What is S.E.E.D.S. Community-based Education?

Written By: Gregory Lee 
Edited By: Natalie Zartarian

[Note: I originally published my paper on Community-based Education (C-bE) over a decade ago under 2 different grassroots community organizations I co-founded.  The 2014 revision is a major one prompted by Natalie Zartarian to collaborate on adapting it to Early Childhood Education (ECE).  We co-found Sustainable Early Education Development System (S.E.E.D.S.) to empower parents and ECE teachers to improve the quality of preschool education.  This updated posting includes some minor additions and features the new S.E.E.D.S. C-bE logo graphic was produced by Sara Walter.]

The Sustainable Early Education Development System (S.E.E.D.S.) Community-based Education (C-bE) model is part of a trilogy of documents:

·  Community-based Education
·  Basic Study Skills
·  Guide to Self-Learning

There is some overlap between the documents.  At the same time, some detailed information may appear in one document but not in the others.

I developed my ideas of (C-bE) during my 20 years of experience as a student (pre-school to post-graduate school), 12 years of private sector work in consulting engineering, and my 29 years as a teacher.  I tried to find effective solutions to what I considered the short-comings of the public education system.  Every job and profession has its share of good, even great people and also its share of those who really need to improve.  An ugly reality of life is that some people only go to work for a paycheck.  They take neither pride nor joy in their work.  I feel very fortunate to have been paid to do what I love: living and teaching geography.  This included: traveling, hiking, camping, photography, sharing experiences, knowledge, skills, etc.  AND, I got paid to do them.  In truth, I would have done all those things for no pay just because I loved doing them.

The 29 years of teaching are one part of my work experience.  The difficulties of working with entrenched bureaucratic school systems presented challenges and difficulties.  I felt constrained by being in the box of the classroom and the campus.  I devised C-bE as an effective “work around” to overcome the administrative log jam and scarce to non-existent budgets.  Some of my teaching was in non-traditional settings (e.g. store front spare-time adult schools, aboard ships at sea, and under trees in farm fields).  The diverse settings presented some unique differences to teaching in a classroom.  But these “out of the box” experiences gave rise to the creative, innovative, practical, hands-on, low-cost/no cost and low-tech/no-tech methods that are the core of my C-bE method.  Very often the teaching materials, equipment and resources existed locally among the participants.  These are readily available off the shelf, or are easily made from locally available or reclaimed materials.  This greatly reduces educational costs, especially in impoverished schools.  I found a classroom and a school campus are not essential to C-bE teaching and training. Making use of existing community structures (e.g. local temple, meeting hall, etc.) can help reinforce the community orientation of the program.

Over time, I began to realize that my life was not entirely my own.  Nearly all of us live and function in groups or communities.  Our lives are inter-connected with others directly and indirectly.  This is not a new idea. There is an old saying “No man is an island.”  Ghandi once said “Interdependency is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.”  These ideas led me to coin another cyclic saying “Learn to network; Network to learn.” In modern times, it is exceedingly difficult for any one person to master all there is to know about any field.  It is more reasonable and sensible to forge friendships and connections with people with complementary knowledge and skill to help educate others.

The critical elements to C-bE are: 1) the students (curious people of all ages who want to learn) can be family members or traditional students.  They are curious which motivates them to want to learn. 2) the teachers (people who care and are willing to share their knowledge, experience, and skills).  I coined a few cyclic sayings for this situation: “Learn to care; Care to learn,” and “Learn to share; Share to Learn," and "Teachers should be students; Students should be teachers."

Self-selection is the key action for all participants (students and teachers alike).  By freely choosing to participate, they all WANT to be there to learn and share.  The operative cyclic saying is “Learn to self-select; Self-select to learn.”  They are all members of the community tied to local needs.  The spirit of the volunteer, teaching for the love of teaching rather than for a salary, is an important contrast to the traditional education system.  In this sense, C-bE is education of, by, and for the people.  It is inherently relevant to the needs of the people and community. Using project-based learning lessons and activities moves academic theory from the classroom to the practical world of the community. Children see the connection of knowledge and skills to daily life and local jobs in their community and society.

Young students are empowered and encouraged to be active contributing members to the community through community service projects.  The lessons can be easily taken home and practiced.  This also creates Teach Back opportunities to siblings, parents, as well as friends and neighbors.  The Teach Back is a practical exam.  Sometimes people learn better when teaching a lesson they learned.  Eventually, they can apply their learning to jobs in the local area.

S.E.E.D.S. uses Geography as the core subject to show people how to become their own best teachers for the rest of their lives.  Geography is the integration of all life, physical and social sciences to study the distribution of things on Earth.  The systematic and analytical approaches used in the S.E.E.D.S. C-bE are transferrable to many other subjects.  We have a saying in S.E.E.D.S.: “Geography may not change the world, but it will change the way you see it.”  Using the Geographic Systems Model to see and organize your study of the natural world gives you insights to sustainability and self-sufficiency.  You learn how to work with nature and maintain a viable balance suited to your local conditions.

S.E.E.D.S. C-bE is NOT a substitute for traditional schools.  It is a supplement to the many ailing public school lessons in both urban and rural areas.  This is especially true in impoverished communities often characterized by:
1.     Dilapidated school buildings (if a school exits)
2.     Dilapidated school furniture or lack of furnishings (e.g. desks, chairs, chalkboard, etc.)
3.     A shortage or lack of books, teaching materials, and school supplies
4.     Students traveling long distances or go away to boarding schools as they progress to higher grade levels.  Most families cannot afford this, so further education is severely limited.
Some locations outside the US may also experience:
1.     A shortage or lack of a full time teacher or perhaps a part-time teacher only 1 or 2 days a week
2.     Llow or disrupted student attendance especially when students assist their families in peak work seasons (e.g. planting or harvest)

These conditions tend to reinforce the plight of the poor.  The low education level is a significant barrier to their social and economic mobility.  It reinforces a downward spiral widening the gap between the poor and the wealthy.  History shows governments often experience civil strife when the economic gulf between the poor and the rich grows too wide.

My first real field test of C-bE took place in Ban Tha Kho, Mae Suai District, Chiang Rai Province, Thailand in summer 1999.  I spoke no Thai.  I trained volunteer Thai farmers who spoke no English.  I used hands-on demonstration with lots of gesturing to train them in soil erosion management using composting, planting grass strips, and building check dams.  A local coordinator provided limited translation. All needed materials were locally available on the farms or from trash bins at little or no cost.  Four years later, the impact of the initial 2-week training of 5 volunteers from 3 villages showed:
1.    The training reached a total of 23 villages.
2.    Volunteers went from 5 Thai local volunteers who trained an estimated 600 people.

All this was done with no funds from Thailand or the US governments.  It was a strictly people-to-people effort.  This proved to me Community-based Education works.

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