By Jamie Green, Marketing and Fundraising Manager
On the 9th and 10th June, I had the pleasure of representing the Phoenix Education Trust at the IDEC conference in Mikkeli, Finland. This is my write-up on the event and how it went.
IDEC, EUDEC, Who-Dec?!
IDEC stands for International Democratic Education Conference which is organised at a different school every year. EUDEC stands for the European Democratic Education Community, which is a non-for-profit organisation that promotes democratic education and represents the movement across the continent.
This year, IDEC held its annual conference in collaboration with EUDEC and brought the global DemEd community together. Although I only attended the final two key note days of the event, in the preceding 3 days, attendees enjoyed open workshops and just simply getting to know colleagues from other parts of the world.
There was a fairly even split between adults (teachers, academics, DemEd alumnus, interested individuals) and children, including current Dem-Ed students or those in the mainstream who have an interest in the area.
Over the two days there were many fantastic talks by speakers from across the globe who put forward many different perspectives. Here were some highlights with some tweets that link to photos:
Yaacov Hect – DemEd 2.0
The first talk of day 1 was by Yaacov Hecht who has been instrumental in the thriving movement of democratic schools in Israel. His talk focussed on ‘Democratic Education 2.0’ and looked at the shape a modern democratic education needs to take – this includes creating the new ‘webbing teacher’ who, rather than transmitting knowledge, helps students to learn from each other on the basis of their shared interests and learning styles.
A central area of Hecht’s work and the conclusion of his talk was the need to create physical and online ‘education cities’ that entail collaboration between different sectors and industries to benefit each other.
Sugata Mitra – The Future of Learning
Mitra is renowned for his ‘hole in the wall’ experiment in which he placed a computer in the wall of a New Delhi slum. Quite quickly, children began using it to surf the internet and to learn – his thesis is that children in groups can teach themselves anything. It also inspired the storyline to the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
In this talk on the future of learning, Sugata showed how he had developed his initial experiment both in England and India, where classrooms were organised around children learning in groups from PCs. He notes that the children in groups had an understanding greater than any individual within it and the hive mind worked like an efficient teacher.
This type of learning is the future, he argues, because it prepares young people for the digital future ahead. Sugata Mitra is a huge proponent of ‘SOLEs’ (Self Organised Learning Environments) and suggests that they are indeed the future of learning.
Brother John Kennedy Omondi Oronjo - Democratic Education in Africa
Brother John is the director of the St Charles Lwanga Children’s Centre Secondary School in Kenya. It caters for children who board for various reasons, and children from the nearby slum areas so they can access an education and vital skills.
Brother John set up the school following lots of community work he and his colleagues had been undertaking in Nairobi. He realised that creating a space where these young people could call home was the only way to rehabilitate some children and offer a brighter future to others.
Lots of the ethos of the school is based on democratic principles as, if the education they offer isn’t engaging and relevant to the students, they may return to the streets. Furthermore as many of the students haven’t had a formal education, they cannot conform to traditional schooling.
The talk was inspirational and proved how vital democratic forms of education are in meeting the needs of those who have not had a chance to be educated before. It was also great to hear about DemEd growing in Africa more generally.
Derry is a well-known figure in the UK movement for democratic education. As a teacher he took a democratic approach in state schools with great success, he later went on to be a school inspector where he lobbied former Education Secretaries to implement more democracy in schools and later was commissioned to write a report on this. He found that schools that had more democracy or more elements of active citizenship within them in the state sector tended to do better than ones who didn’t.
His talk focused primarily on the failure of testing, particularly in the English education system. Looking toward the Finnish education, he made the case for more self-directed learning, no homework, no formal testing and no inspectors.
Derry’s key message to Finland and other more alternative education system was to ‘Keep the testocrats out!’
Rachel is a guardian member of Phoenix and a former director who focused on discussing how mainstream education can use democratic principles.
Using audience members are live examples, Rachel talking about the key pillars of democratic education – mutual respect, self-direction, student voice and more – to look at how any school can draw lessons from them.
There were many other talks that were fantastic and I'll be sure to post links to the videos of all the talks when they're released!
What I learned
As someone not initially from a DemEd background, IDEC 2016 was a huge learning curve where I was able to get a well-rounded, international perspective. It was extremely heartening to see some of the working going on across the world and to see how, when the political climate allows it, democratic education can thrive and offer life changing experiences outside of the private school sector.
In England, we face many challenges to creating non-private democratic schools, but as Derry and Rachel show us, there is plenty of scope to make schools into democratic communities even if we can’t make them Sudbury type schools just yet.
Next year IDEC is in Israel and EUDEC is in France and I’d wholly recommend anyone with even the slightest interest in education to go.