I attended the Solidar network meeting in Paris with WEA President, Colin Barnes. The WEA has had little involvement for a number of years with international sister organisations. Recently, including at our 2011 Conference in Nottingham, we’ve begun to meet with Solidar www.solidar.org a network of 56 social purpose education organisation across Europe largely in the non-formal sector. The main theme was around the ‘social dimension’ of education and training.
Our aim is to understand more about the work of organisations in this network and how Solidar brings them together around issues and projects. The meeting in Paris was funded by their work and brought representatives from 15 EU countries together. They was a remarkable range of organisations including the Nordic WEA’s, popular education movements in France, Spain and Italy as well as training organisations dealing with Work s Councils, Youth and Social work.
The scale of some of these organisations is extraordinary. For example, ARCI in Italy www.arci.it has over a million members running everything from popular culture and community theatre to anti-mafia projects. In France and Spain the organisations have mass memberships from teachers, social workers and youth workers with a broadly progressive, social integration agenda.
I was pleased at how practical the event was – and the common ground between many of the organisations. Essentially, we looked at three or four themes through practical examples. These included:
- work to recognise social competencies (soft skills) and whether there should be a campaign to include these in the European Qualifications Framework (http://ec.europa.eu/eqf/about_en.htm). We saw really practical and transferable models that could be used to build confidence and self-esteem in employability contexts. For example, the REVEAL http://www.reveal-eu.org/index.php?id=58 scheme could be applied quite quickly within existing programmes.
- Dialogue to Change (D2C) a model drawn from Community Organising practice in the US (http://www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Page.Organizing.aspx ) and Australia (http://www.studycircles.net.au/) that works with communities and authorities to identify ideas for action and change using facilitated small group dialogue. Again, a highly transferable tool that would link to work the WEA is already involved in such as Take Part and Tackling Race Inequalities
- Eurocities (www.eurocities.eu) a network of cities over 250,000 population working to create common benchmarks, self-assessment and peer review around common issues such as migrant integration
Inevitably these were political issues in education and training that consciously looked at social exclusion in the community and workplace and the role of non-formal learning in addressing it. TSL (the WEA in Finland – www.tsl.fi) are examining how to transfer the Union Learning Rep and Community Learning Champions model from the UK.
Solidar’s Education Experts Network seeks the views of its members on what issues and projects to develop. It largely looks to a model of sharing practice between partners, publishing the results of the work and sharing the outcomes through round table dialogue. This event looked at progress with priorities set a year ago: General skills and competencies; Intercultural dialogue and integration and Development education.
In the past I’ve been very sceptical about working with partners across Europe. However, this event has changed that. I think links around practical projects like this would enhance what we do in communities and projects here. There would be real benefit in involving WEA tutors in these discussions – I can imagine a couple of ESOL tutors really finding these exchanges rewarding. Solidar provides an effective secretariat for a vast network of popular education organisations. Clearly there are massive challenges: the EU budget is under pressure and the situation in many of the countries involved is grim for public and third sector organisation and their clients – Latvian and Romanian colleague gave a real insight into their current position and, of course, conversations with Greek and Spanish colleagues showed the day to day situations they are dealing with.
I’m now aware of a much bigger network of European organisations who share the WEA’s mission. Most important was they shared the same concerns and wanted to share practical approaches to working with disadvantaged communities wherever they were. Second most important (to hopeless me) was they all spoke in English throughout!