Older Features

An archive of features about Popular Education

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at work - Interview with Sebastian Vielmas

We are delighted to share with you, hot off the press, our new book: 

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work. 

We hope that this is a timely intervention to help strengthen our collective work all over the world, where democratic spaces are shrinking and the ‘fight back’ is occurring. We will appreciate it if you can share with your networks, and in so doing support hopeful visions for socially just alternatives.

Click here for more details about the book.


Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at work - Diana Skelton 'People in extreme poverty act for change'. Chapter co-authored with Martin Kalisa

We are delighted to share with you, hot off the press, our new book: 

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work. 

We hope that this is a timely intervention to help strengthen our collective work all over the world, where democratic spaces are shrinking and the ‘fight back’ is occurring. We will appreciate it if you can share with your networks, and in so doing support hopeful visions for socially just alternatives.

Click here for more details about the book.


Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at work - Deshpande interview

We are delighted to share with you, hot off the press, our new book: 

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work. 

We hope that this is a timely intervention to help strengthen our collective work all over the world, where democratic spaces are shrinking and the ‘fight back’ is occurring. We will appreciate it if you can share with your networks, and in so doing support hopeful visions for socially just alternatives.

Click here for more details about the book.


Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at work - interview with the editors

We are delighted to share with you, hot off the press, our new book: 

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work. 

We hope that this is a timely intervention to help strengthen our collective work all over the world, where democratic spaces are shrinking and the ‘fight back’ is occurring. We will appreciate it if you can share with your networks, and in so doing support hopeful visions for socially just alternatives.

Click here for more details about the book.


Saliem Patel. Author of 'Study circles: Solidarity through learning.

We are delighted to share with you, hot off the press, our new book: 

Forging Solidarity: Popular Education at Work. 

We hope that this is a timely intervention to help strengthen our collective work all over the world, where democratic spaces are shrinking and the ‘fight back’ is occurring. We will appreciate it if you can share with your networks, and in so doing support hopeful visions for socially just alternatives.

Click here for more details about the book.


The Traditions of Popular Education in South Africa - a Collection in the Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive

While exploring the Traditions of Popular Education in South Africa, we have collected materials generated over the last 60 years. They span a variety of types, topics and organisations, thought to be relevant to popular education. In order to safe guard and share this collection, in 2016 we set up an archive collection at the Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive (Mayibuye Archive) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The Mayibuye Archive is … ” a unique and often fragile documentary record of South Africa's history and culture, particularly with regard to the apartheid period, the freedom struggle and political imprisonment in South Africa (SA)” (Read more here).

The materials in our collection go some way to documenting educational efforts in the context of the ‘freedom struggle’ and we see these materials as valuable for on-going struggles of people today. We hope educators and educational activists will add to the collection thus ensuring it will remain a living monument!

Description of the collection

The story of Maria and Marius: a South African story of domestic abuse

A play made and performed by a group of women from Delft, members of The Women’s Circle and participants in the Popular Education Programme

Maria and Marius in love

Once, there were two young people, Maria and Marius, who fell in love with each other.  But they lived in an environment that was extremely violent: drugs and gang-wars, abuse of all kinds kept people indoors, for fear of being attacked. Yet, soon the ugliness of abuse in the streets and neighbourhoods penetrated their home and relationship, and they began to fight.

Seeking work

Feminism on the internet: a workshop hosted by Women'sNet and Association for Progressive Communication (APC): 21-22 November 2016.

Image: ICTs for Feminist Movement Building Activist Toolkit (Source)

In our uneven society, how has the internet been created and how is it shaping us? This question was interrogated at a workshop titled Feminist Principles of the Internet and ICTs for Movement Building hosted by the Association of Progressive Communication (APC) and Women’sNet (held on 22 and 23 November 2016). Today, the internet offers vast access in terms of resources, news, opportunities and networking - to those who are connected. However, many are not able to access internet due to a lack of infrastructure, unaffordability of data, language barriers or the tricky task of sifting through the enormity of information for action. Just like in the real world, gender (and other oppressive structures) determines access differentially, often with violent and discriminatory effects for women or non-conforming genders. But, as in the real world, there is hope and the possibility to work against this.

