation of CONCORD in the first ever European Citizens Summit, which united 230 participants from all sectors of civil society to explore a new vision and narrative for Europe, based on shared values such as solidarity and justice – a quite unusual business for a confederation whose main scope remains institutional policy work. A global conference in Johannesburg in November will explore ways to “Building a global citizens movement”.

Beyond the level of concrete activities, the positioning of DEEEP as a “transformational action experiment” results in a strong value base, which is shared by the team and the management, and which is the base line for all activities and decisions, also beyond the core business of development education. For example, ambitious internal “green policies” are being developed, and the HR policies follow a logic of empowerment rather then traditional line management. Instead of solely contracting a final project evaluation, a “critical friend” will accompany the project permanently to facilitate an emancipatory learning process. Regular team meetings and retreats allow staff to co-shape the projects development, and by applying a systems thinking approach, we try to critically assess all organizational practices and implement innovative and sustainable solutions regarding procurement, climate impact, staff policies, fundraising etc. The project tries to continuously cultivate seeds of new CSO practice through streamlined reflection and learning loops, which are rooted in the values and vision of truly emancipatory change.
Maybe the most positive experience of setting up DEEEP as transformatory action experiment is that interest and feedback from internal and external stakeholders is overwhelmingly positive: It seems that people are eager to see that things can be done differently by thinking bold on the vision and learning humbly at the same time. We would be happy to share our learning and learn from you, so please get in touch!

 

By Tobias Troll, DEEEP project manager (tobias.troll@concordeurope.org) – 15 July 2013

Getting it right – towards a rights based approach to education

Children are citizens, with specific characteristics and a potential to contribute to the collective like any other social group. This is not the credo of an obscure child-power movement, but international law of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all UN member states but USA and Somalia. I learned this in my Development Education Master at the IOE/University of London, where I’m following Hugh Starkey’s module on citizenship, children’s rights and identities in this autumn term (see short youtube clip above).

If applied consequently, the effects of the Child Rights Convention on education would be massive: Schooling would need to put the child’s rights at the very centre of learning, and not presumed needs, which are often the needs of the institution or the economy. The essay below examines how the right to education, rights in education and rights through education can be applied in schools. The article concludes:

A qualitative shift towards a truly human rights based education has to be based on a broad public debate. This would include a shift in the collective mindset of seeing schools mainly as training camps for labour markets and social requirements towards a concept of social orchards stimulating the flourishing of varieties of humans which all play crucial roles in the social system. Schools can stimulate this process, but all of us have to embrace it in order to become meaningful.

Enjoy the reading!

Getting it right: Towards a rights based approach to education, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Overcoming Empowerment

Let’s hope, once empowered, the events will get out of poverty.

Empowerment is one of the buzzwords in the development discourse. From World Bank to NGOs, one would hardly find someone who is against the promise to empower the poor to develop themselves. Even more, empowerment as a catch-all term has even left the realm of poverty in order to empower anyone and everything: a DEEEP roundtable at the Rio+20 people’s summit promised to “empower future”, a meeting place in Brussels proposes to “empower events”.

Empowerment implies that someone receives power from someone else – it is not the result of an autonomous struggle against oppression or exploitation, or the negotiation of resources and power between equal parties. It is based on the merciful permission to exercise power to a certain degree, and not on an active conquest of power, which necessarily challenges the power of someone else.

It is no coincidence that Paulo Freire didn’t use this term and rather used the word emancipation for the role of education in relation to power:

“Problem-posing education, as a humanist and liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process [..]. The world [..] becomes the object of that transforming action by men and women which results in their humanization. Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. [..] [O]nly a revolutionary society can carry out this education in systematic terms” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Moving from charity to justice in development should imply that we stop talking about empowerment and move to alternative terms, such as emancipation, which point to the quest and struggle for power rather than proposing a harmless, well-meaning and meaningless empowerment of everyone and everything.

(This text is a modified extract of a recent essay “The question of Power in educational Partnerships“, for which I owe some inspiration to the blog post „Time to move beyond Participation and Ownership?“ and personal exchange with its author.)

The question of Power in educational Partnerships

Everyone thinks linking schools in “North” and “South” is a great think to do: It opens minds, supports intercultural learning, and with a little fundraising, we can even help those poor guys far away to set up the so desperately needed library/lavatory/computer room… But what if such educational partnerships actually contribute to perpetuate stereotypes and neo-colonial relations? Research shows that schools links can have – and often have – no or even negative learning outcome. In order to set up school links which contribute to create a more just and sustainable world (the thing education is about, after all, isn’t it?), the question of power seems to be the crucial one.

In another essay for my MA Development Education, I try to examine the question of power in school partnerships. This includes a critique of a certain vocabulary we are so used to use, i.a. “North-South” and “empowerment”. I also try to set up a typology of partnerships based on charity, participation or emancipation.

