12 Global Education Spaces for Social Change (PART 2)

If you haven’t already, check out my first post on education spaces for social change.

Ready for more? Here are your next six education spaces for social change starting with a classic eco-village.

 Findhorn (Scotland)


Located on the northern tip of Scotland, Findhorn is primarily an eco-village where people live year-round. They host a variety of workshops, ranging from permaculture, sustainable living,  biomimicry, facilitation.  Much of their programming focuses on elements of spiritually and personal development.

Part of Findhorn Eco-Village http://www.findhorn.org/

Biomimicry workshop (http://ben.biomimicry.net)


United Nation’s University for Peace/ Earth Charter Initiative (Costa Rica)


The mission of UPEACE is to “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace”. Big ambitions! Check out some of their Masters-level programs.

It also hosts the Earth Charter Initiative, one of the leading centres and networks for education for sustainable development. It trains youth from around the world to learn about environmental education, leadership and the Earth Charter itself.

2013 UN University for Peace Model UN Conference. http://pacenycmundotorg.files.wordpress.com


Barefoot College (India)


Grandmothers teaching grandmothers to be solar power engineers! That’s Barefoot College.

Since 1972, they’ve trained women from from villages of India and Eastern Africa to be “midwives, handpump mechanics, solar engineers, artisans, weavers, balsevika (crèche teachers), parabolic solar cooker engineers, FM radio operators and fabricators, dentist, masons, and day and night school teachers”. 

If that doesn’t impress you, (and, seriously, how could that not impress you???), consider that most of the learning happens cooperatively at their campus without formal textbooks, and even without a common language.


Similar to the other education spaces mentioned, Barefoot College considers itself “a centre of learning and unlearning, where the teacher is the learner and the learner a teacher; where no certificates, degrees or diplomas are given“.


Community Development Resource Centre (South Africa)

Community Development Resource Centre (CDRA) office in Cape Town https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation

Community Development Resource Centre (CDRA) office in Cape Town https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation

The Community Development Resource Association (CDRA) has been offering organizational and community development workshops in Cape Town, South Africa since 1987.

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission facilitates a session on Human Rights Education and How to Bridge the Values Gap — at Community Development Resource Association (CDRA). https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation/

Kayum Ahmed, CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission facilitates a session on Human Rights Education and How to Bridge the Values Gap — at Community Development Resource Association (CDRA). https://www.facebook.com/communitydevelopmentresourceassociation/

CDRA is often called upon by international development agencies to consult and they also host regular workshops and seminars on community development, advanced facilitation and organization development.

I visited CDRA in 2006 and was impressed by their facilitation style, commitment to participation and their cozy house. There, in their community development library (yes, they even have a librarian), I discovered John Dewey’s philosophy on experiential learning. Doug Reeler (featured below) told me that Dewey’s book might change my life. Note to Doug: You were right!

Rochdale College (Toronto)

Rochdale College Building http://www.alexmorrison.org/

Although it no longer exists, Rochdale College is worth a quick mention. For a few years in the late 1960s, the University of Toronto opened a radical cooperative learning school.


The fact that Canada’s major University built an massive complex for students to live and learn cooperatively is a feat that should remind us of the potential for future learning spaces.

Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (India)

UNESCO MGIEP Distinguished Lecture, presented by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in New Delhi

UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) is the latest education space for social change.

MGIEP hopes to become a research and education space for sustainable development, peace and global citizenship. They plan to embed these concepts in teaching curriculums, strengthen governmental educational policies, host youth programs, and develop innovative tools and methodologies for educators. Check out their upcoming work with game developers.

The new UNESCO MGIEP team http://mgiep.unesco.org/blog/lecture-irina-bokova-director-general-unesco/

12 Global Education Spaces for Social Change That You Need to Know About

I love spaces that bring people together to learn.

You name it. Libraries, community centres, recreation spaces, parks, town halls. My favourite are spaces that say “we can make this world a bit better by learning together”. I love those spaces so much that I did a Masters degree on what they look like and how they came to be.

The kind of spaces I think work best don’t require exams, formal qualifications, years of time, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to apply. That’s right! Take a look through my list of 12 education spaces that support social and democratic change that you need to know about.

