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Transformative learning in non-formal settings. Facilitating dialogue in development e d ucation. Introductions. Sharing experiences. My Research. Spaces provided by NGOs for non-formal development education. small Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDOs) in Andalucía, Spain.

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Transformative learning in non-formal settings

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transformative learning in non formal settings

Transformative learning in non-formal settings

Facilitating dialogue in development education


Sharing experiences

my research
My Research
  • Spaces provided by NGOs for non-formal development education.
    • small Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDOs) in Andalucía, Spain.
    • Development Education Centres (DECs) in the Midlands, England.
  • Comparative study based on:
    • interviews and focus groups with development education (DE) practitioners in Britain and Spain,
    • observations of some illustrative examples of non-formal activities and interviews with learners attending these activities.
  • I argue that non-formal spaces for development education are important to offer adults opportunities for dialogue on global issues, leading to personal and social change.
  • How can non-formal development education transform attitudes and actions regarding issues of global social justice?
critical thinking in development education
Critical thinking in development education
  • Understanding how to generate and manage critical thinking was a fundamental aspect of my research.
  • How to encourage and facilitate fair-minded critical thinking (Paul 1990).
  • How to find the balance between an input of accurate information and the creation a safe space in which to explore the information as a group.

What is

(fair-minded) critical thinking?

Silent Discussion

recognising agendas
Recognising agendas
  • I would define critical thinking as being able to think, when you're told information, being able to question it, question, why am I being told this, who's come up with that information, what's their agenda, why have they told me this, is that actually the truth of the situation, or are there other perspectives? (Sally, DE Practitioner, UK)
  • … you need to develop critical thinking skills to engage with that information, and decide where it’s coming from, what their agenda is, what’s useful for me now, in the future, whatever, and that you can only really understand when you go beyond your own perspective and look at other people’s perspectives. (Christopher, DE Practitioner, UK)
analysing sources
Analysing sources
  • I think we should always critically look at the sources of those facts, ... I believe that there are facts ... but then there are also different perspectives ... but then there's so much complexity within what's happening that inherently whenever you talk about a particular thing happening, it's always incomplete knowledge there's always other things that aren't being also presented and that's where you end up with bias and that kind of thing. (Peter,DE Practitioner, UK)
  • Often information in the media is biased, politically or ideologically … we try to encourage people to look for other sources of information … by having different sources, you can make your own vision of the topic a bit broader. (Pilar, DE Practitioner, Spain)
respecting and broadening perspectives
Respecting and broadening perspectives
  • Obviously all our work is about different perspectives and valuing different perspectives, and so, we might get a young person whose dad's in the British National Party, and as much as we don't agree with racism, we can't just say well our value based is antiracist so, this is what it is and you have to deal with it. I think that what underpins ... our approach though is that dialogue and that respecting perspectives, and respecting his dad's life experiences and this young person's life experiences and how that has shaped what they think and just trying to work with them to maybe broaden their perspectives, not just saying you're wrong. (Jenny, DE Practitioners, UK)
considering values and vision
Considering values and vision
  • I think there are spaces where people can sit and talk and discuss ... to see what vision of the world you have and what your priority values are. ... Our idea is to develop a critical spirit, in which everyone can make their own decisions about their place in the world, their relationship with others, with their environment, their role as a citizen, as a consumer, as a person in general. (Carlos, DE Practitioner, Spain)
  • Critical thinking is knowing how the world works, and how I’d like it to work, so critical thinking about your day-to-day actions, kind of passed through a filter of values of how you’d like them to be. (Manuela, DE Participant, Spain)

