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The linking of work and education to enable social inclusion

Dave Beck

Paper presented at SCUTREA, 30th Annual Conference, 3-5 July 2000, University of Nottingham

This paper explores an approach to social inclusion, which combines work experience and University level education as operated by Govan Community Development Training in partnership with the University of Glasgow. The context of the work is an inner city area of Glasgow which experiences many of the common features of areas of deprivation – high unemployment, low take up of post-compulsory education, poor health and high levels of poverty.

Govan Community Development Training is a voluntary sector organisation that exists to develop community work skills within the local area through linked training and employment programmes.

The project serves the area of Govan, which lies on the banks of the Clyde, on the south side of Glasgow, three miles from the city centre. It is an area that was widely renowned for its shipbuilding industry. At its height at the turn of the century it had a population of 95,000 declining to approximately 25,500 at present. The effects of the decline in the shipbuilding industry and the depopulation of the area have been big factors contributing to the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness within sections of the community.

Govan has many of the problems associated with inner city living: high unemployment levels; high crime; problems of drug and alcohol abuse; and of course poverty, which underpins all of the above.

This innovative project is funded via The Urban Programme and Glasgow Works. The Urban Programme is a short term funding programme administered by the Scottish Office. It supports local regeneration programmes for up to four years. Glasgow Works is an organisation that sets up intermediate labour market projects throughout the city. The intention of these is to enable long term unemployed people to progress into full time permanent employment through a linked programme of work experience and training.

The workers are local people (all of whom have been unemployed for at least a year, and some for several years) who are employed by the project for 1 year. During this time workers study for the Certificate in Community Work at the University of Glasgow, Department of Adult and Continuing Education on a day release basis, spend time working with local placement projects and take up a programme of personal development activities.

Partnership between the university and the voluntary sector

CDT had a very close working relationship with the University of Glasgow, which allowed for a two way influencing of practice. This was made possible by the fact that the project co-ordinator also had the role of internal examiner of the University and that a Senior Lecturer from the University was a member of the project’s management committee. Lessons learned through the experience of running the programme with a different client group have been shared through University quality control structures and have influenced subsequent versions of the Certificate course.

The Course provided a focus and a definition to the work element of the programme, which allowed the workers to derive great benefit from what was fairly limited work experience. This was achieved because they had to constantly reflect on their practice within a variety of theoretical frameworks. The assessment methodology specifically looked at practice and how it links to theory. The workers reported that this was one of the things that enabled them to learn.

The Certificate in Community Work was originally devised as an in-service route for unqualified workers to progress to a professional qualification. Through discussion with CDT it was seen that there was an opportunity to develop this provision to include people who had some experience in voluntary community activity but were not in a paid post. This was only possible because CDT offered work based placements three days per week for a year, which were highly structured and closely supervised.

This partnership also enabled access for non-traditional participants to access higher education. This was made possible by the distinctive contributions made by both parties. CDT by its location within the community, both geographically and within community infrastructure, was able to make connections with local people that would have been difficult for an institution like the university. The Department of Adult and Continuing Education within The University Of Glasgow has a long tradition of working with adults and has a learner centred and flexible approach which enabled the group themselves to choose theoretical insights and models which enriched their understanding of their previous experience. This in turn enabled the transition of the learning group – in their words - from non-learners to active thinking people.

Linking of theory and practice

The work element of the programme was very important to the group. It gave the project a sense of maturity and credibility within the community, "we weren't just learning we were doing a real job." It was also easier to say to people "I’ve got a job" than to say, "I’m going to University" since that wasn’t perceived as being as threatening to the culture of non-education that existed within that community.

The work environment gave the opportunity to develop work practices like good attendance and time keeping, which had been to some extent lost in an extended period of unemployment. This in turn led to enhanced confidence and self respect because they no longer had the stigma of unemployment. It gave the opportunity to develop a track record of work and to promote themselves to other potential employers.

The practical issue of having a wage made a huge difference. It provided some power to change - the power of having money and the status of being a worker changed not only them as individuals but also affected family and friends.

The expectations that were placed on them forced them to quickly develop new skills and attitudes. However, the status of "trainee" was also felt by some to be useful; this helped to lessen some of the expectations and allowed them to develop skills and confidence without feeling they were being judged too harshly.

The work allowed them to develop a comprehensive and realistic understanding of their community and how it worked. It also opened them up to the potential they had to change things.

The whole group identified linking theory and practice as a major issue and key to their learning. It was also reported to be an extremely difficult change of thinking to adopt. People took between two and eight months before they felt that they were able to make those links. The assignments helped by forcing them to make specific links between what they were doing and what they had learned. They felt that theory made sense when it was personal, i.e. when they could see it in an approach they themselves had taken. They reported that it was a very affirming experience to read about something they had done and then realise that it made sense in a broader theoretical context.

