Recruiting in the margins - Dialogic learning and democratic participation
written by Jesús Gómez
Information Society: from Social
Dualisation to Information Society for all
living in the Information Society, a society of globalisation and communication
marked by the revolution of new technologies. Today we are living the
transition towards a second phase of the Information Society, which we call
"the Information Society for all". In the Information Society knowledge and
information are the main sources of productivity; consequently to know how to
select and process information (intellectual resources) have became key to
participate not only in the economic sphere, but also in the social and
political spheres (Ayuste et al. 1994). Education has acquired an important
role for social promotion, and therefore education has become a factor of
emphasis in intellectual resources has created new opportunities for
democratization. However, the entrance to the first phase of the Information
Society was characterized by an increase of social inequalities. The unequal
distribution of educational resources produced a social dualisation (Flecha,
1999/1994). We, the people who had access to higher educational levels of
schooling had greater opportunities to access the labor market and to
participate in other spheres of the social life than those who had initial
levels or no of schooling.
as a consequence of the continuous educational level required to face the
constant changes of society, adult education gained importance and during the nineties experienced a strong
explosion. Some authors have called this new society: lifelong learning
society, remarking the need of extending the learning process along our
life span. Lifelong learning is now a policy at international bodies such as
OECD, UNESCO, European parliament, and national governments. However, during the first phase of Information Society
adult education programs were addressed to people with higher educational
are entering a second phase of the Information Society "the Information Society
for all". This new trend aims to reach those who are in the margins, providing
a quality education that allows their social inclusion. In this step forward
democracy, the struggles of social movements have been essential, as well as
the compromise of intellectuals building theory about these democratic trends.
in this second phase society is turning dialogic. Dialogue is becoming central in our everyday life from our participation in the
public sphere to our relations in the private domain.
of this growing dialogic tendency, the field of adult education is also
witnessing a growing demand for democratization, from participants and also
from educators. This movement claims for extending the
education to non-traditional students, and claims for an active role of adult learners
in the whole education process by stressing the egalitarian intersubjective
dialogue. Adult education experiences based on egalitarian dialogue, show us
the positive influence of democratic management and dialogic learning in
accelerating the learning and fostering participation. In CREA, we have
theorized dialogic learning on the basis of these adult education democratic
practices. I will expand on this later on. Dialogic learning grounds the learning process in the
community, reaching people who have traditionally been excluded from
educational supply, and providing at the same time the tools for their
participation in current Information Society.
Participation and non-participation in Adult ducation in Spain
are some non-scientific researches that had blame excluded population of their
lack of participation in adult education programs. They conclude that many
people do not participate because they are not motivated for education and
culture. These analysis reinforce a supply oriented to people who already
participate. These researches started from deficit theories that emphasized the
lack of participation in relation to the dominant culture. They base on the
existence of two different levels of culture: the superior culture (academic
culture) and inferior culture (popular culture). These theories have created
stereotypes on a sector of people, barring their participation in adult
opposition, from CREA we based our researches in social and educational
critical science, stressing the importance of focusing on people´s competences
to foster their learning process. We have created the concept of Cultural
Intelligence to define the skills and competences everybody have. All
people are capable of learning academic knowledge and skills through
communicative, practical and academic abilities. Communicative abilities allow
to transfer the knowledge we develop in a wide variety of contexts of our life
to the academic context and vice versa.
from its origins in 1991 has developed researches aiming to contribute to
overcome the social exclusion that suffer some sectors by providing a quality
education for all.
in the mid 90´s CREA took part of an international research for the UNESCO
about Participation and Non-participation in Adult Education. I´m going to
present some important results we had from this project, since it gave us key
elements to focus our work, as the need of a dialogic approach in education to
reach those adults traditionally excluded from the educational process.
research combined a quantitative and qualitative methodology, allowing us not
only to get statistics on Spanish adult population who participate or do not
participate in adult education, but also to deepen in the reflections,
motivations and interpretations of these adults about participation.
I´m going to pointed out some statistics from the survey conducted in 1995.
Participation rate: One
out of six adults participated in a course in 1995. One out of two adults
participated in a course since he/she ended regular studies.