Let me ease you into this world starting with…

Folk High Schools  (Scandinavia)

Wendelsbergs Folkhögskola in Sweden http://commons.wikimedia.org/

I am a big fan of Folk High Schools. So much so, I visited a few in Norway and Sweden, and wrote an article detailing one of them in a Canadian magazine.

So what are these things?

Folk high schools or folkehøgskoles are a type of Scandinavian community college. They emerged through the vision of Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig during the 19th century. He imagined a humanist model of adult education to counter what he saw as “schools of death”.  I love that quote.

Vadres Folk High School http://www.folkehogskole.no/

Mostly, folk high schools are small post-secondary residential learning centres that emphasize creating a sense of community and engaging with civil society.  Their curriculums are often influenced by the physical and social assets of a given community and are typically promoted to youth aged 18-to-25 as a year for personal development before focusing on a professional or academic career.

One hundred thousand students each year attend folk high schools and more than three hundred schools exist across Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

International People's College in Denmark http://www.ipc.dk/

International People’s College in Denmark http://www.ipc.dk/

Each school has a specific focus, such as on visual art, theatre, outdoor leadership, religious studies, organic agriculture, boat building and many other themes.

They make my list because a handful of them have curriculum based around politics, advocacy, social justice, international development and peace-building. These include the Nansen Academy in Norway and International People’s College in Denmark (above).

Greenland’s Folk High School – Knud Rasmussen Højskolia http://www.krh.gl/

Over the past hundred years, Grundtvig’s idea was passed around in eastern Europe, South Asia and even Canada. Greenland’s Knud Rasmussen Højskolia for example (pictured above), keeps the tradition of adapting curriculum to fit the needs and interests of the local community and focuses on indigenous language learning, art and craftsmanship.

Bonus point: It is illegal to charge for tuition to folk high schools in Sweden. Just sayin’.

Piqqusilirivvik (Nunavut, Canada)


For a couple decades, the Inuit of Nunavut had been studying at Greenland’s Knud Rasmussen folk high school. They decided it was time to create their folk high school. The result was Piqqusilirivvik which opened in in Clyde River Nunavut in 2011/2012.


Piqqusilirivvik hosts programs focused on traditional Inuit knowledge, values and beliefs; hunting and fishing skills; and land use and survival skills, among other issues.

The community of Clyde River, Nunavut

The International Youth Initiative Program (Sweden)


I had a chance to visit the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) which falls under the folk high school umbrella in Sweden. In their own words, YIP is ” a holistic education in Järna, Sweden that gives youth 18-28 a chance to explore their fullest potential and take initiative towards a better world.”

I’ve also written about my experience visiting YIP here.


YIP is based in Ytterjärna, a sort of cultural capital for the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools and other education, healthcare and business philosophies. Influenced by Steiner’s anthroposophy, YIP’s curriculum also focuses on community engagement, social entrepreneurship, internships and self-reflection.


Much like other folk high schools, at YIP, students and teachers live, reflect and learn together. During my visit, Edgard Gouveia Júnior, pictured above in the purple coat, discussed the importance of play and place-based initiatives. (If you’re interested in asset based community development, you should read about his Oasis Games)

I recommend exploring YIP’s online videos and web content to better understand the experiences of their teachers and learners.


Highlander Research and Education Center (USA)

Highlander is one of the longest running education centres for social change in North America. Founded in 1932, it has trained organizers and community activists during the labour movements of the 30s and 40s, civil right movement organizers in the 50s and 60s and actvists and organizers in the ongoing struggles of the past 50 years.

Martin Luther King J and Rosa Parks as students of Highlander http://www.paulofreireschool.org

Yes that’s right. Both Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks were students at Highlander early on.

In 1955, Rosa Parks took part in desegregation workshops at Highlander and after 6 months of organizing, she helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Popular belief sometimes assumes she was just an “old lady just wanting a seat”. Wrong! This was a planned protest that took years to organize!

The Highlander building itself. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/

These days, Highlander hosts a number of seminars and workshops for people from across the United States and abroad. A big focus is protecting migrant workers’ rights and learning about strategies for economic justice.

