The Power of informal education

By Janice Garman, Volunteer Coach

Education is a topic often spoken about in the media and the academic world.  However, most often it is in a negative way, focusing only on students’ poor performances or grades within standardised tests and exams.  What rarely gets the attention of mainstream discussions is informal education, in all its various forms.  Informal education is important as it is a continuum of learning which occurs in all kinds of spaces in ones’ life.  It is most often recognised in the civil society sector where a large amount of positive learning occurs.  Spaces of learning outside of the school environment are not given the due they deserve.



The opinion I have with regards to this has largely been shaped by my experience with CoachBright.  As a tutor for the CoachBright programme I have discovered the true meaning and importance of education in a less formal setting and style.  A positive and encouraging environment which leads students into discovering what they enjoy about certain subjects and how they may be useful for their futures, has shown to be a fruitful way of engaging with students who have become discouraged by the formal system.  The students who have taken part in the programme from Walworth Academy have discovered skills not necessarily taught within the classroom, and are vital skills for tertiary education as well as the workplace.  Learning the skills of positive feedback, presentation skills, teamwork, positive competition and essay writing has been a fun experience for both students and tutors.  This was done through informal exercises in an environment which did not demand right or wrong answers, a certain level of competence or confidence.  I have seen students over the course of the programme become a lot more confident in themselves, unafraid to raise their hand or voice their opinion.

This kind of informal environment has shown to be very useful and fruitful in helping students to reinvest a sense of purpose into their studies, learning from young adults who have been through the formal school system and have often been through similar stages of shyness, lack of confidence and lack of purpose for their studies throughout their lives.  This programme has helped me to understand that there are many ways of making learning fun and relevant.  Learning is a constant process and informal styles deserve a lot more attention.  In saying this I would like to reiterate that although the programme is for the students and geared towards academics, I gained a tremendous amount from the programme too.  It is essentially an informal way to help students learn the skills already mentioned, but it is so much more than just that.  It is about building confidence, not just for the students but also for the tutors.  Speaking from personal experience, I used to be a very shy and quiet person, and although I am no longer as quiet the programme helped me tremendously in planting the idea in my mind that I am capable of a lot more than I previously thought.  I am able to instruct and supervise, skills I never felt particularly confident in doing.  CoachBright is a great example that proves that informal ways of learning are fruitful; CoachBright is a fun and stimulating way for students to engage with academics.