Value-Action Coherence

  • We always value people's perspectives ... we don't go in saying we have all the answers, that we have all the facts, we go in saying that all knowledge is incomplete, and everyone brings their thing... (Jenny,DE Practitioner,UK)
  • I think probably it’s looking at what your values are, and actually looking at the implications of that, so for example, I think most people would sign up to fairness ... there’s a value that most people wouldn’t say I’d love things to be unfair ... but ... because of the way the world is interconnected they might be then doing something that causes unfairness, so it’s kind of raising awareness of that, and the inconsistencies of that. (Emma, DE Practitioner, UK)
finding common ground
Finding common ground
  • Critical dialogue comes from a diversity of ways of thinking ... what we try to do is promote a broad spectrum of ways of seeing something ... and look for common ground within that diversity. (Pilar, DE Practitioner, Spain)
  • I’d define it in the way Freire did, popular education is really the basis of the work: That every person knows things, and everyone is part of the learning, because learning lasts all through life, and it’s about everyone with their own words saying what they think, what they feel and what they want to do, there’re no right or wrong answers in development education. (Fernanda, DE Practitioner, Spain)
playing devil s advocate
Playing devil’s advocate
  • I think there was a real effort to think of things from the opposite view to what you think of ... a lot of people doing devil’s advocate type stuff, which is definitely more useful, because if you’re all kind of sat around agreeing then you’re not going to pick any ... new ideas or anything. (Tony, DE participant, UK)
creating safe spaces
Creating safe spaces
  • ... just trying to keep that space safe ... one where people feel respected and that they can have their voice heard, is paramount, and then within that, respecting the diversity of people's ... perspectives, and where there is something that doesn't sit with our value base, not just letting it go, but trying to challenge it in a way that doesn't make that person feel victimised ... so, I think it's important that we try to create that space so they can talk about it ... and they might learn different ways of looking at things. (Jenny , DE Practitioner, UK)
  • It’s being able to create an environment where people can say things that are controversial, things that they really do believe and then being able to let them know, that’s ok, that's your perspective. (Sally , DE Practitioner, UK)
critiquing charity
Critiquing charity
  • I think there's a lot of critical thinking that needs to come from everyday things that schools do, you know, getting involved in fair trade ... getting involved in sending boxes to the Gambia, whatever it is, there has to be more critical thinking that goes around those activities, otherwise we're just going to perpetuate this idea that the only way of solving the problems of the South is to throw money at it and to feel sorry, and I don't think that's going to affect long-term change. (Kate , DE Practitioner, UK)
  • ... it's reinforcing that idea, that these people are ... powerless, aren't capable and are just always in poverty and it's like these people in these developing countries are like this and they're poor and they need our help, and I think we really need to move away from perceiving developing countries like that. (Jenny, DE Practitioner, UK)
transformative learning theory
Transformative Learning Theory
  • Transformative learning theory explores how we understand the learning process, considering how people can become more critically aware of their own assumptions and recognise how these influence their interpretation of the world.
  • It is about using participative methodologies to enable learners and teachers to collaborate to construct knowledge together by questioning taken-for-granted assumptions and become more open in forming opinions and attitudes.
  • Mezirow (2000) argues that considering complex issues, in dialogue with others, from a range of perspectives, can facilitate interpretations that are more justified to inform action.
critical discourse mezirow 1998 12
Critical Discourse (Mezirow 1998: 12)
  • Under the optimal conditions participants in discourse will:
  • (a) have accurate and complete information;
  • (b) be free from coercion and distorting self-deception;
  • (c) be able to weigh evidence and assess arguments as objectively as possible;
  • (d) be open to alternative perspectives;
  • (e) be able to critically reflect upon presuppositions and their consequences;
  • (f) have equal opportunity to participate ... and
  • (g) be able to accept an informed, objective and rational consensus as a legitimate test of validity.
fair minded critical thinking paul 1990 110
Fair-Minded Critical Thinking(Paul 1990: 110)
  • Often critical thinking is weakened by the vested interests of the thinker. So we do not empathetically consider the strengths of opposing perspectives, and therefore do not examine underlying assumptions which we have internalised as fact. (unconscious bias)
  • This means that our interpretation is filtered through our frameworks of beliefs which have not been critically examined. This may arise from an unconscious commitment to a personal point of view (egocentric) or a social or cultural point of view (ethnocentric).
  • Fair-minded critical thinking implies an ability to: “... question deeply one’s own framework of thought” and to: “... reconstruct sympathetically and imaginatively the strongest versions of points of view and frameworks of thought opposed to one’s own mind” and to: “... reason dialectically to determine when one’s own point of view is weakest and when an opposing point of view is strongest.”

Fair-Minded Critical Thinking in Development Education

Is it really possible?

