Jean Gordon, coordinator for Learning Spaces for the Children as Actors for Transforming Society (CATS) organisation, highlights the benefits of informal learning spaces for intergenerational learning from this year’s CATS week
29th July 2017, it's opening day of CATS 2017 on the theme of Reaching for an Inclusive World. CATS is the only international, intergenerational, annual forum anchored firmly in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. During the morning about 270 participants arrive in delegations, families and individuals from many countries around the world. Coming up the mountain to Caux (Switzerland) on the little mountain train, the excitement mounts. In the house old friends are greeted and new ones are welcomed. It is time for final preparations, last minute details, and we’re ready to launch the 5th edition.
Children as Actors for Transforming Society – building a world where children, young people and adults are working together in mutual respect towards a more just, inclusive and sustainable society where all can realise their fundamental human rights and unique potential.
This year our focus was on fighting exclusion of all types and promoting more and better inclusion in our societies. Not only do children need to understand their fundamental rights, but grasping how they participate in changing behaviours and mentalities is vital to moving our world forward. The world today is at a critical point marked by growing inequalities and political instability. It is crucial for people of all generations to come together to improve society in order to understand the challenges that we face and identify the solutions to implement them. Since 2013 CATS has provided a powerful learning experience for people of all ages:
- Children develop their skills to participate in decisions that affect their lives and society
- Adults are equipped with principles and practices for improving children’s participation.
What we did
This year I took responsibility for one of the large range of activities – a new approach to working groups called ‘Learning Spaces’. They were workshops that ran all through the week bringing together all the participants from age 6 and up. Since all groups were made up of mixed age groups, the challenge was to design activities that would ensure the interest, engagement, enjoyment and learning by all, which meant lots of different activities using videos, music, drawing, games, exchanges among participants about their experiences, thoughts and ideas, etc.
The aim was to learn about, experience and explore different types of exclusion (what it is, how it feels, what the consequences are, etc.) and of inclusion (what we can do better, how we can do it, etc.). Through different types of activities, games, role plays, etc., we aimed to find out about different ways (attitudes, tools, training, individual actions, words) to turn exclusion into inclusion.
Learning Spaces – turning exclusion into inclusion
We worked in different spaces:
During the week participants moved around different spaces to experience and learn about exclusion and building inclusion in different aspects of their lives. At the end of the week they pulled together their ideas about the inclusive environments they'd like to live in … and then built them using lots of different recycling and other materials. The Learning Spaces were led by a wonderful team of facilitators who created stimulating and fun interactive sessions for the children, young people and adults.
Did it work?
Here is a glimpse of feedback:
Adults mentioned that they had learned about stereotyping, bullying, labelling, forms of exclusion and the need for creativity in being inclusive and how to plan an ideal inclusive child rights respecting community.
Children and young people mentioned the importance of being able to open up to the group, because everyone has new ideas, and felt that "With more minds more can be done and to a higher standard". It isn't just for young people that opening up can be difficult, one adult noted the importance of participating in all the activities without feeling shy because no one judges and we feel safe".
Both children and adults were taking home games about inclusion, and very importantly, the fact that adults and children can learn from each other even on serious topics.
And for me? Every year CATS is a bit different and every year it's a powerful learning experience. Learning step by step to work with children and young people as competent partners in all the different phases of designing, planning and running the Forum has not always been easy – old habits die hard – but it has been the best lifelong learning experience I've ever had. The intense informal learning from working in an intergenerational team beats anything I've ever done in a more formal setting. I've learned an enormous amount over the 5 years through the exchanges, stories, activities, energy and enthusiasm of participants and team members of all ages.
Find out more
CATS functions differently from many organisations. There are 5 partner organisations: Caux- Initiatives of Change Foundation, Initiatives et Changements France, Learning for Well-being Foundation, Child to Child and MEOW (Making Earth Our World). MEOW is a group of children and young people involved in designing, planning and implementing all CATS related activities and representing the wider community of children and young people interested in CATS.
- CATS Forum
- CATS on Facebook
- New to CATS: Every day there was an issue of the CATS Daily newspaper. Download all the 2017 newspapers
- My personal blog
Bringing change and improvements to education and training and all situations where children, young people and adults are learning so that everyone can flourish and lead happy, healthy and meaningful lives is the core of Jean Gordon's work. She worked for many years for the European Institute of Education and Social Policy (Paris) working mainly with the European Union, the countries across Europe, and in the Mediterranean region. Her work aims to contribute to lifelong learning opportunities and personal development through improving access to learning and its recognition, individualising pathways, developing key competences and increasing transparency of learning and qualifications. Jean was Joint Editor of the European Journal of Education from 2004 to 2015 and is currently a Co-editor of the Learning for Well-being Magazine, published by the Learning for Well-being Foundation. She is a member of the CATS (Children as Actors for Transforming Society) core team, has coordinated evaluation activities and developed the Learning Spaces in 2017.