Being able to talk through practice and academic issues with tutors and colleagues helped to make the connection between theory and practice. This then affirms the social nature of education as discussed in Freirean education (Freire 1970). Some of the group expressed concern about how complex theories were used to describe the work they were engaged in. They perceived that there was a conflict between what they did and how they described it. However after discussion it was felt that the idealistic language and the lofty aims of the community development approach also helped to shape the practice and that without it the chances of doing good work are greatly reduced. For example, the ability to understand youth work as an experiential learning process, allowed them to be clear and intentional in their aims and address issues that would otherwise have been left.

It was felt that an approach to learning that specifically links theory and practice within a groupwork setting was, "the way learning should be". " It was a social process, sometimes you didn’t know what you had done until someone else pointed it out to you." Another key to successful integration of theory and practice was the emphasis on process rather than product. This allowed people to develop new approaches to their work even if they had a chance of going wrong. In the end they felt that they learned as much through mistakes as through successes.

Support was seen as one of the project’s strengths without which people would not have been successful. The things which made it a success were:

It was friendly

It was thorough and challenging

It broke down the feeling of isolation

It helped them to work out solutions to problems

It was a great sounding board for new ideas

It helped you to identify strengths and weaknesses

It was on tap on their own terms

They didn’t feel judged

They were dealt with as individuals

They appreciated the holistic approach i.e. interested in them as people not just workers or learners

They felt that people went out of their way to offer support

There was widespread agreement that part of the reason for the success of the year was the fact that they were producing things, which they could be proud of. This often gave them the motivation to keep going when everything in them wanted to stop. As well as specific projects and provision of community resources the team identified the creation of networks and an approach built on partnerships as their main contribution to the community. Given that the nature of Govan is a fragmented one this is no mean feat.

They felt that they had reinvented themselves as active, thinking, conscious and questioning people and as such had produced alternative role models for their community.

They were well aware of the fact that they had been instrumental in producing Govan Community Development Training as a well-respected organisation, which has also led to a widening of opportunity for people to be involved.

Running parallel to the work experience was the Certificate in Education. The approach of the Certificate course was one, which recognised that theory shapes experience and experience shapes theory. As earlier stated, this was a vital element of the project. Theories do much more than explain social life; they also define the understandings that underpin different forms of social practice and they help to orient us in the social world (Taylor 1985: 108). Without the theoretical input of the project the vast amounts of experience the workers had sometimes made no sense. In one case I asked a young man to describe an example of discrimination he had experienced in his community and he could not. Given that Govan has high levels of deprivation, is very divided along sectarian and territorial lines and has high levels of crime and drug abuse, it seemed clear to me that he must have experienced discrimination in one form or another. It was only when he had some theory of human rights and the structural nature of poverty that he realised that most of his life had been dealing with discrimination. ‘The ability to see how theory shapes practice and how practice-- the real, changing world--keeps pressing at the boundaries of theory.’ (Silver 1992)

Philosophy and methods

In essence CDT was attempting to develop a group of co-investigators who were exploring the issue of community development.

Group sessions would look for generative themes and engage in dialogue on those themes. The generative theme would be any idea or issue about which the group had a critical curiosity which led them to understand themselves and their world better. Dialogue in the Freirean sense happens when two or more people are actively involved in investigating the world. It implies a democratising of learning where everyone is prepared to learn. Even those in the role of teacher must be willing to learn because they do not fully know this or any other subject. Similarly those in the role of learner must also be prepared to teach since they have knowledge and insights that may help someone in the group to understand the issue more deeply.

Through a problem posing approach to the educational exchange, an environment is produced where a critical curiosity can be developed. This in turn produces learners who are able to take control of their own learning and from that greater control over their own lives.

CDT had a Socio-political approach (Ireland 1987). It was set up specifically to address the needs of a particular working class community. To ignore the effects of class on learners would have been to locate the causes of lack of educational attainment within the individual. This would have been an inadequate analysis of how a community like Govan has so few of its adult population involved in education.

Crombie and Harries-Jenkins (1983) analyse Adult Education by considering its impact on social change. There is a continuum which ranges from: programmes which aim to preserve the status quo; programmes which aim for social integration through consensus and cohesion; programmes which seek to contribute to a reform of the social conditions within which they are sited; and finally programmes which aim for social transformation.

In terms of the intention of the project it aimed to achieve social change and was therefore at the social transformation end of the continuum as discussed above. It is underpinned by an understanding that it is the structures of society themselves which produce inequalities and so it is they that have to change. The result of that analysis was to invite workers to reflect on their experience in the light of wider social forces in order to make sense of them. This was done in the context of collective reflection that highlighted the commonality of experience. This then served as a counterpoint to the ideology of the individual that permeates much of our society and is inherent in the capitalist system (Ireland 1987).