The essay concludes:

Addressing power in school links is not an easy task: The complex and irritating questions challenge the comfort zone of well-meaning philanthropy, which often is the starting point of a linking initiative. The challenge is to channel the energy of an approach driven by exotism and charity carefully into a meaningful, equal dialog between the partners, not without omitting the ultimate aim of any critical global citizenship education: To question viewpoints in order to come to a more informed, responsible, ethical and political transformative action. This emancipation of students and teachers through joint and dialogical learning is highly subversive, and thus difficult to embed and justify in an institutional programme and a learning context, which mainly aims to enhance skills and competences of learners to survive in an even competitive economic environment. However, without challenging this very environment we are living in, global learning is meaningless. The question of power is the central question, not only for school links and other educational partnerships, but for any relevant political reflection and action.

You can download the full text here: From Charity to Emancipation – The question of power in international educational partnerships

Feedback and comments are welcome, as always!

Seeding without gardening in Norway

Norway“North-South Educational Partnerships” is the third and last module of my Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London. I am very sceptical towards “North” and “South” as categories, which reinforce a two-world dichotomy and omit complexity and differences within “North” and “South”, instead of striving for a one-world vision (Helen Young wrote a very good essay on this for the development education review Policy & Practice: “Naming the World: Coming to terms with Complexity“). Nevertheless – or for this very reason – the module led to interesting discussions about power, culture and learning in international educational partnerships. As one assignment, I tried to analyse a Norwegian school linking programme through a reflection on how they treat questions of power and discourse, similarities and differences and joint learning. The conclusion is that the programme contains interesting elements such as a ban of aid and charity, but does not sufficiently systematise follow-up and learning:

Power and domination cannot be deconstructed by simply banning charity. A systematic and proactive approach to these questions would require facilitation and training for the participants in Norway and partner countries, but this is not part of the programme. [..] By limiting the approach to funding mutual visits of a very small and limited number of school members, without embedding these in a boarder and long-term school partnership development, the programme seeds possibilities for something bigger and possibly more meaningful than a two weeks trip South or North, but what emerges from these seed remains random and largely unknown to the institutional agency.

You can download the full essay here: Seeding without gardening – A critical reflection on a Norwegian School exchange programme

Rio+20: The night is darkest before dawn

Sugarloaf in grief

Even the Sugarloaf is veiled in grief after Rio+20 outcomes

The Rio+20 summit is over. What does it mean for development education, global learning, active citizenship, saving the world and the kind of stuff this blog pretends to address?
After one week in Rio, my personal wrap up is, with Antonio Gramsci, pessimistic in intellect, but optimistic in will:

The outcome document is disappointing. While there are important bits and pieces – like affirmation of human rights and particularly the right to food and water, or the emphasis on inclusion of youth and the mentioning of non-formal education, there is a lot of “where appropriate”, “volontary” and other possibility forms. The paramount role of empowering, values based, critical learning to achieve a shift in paradigm how we relate to each other and the planet, emphasised in a number of side events (including by UNESCO secretary general Milena Bukova) is missing completely from the document.

The dark forces are strong. Education for sustainable development is a very big umbrella, under which all kinds of approaches to learning can shelter, even if they are contradictory. Deutsche Bank vice chairman Caio Koch-Weser sees the main focus of education to produce the human capital to assure growth, meeting labour force needs of businesses and emphasising discipline, focus and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – a very worrying conception of education, certainly not aiming to build whole and happy citizens which actively participate in the transformation of society. For Jeffrey Sachs, broadband for all and other technical fixes are main issues when it comes to education. A representative of the French ministry of education wants “to bring nature in the classroom”. Asked why the students should not rather go out of the classroom, in good Freinet tradition, he replied that in the cities, there is no nature – well, certainly more than in a classroom.
With these people – albeit in very powerful positions – a transformation of the way we learn and relate won’t the possible. How do we deal with this? How long will they maintain us in the night?

Day is coming. The nice thing about the days is Rio was the encouraging and increasingly focussed determination of civil society to shift the paradigm and to create another possible world. In particular the “Widening circle” initiative, which aims to catalyse the creation of a global citizens movement, seems promising: part of the “great transition movement”, a growing group of senior intellectuals and activists wants to connect the various people’s struggles like Arab or Marble Spring, Occupy or Indignados beyond their topical or geographical limitations through a international membership organisation – like a global justice union or party. While the name is maybe a little enigmatic (why not rather something like “citizens without borders”?), this initiative, about to kick off to a new phase in the coming months, certainly merits followup.

The night is still very dark, but dawn will come. The question is when. This depends also on us, I suppose.

PS: Check also out the report “The learning we want” from our Rio People’s Summit round table on “Empowering Future – Education as key for a just and sustainable world”, and a analysis of the Rio+20 outcomes from civil society perspective (with a special focus on education) by CONCORD board member Rilli Lappalainen on YouTube.

