November 15, 2007 at 4:08 pm (education, essays)

definitions of community:

Many theorists have tried to divide communities into different kinds. Tonnies (in Galbraith) for example, distinguishes gemeinschaft communities, where people work together out of a sense of mutual goals and concerns, and gesellschaft communities, where people relate to each other only to further their own goals. Such a binary view, like Galbraith’s communities of interest and communities of function, seems overly simplistic and too inflexible to cover all the communities that could exist. Such theories set up an artificial distinction between paid work activities and other activities, which is unfortunate as it suggests that the workplace, where people spend so much of their time, effort, and hopefully interest, is somehow excluded from the possibility of community on a level deeper than instrumental, means-end relationships.

definitions of community education:

Similar concerns about simplistic inflexible categories are raised by Galbraith’s divisions of formal, non-formal and informal education. Galbraith describes formal education as having qualified teachers, credentials and being the primary function of an organisation, while nonformal education may not have some or any of these. Informal education exists outside of any sort of organisation and is the way most adult education takes place, generally within community structures. Unfortunately, many unusual and innovative forms of community education don’t fit neatly into any of these categories. Divisions are not a good way to talk about community education.

A less divisive description of community education that gives a better idea of the underlying function and motivations, is that provided by Hamilton and Cunningham. They suggest “Community-based education operates on the assumption that a given community, whether urban or rural, has the potential to solve many of its own problems by relying on its own resources and by mobilizing community action for problem resolution” (in Galbraith). This implies that instructors in the fields the community requires should be found within the community without the need for going outside to formal education providers. Such assumptions promote seeing the community itself as a resource, and not just a consuming entity.

In Deschooling Society (1973), Ivan Illich proposes “learning webs” as an alternative to formal schooling systems that could be useful – and useable – in adult education. His proposal consists of four parts: providing “reference services to educational objects” (i.e a library of tools and resources) “skill exchanges” (a database of skilled people willing to be mentors), “peer matching” (a list of other students who could be learning companions in a mutually desired skill or area) and “reference services to educators at large” (access to trained educators who can coordinate, assist and train mentors). This is an interesting and promising model with great potential, but, in its full form, is perhaps a little too radical for today’s developed world.

A similar suggestion is Galbraith’s National Mentoring Institute, which could possibly fulfil all four of Illich’s suggested components, but in a slightly more formalised way that may be a workable format for developed countries. Such an institute could both train mentors and educators, and house the coordination and resource library for a broad, far reaching web of education. This model could also encompass such initiatives as skills-based, authority-rated, optional assessment and accreditation scheme.

Mentoring is an excellent way to enrich community-based education. It straddles the boundaries between formal, nonformal and informal education, and can occur in any kind of community that makes space for it. It can also be effectively used in conjunction with other forms of education, not just replace the traditional schooling system as in Illich’s original prescription. There are many benefits of mentoring: it is a very flexible form of education provision that promotes interaction and cooperation between community members, encourages skill sharing within the community, adapts to community and individual needs and is not only an efficient use of available resources and skills, but actually generates them as well. Mentoring also acknowledges the desire, or even right, to teach as well as learn.


Galbraith, M. W. (1995). “Community-Based Organisations and the Delivery of Lifelong Learning Opportunities”

Illich, I. (1973). “Deschooling Society” Harmondsworth: Penguin


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