Some questions posed were: Who controls the internet? How does the internet control us? How do we stay safe and help others to feel safe on the internet? How has the landscape of activism changed as a result of the internet? Are we more connected or more divided as a result of the internet?  

Language and power in spaces for educating: Co-constructing understanding(s) of terms

 


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (1986) writes about his colonial school in Kenya in the 1950s. At this school, if anyone was caught speaking a language other than English, they were made to wear a wooden frame around their neck which read, ‘I am a donkey’. Today in Cape Town we hear of students being ‘de-merited’ at some schools for speaking isiXhosa in the playground – a language prominently spoken in the Cape. Historically and still today, language has often been used in formal educational contexts to control and oppress. What are we teaching when we punish people for speaking their home language? Amongst other things, we are dismissing a culture and suggesting that only certain cultures align with what we think of as `education`. We are a multi-lingual society, with 11 official languages, but we are still to develop methodologies which enable everyone to be understood, feel included and ‘at home’, whether in formal educational spaces or informal meetings. How can we challenge domination through the way we use language when we communicate?

Exploring and tackling racism: A compilation of popular education activities

Artwork by  Pawel Kuczynski

In his novel, Astonishing the Gods (1995), Ben Okri described the effects of racism as ‘invisibility: the main protagonist is introduced as having been born invisible. His mother, too, was invisible, ‘That was why she could see him.’ What may appear as magical is, in fact, rooted in very tangible evidence:

‘It was in books that he first learnt of his invisibility. He searched for himself and his people in all the history books he read and discovered to his youthful astonishment that he didn't exist. This troubled him so much that he resolved, as soon as he was old enough to leave his land and find the people who did exist, to see what they looked like (p.3).’

He travelled for seven years, and his quest was 'for the secret of visibility'.

Currently students who demand radical changes in curricula have picked up on this: how come, they ask, we (Black, often working class) and our reality is not to be found in textbooks?

Practice, pedagogy, power: Shaping and strengthening popular education in South Africa through street theatre

Last year, a project known as 'street theatre as popular education' was undertaken by Traditions of Popular Education in collaboration with the Popular Education Programme, August –December 2015, in Cape Town. The project was both a popular education and a research project: firstly, it undertook to teach members of the public in economically and socially poor areas about Tuberculosis (TB). The play addressed issues of stigma and focused on the politics of TB – who is infected mainly, and why? It asked questions such as ‘why is there no appropriate medication for children with TB? ‘How can we activate pharmaceuticals to invest more into research on TB treatment?’ and ‘How best can all of us support people infected in the interest of us all?’ Secondly, the project documented and critically analysed conditions that need to be created so that performances can reach people who would not otherwise engage in popular education. It asked questions about the nature of plays and performances and the possibilities of affecting change in members of the audience. Finally the project looked to answer the question: How can street theatre contribute towards generating public dialogue around current and topical issues? Read the detailed report here.

Women march on

Sixty years ago, on 9 August 1956, 20 000 women from all walks of life, marched together to the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Johannesburg in protest against a new law that would require black African women to carry passes. The pass laws prescribed who could enter, live and work in certain areas. Usually it meant that black African men and women had to carry a pass on them at all times and could be picked up and thrown in jail if they did not have a pass.  (Read more on the 1956 March here). The march was a significant event which showed women across all apartheid race classifications, in solidarity with black African women. It demonstrated women’s collective power and determination to resist injustices together.  After 1994, the 9th of August become National Women’s Day, a national day to celebrate women’s contributions to the social, cultural, economic, political, spiritual life of the country. So what are women ‘marching’ for 60 years on?

Here are some examples of the ways women are ‘marching’ under new conditions to create another different, more just world:
 

  I write what I like - the cover

Brief report on Colloquium on Forging Solidarity: Southern Perspectives of Popular Education, 9 - 11 June 2016

Image caption: Solidarity Mural

(Hosted by Traditions of Popular Education Research Project, University of Western Cape, supported by National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) www.populareducation.co.za)

Some fifty people gathered at the colloquium which was held at the Sustainability Institute, Stellenbosch. Participants came from different organisations, including academic institutions, government, social movements and NGOs, from as far away as Chile, India, Senegal and Canada and as close as Delft, Khayelitsha and Grahamstown. They brought with them focus, energy and willingness to be creative, and a commitment to engage with critical questions both on a one on one basis, around tables, and in plenary sessions.  The aims of the colloquium were to grapple with the central theme and in the process give food for thought to 20 people who are contributing chapters to a book of the same name. Presentations were made, in the main, by contributors to the forthcoming book.