Participants´ educational level: the
level of schooling is closely linked to people´s participation in adult
education, a higher participation is concentrated in people who have higher
level of schooling: 41% of people with university studies participate in adult
education, meanwhile 21% of those who have completed secondary education level,
13% of those who have completed basic education, and 6% of people who have not
completed the basic education.
Participants´ age: there is a higher number of
participants among younger people, and the participation decreases from 45 on.
24% participated among those who are from 16 to 25 years old, the 26% among
those who are from 26 to 45, meanwhile only the 8% of those who are from 46 to
65, and 5% of those who are over 65 years old.
Gender: the percentage of
participation among women and men was similar, there was the 18% of
participation among men, and 15% of participation among women. The difference
among both groups was the kind of courses in which they participated, men
participated in those courses connected to higher social positions.
Motivations to participate: self
accomplishment (39%) and improvement concerning job promotion (38%) were the
main motivations to participate in adult education programs.
Dissemination of information: 24% of
participants were informed of the courses through their job, 21% through mass
media and 17% by word of mouth (from family and friends). People with little or
no schooling are more like to get the information of the programs by word of
mouth (22% and only 13% of people who have university studies).
Meanwhile, among those who did not participate in
adult education courses: 52% did not receive any information. People with
higher educational levels received more information on courses. 58% of people
who did not participate did not know any organization or center that provided courses.
in the qualitative study we focused on people reflections, theories and
interpretations of both participants and non-participants in adult education.
I´m going to structure the results of the qualitative data in excluding factors
and transformative factors. By excluding factors we refer to those that exclude
adults from participation in education processes. By transformative factors we
refer to those factors that foster people´s participation in adult education
Factors that exclude people from
participation in adult education
of culture in different levels: the superior level and inferior level. It deters the participation of
those labeled as inferior. Due to being labeled, those people get a negative
self-image. When they come to participate in courses, they miss value their
Attribution of lack of motivation:
another excluding factor is based on the assumptions that those "inferior
levels" participate less because they are not motivated. This discourse justify
that governmental and non-governmental agencies focus on sectors with higher
educational levels of schooling, what contributes to close the circle of
Blaming non-participants of their lack of
participation. Such blame justifies the focus on participants and
the social exclusion of non-participants and builds barriers to
another barrier to foster participation is the assumption that people who did
not completed basic education do not have capacity to learn academic knowledge
or to study.
Hierarchical organization of education: when
the educational offer is organized from top-down does not help to participation
of people with few or no schooling, they do not take into account their needs
Factors that promote participation.
Programs designed according to people´s
needs and interests and motivations: many traditional
non-participants reject the dominant offer of AE. The participation programs
can not be an extension of the current supply. Instead, the participation
should come from developing new offers based on culture, motivations, needs
Programs oriented to cultural communication: there
are no superior nor inferior cultures, there are just different cultures. AE´s
programs must not be oriented to assimilating the hegemonic culture, they must
be oriented to cultural communication among social groups.
Programs based on people´s competences: when
we base AE on competency instead of on deficits, we motivate participation.
Programs integrated in community social
networks: when adult education is integrated into a global community
project dissemination of information about AE easily reaches traditionally
excluded population. Channels of information are more effective through social
Community participation in organizing the
educational project: the educational project should be
organized depending on the community, in order to get a high level of
participation, as well as strong involvement of the participants in social
actions for the community in developing the project.
Reaching the margins. One example of a dialogic school for adults
Verneda- Sant Martí is a school for adults that opens its doors to the
community, becoming a learning community. It is organized by democratic
principles and is based on the dialogic learning. This innovative and
transformative model of adult education is recognized at the international
Verneda Sant-Martí school for adults was created in 1978 in a context of big
debates and important social, political and economic changes. The neighbors,
who were mainly from the working class, decided to occupy an empty center to create
a cultural project. Among neighbors´ claims was to build childcare center, a
library, and a school for adults.
participation in this adult school has increased considerably, since from its
beginning it has been a community project. Nowadays it have more than 1600
participants, and more than 100 educators and community volunteers who work in
a close collaboration to create new opportunities of learning, improve the
school and the community. Activities supply goes from basic education to
courses to prepare for the access exam to enter the university, computer skills
or cultural activities according to participants´ needs and interests.
