Education is an influential tool that we can use to cause change in life. Education promotes social change in various ways. The change that many of us desire to see, in various aspects of life including, social, economical, political and even in leadership, could all be brought by education. Enlightened, literate people are influential, and can impact lives and societies from their knowledge and skills through education (Field, n.p). In developing countries across the world, governments fight poverty, diseases, and ignorance, aiming eventually to change their subjects, their countries, and the world in general. Adult education has a life-long purpose that has faced several test and questions from writers for more than two decades and currently the re-arrangement and closure of various institutions of higher learning higher and their departments leading to the rise of this issue to the fore (Field, n.p).
There has been a widespread and repetitive criticism to this kind of education system, some arguing that it has lost the trend, forgotten its main purpose or mission, or has been compromised by its uncritical service to business and its embrace of the market. Various issues have risen as challenges from change of time and conditions including, financial crisis, wars and clashes, growing inequality, environmental issues, economical and ideological issues. This paper is taking up the theme of the real usefulness or significance of adult education in acquiring knowledge in a changing world. We investigate the history, the role, and purpose of adult education, comparing two states. Adult education has currently caught a gradual trend, receiving positive responses from people of different lifestyles. In addition, we will look at the outstanding similarities and differences of the adult education n in the two states, and concentrate on the way the system runs and its effectiveness in the learners. This paper analyzes and identifies the various ways in which adult education differs in two popular education forms in Highlander education and study circles. Highlander education system is practiced in Appalachian Mountains in the US while a study circle is the education system in Sweden.
Adult education has its history, with adult education claiming of its relevance and significance in a particular society (Field, n.p). Initially, it was argued that the key role of adult education was to support democracy and social change, and help the learners attain self-actualization, prepare them for work, and develop human and social capital. In addition, adult education was said to offer a second opportunity for education to the learners particularly in the areas of numeracy and literacy, and in underdeveloped economies. How effective these claims have been can only be told by time, considering the rate at which various ideas are changing in the 21st century. In addition, we need to look upon the relevance of the adult education as opposed to other forms of formal education.
Moreover, looking at the various aspects of life, we can ask ourselves how influential has the adult education been on such issues as political institutions, leadership, economic growth, technological advancements, and social lives in general.
As we study on the adult education systems in the named countries, various dimensions are used to analyze the similarities and differences in the named countries. Philosophy, participants, government support, and the organizational system are considered while evaluating the differences. As we look at the similarities, two major issues are considered including democracy and experience, and the social movements in both countries.
The adult education systems in both countries were started by an influence from the folk schools that linked to the social, political, and economic problems of life. Though they mainly dealt with problems of life in education, Highlander system tried to attain social and economic fairness by social liberation, while Swedish system sought democracy mainly by individual development. These differences are evidenced and are clearly discussed under the main dimensions we stated earlier. Consequently, these different approaches for the education systems in both countries can be clearly seen and are shaped by the different backgrounds, foundations and approaches (Chang, p705).
Investigations from both systems indicates that they were a result of an effect from Danish adult educator, whose idea was to have social interactions in non-formal settings, freedom from state regulations, non-vocational education and peer learning. The two education systems insisted on the learners’ experience and their democracy while in the learning process. They both link with social movements as one of the ways of attaining social change (Chang, p709). It is suggested that learning institutions are there to enhance personal growth, by creating environments that encourage people of all lifestyles to widen their personal scope of knowledge and skills (Chang, p709).
To start with, the two educational systems were formed to emphasis on the democracy and the students’ experience while at the system. The Highlander integrates the life experiences from the students, the challenges of the ethnic groups and a democratic environment into the learning process. It facilitated people from local societies to get more rights that are political by negotiating with their employers. It taught the learners through workshops and such projects to assist the natives deal with the environmental and economical challenges. The natives participated in solving such challenges together by contributing to finding the working solutions (Chang, p709). The system also gathered information on the financially challenged people and taught them by providing better living opportunities that was influenced by the natives sharing their emotional life-challenging experiences with one another. Through these experiences, it helps the learners to receive opportunities to explore various working solutions and address their life challenges. This helps in changing the life challenges by developing their abilities and educators contribute their personal experiences as a part of the target group.
Likewise, the Swedish circles aimed in advancing the democratic spirit and an environment that supports continuous searching and analyzing the learners’ ability. The contributors would choose their individual literature, which they would rely on to share with others. Sweden promotes adult education that is self-directing and democratic in kind. It funds these systems and enhances lifelong learning, public health and sustainable growth, global fairness, basic values, equality of all people, and opportunities for the challenged and vulnerable. It also creates learning opportunities that gives awareness of the personal abilities and advance their democracy, liberty, and more creativity. This education system of democracy and sharing of experiences is currently at work in Sweden (Chang, p710). Just like in the Highlander system, the government and the learning institutions accounts for the experiences and circumstances of the participants and are largely involved in building the learners capacity, knowledge and skills. The adult learners are free to choose on their studying program and to include their individual experiences in the learning process (Field, n.p). They share their knowledge and personal experiences in the various disciplines they are taught. In all these cases, the instructors creates a democratic learning environment, that not only improves their (learners) knowledge but also offers fair, composed and linked humane societies in the country- this enhances the democracy and social justice in the society.