Highlander use popular education, a highly participatory method of learning and moving towards collective action. Note the rocking’ chairs which are a staple of Highlander. http://highlandercenter.org/

Highlander uses popular education, a highly participatory method of learning and moving towards collective action. If you want to know more about popular education and its use at Highlander, I would highly recommend reading We Make The Road By Walking, a book that records an interview held by popular education theorist Paulo Freire and Highlander founder Myles Horton.

Fun fact! Myles Horton visited Denmark to learn about the folk high schools, and then adapted his own version in the United States. C’mon. Geek out with me here, people.


The Coady International Institute (Nove Scotia, Canada)


The Coady International Institute, or “The Coady” has been offering community-based development and leadership education since 1959.

Hosted at St. Francis Xavier University (St.FX) in Nova Scotia, Canada, the Institute offers scholarships and certificates for international community development practitioners in creating resilient communities, promoting democracy, and building women, youth and indigenous leadership.


The Coady’s philosophy and programs are highly influenced by its historical connection to social change.

In the late 1920s a number of different stakeholders from rural Nova Scotia came together to find solutions to economic depression in Atlantic Canada. Led by St.FX’s Extension department, Rev. Dr. Moses Coady and Rev. Jimmy Tompkins, they helped rural communities create study circles to discuss the possibility of developing co-operatives and credit unions.

Over the next ten years, more than one hundred co-ops were created across the Maritimes in what was called The Antigonish Movement. After twenty years of community organizing and cooperative development, many international students began coming to St. FX to learn about the movement.

Moses Coady http://www.tourismantigonish.ca/

So you thought you could leave without hearing about folk high schools one more time? No way! Prior to the Movement, Rev. Jimmy Tompkins’ initially wanted to create a “People’s School” like the folk high schools of Denmark.

Six more education spaces in part 2! No more folk high schools I promise.

Move on to part 2…

Community Education Research

During my Master’s in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto, I was able to study and research some unique educational movements and community development methods. Two papers have been added to journals and academic magazines, the rest are draft papers which I hope will inspire.

Carrotmob: Where Values Meet Profits

Urban Eco-villages

Folk High Schools in Canada

History of the Coady International Institute


Yip Group Shot



Folk High Schools

When I started my Masters in Adult Education and Community Development, I had unique interest which would take me deep into the 150 year history of alternative education and its connection to Canadian adult education system as well as a study trip to Sweden to study Folk High Schools.

So what are folk high schools exactly? Here’s a short piece of my work (with super power house edits by Ashleigh Dalton) which was recently published in the Global Citizen Digest and can be viewed here all cleaned up and ready to go. Here is the text with a few extra photos of my own.


Grundtvig’s Yippies: Sweden’s innovative folk high school creates space for global learners

“The best way to learn about YIP would be to live it yourself”, Reinoud Meijer, the Program Coordinator for the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) suggested to me over Skype. Within a week of that brief conversation across the Atlantic Ocean, I arrived in the small Swedish village of Ytterjärna to experience firsthand what Meijer was talking about. In Ytterjärna resided the centre of YIP, an innovative education model with an undaunted aim to change the world.  My task of the trip: to uncover what appeared to be the creative blend of a gap-year program, social entrepreneurship training and global education.

Folk High Schools

YIP is based on the Scandinavian community college model called folk high schools. They emerged from the vision of Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig as a humanistic model of adult education that would counter what he saw as a problematic contemporary education system. Grundtvig referred to existing Scandinavian educational institutions of early nineteenth century as “schools for death”, claiming that they taught dead subjects, dead language and “deadened the students who were forced to endure them” (Davis, 1971, p. 27).  In contrast to ‘standard’ post-secondary institutions like universities and colleges, folk high schools require no exams, offer no diplomas, and express an explicit commitment to dialogue and student-centred curriculum (Toivianen, 1995; Paulston, 1980).  Instead, folk high schools are small post-secondary residential learning centres that emphasize creating a sense of community and captivating learners into engaging with civil society. The result of Grundtvig’s efforts and persistence for a ‘School for Life’ was the opening of the first folk high school in 1844 in Denmark.

