Education 4 Action and the Leeds Uncut Event
Inspired by the debates in the ‘uncut’ and ‘occupy’ movements around the globe, a group of us have been meeting in Leeds to talk about what’s been happening to adult and workers’ education. We’d like to ask you to join in our discussions so we can generate ideas and action that work in communities and trade unions and inspire new ideas about the content and delivery of an education that we own ourselves.
We held a one day ‘education uncut’ in Leeds on Saturday 6th July.
Why are we doing this?
We’re doing this because we believe that there has been an often unnoticed attack on adult and worker education that means more and more people are being excluded from access to an education that meets their needs. Lifelong learning should not be just some empty policy promise that focuses on delivering what employers demand. It’s what we should all have the opportunity to engage in once we have left school and it should meet our needs in terms of what we want to learn and when and how we do it.
We are all aware of the attacks that have been taking place on education from pre-school to university. For adult, mature students the likelihood of accessing a university course with all its fees and expenses are becoming smaller and smaller. Further education colleges have suffered cutbacks and lack of investment for years and are also obliged to charge course fees taking them beyond the means of many.
In the past, universities and colleges prided themselves in offering courses aimed at adults returning to learn and they were supplemented and supported by organisations such as the Workers Educational Association branches or trade Union based colleges like those at Ruskin in Oxford or Northern College. Today, these organisations are under threat and the brilliant work they have done with trade unions and local communities is in serious danger of being lost.
We are also seeing a curriculum in our schools and higher education institutions that are increasingly defined by government and employers. Michael Gove wants to instruct children in a British history that leaves out the lives of ordinary people, forgets the radical campaigns that won women the vote or built strong trade unions and leave us with a collection of dates and data. In further and higher education, funding is focussed on the demands of employers to the abandonment of critical courses that ask us to challenge and change our world.
In sum, we came together because we want to campaign against the narrowing of access to education for adults in general and working class adults in particular and because we want to build our own curriculum for learning not have it imposed on us.
What do we want to do?
We want to support the initiatives that are already there in our communities and trade unions. For example, the TUC’s activist programme and unionlearn projects across the country have consistently provided support and advice for adult learners both in the workplace and in local communities. We hope they continue to attract funding but are wary of the likely challenge from policy makers. Equally, local WEA branches have kept delivering high quality programmes and we want to work with them and support them (people involved in the WEA and unionlearn will be bringing their personal expertise to our ‘uncut day’).
Our approach is to provide a source for ideas and action that builds campaigns and delivers education to adults alongside and in addition to what is already being done. We don’t have a ‘programme’ but we do have ideas and different areas of knowledge and skills that we want to share as a basis for developing education events whether they be one-off sessions or begin to build towards courses. There are all sorts of ways we can do this with technologies that allow access and interactions across the country and when it’s convenient. However, we also believe that education is an interaction between people who come together face-to-face to ask questions, disagree, argue and debate.
Finally, we would argue that education is a guide to action. Of course, that action might be about one individual gaining the knowledge that changes their life but we also believe that education is a co-operative venture. We learn together and pass on what we learn back to our workplaces, where we have them, our unions and our communities. In that way, knowledge and understanding becomes a guide to action and to change; the sort of changes we want, not those imposed by uncaring governments or to satisfy the needs of employers for low paid workers or no-paid interns.
How can you join in?
Up to now, we’ve been working together in Leeds as a group of people working out some ideas that we now want to put into practice. We have held an open day that shared ideas and arguments and now want to take these ideas forward in our unions and communities.
There were three broad areas of discussion and debate.
What’s happening at work?
Work is changing rapidly in terms of what is done, how it’s done and where it’s done. These sessions looked at how we might understand these changes and their impact and develop arguments and actions around the future of work, ideas of self-management, co-operation and workplace learning.
What’s happening in Education?
These sessions looked at different ideas and ‘visions’ about what education is and what it might (or should) be. We explored how people are ‘fighting for learning’ and, particularly, adult learning. We now need to look at how the future for learning will look and at how the fight might be progressed but we also asked participants to look at how we can do things differently and take control of our own education.
What’s happening in communities?
These sessions explore the importance of education for communities as an agent of change. What sort of changes will benefit communities and how can they be auctioned? How can communities encourage and support free and accessible access to education and what priorities are there for community action?
That’s our ‘agenda’! These are some of the areas and ideas we want to discuss, but we want to hear from others with ideas and plans for action. We hope our ‘Leeds uncut day’ is the start of a process that rebuilds adult, community and worker education on the basis of our needs. We can only do it together.