How can we be open to opposing points of view and maintain a commitment to our values of fairness and equality?

Do we lose our purpose if we start to critique the things we believe in?

Experience from Practice

fair trade fair minded
Fair Trade/Fair Minded
  • Fair Trade is one of my bug bears... if you look at the fair trade foundation website: How to become a fair trade school, step 1, form a fair trade committee, then step 2 get the canteen to take fair trade up... well no! Step 1 is let’s have a discussion about fair trade, what is fair trade, is it actually a beneficial movement? Is it just salving middle class consciences? Does it only benefit a tiny minority? Is it a sticking plaster on the backside of a much more unfair global system, you know... and I get quite annoyed about DECs that are sort of evangelical about fair trade, when actually it should be a contested ... you know like a lot of things we teach about, they’re contested issues. That needs to be up front. (Christopher, DE Practitioner, UK)
challenging assumptions or imposing values
Challenging assumptions or imposing values?

How can dominant ideological assumptions be challenged, in a way that allows social justice values be upheld without guiding the learners too much, or telling them how to act or think?

providing information or facilitating exploration
Providing informationor facilitating exploration?

How can we find the balance between an input of accurate information and the creation a safe space to explore the information?

group discussion
Group Discussion
  • How can dominant ideological assumptions be challenged, in a way that allows social justice values be upheld without guiding the learners too much, or telling them how to act or think?
  • How can we find the balance between an input of accurate information and the creation a safe space to explore the information?
imposing values
Imposing values?
  • The aim of development education should not be about trying to replace dominant values with others, even if we believe these alternative values could make the world a better place.
  • Development education is a form of indoctrination, where indoctrination is defined as using narrow goals of teaching that assume there is a ‘right’ way to think about or understand things.
emma s dilemma
Emma’s dilemma
  • It reminds me actually of a role play thing with a group of 16 - 18 year old girls about the arms trade, and they ... all decided that it was perfectly fine ... to sell arms. And ... although it might be fine for me to walk away from that and say, that was fine, we had a debate and they chose something that I thought was wrong but you know. Actually I didn't feel like that at all, I felt that they hadn't properly engaged with the issues and that therefore I, in some measure, had done it the wrong way... and so therefore I must have had… you do have an idea of what a positive outcome is, and it wasn't that really, so... (Emma, DE Practitioner, UK)
information or exploration
Information or Exploration?
  • The input sessions are really rich in information, but of course, then you lack time to… I don’t know if it’s time to assimilate all that information, or time to get into the debate. ... There’s no time in the end to say for instance, let’s open a round table, let’s reflect on this, let’s elicit the important issues, maybe that is missing. (Belén, DE participant, Spain)


ReferencesBROWN, Eleanor J. (2013) Transformative Learning through Development Education NGOs: A Comparative Study of Britain and Spain. Unpublished PhD Thesis: University of Nottingham.

  • ANDREOTTI, Vanessa (2006a) Soft versus critical global citizenship. Policy and Practice. 3, 40-51
  • BOURN, Douglas. (2003) Towards a theory of development education. Development Education Journal. 10(1), 3-6
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  • BROWN, Eleanor J. (2013) Models of transformative learning for social justice: comparative case studies of non-formal development education in Britain and Spain. Compare: A Journal of International and Comparative Education.
  • BROWN, Eleanor J. (2011) The Role of Questioning and Dialogue in Teaching Complex Global Issues: Perceptions of student-teachers in England. International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning. 3(2), 21-37
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  • DARNTON, Andrew, (with KIRK, Martin) (2011) Finding Frames: New ways to engage the UK public in global poverty. London: Bond.
  • FREIRE, Paulo (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.
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  • MESA, Manuela. (2011) Evolución y Futuro Desafíos de la Educación para el Desarrollo. Educación Global: Revista International sobre investigación en educación global y para el desarrollo. 0(0), 122-140
  • MEZIROW, Jack (2000) Learning to Think like an Adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. in MEZIROW, Jack and Associates (ed.) Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. pp.3-34
  • PAUL, Richard (1990) Critical Thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Rohnert Park, CA: Centre for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique.
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