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Five things I learnt about WEA South West

April 11, 2012

At the beginning of March month I spent some time getting out and about in WEA South West Region visiting classes, partner organisations, meetings of volunteers and local centres. It was a very positive experience and I learnt a lot from it.

1. The geography is a challenge. Okay I knew that anyway but you need to experience it to understand it. It’s about 250 miles from the north of Gloucestershire to the south west of Cornwall although the route along the main spine down the M5 and then on to Truro is okay (other than summer, I guess) but East/West connections are much more problematical and time consuming, by rail or car. However the geography contains distinctive challenges including the coastal communities (many of which contain high levels of poverty and social disadvantage) and rural isolation. The landscape and sea offer great opportunities to use the ‘great outdoors’ as part of an educational experience. So it’s a postive challenge.

2. There are some great people involved in the WEA as volunteers, learners, tutors and staff across the region. I saw lots of energy, talent and enthusiasm and a real knowledge of local communities and their educational needs. Students invariably talked eloquently and often movingly about the benefits of their classes. A challenge for us is in linking this power of the local with the notion of the WEA as a regional, and national, adult educational movement.

3. Some of our community partnerships’ work is at the cutting edge of contemporary social concerns. Examples include provision in Bristol, Weston and Plymouth. We are working with people with significant drug/alcohol abuse rehabilitation and mental health issues and helping them achieve a lot as individuals and in their communities. Some of the art work produced, for example, is outstanding. We ought to be shouting louder about the impact of WEA adult education in these settings.

4. We provide some great opportunities for serious study of interesting and – at times – idiosyncratic subjects in the arts and humanities. I went to classes on The Art of Cornwall and Modern Poetry as well as visiting a painting and drawing course in Swindon; they were all of a high standard. There ought to be scope to build up this type of stuff, especially amongst the ‘young old’ where there is an interest in something that’s purposeful and structured but doesn’t lead to formal qualifications. There is little comparable provision around these days with the demise of university open studies and the planned increases in Open University fees.

5. We have a duty to promote digital inclusion amongst our learners. At a meeting with the Gloucestershire branches we were discussing isolated village communities and how learners and members could keep in touch with a class that they couldn’t attend one week (for instance because of bad weather) if class materials, activities and links to resources were available on-line. This branched out into talking about members and learners lacking mobility. Digital communications are a way of staying part of a learning community; not as good as ‘face-to-face’ but often better than nothing.

So, plenty to think about.


From → Adult Education

  1. mbrazil3bs permalink

    Hi, yes I think digital inclusion is vital, some people will be able to do this from home, but perhaps we could stream it, as back up, into libraries – that survive.

  2. mbrazil3bs permalink

    Digital inclusion. Perfect. Into private homes, or librairies.

  3. Richard C permalink

    phone lines and wifi into all village halls seems a good idea to encourage people into the delights of the digital world

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