Tablecloth image - solidarity in different languages

Part 3: Making sense of ‘solidarity’

If we wish to employ popular education in order to ‘forge solidarity’ we need to have a clear understanding of what ‘solidarity’ actually means. There are many different understandings, ranging from solidarity as ‘humanitarian gesture’ on the one hand, to solidarity as ‘political relationship’, on the other.

The word ‘solidarity’ itself is fairly abstract and conceptual, with different historical roots. If we want to define what it means it may be more useful to think about solidarity in terms of ‘acts’ or ’expressions’ of solidarity.

Here are a few examples:

  • A group of unionized workers at a factory goes on strike, protesting against dangerous working conditions. Other workers at other factories, who belong to the same union, come out on strike, in solidarity. A theatre group acts in solidarity: they make a play that tells the story of the strike. They perform in public places drawing attention to the demands of the workers, and afterwards they pass a hat around to collect money for the strike fund.

  • Students occupy a building vowing to remain there until their demands are met. They organize all-night seminars and discussions. Invited lecturers run the ‘teach-ins’ sessions; tutors offer their services coaching students with their work. An outside group of people prepare and bring food in support of the students and as an act of solidarity.

Part 2: Exploring ‘Solidarity’

Every year, the Popular Education Programme (PEP) organizes and runs a National Popular Education Development (PED) workshop. In October 2015, the theme of that workshop was ‘Building alliances, forging solidarity’. In the course of the 2 days we experimented with a range of PE processes to help us explore the meaning (and implications) of ‘solidarity’.

Participants were social and educational activists many of whom are engaged in social movements and practical every-day struggles affecting working class people. For them, questions of solidarity are everyday concerns as they strive to make collective working for change more powerful.

Here, we present three of the tools we used to further explore ‘forging solidarity’. You may want to try and use these in your work!


Defining ‘solidarity’ – a conceptual exercise

Ask participants how many and what languages they speak. Break the group into small groups ensuring that you have at least 3 different languages in each group.

Task 1:

‘Translate the word ’solidarity’ into as many languages as you can. If there is no one word, describe the meaning using many words, images, metaphors etc

Task 2:

Describe how the meaning of ‘solidarity’ differs from the meaning of ‘unity’ (and other words)

Part 1: Forging Solidarity - Southern Perspectives of Popular Education, 9-10 June 2016

Freedom Day (27 April) in South Africa is a good day to launch our count-down to the colloquium.

We begin with the ‘Solidarity Song’ by Bertolt Brecht, arguably one of the greatest writers and playwrights of all time.  His ‘southern perspective’ was to side with the dispossessed and oppressed - but also his belief that songs, poems, plays that speak out against oppressors are powerful acts of defiance!

Bertolt Brecht:  Solidarity Song

Peoples of the world, together
Join to serve the common cause!
So it feeds us all for ever
See to it that it's now yours.

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!

Black or white or brown or yellow
Leave your old disputes behind.
Once start talking with your fellow
People, you'll soon be of one mind.

Let's talk about popular education!

Introduction

This work-in-progress narrative derives from an initial 18-month research project entitled ‘Remembering traditions of popular education’ . It seeks to shed some light on various claims about popular education made by different people and groups in past and present South Africa. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with over 20 people, asking them to describe how they became activist-educators for social justice and what sustains their commitment; to name some of the influences on their practice; and to offer advice for current activist-educators. At the end, we invite you to contribute your questions and insights as to the relevance of popular education for today and we offer further resources for dialogue.

Here, we cite only a fraction of what experienced popular educators have said, and we offer audio-clips that bring their voices to life. While we also interviewed international practitioners, for now, we focus mainly on South Africans.

Stories of struggle make visible how popular education is closely tied to particular contexts and contingent upon specific conditions. Knowledge generated in processes of popular education primarily serves those who are participants in the dialogues. But it can illuminate how such knowledge becomes useful in the struggle for change and transformation.