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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

The concept of informality in youth work practice For this assignment I have chosen to look at the concept of informality in youth work practice or as I interpret it, informal education. As to what informal education is this needs to be defined before I can move on. For Dome they see informal education as the learning that goes on in daily life. Friends, for example, may encourage each other to talk about things that have happened in their lives to enable them to handle their feelings about the events and think about what to do next. Others view informal education as a personal project we would undertake ourselves out of personal interest. As another example I have an interest in Land Rovers, so every month I buy Land Rover magazines in order to broaden my knowledge about the vehicle. I also am a member of Land Rover forums to talk to likeminded people in order to educate myself more and to pass on my knowledge of the vehicle. In terms of Youth Work informal education is seen as the learning that comes from being involved within youth and community organizations. In these settings there are some specialist workers / educators whose job it is to encourage people to think about experiences and situations. Informal Education can be all of these things since the core of our work as youth workers is dialogue, conversations and listening and most importantly making positive relationships conversation conveys a sense of the mutual learning which the practice at its best enables. The roles of educator and learner are each present in informal education (1) Batsleer. Informal education is often used to describe the learning activities of everyday life. These are contrasted with those that occur within the formality of the school and college. P.H. Coombs theorised that there was in fact three categories of education types in his book New Paths to Learning Formal education: The hierarchically structured, chronologically graded education systems running from primary school through university and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialized programmes and institutions for full-time technical and professional training. Non-Formal Education: Any organized educational activity outside the established formal system, whether operating separately or as an important
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

feature of some broader activity that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and learning objectives (2) 125 Mark smith While these descriptions easily categorizes the different learning styles and form a useful base point from which to look at the informal education. Indeed in many respects these categorizations while useful are in many ways flawed, for example for those of us in the youth work sector the informal and nonformal education bleed into each other. Young people may be attending the youth club as part of a (non-formal) project with objectives such as an accredited outcome. However within that non-formal education process, informal educational process are also taking place as the young people you the youth worker and among themselves. Informal Education: The truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experiences and educative influences and resources in his/her environment from family and neighbours, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media. In his book Radical Youth Work (1988) Brian Belton talks about a computer training project for women. On the surface these women were brought together to learn how to use computers in what Coomb would describe as a non-formal educational project. However, it soon became apparent that although the women did not know each other very well to begin with collectively they knew more about computers then the tutor sent to train them. As a result the group changed from a formal class to a social group and the more the women socialized and talked them discovered that one of the members mother had a friend that trained guide dogs for the blind. They invited this woman over to show the group how guide dogs are trained. Through discussions with her found out that she was training the particular guide dog that she had brought with her for a woman that had lost her sight climbing in the Himalayas. None of the group had ever seen a real mountain so they invited Rachael, who had lost her sight, to come in and give a talk about her adventures in the Himalayas. Rachel agreed, and with the help of a friend to operate the computer power point program showed slides of her experience. During the presentation Rachael chatted about wanting to bring a group of blind kids from America to climb Snowdon. Each blind person would need a seeing-eye trek buddy preferably of their own age.
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

The following year, half of what started off as a computer training group was climbing Snowdon with eight young blind American young people. This example shows both the organic nature of youth work and the informal educational process. This group began with a non-formal imposed objective, i.e. gaining a computer qualification. But the objective then morphed to one of an informal objective, which ended up with the women engaging in something completely different from what was originally envisaged for the group. Informal education, both the learner and the educator engage in a process of learning from the context of the everyday. In a shared engagement with everyday problem posing, new learning occurs. It occurs because the learning is of immediate significance to those involved, rather the derived from a preestablished curriculum (3) P5 Batsleer. A similar experience for me was with a womens group that I had setup on the military base where I work. On the surface, this group was setup as a means for the women involved to achieve some qualifications in first aid and youth work. This group brought together women that had not previously interacted with each other despite the close confines of the base. The women that came to the group were from the different cultural backgrounds on the base (of which there are quite a few). Whilst, they had similar experiences as army wives they didnt actually know much about each others cultural backgrounds. This led the women realising that this lack of knowledge about each others cultures was probably quite common across the base and that it would be a great idea to introduce the different cultures to the whole base as well as to each other. To this end the group decided to put on a series of cultural evenings in the community centre on the base with each evening showcasing a different culture. The women then took it upon themselves to approach the regimental welfare officer to request funding for these events. They all worked together to make the decorations for each evening and also to cook the different indigenous foods. To date, there has been a Trinidad and Tobago night and an African night with plans for others in the pipeline. Each night has been well received and attended by the families on the base. In what began as an informal education event for themselves, they also learnt about some of the
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

