What actually is community education? How does it differ from education in the community, or education for community? We explore the theory of community education and some examples of practice using resources from the encyclopedia of informal education.

In England, and many other countries, ‘community education’ has tended to be wrapped up with the idea of community schooling and especially the pioneering work of Henry Morris around village colleges. More recently, in the 1990s, there was a growth of interest in the related idea of full-service schooling and of ‘new community schools‘. With this came a deepening of community education theory and practice.

We can think about the theory and practice of community education as ‘education for community within community’. In other words, something called ‘community‘ is not just the ‘place’ in which education occurs, fostering community is also a central concern. 

he process of becoming part of an existing social network in order to encourage learning is sometimes labelled as informal education in UK discussions or as community education. For example, some time ago CeVe (Scotland) defined community education as:

..a process designed to enrich the lives of individuals and groups by engaging with people living within a geographical area, or sharing a common interest, to develop voluntarily a range of learning, action and reflection opportunities, determined by their personal, social, economic and political needs. (CeVe 1990: 2)

However, this particular definition of community education did not put ‘education for community’ at the centre of the work. It is perhaps closer to the idea of education or learning in the community

In Scotland, where discussion of community education was strong, the term community learning and development came into common usage. Subsequently, with changing government priorities and austerity measures, it has rather slipped down the agenda.

Community education in its stronger sense has parallels in the tradition of community organization in the USA, sozial pädagogik in Germany, animation in France and socio-cultural work in Belgium. Furthermore, this approach to community education links up with the theory and practice of those who have worked for community-based, and democratic schooling

In many Southern countries, what is called ‘community education’ in Scotland might well be described as non-formal education or community participation. It could be seen as close to the Latin American tradition of popular education or the French tradition of la vie associative with its emphasis on association.

See, also, following arenas for more on community education theory and practice:

community development and education

lifelong learning and adult education

community schools, informal education and lifelong learning

youth and community work theory and practice

Acknowledgement: The picture is a Govanhill photoshoot at the Arches, Glasgow: The Group. Flickr ccby2 licence

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