‘Let’s do it non-formal – My love for education’
When I was about six years old, my father constructed a glass house in front of our kitchen. One evening, he finished digging the fundament and left it without a cover overnight, so the forecasted rain would condense the soil. The next morning, we found a small surprise in one of the deeper spots of the diggings.
A young hedgehog had fallen into the ditch. It had to have been searching the churned earth for insects and worms. After its fall, it found itself trapped as the walls of the hole were too high for it to find its way out.
I remember how my father took his gloves and carefully picked up the small animal. He told me that I could gently pet the hedgehog if I would only stroke its spines from the front to the back. This way, they would not hurt me.
Dear fellow Toastmasters, guests and friends, this story is not just a charming anecdote from my childhood. In fact, it was a moment of learning.
I learned that hedgehogs search for food at night – that if touched correctly their spines would not hurt – that you should not leave diggings without a cover because you never know who could stumble inside – and most importantly I learned compassion for those smaller than me.
In education science, these occasions of learning are considered as informal education – colloquial known as learning by doing. This form of education occurs unplanned and gets neither assessed nor monitored. It is not restricted to a set environment but happens – like in my story – in everyday life.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is formal education. This happens in a clearly described setting with a person holding the authority over a pre-defined set of knowledge which has to be received by the learner. The learners are kept to an institutional standard and assessed by their ability to reach the criteria of this standard without consideration for individual circumstances. Therefore, formal education focuses on the outcomes, not the process, which makes the participation mandatory.
Does this sound familiar to anybody?
Indeed, we are all familiar with formal education as we all were taught by teachers in subjects, we could not choose, at schools, we were obliged to go to while being evaluated by an educational standard written in curricular that did not consider our individual strengths and needs.
Today, I want to introduce you to a third, lesser-known concept of education, which is really dear to my heart – non-formal education. Many would describe it as a sweet spot where formal and informal education meet. Do you remember the compassion I learnt as a child in contact with the hedgehog? It would be possible to explain compassion in formal education, but only informal education helped me to feel what compassion is. For me, it means liberation of the learner – and liberation of the facilitator of the learning.
So let’s look at some characteristics that make learning non-formal. As in formal education, the process is planned and structured by some kind of facilitator. Even though the content is preselected, participation is voluntary. This means, the learner actively chooses to join the learning process. There is no assessment of the outcomes and the learners’ abilities and knowledge. So non-formal education is clearly process-oriented. Typical occasions for this way of learning are workshops and seminars, especially in youth work – or – this Toastmasters club meeting.
For me, the magic of non-formal education lays in its process. It gives the space to participants to acknowledge their own expertise, connect it to those of fellow learners, and create together unique solutions, which can only occur at that precise moment with those exact people. The most valuable takeaway is precisely this moment of self-awareness and growth. Non-formal education creates connections beyond the conventional separation of class, race, gender, religion and enables thinking outside the boundaries of fear, logic and the restrictions of the learning environment. Once set in motion, the facilitator becomes part of this ever-changing and evolving learning system and, through the chosen methods, guides the participants to their own, unconscious milestones.
I witnessed this myself as a facilitator on many occasions. I saw it in Fatma, who found the bravery to speak up despite her traditional upbringing – in Carl, who left the limits of his disability behind him and embraced his passions – in Mikael, who saw beyond the playfulness of the methods and understood that his opinions can hurt someone else – and in Lena, who did not say a word in a week-long training but carried something she heard with her, that changed her life a year later. She ran for a national office and got elected.
I acknowledge the value of informal and formal education. Nevertheless, I wish that both would be approached in a more non-formal manner. I firmly believe we are missing out on these moments of actual change.
So, when it comes to education, I say – LET’S DO IT NON-FORMAL! Thank you.
So what do you think? Should we make our education systems more non-formal? Leave your comments below!
Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!
Love and appreciation,