school the equality and solidarity are more than simple concepts, they are
being carried out through a democratic organisation. The success of this adult
school is thanks to the high involvement of participants, educators and members
of the community in the decision-making bodies, cooperating to build the school
Dialogic organisation management
democratic principles are the basis to organize the center, promoting the
active engagement of participants, professors, volunteers and community members
in decision-making processes on the basis of an egalitarian dialogue. Adult
participants, no matter the schooling level they have achieved, have acquired
through their life an important practical experience that often have not been
valued by society. The organization and management of the school is democratic
and involves the collaboration of educators and participants. There are two
participants associations, Agora and Heura, who are present in all this process.
people involved in the school activities have the same opportunities to
participate in decision-making bodies. There are four bodies of
Monthly coordination meeting (COME)
Weekly coordination meeting (COSE)
school assembly meets once a year and can be exceptionally called should
any urgent matter require it. It works through deliberative democracy, since
any person who attends it can present issues for collective discussion and
solution. The school council meets every month and a half and
constitutes a forum for the discussion how the management of human, material
and economic resources is being carried out. In the monthly coordination
meeting, both participants and educators coordinate the school´s
activities, inform those present about those topics they deem relevant, and
engage in collective reflection on different issues, ranging from education in
general to specific philosophy that must guide the way the school run. For more
specific, everyday management issues, there is a weekly meeting of those
who work there on day after day basis, which is also open to participants.
non-participants get actively involve do not only because their needs and
interest are take into account but also because they have voice in democratic
decision-making bodies to organize the center.
Verneda Sant-Martí school for adults is based on the dialogic learning.
Dialogic learning tears down barriers to participation by taking into account
all people´s competences. It achieves to maximize the learning process, and a
mutual learning among participants and professors. It is impressive to see how
adults who started in La Verneda-Sant Martí in literacy classes are today at
the university finishing their degrees.
dialogic learning takes places in the class but also in all other spheres of the
center when dialoguing about how to improve the school.
are seven principles that serve to define the dialogic learning:
- The egalitarian dialogue: is
established when the different contributions are considered according to the
validity of arguments instead of the power position of people who make the
contributions on the basis of a hegemonic academic knowledge. It is only
possible when educators do not impose their opinion or point of view to the
students, but open a space free for discussing, agreeing or disagreeing. A
mutual learning is achieved by looking for good arguments to support their
contributions. All participants and educator learn from others. At the same
time, participants increase their self-esteem and their participation, since
their knowledge and arguments are considered and valued by the whole group.
- The cultural intelligence: is a
broad concept that includes the practical and academic intelligences as well as
other language and action skills. The communicative abilities allow all people
to transfer abilities and knowledge from one practice context to an academic
context and vice versa.
the academic sectors of society have imposed their knowledge as the hegemonic
one, meanwhile have not valued popular knowledge and considered non-academic
people´s communicative skills as deficient, as a way to take distance from
These people are as capable as any university professor of learning the
academic skills thanks to communicative abilities we all have. The differences
between them lie on the contexts of development that affect people´s
opportunities to develop their intelligence.
For example, Gypsies who did not have the opportunity to access
education know a lot about mathematics; they have acquired this knowledge when
traveling from market to market, where they work everyday, through
communicative skills. Moreover, by using their communicative skills it is
possible to transfer this practical knowledge into the academic field, and to
learn new mathematic operations.
- Transformation: Dialogic learning
reinforces the power of human agency to transform personal relations and social
structures towards more democratic ones as result of inter-subjective
interactions. By dialoguing is possible to go deeper into reflections and
search for possibilities to improve personal and social life. In this sense,
the dialogic learning goes outside the school walls, transforming the public
and private spheres. As Paulo Freire said: "We are transformative beings
and not beings for accommodation".
It tears down the reproductive discourses of traditional modernity that
justify the no-action on basis that education contributes to reproduce the
social inequalities. Otherwise, it defenses a equal access to a quality
education in order to overcome social inequalities.
- The Instrumental dimensionof
learning is strengthen in the dialogic learning. Dialogue does not only consist
of talking and discussing, but in thinking on reasons to argument contributions
and also coming to productive conclusions and agreements. Furthermore, dialogic
learning maximize the learning process of all kind of knowledge to be based on
people´s capacities. Dialogic learning involves the acquisition of all
instrumental knowledge as well as the necessary skills for the new
informational society, as it is to select and process information, providing
with the necessary tools for their social inclusion.
impressive to see the computer lab, where women who have never before used a
computer and who are learning to read and write, learn to search on the net, in
cooperation to other participants and the volunteer who is in the lab.