The second similarity is the way the systems link with social movements as a way of influencing the society. Such movement mechanisms includes; classical mechanisms, resource mobilization mechanisms, and the political process mechanisms. The movements are in a progressive manner from generation to the other, aiming at influencing and changing peoples’ lifestyles. Consequently, the movements influence the lives of the subjects and in turn change a society. Both education systems in the two countries were seen as an integral part of the main social movements. They apply these movements to boost peoples’ social consciousness, to answer to social challenges and to cause changes in the societies (Chang, p711). It is true that Highlander system linked itself with social and economic justice movements to act upon solving social problems in their communities, while the study circles in Sweden were majorly linked with the resource mobilization movements aiming at changing various social cultures (Chang, p712). Linking with the social movements, the learning systems are created to improve people’s lives, influencing the peoples’ consciousness of democracy, fairness, and citizenship. They also provide the governments with chances to foster social democracy. Conclusively, these two learning systems are similar in two major ways: democracy and experience- they both emphasize on the democracy and experience of the learners in the learning process. In addition, social movements are also a link to both systems as a way of influencing their respective societies.
The two learning systems have different assumptions on education, hence different ways of changing their societies. Highlander tries to attain social and economic fairness by social freedom in their ethnic groups. Education in this system is mainly aimed at serving political purposes, bringing new social order in which human values are stressed instead of property values. Contrary to this, study circles in Sweden consists of ideas from peoples’ adult education that values democracy and personal growth and the view obtained from continuous adult education, that assumes that gradual change is can only be done through personal advancements (Chang, p714).
In the view of the differences in these systems, three aspects are reflected upon namely, the participants, authority’s support, and the organizational system. To begin with, the participants, the Highlander focuses on empowering the poor people, and to use the tool /of education to attain social differences. This was influenced mostly by the views of radical learning. This system aims at the less advantaged people who are less privileged and have less power. The system favors the vulnerable people in the lower social positions, meets their problems such as discriminations, oppression, and environmental degradation, and social injustices, and consequently takes actions to solve them. It helps in developing social leadership and collectively enlightens people. On the contrary, Study circles call for peoples’ participation in learning processes though initially, they were involved in empowering farmers, supporting people to attain their visions and lead elite lifestyles. The circles’ plea for public participation maintains democracy, supports each person’s growth, and assists to free their inherent capacities to affect the social realities.
The second difference emanates from the government’s support. At Highlander, people concentrate on changing the society, rather than the wee things of their society. Its goals threaten the power systems, and were influenced by various governments in the initial stages. Thus, Highlander has remained independent of any governments’ support in monetary terms. The radical political moves by the Highlander are highly challenged and attacked by state and local governments as these actions threatens the governments’ powers and interests (Chang, p715). On the other hand, Swedish study circles receives support from their government, both in monetary terms and politically. This is based on their contribution and involvement to democracy and the support they offer to the well-developed persons though they have recently oriented people to the markets and are fleeing from government’s supports. The government offers subsidies to the systems in supporting the areas that strengthen and enhance democracy, helping people to affect their life situation and involve themselves in issues that develop a society. In this regard, the circles rely on the supporting authorities in making their decisions, enabling them to build strong bonds to non-profit making organizations, hence causing societal changes. The Sweden government and their national council on adult education supervises on oversees the running of the various study circles.
The third dimension of difference is based on the organization system. Since Highlander is meant to enhance democracy, they links and works closely with political organizations (Chang, p716) that work for social and financial fairness. They therefore aim at creating safe learning communities to people living in lower socio-economic conditions. They advanced in creating links with such ‘organizations that fight with personal challenges such as HIV/AIDS, drugs, and substances abuse, and people living with disabilities and such stigma. Contrary to this, study circles in Sweden are not organized spontaneously, though they are institutionalized within administrative and financial support systems. They are run by study organizations (Chang, p716). Mainly, the key differences in the two learning activities are clearly seen in the following;
- Philosophy- there is continuity and radical education in Highlander where as in study circle; we have continuity and humanism philosophy.
- Participants- in Highlander, only the less privileged are involved, while under study circle, all people are involved.
- Government support- the Highlander do not receive any support, while study circles are fully supported by the government (although they are not under the government’s control)
In conclusion, adult education is evidenced by various similarities and differences in Sweden and Appalachian Mountains. The role and history as discussed above depicts the significance of the two different systems in the two states. Ideally, adult education is meant to enlighten and empower individual in such aspects as political, economical, and social aspects. The challenges faced by the learners and the educators may be exhaustively dealt with, to ensure a smooth run of the systems, and encouraging the learners to seek knowledge and wisdom for social changes.
Chang, Bo. “Education for social change: Highlander education in the Appalachian Mountains and study circles in Sweden.” International Journal of Lifelong Education 32.6 (2013): 705-723.