A Co-operative Education for a Co-operative Wales?

How does co-op education fit in with an era of individualism? Experts met in Wales to look for a way forward

Co-operators and educators from around Wales gathered in April to discuss the place of co-operative education in an era of individualism.

The event, organised by Cooperatives and Mutuals Wales, asked: ‘What would an excellent co-operative education system look like? How can curriculum and training be given a co-operative nudge? How can communities be engaged? Is there actually a need for co-operative education?

Four short expert presentations gave the opportunity to develop themes such as ‘enablers and barriers’, and ‘assumptions and implications’. Delegates also encouraged each other to question the language that groups with shared values can take for granted.

Professor David Reynolds from Swansea University pointed to the challenges facing community education in a society where the primacy of individual choice is assumed. He talked about a system which produced pupils who were clever, but could also connect with other individuals – psycho-social resilience in the jargon. That was easier if the school itself was an inclusive community – in fact – as well as in name.

Related: Co-op College launches series of e-learning courses

There’s more ‘work’ to working co-operatively than just sticking up a list of International Co-operative Alliance principles on the wall, said Cilla Ross, vice-principle of the Co-operative College. We need to be able to show well researched and documented evidence that co-operation actually is a better way to provide ‘lifewide’ as well as life-long learning.

Lansdowne Primary School has the motto ‘Living and learning as we move along together.’ In the past that didn’t impact the reality of school life, said Luisa Monro-Morris, head teacher. There had been parental conflict and school conflict.

Conflict was handled by keeping protagonists apart. Outside trainers came and went without any real change. The school is now a success; the turnaround came about by better participation, using methods inspired by Philosophy for Children (P4C) to improve listening, communication, behaviour, questioning, reasoning, reading and understanding.

The next speaker took delegates from a school size of 500 to a class size of 435,000 for a single course. Kevin Pascoe of the Open University, speaking in a personal capacity, talked about how the OU and others are embracing MOOCs: massive open online courses. Delegates were struck by the number and variety of free courses, freely available on line and adaptable to different needs. The OU is particularly responsive to learners’ feedback in developing and modifying courses. The growth of MOOCs makes access more equitable and challenges the notion that value always has to have a market price.

In a later session, facilitator Sue Lyle took delegates through an exercise in collaborative learning and decision making. The brief was to form a question about co-operative education which would best use the combined knowledge in the room. The mechanism was that each individual formulated a question, pairs distilled two questions into one, groups of four further refined the question, then the whole group chose the final question.

Ground rules about interruption and order of speaking were established and the delegates agreed a final question which would inform Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales’ work in future – ‘To what extent can a co-operative education system help achieve the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act?’

The day was marked by thoughtful concentration and co-operative exchange between people who share many values: working with wider communities, between people who have different world views is perhaps, the harder co-operative challenge.

  • The event was hosted by Cartrefi Cymru in Cardiff and supported by the Co-op Group. A full report, and video of the event will be available from Co-operatives and Mutual Wales this summer.
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