- Meaning creation.In dialogic learning new collective and
personal meanings are created thanks to the intersubjective and egalitarian
dialogue. People find new meanings on their lives to achieve new goals as well
as to get involve in process of social transformation. In this sense, many
adults find new reasons to continue studying, promoting the democratization of
education or acting in the improvement of their neighborhood.
meaning creation emerges when participants take a real protagonist in dialogue
spaces, (re)building their personal and social identity, and fostering them as
- Solidarity is the only basis
on which dialogic learning practices can be built up. Through dialogic
learning, people co-ordinate their actions motivated by freedom, equality,
democracy values rather than power. Thanks to solidarity is possible to
coordinate participants, educators and community members in a close
collaboration aiming to give greater opportunities to voice those who have
traditionally been excluded by questions of educational level, gender, age,
ethnicity or social class.
- Equality of differencesmeans
the equal respect of different cultures and styles of life. In current society
multiculturalism has increased due to the migration movements and the
world-wide connection thanks to new technologies. In dialogic learning
intercultural dialogue allows a mutual enrichment thanks to an equal respect of
the different identities.
refuses educational approach that on the basis of equality try to homogenize
difference on the basis of the dominant culture. As well it refuses those other
current educational approach that stress the emphasis of diversity, forgetting
the claim for equality. Since they are racist educational approaches, based in
the adaptation to the privilege culture or in the creation of ghettos.
learning is based on equality of differences, equality to foster the equal
right of everyone to education, differences to foster the respect to all
Spain, the same dialogic principles that increase participation are being
adopted by the adult education. Adult participants´ movement has a strong
influence in the adult education within the Spanish state. Participants in
adult education have organized themselves across Spain to claim the right to
education and the need for a democratic and transformative model in adult
education on the basis of participants´ needs, interests and capacities. They
are setting the basis of adult education for the 21st Century, and
adult education that includes all people.
is the Spanish Confederation of Adult education Participants´ Associations.
They are promoting dialogic learning and to democratic education at the state
level. One main outcome of their work is the participants´ Bill of Rights
defined through a process of consensus among participants of all the state.
They claim, as it is possible to read in the preamble:
"Education, an inalienable right of adults, must
serve as an instrument for emancipation, which will allow us to overcome social
inequalities and power relations. Education depends on the recognition and the
dialogue between different cultures and lifestyles that coexist in a given
Bill of Rights participants voice their claims on how adult education has to be
organized, making clear they must have to have an active role in the design of
the whole educational process by participating in decision-making bodies.
importance of the Bill of Rights needs to be pointed. In 1997 a representation
of participants form Spain - presented the declaration of rights in Hamburg in
the 5th International Conference on Adult Education of UNESCO. A
year later the European Union gave a grant to extend the Participants´ Bill of
rights at the European level through the same process of consensus among
participants they have done in Spain. It was given a Distinction Award by the
Socrates Commission of the European Union, as "Best Dissemination Project
between 1995 and 1999."
in adult education have promoted the creation of the Democratic Adult Education
movement (EDA), that have emerged recently in the Spanish state. The democratic
Adult Education includes CONFAPEA, the Educators´ Network for Democratic Adult
Participation (REDA) and the Spanish network of researches and scholars in
adult education (Grupo 90). The democratic organisation is the basis to extend
education to those who have been traditionally excluded, raise their voices
without any kind of distinction by question of educational level, gender, age,
ethnicity, etc. Participants in DAE movement work in co-operation to educators
and academics in designing the education they want to for themselves and for
the whole community. By opening a process of dialogue, DAE is an example of the
dialogic tendency of our society.
first TRI-Conference, that took place in the year 2000, researches, professors,
practitioners and participants we discussed for the first time together in a
national conference the future of Adult Education. Participation and reaching
all adults was one of the main issues discussed. We agreed that democratic
adult education is one that participants are the main characters, that they do
not need to have their voices supplanted by ours, but we need to work together.
Today, from the dialogic orientations and philosophy of the EDA movement there
are more participants´ associations and more school for adults like Verneda
that are expanding their horizons and reaching the margins.