different cultures on the camp. Here again, we see, something that started off as one thing, taking on a life of its own and morphing into another. Coombs also talked about the formal education sector and while he is right in pointing out the structured nature of formal education. It is fair to say that even within the formal system, informal education does take place. The best example of this the informal learning that takes place during free-time, in after school clubs activities and time-tabled activities that the students can choose to attend or not. There are significant differences between the subjects based curriculum way of formal learning and learning which occurs in the process of informal education / training. For example, about identity, about others and our relationships with them, about relationships with wider world and the contexts of our lives (4) P5 Batsleer. As I have already stated there are overlaps in things like sport, citizenship education, drama, arts etc. in which informal education takes place. The major difference occurs at the point of engagement between the educator and the young people. The informal educator is not the whole body of knowledge as it also comprises the development of the young people and their life world experiences plus the formal educator. The formal educator / teacher lectures according to a set curriculum which must be ingested by the student; and distributes hand outs and requires a certain pattern of responses to questions: the student listens, reads and takes notes. The teacher sets an examination, or offers pro-forma guidance for self assessment. The students aim to reproduce accurately what they have learned in a written examination to meet the teachers expectations. Informal education requires considerable responsiveness between educator and learner and between learner and learner. In other words it requires a high degree of dialogue. This can be determined by the content or subject matter which is explored; by the educational philosophy of the educator, by the personalities of the educator and the learner or by the environment factors: but most important of all is the medium of communication. As a youth worker conversation is very important to our work and there is something very special about talking with others. However conversation in the sense used here is more than chat conversation is a series of exchanges between two or more people over time through
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

which meaning and understanding are deepened. It is an art rather the a technique or a science but it is an art which enables a going deeper, a development of knowledge and understanding, a development and understanding and a growing encounter with truthfulness (5) P7 Batsleer. Conversation is at the centre of all our activities and takes a number of different forms including group work; casual conversation, play activities, work with individuals and casework. However it does not rest content with just reputation or circulation of received prejudices or other everyday commonsense ideas. It is a vehicle of enquiry and new ways of understanding the world (6) Batsleer. It does not always have to be big conversations about the meaning of life. Just chatting about everyday circumstances can be of enormous benefit for the process of informal education. It enables you to get to know a person and forms a basis for developing relationships. Dissatisfaction, disrespect and boredom are important starting points since young people create interest and excitement by provoking conflict or rehearsing prejudices and put-downs. We as youth workers can move such conversations on in creative ways by challenging this negative behaviour in a non-confrontational way. A good example of this is when I started helping out with the Donegall Pass young Mens Group and before I took over as leader. The youth worker running the group, at this time, was a very open and butch looking lesbian but despite this the young men had no issue with her personality. But as young men from the an area like Donegall Pass are want to be, they were very homophobic, calling somebody a fruit, bender, shirt lifter was used a put down if any of them showed any sort of weakness. This schizophrenic attitude was best highlighted when we did an Agree, disagree, dont know exercise. One of the questions we asked was Should gay people be allowed to work with young people all of them, without exception, went to disagree. After asking then why they believed and pointing out that she was gay and had been working with them for a while, they all sheepishly looked at each other and their response was but you dont count. This was not said or meant in a negative way it was just that they had not thought about it. The result of this exercise was a good discussion on preconceived prejudices. Its a credit to this worker that she never took offense at their attitude and it shows how we as youth worker can challenge negative attitudes without being
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