However in terms of the outcomes of that process it could be argued that it achieved the aims of an integrationist approach. It is true that people who had been socially excluded from the benefits of work and education had been reintroduced to those benefits through the CDT programme. It is also true that very little on a wider societal level had been changed. And yet I feel that to give people an abbreviated experience of transformed social relationships is the small beginning that is needed, over and over again, if there is to be any real and lasting change within society.

CDT could be thought of as a cultural project.

Culture as a body of learned behaviours common to a given social society acts rather like a template (i.e. it has predictable form and content), shaping behaviour and consciousness from generation to generation (Miraglia 1996 p1).

Within Govan there is a culture of non-education in as much as generation after generation have learned that education is not an option for them after school. Consequently change in this aspect is a cultural change. This process of shaping behaviour and consciousness breaks down into three components (Miraglia 1996 p1).

Firstly, systems of meaning, of which language is primary (Miraglia 1996 p1). CDT acts as a challenge to existing meanings of education, work and to the workers’ ideas of themselves. This was a result of the approach to work and learning that clashed with previously held views. These points of disjunction acted as a catalyst for new learning as people struggled with the contradictions between the way they had been treated as learners and workers in past settings and the way they were being treated now.

The second cultural element is ways of organising society, from kinship groups to states and multinational corporations (Miraglia 1996 p1). CDT developed a learning group which gave the workers a new cultural element and which promoted change within them as individuals. On a community level it developed networks of community organisations who informally collaborated on addressing issues within the community.

The final element of this shaping cultural template is the distinctive techniques of the group and its characteristic products (Miraglia 1996 p1). Over the year the workers developed a new range of skills and knowledge that they then used in their work within the community. This resulted in the production of a range of groups, activities and services that had not previously been present within the community. This cast the workers in roles of innovators and people who could come up with solutions to community needs. This was in contrast to the life on the dole with its characteristics of feelings of powerlessness.

The effect of all of these elements was to produce a new mini-culture that existed within the CDT group. This not only changed the behaviour and consciousness of the individuals in the group but also acted as an alternative template, a challenge to the status quo.

The learning group

An emphasis on teamwork and team identity was stressed throughout the project. This led to a strong sense of ownership within the workers. It also led to high levels of peer group support. In terms of learning, a group problem solving approach was developed. This enabled the workers to learn from one another. It gave them opportunities for their assumptions to be challenged and therefore for them to develop new ways of thinking. In a more individualised approach the potential for those shifts in thinking are reduced.

High levels of academic and personal support were also an important element of the programme. The time spent in informal or social contact seems to have developed strong working bonds where thinking and practice can be developed. Here also the holistic nature of the programme is seen. It is clear that the effects of a programme like this are not confined to thinking and work. These changes produce a whole range of changes within families and communities. These can be very positive or very challenging. At times of challenge the close working relationships between workers and project staff seem to have made the difference between people continuing on the programme or buckling under the pressure.

Finally it created a space of resistance (Barr 1999) where their new way of knowing could be authenticated and defended against the community on one side and the purely academic on the other.

Conclusion

This partnership between the University and the voluntary sector points to a way forward if we are to actualise ideals of social inclusion and life long learning. In this example,ease of recruiting non-traditional learners, high retention rates and on-going support for learners intellectually and personally were provided by the voluntary organisation. The University in its turn had a learner centred and flexible approach which enabled the group themselves to choose theoretical insights and models which enriched their understanding of their previous experience.

This enabled a process of social inclusion. The learners were able to engage in the life of society not as silent recipients of charity but as critical, active demanding citizens. Any less an ambition for social inclusion is not empowerment but appeasement and is, I feel, bound to fail in the end.

Bibliography

Barr, Jean (1999) Liberating knowledge: research, feminism and adult education National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, Leicester

Crombie, Alastair D. Harries-Jenkins, Gwyn (1983) The demise of the liberal tradition: two essays on the future of British university adult education University of Leeds, Department of Adult and Continuing Education, Leeds

Freire Paulo (1970) Pedagogy Of The Oppressed Sheed and Ward, London

Ireland, T.(1987) Antonio Gramsci and Adult Education: Reflections on the Brazilian Experience Manchester Monographs, Manchester

Miraglia, E (1996) A Baseline Definition Of Culture Washington State University, Virtual Campus, The Learning Commons (internet)

Silver, Linda R (1992) http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Topic/WomensStudies/Development+Support/CourageToQuestion/chapter7.html

Taylor, C. (1985). The Concept of a Person. Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

This document was added to the Education-Line database on 15 June 2000