Folk high schools are immensely popular in Scandinavia, attended by approximately one hundred thousand students each year (Bagley & Rust, 2009). Currently, more than three hundred folk high schools exist in Scandinavia, each with their own governing body and funding (ibid). Most notably, folk high schools do not charge participants tuition or costs that are not directly related to their living and material costs. Folk high schools are typically promoted to youth aged 18 to 25 years of age as a transitional year for personal development before focusing on a professional or academic career (Toivianen, 1995).  Courses vary widely, focusing on such curriculum as the arts, outdoor leadership, religious studies and organic agriculture (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). All folk high schools have a focus on advancing democratic and social participation (ibid).


Conversations of Yippies about community development

Anthroposophical Beginning

Although Grundtvig’s folk high schools influenced adaptations in Sweden, it was Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy that eventually inspired the emergence of YIP. Anthroposophy, translated as human wisdom, has led to Waldorf education, as well as holistic practices in farming, medicine and business. Following a decade of meetings, conferences and conversations by Waldorf youth and educators, the initial concept for a post-secondary international service-training program was formed. While its formation is interlinked with the lives of its anthroposophically-educated organizing staff, YIP is committed to exploring multiple perspectives and forces that shape society including Steiner’s philosophy and its applications.

The core curriculum of YIP is based on social entrepreneurship principles, understanding current global issues, and as the name Youth Initiative Program implies, encouraging initiative amongst its participants. Each week, students or “yippies” as they affectionately call themselves, are immersed in a different field of focus taught by international experts and innovators in the field. Previous facilitators to YIP have included former presidential candidate of the Phillipines Nicanor Perlas, and founding publisher of Utne Magazine Eric Utne. Weekly topics have ranged from the most recent trends in social media innovation, facilitation processes, sustainable building design and political economics to traditional practices of storytelling, portrait painting and theatre. Meijer likes to say that although YIP is a yearlong program, “it takes a lifetime to digest”.

YIP offers a full day intensive residential program for youth aged 18 to 25. Situated 55 kilometres south of Stockholm, Sweden, YIP sits on the expansive Järna Fjord which connects to the Baltic Sea. Since beginning in August 2008, YIP has graduated over 75 participants from 20 different countries. The 2010/11 semester will produce its third graduating class, with 40 participants from 18 countries, including three Canadians.

The Living Word

A critical focus of YIP, and folk high schools in general, is what Grundtvig termed the “Living Word”, the process of learning within the present moment. According to Lawson (2000), the Living Word describes the use of dialogue between the teacher and learner where the teachings remain alive within the teacher and are based in the learners’ reality and interests. The method of teaching is often centred on workshops that emphasize group work. This process allows teachers to support and guide students’ individual learning processes (Toivianen, 1995). Contrary to a lecture style of teaching, dialogue helps both the learner and teacher to name their current reality and come to common understandings, and encourages social transformation and equality (Freire, 1970).  Bolivian participant Joaquin Zambrana explained the value of youth learning for themselves: “(YIP Staff) give tools, knowledge, things you can use to build what you want to built, but it is always up to you”.

A frequent practice of folk high schools is its focus on inner narrative. Bugge (1983) suggests Grundtvig aimed to “make people conscious of what they are”, “what they have to do”, and “what it all means” (Bugge, 1983, p. 19). Similarly, folk high school learners are often at a time of transition and are offered space to discover what is true to themselves and their place in society (Toivianen, 1995). In Scandinavia, not surprisingly, most applicants are recent public school graduates seeking to grow individually, socially and academically (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). YIP puts a special emphasis on supporting each participant’s personal journey with an organizing staff specialized in counseling and autobiographical work. Moreover, the most recent research testifies that folk high school students report that their experience helped them to “dare to be themselves” (Knut & Solhaug, 2010, p.80) in a way that supports reflection, personal maturation, confidence building and self worth (ibid).

At YIP – biodynamic farms surround the campus

International Youth Initiative Program

When I arrived into the YIP, I found the yippies picking apples, building fences and renovating walls. Their first month involved hands-on tasks that focused on community engagement and asset-based community development (ABCD). Led by urban researcher Kiara Nagel from the United States and designer of cooperative games for social change Edgard Gouveia Júnior from Brazil, yippies split into groups to make the dreams of the local residents a reality. Using the metaphorical “glass half full” approach of ABCD, yippies attempted to use the skills and knowledge held within themselves and the local community, rather than depending on outside financial support. For example, one resident of Ytterjärna wanted a public space for local sheep to graze. Discovering local community bureaucracy, finding resources, negotiating with neighbours and learning the methods of woodwork – the yippies were introduced to a microcosm of the process required for social change. Learning through engagement with local community issues and creating space for reflection with dynamic facilitators makes up what I would call YIP’s Living Word.

