Co-operative education and training in the 21st century

How is the movement putting Principle 5 into action?

Principle 5: Education, Training and Information: Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. Co-ops also inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

The co-operative movement has a long-standing and distinguished commitment to education – and this commitment has been one of the core principles since the start. The original rules of conduct of the Rochdale Pioneers, published in their annual almanac in 1860, required “that a definite percentage of profits should be allotted to education”.

Today, the International Co-operative Alliance’s statement on the Co-operative Identity indicates the need for the education and training of a co-op’s employees, managers, elected representatives and members, so they “can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives”.

“Early co-operators lived in societies where education was reserved for the privileged,” says the Alliance. “They recognised then, as today, that education was fundamental to transforming lives. It is a key to enlightenment and social progress. Early co-operators recognised their responsibility to help educate their members and their families by allocating part of their co-operative’s trading surplus to education.”

A willingness to share experience and learn from earlier successes, failures, and setbacks was the primary reason co-operation could be consolidated into the hugely successful business model it is today – and enabled its application and replication across every sector.

Today this sharing and learning within and between co-ops takes many forms, from job-based e-learning in staffrooms and educational classes for members, to peer-to-peer training between worker co-operatives.

The Alliance says there are three distinct ingredients of education in Principle 5: education, training and information. While education is about “understanding the Co-operative Principles and Values and knowing how to apply them in the day- to-day operations of a co-operative business”, training is about “developing the practical skills members and employees need to run a co-operative in accordance with efficient and ethical business practices.”

It defines information as a duty to make sure that members of the general public know about co-operative enterprise.

Over the next few days, we will be looking at some examples of how this education and training looks within this context – how it is delivered and what the benefits of different types of learning are.

We also hear from two women involved in co-operative education in very different ways. Pippa Wicks, deputy CEO of the Co-op Group, will explain her belief that businesses – and co-ops in particular – should be more involved in traditional school education. And Dr Cilla Ross, vice-principal of the Co-operative College, will explore why co-operative education as a whole needs rethinking.

“Co-operatives ignore the responsibility of providing education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees at their peril,” says the Alliance. “Education was and remains the lifeblood of all co-operatives and a driver of co-operative development.”

In this article

Join the Conversation