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…

5 lessons for teenagers considering university (from the future you)

Hey there,

It’s me – yourself, in the future. I think a lot about education these days. And I am still paying off the debt we incurred during the undergraduate degree you are considering attending. I wanted to send you this letter from the future to help you consider your next steps.

I remember what it was like to be you at 17. You told yourself that you didn’t really know what you wanted to do with your life, but you actually knew quite a bit at the time. You were doing some pretty neat stuff that you’ll like talking about in the future, when you’re me. These experiences were all very important, so keep it up. Soon you will have to start make some decisions about what will happen after highschool.

I know what you’re thinking: “I can’t stay in my hometown. I want to get away. It will just be like highschool if I stay. If I don’t go to university, I will end up a loser.” I know you’re excited about going to university  – and that’s a great feeling to have. Think of the parties! Doing whatever you want! Your plan will look like this: go to university, get a good paying job, pay off the student debt easy, become the boss.

Spoiler alert! It doesn’t work out that way.

Here are my best tips for you, as someone who has lived your life. I hope these might change your ideas about going to university and your next steps after highschool.

1) Take a break, but keep learning.

You have been stuck in an institution for 13 years. You need some time to process what you have seen, and to figure out what things you like and what things you don’t like. You’ve done a lot, but there are pieces missing that you won’t find in a university syllabus. Did you know that you could work on an organic farm anywhere in the world through Woofing? Did you know that there are programs like Canada World Youth where you can live and volunteer across Canada and abroad? What about Folk High Schools? You can kick it to Norway, learn Norwegian, go mountain climbing and study world peace – no tuition needed (it’s actually illegal to charge). No. You did not consider it.  It was never an option. It may not look well with your friends or your parents to not go to university, but the alternate experiences you can find are a real asset that they won’t have.

2) Learn for free.

Go to university… for free. Visit any university and start looking through the undergraduate courses they offer – even graduate programs. Go with your friends who are in the classes and paying full price. Speak to the professor directly: tell them that you’re interested in their course and would like to audit it. Chances are they will say yes. You will find out:1) whether or not you like the topic; 2) if you like how universities teach; and, 3)about other students who are interested in similar careers. Lastly, universities are always hosting speakers from around the world for special events that are often only promoted to the university. Often, they’re free. Go for it.

3) Home work and travel work.

In the future, you will be paying for your own housing. Your own place! It’s exciting. But you know what’s even better? Not paying for rent. It’s expensive. I know living at home with your parents is a bummer. But one thing your parents can easily offer you, for at least a short time, is their  roof! They might ask you to pitch in here and there, but compared to living on your own – you will save a lot of money. Keep that crappy job you had before for a few more months, and pick up odd jobs while you’re at it. This can help you get out with a plan in hand.

Yes, get out and work some more! There are so many ways that you can earn money for the adventurer in you. You’ve got connections. Spend 6 months asking about connections around the world and I bet you’ll find something great. Work at a Hostel. Go Tree Planting.  Pick fruit in New Zealand.  It’s easier than you think for someone with energy, a good back and willingness to travel.

After that, you can go to university or commit to another direction, with money saved and no debt.

4) Hang around with successful, remarkable people.

This is hard. I know you want to be cool and hang around with cool people. But cool people at 17 are not always cool later in life. I’m not asking you to stop hanging around people who you think are cool, cold turkey. However, do consider that there is a lot to learn from people of any age. Connections with people older and younger – and people who are not like you – will be enriching and useful your whole life. The more you hang around with successful, remarkable people, the more you will be successful and remarkable.

5) Reflect and set goals.

Later in your life you might hear yourself talking about setting goals, reflecting on your needs, and blah blah blah. I know you think this lame as a 17-year old. But please, give it a try.

  • Write two lists: First,  write down everything you are good at.   Second, write down everything you like doing. Then, check out your lists. You might be surprised by the different and exciting combinations of the two lists.

This very basic step will guide you in your 17-year old life. It also helps you be unique. In the future there will be so many jobs that don’t exist in your present. Find your unique mix and soon you’ll be making up your own job. Also, try this exercise out every couple years as your ideas, opinions and interests will change – yep, change is a constant.

  • Next, think of something you want to accomplish in the next few months – or even half year. Write it down. Write down a few month-long goals. Then write down the steps you think you’ll need to accomplish each goal.
  • Find someone who can check in with you and be your “accountability buddy”. Ask them to help you keep on track.

Do this often.

Best of luck for you and your future. I am proud of you.

All my best,