It is often noted by researchers of Grundtvig and folk high schools that learners do not manage to find their identity alone, but in relation to others (Knut & Solhaug, 2010). Residential schooling, that is, schools that have a live-in element for learners and teachers, provides an important contribution to learning about a sense of community. For example, there are certain social behaviours that most formal educational institutions do not or cannot teach. These include how to live independently, cook, share gratitude and problem solve within a group. YIP offers a residential style of learning where lessons on how to live together are often as important as the course work itself. Similar to the aim of other folk high schools, YIP students are guided to seek democratic solutions to residential challenges in ways that encourage tolerance and understanding. They are also required to work on the maintenance and upkeep of the residence, which could include cleaning, gardening and providing meals. In this sense, there is no separation between school and life. Democratic principles learned in a classroom have real implications for delegating chores, resolving conflicts and building consensus between residents. Although seemingly insignificant, even the act of deliberating which late-night movie to watch together was itself a practice in learning participatory democracy.

A unique feature of YIP is its one month international internship. After six months of studying weekly themes, organizing initiatives within Ytterjärna and researching individual projects, yippies travel abroad individually or in groups (without a supervisor) to work with a socially and environmentally sustainable project or organization anywhere in the world. Past internships have been to eco-villages in Nepal, a children’s school in Kenya and a media non-profit organization in USA. However, YIP internships differ from traditional international volunteer programs in its aim to deepen comprehension of global challenges and experience how others work towards solutions, rather than provide answers or cures. Following the completion of YIP, some yippie graduates return to their placements to help develop projects further. This year a group of seven yippies will travel to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to work with a youth centre which continues to be organized by a YIP alumni.

I left a chilly and more beautiful Ytterjärna after a couple weeks feeling as I had almost become a real yippie. The early morning scramble to class, the late night conversations by the fire and the utmost joy in discovering myself lost reminded me of my summer camp days long gone. However, this program is not for careless children, but is determined to tackle the injustices of the world. Through its commitment to sustainability, dialogue, community building, and individual growth, while immersing in one’s relationship and obligations to others, YIP offers a model for adult education that could extend to global citizenship. Indeed, it may not be long until Grundtvig’s yippies show Canadians how to create the school for life for themselves. In fact, it already has begun.

For more information about The International Youth Initiative Program – visit www.yip.se

Nico Koenig, M.Ed Adult Education and Community Development, works with civic education programs for youth and continues to explore innovative learning spaces, sustainable development, social media and food. He can be found cycling in Toronto and online at www.findthesky.com

Ashleigh Dalton is a graduate student in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She works in research and policy around poverty reduction. Ashleigh‘s interests include citizenship, community engagement and civic education


Bagley S. & Rust V (2009). Community college models. Springer Verlag. Part IV. 279-298

Bugge, K.E. (1999). Canada and grundtvig. Jorn Thomsen Offset, Kolding: Kroghs Forlag A/S og.

Davis, D. (1971). Model for a humanistic education: the danish folk highschool. Columbus, OH: Chales E. Merrill .

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Folkehogskole. (2011, January 31). Retrieved from http://www.folkehogskole.no/index.php?page_id=44

Lawson, M. (2000). “N. F. S. GRUNDTVIG” Prospects:the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, 1993, 613–23.

Knut, A., Solhaug, T.(2010, December 10). “Som en sang i sinnet – som et eneste sollyst minne”. Elevers utbytte av folkehøsgskolen Retrieved from http://www.ntnu.no/plu/forskning/prosjekter/folkehogskole

Paulston, R. G. (1980). Other Dreams, Other Schools: Folk Colleges in Social and Ethnic Movements. University of Pittsburgh Press

Toivianen, T. (1995). “A Comparative Study of Nordic Residential Folk High Schools and the Highlander Folk School.” Convergence 28.1 (1995): 5-24.

A moose charging towards me in Jarna!