aggressive or conventional ourselves i.e. not you must not think that way so much as why do you think that? Common Ground is also a useful thing to have with young people but it must be genuine and not a youth worker trying to be cool. For example, young people today are very much into playing games on consoles and I also enjoying playing video games. This means that I have something that is common to both myself and to the young people and can be a useful conversation point. Informal chat is the basis of any youth work relationship, the communication that creates connections without very much in the way of meaning. Its simply a matter of keeping the chat going. These chats will be about relatively impersonal topics and common points of reference, such as an interest in video games, popular TV series are widely recognised topics for such conversations. Such chat functions to create a Bond of warmth and connection (7) hand-out. It establishes a high level of interaction and exchange and has easily recognizable conversational features such as turntaking and the exchange of stories through which Conversational participants can become familiar with one anothers reference points. Once a relationship has been
established then talking about the big subjects becomes so much easier. When a young person is comfortable then they are much more likely to open up and express an opinion. More often the not young people themselves are the ones that open a discussion up. A good example of this was a conversation I had with a young man from the Donegall Pass Young Mens Group. As I have mentioned before in a previous essay, when I ran the Donegall pass group we had no funding nor any premises of our own and met were ever somebody was kind enough to let us. Due to this lack of funding it could be very hard to put on a programme and so sometimes a group session could be nothing more than an informal chat with the group. This particular evening we were using the old IVS premises on Great Victoria street. The conversation was initiated by a group member whose nickname was Damien after the film character from the Omen films about the Anti-Christ. As his nickname suggests his behaviour in Donegall Pass could be challenging. Now my particular style of Youth Work is very laid back, now thats not to say I am a push over, but rather then shout all the time I try to get the young people to take reasonability for their behaviour and treat them as responsible young people, bad behaviour would be challenged and discussed while any sanctions would be decided by the group. By and large I found that this style worked with this group. However their experience in other youth groups was one of being yelled at a lot. It was my style of Youth work and the difference in other youth groups that was the basis of the conversation initiated by Damien. He believed that I should take more of a draconian approach to discipline. He believed that if members misbehaved I should be banning them from the group. I pointed out that his behaviour could be challenging, should I ban him and he agreed. However I was able to discuss with him that I believed that they were old enough to take reasonability for themselves and their behaviour. We spent the best part of a two hour session talking about this issue. Had a level of respect not already have been established then I doubt this sort of conversation would have been able to have been conducted in the way it was. The conversation was conducted in a relaxed manner, the young person was not on the offensive and I was not on the defensive, it was a conversation of mutual respect.
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Iain Elliott

Student No:B00597381

However It seems that to some a degree things have come full circle and that the formal and informal educational systems have merged with more and more emphasis being put on accreditation. During my time running the Young Mens Group in Donegall Pass, the Youth Achievement Awards were being piloted and at the time the idea of awarding young people with a recognised qualification for what they were already doing in the youth clubs / projects was a good idea, especially for young people who might leave school with no formal qualifications. However The focus on assessment which is the basis of awarding accreditation threatens to limit informal education and perversely to lower expectations of what can be achieved in the Process (8) Batsleer How this will impact on Youth Work as a whole is still yet to be determined. However many youth workers are already talking about the difficulty of maintaining the interest of young people in complying and writing up folders / evidence especially after a day spent in school. However in summary informal education could be said to have the following characteristics. It can take place in a variety of settings including places used for other, non educational purposes, it can also take place within a formal education setting. The process of informal education is deliberate and purposeful in that the people concerned are seeking to acquire knowledge, skills and / or attitudes. However such purpose and intent may not always be marked by closely specified Goals. Moreover, timescales are likely to be highly variable and often structured by the dynamics of the particular group you are working with. Participation is voluntary and is often generated and the process of dialogue is marked by mutual respect without which it is near impossible to maintain a group. It is also important as informal educators to have an active appreciation of, and engagement with the social systems through which the participants operate and the cultural forms they utilize. For example Working in a place like Northern Ireland it is important to be mindful of not only the cultural identity of the group you are working with , but also the particular nuances of the community they come from. These could be what paramilitary groups operate in the area, the relationship of the young people and said paramilitary groups, the relationship between the young people and the community in general which unfortunately is often not good.

Iain Elliott Reference 1) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 7

Student No:B00597381

2) Coombs P.H. cited in Smith, Mark. Developing Youth Work. 1988. Page 125 3) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 5 4) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 5 5) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 7 6) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 7 7) Cited from Blackboard Download, Programmes, Programming and Practice, Gilchirst. Ruth. Page 70, Chapter 6 8) Batsleer, Janet. Informal Learning in Youth Work. 2008. Page 7

Bibliography Schubotz, Dirk 1998 Young Life and Times Survey Batsleer, Janet. 2008, Informal Learning in Youth Work Smith, Mark. 1988. Developing Youth Work Belton, Brian. 2006 Radical Youth Work Wood, Jason. Hine, Jean. 2009 Work with Young People Beck, Dave. Purcell, Rod. 2010 Popular Education, Practice for Youth and Community Development work Blackboard Down Load, Programmes, Programming and Practice. Gilchrist, Ruth