What Is Informal Education

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What Is Informal Education?
Finding a concise definition of informal education that is acceptable to all is an insurmountable task, since the likelihood of dissension would be substantial (Seale, 2008). Nevertheless, in this short study we will look at the principles and values, theoretical practice and practical application of informal education. To better understand the concept and ambition of the discipline, we will concurrently explore examples drawn from my own experience. Definitions

If we look at the notion [or concept] of informal with education we can see more clearly what our aim [ambition] is. Putting these two parts of the equation together gives us a better position in which to think about our work (Mahoney, 2001) As suggested by the above quote, in order to describe informal education we should look at the two words informal and education. A relatively modern definition of education is: “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life;” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011). This takes into account alternative approaches to the delivery of education which may neither be viewed as ‘systematic’ nor based on ‘instruction’, as described in older definitions such as in the Oxford Dictionary (OED, 1995) “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction.” My preferred definition also uses the word ‘process’, which is of primary focus for many theorists of informal education; “traditionally, informal education has focused on relationships and thus on the process by which learning happens.” (Doyle, 2001). The word informal is defined as: “casual, easy, unceremonious, or relaxed,” (Wiley, 2010). The definition of the words combined give us a degree of understanding as to the aims (ambition) of informal education; ‘education in a casual, relaxed manner, [atmosphere]”. But in order to get a deeper understanding we will look at the concept present in the values and principles of prominent theorists of informal education. Principles & Values

Informal education is not classified as an occupational group; as such there is no professional body to present a concrete list of values or principles that informal educators must adhere to. However, the National Youth Agency “identified informal education as the core process of [youth and community] work” (Banks, 2001:64). They suggest that:

* “collective action
* autonomy of individuals and groups
* change and development
* and justice and equality” (NYA, 1993:14)
are principles underlying the work. Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith suggest that a good educator must adopt a core set of values. They suggest:

* “Respect for persons
* The promotion of well-being
* Truth
* Democracy
* Fairness and equality” (Jeffs & Smith, 2005:20).
Both these attempts at attaching values to the practice of informal education are similar, and suggest a degree of conceptual consensus. The principles appear virtuous and acceptable to most practitioners, however some points are debatable and possibly impractical in particular circumstances. “Without an active democratic politics among its citizens, a nation may give all it citizens free public schools, but it cannot foster the spirit of democratic education” (Gutman, 1987:284) As implied by the quote above democratic education cannot be fostered in non-democratic societies. My argument is that Informal education cannot be confined to democratic societies alone, therefore, how can democracy be a core value of education as proposed by Jeffs and Smith? Nevertheless, even in an ostensibly liberal society like our own, the concept of pure democracy, although being a commendable ideal can be unfeasible in certain circumstances. While working in a youth club in Bexley, there was a meeting set up for the youth to determine how they wanted the youth...
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