Is education a bad thing?

Schooling the WorldI just watched an amazing film, “Schooling the World“, which basically says that school education isn’t an answer to problems of poverty or “development” (whatever this is) but actually is the major problem. Modern school education would disconnect children from sustainable livelihoods and pull them with a false promise of progress and western style careers into misery and isolation. It’s purpose would be to dominate, homogenise culture and people and to serve the interests of a global economy.

Among the inspiring protagonists in the film, there is Manish Jain from Shikshantar – The People’s Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, who says:

“What’s amazing to me is that people who are claiming to be concerned with social justice, don’t see the huge kind of social hierarchy and inequity that is created through modern education.”

Lot’s of things to think about in this film. Is education a bad thing? How can we get back to a system that values learning in all its form over conformist curricula? Shall we send “every child to school” (as claims the Education For All initiative by the UN, strongly criticised in the film) – no matter what are the consequences? What do you think?

(PS: You can download the film – 60 min – from the website)

Global Skills – for what?

Which skills are needed for living and working in a global economy? Since some years, the discussion on skills and competences penetrates education (see, for example, European Commissions reference framework “Key competences for livelong learning” or the most recently renewed “European agenda for adult learning”) – and with globalisation came “global skills”.

However, the skills agenda, including the discussion on „global skills“ seems to be highly dominated by economic, and in particular neo-liberal thinking based on notions such as growth, competition and employability. From this viewpoint, education is regarded mainly as (collective or individual) investment, which is “lost” without any measurable return on investment, such as employment with highest possible pay. So states a UNESCO/British Council seminar report on “Skills for Work, Growth and Poverty Reduction” (sic!) already in the second paragraph of the foreword that “if young people cannot acquire the skills they need for the labour market when they finish school, the investment in primary education may be wasted”. To my opinion, this is a very dangerous view: It reduces education and the acquisition of skills to the requirements of the market (no matter if the learner actually wants to be part of this market) and leaves alone the aspect of personal (and collective) development as purpose of education. The school education of people outside the formal labour market (such as housewives, open source IT developers, volunteers etc) would be useless according to this view, as they are not seeking market based pay for their work.

Furthermore, it seems that the global skills agenda is “hijacked” by actors who’s main motivation is certainly not the transformation of the current exploitative system, but profit and economic competitiveness. So expects the German Employers Association its employees to have “integrated thinking and knowledge about world economics and ecology, as well as [..] a stable set of values, feel empathy and be interculturally competent.”. PriceWaterhouseCoopers claims that people should “be socially aware, possess intercultural communication skills, be thoughtful, committed to accountability and above all compassionate” (quoted by Doug Bourn in a report on “Global Skills”).

What Global Skills are these, that are so appreciated by German employers and a multinational company that has as one of three main activities “tax advisory” (a nice euphemism for tax evasion)? Can you feel empathy, be socially aware, compassionate etc while doing big business as usual?

The dilemma with “adjectival educations”

Development education, global education, citizenship education, human rights education, peace education, education for sustainable development – there is an ever increasing number of “educations”, all with their own history and rationale. How to make sense of this multitude, and to to avoid that teachers get overwhelmed by various, always legitimate demands to their classroom practice?

Understanding how these different concepts relate can be a first useful step to create some order (and logical hierarchy) between the different concept. There is certainly not one right answer, but the chart above seems (though a little complex) quite useful to me (however, I don’t know the source, so if anyone knows where this comes from – please put a comment! And sorry to the author if any copyrights are violated..). A more simple version is my personal attempt below, which puts development education and education for sustainable development as “twins separated at birth” under the umbrella of global education and global learning (the latter emphasising the learner centred aspect of empowerment and self-directed learning, while the former is rooted in the more instructive concept of education of someone by someone else). 

Deconstructing Development Education

What is Development Education? How does it relate to “development” and education, and what is its purpose?

The first assignment in the “Principles and Practices of Development Education” module in the DE Master at the Institute of Education/University of London was to “explore understandings of development and development education”. For me, the result was a short essay, in which I try to deconstruct development education by having a closer look at its elements: development and education. After outlining various approaches to development, in particular the thinking of Amartya Sen (Development as Freedom) and Ananta Kumar Giri, who introduced a reflective and self-critical element to Sen’s concept (Development as shared human responsibility), I attempt an excursion in the thinking of French adult educationalist Marcel Lesne. I try to link the sketched thinking on development and eduction to various existing concepts of development education and global learning. In the conclusion, I attempt to outline an approach to development education based on values, empowerment and social transformation.

You can download the short essay (1600 words) here: Deconstructing Development Education

Enjoy the reading, and don’t hesitate to leave critical comments! This blog shall be about exchange and debate, so your reactions are more then welcome.