Not a mystery: Workshop on …

… basic socio-economic education in Lublin/Poland

Social inequality, ecology, climate, housing, health, gender justice, etc. – almost everything has an economic dimension. You don’t have to have a higher education to understand such connections. This is exactly the approach of our cooperation of colleagues from seven European countries. They met from 22nd to 26th February 2022 for a five-day workshop at the WSEI University in Lublin/Poland to discuss socio-economic topics and to test methods for Economic Literacy in adult education.

One session started with an “economic speed dating” about social inequality. What connection do the participants see between inequality and self-confidence, what connections between inequality and climate change or health? In a subsequent input could the colleagues learn definitions of inequality, aspects of the history of global inequality, today’s income and wealth inequality between countries, and more. The different ways in which societies contribute to CO2 emissions and thus to global warming were also discussed.

Then curiosity and intuition were asked for as participants explored the environment, considering these questions: “Where can you perceive inequality?”, “Who is the infrastructure (not) built for?”, “What role does money play?”, “Where around you might there be inequality that you cannot see?”.

The exchange about the explorations afterwards moved on to discussing measures to minimise inequality. After all, the division into rich and poor, healthy and non-healthy, impaired – non-impaired etc. is not just a moral problem that comes with humiliation for those affected. It is a macroeconomic problem that affects the whole society. Economies miss their potential and resources are wasted.

In the course of the week, a whole bouquet of topics and methods was gathered to develop educational materials for the common learning platform. The focus was also on issues of growth and sustainability, taxation, different schools of economics, migration, feminist economics and the further digitalisation of money.

After the experience of an online workshop in November 2020, the project group had opted for a hybrid event this time. Thus, participants from four partner organisations in Lublin and colleagues from Barcelona, Dublin and Tartu (Estonia) were present on screen. This enabled a much more intensive, inspiring learning experience.

Feedback from one participant: “Now I have an idea of a European cooperation. An ecxiting and very fruitful experience.

Delicate topics: Taxes and Migration

Online discussion:Tax is a crucial part of the story of injustice in the world. Unfortunately, many people hear the word tax and recoil – it seems dense, boring and perhaps a topic best left to the ‘experts’! This guide will help you as a facilitator understand just what tax is, why it is so important, what global trends threaten fair tax collection, and what might be done to help solve tax injustice globally.“ This is how the Irish colleague’s contribution to the learning platform begins. We discussed it in the project group of colleagues from Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Spain and Germany. We all agreed: This article makes us want to deal with the topic!

Migration is a complex phenomenon. It affects societies in different ways, be they receiving countries or those from which people leave. When the well-educated go abroad, gaps remain. The receiving country, in turn, benefits. Education costs can be saved and the population structure can be maintained if young, qualified people come. Wages do not have to rise because there are more workers. But what if people do not come voluntarily, when they need to flee war and hardship? What if they are older and their qualifications are not recognised? How differently are people affected by migration: the individuals themselves, the companies, the citizens? The contribution of the Polish colleague from the WSEI University in Lublin stimulated discussion. This is exactly what we want to achieve.

Feminist Economics and Ecological Growth

They are like a „conversation salon“ as we know it from the age of enlightenment. Our regular online meetings. This time, the Czech and Estonian colleagues presented their contributions to the learning platform. Feminist economics is seen in contrast to the neoclassical school of economics. The difference in the view of human beings is particularly striking. Neoclassical economists start from the assumption of “homo economicus“, who always makes rational decisions, is free of any social influence, pursues his interests and has unlimited needs. Feminist economists, on the other hand, assume that human beings are relational ones who are shaped by various influences such as gender, age, social status, values, and so on. Accordingly, people’s decisions would be influenced by various factors – if only because of unequal starting points.

Economic growth and sustainability – is that possible? What is it about “green growth”, “de-growth” or “social limits to growth”? And what does “decoupling” mean? What are the different approaches to sustainability? A topic that can provoke lively debates. The colleagues brought their knowledge to the table. For example, the reference to the growth dilemma or to a socially acceptable, sustainable “degrowth” of economic development.

Time and again, methodological questions came up: Are the statements clear enough and easy to grasp? Does clarity come at the expense of complexity? How can both be combined in a meaningful way – if only to enable a diversity of perspectives? But without confusing?

Not exactly in a dignified salon atmosphere, but it was a cultivated exchange this time too, factual, carried by respect and the interest in learning new things.

Inequality and economic „schools“

Inequality, what’s this? And what different economic „schools“ exist? This was the subject of our most recent online meeting as part of our cooperation on 7th October 2021. Two further contributions to our learning platform were discussed. The Austrian colleagues presented a socio-economic understanding of inequality that goes beyond the usual interpretation of income inequality and also takes into account, for example, the global inequality in the consumption of CO2. They emphasised that inequality is not a „natural“ given, but is produced by society and its power relations. It is expected that inequality will continue to increase. What kind of welfare state would therefore be needed to enable a good life for all? How can be ensured that the discussion of inequality also refers to the big issues such as climate change, digitalisation (platform economy, etc.), migration, the future of pensions?

The „economy“ is often associated with a certain way of looking at it. But far from it. Embedded in historical contexts and along the different understandings of work, the colleague from the Spanish partner organisation went into ideas from Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and more recent authors. As so often this year, this was a stimulating meeting – next year then as a ‚real‘ encounter.

Growth and development

Co-Working. We meet each other online regularly. On 24th March again. Colleagues of organisations from seven European countries planned their activities. Re-planed, re-planed, re-planed. Fortunately, there was also time for content. For example, the question of the connection between economic growth and environmental development. What kind of growth do we need? And what can happen in an economic system without (economic) growth? What transformation can there be towards a truly ecological economy? We enjoyed an intensive exchange and once again a great atmosphere in the group.

Money, Nature, Welfare: Workshop

That was much better than expected.” “The exchange and feedback culture were very good. The comments on the articles were relevant and extremely helpful. This is not that often practised.” “Cooperation, that’s the meaning of EU projects.” “I was very impressed by the interactive didactic parts.” “Good atmosphere despite online communication.”

For one week, from 16-20/11/2020, project participants from seven organizations in seven European countries agreed on the first seven contributions to the learning platform. Due to the Corona crisis, the workshop had to be postponed several times and now had to take place online. The topics discussed included Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), Debt, Europe and the Global South, Economic Strategies to Manage the (EU) Crises, Perspectives on the Future of Europe: Competition or Cooperation, Public Goods and Social Welfare, Climate and Economy, and the Empowerment of Women as Actors in the Economy.

Multi-perspectivity: what does that mean?

As diverse as the topics are, so different are the approaches the authors have chosen. While some are socialised with the neoclassical approach and less familiar with the reference to several theoretical frameworks in one article, others tend to take (post-)Keynesian perspectives and contrast them with neoclassical arguments. Is there only one view? What is the best way to design educational materials so that readers know “where they stand” and are not overwhelmed? The unexcited, fairly frequent discussion of these questions encouraged the exploration of other perspectives and the reflection of one’s own. One thing is already certain: The learning platform will be a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk.

Online didactics

Refreshed and full of experience, the Irish partner introduced the use of interactive online tools. Mentimeter, speakeasy, jamboard and padlet were immediately applied in the attempt to test the elaborated didactic parts of the educational materials together online and in small groups. It went surprisingly well. The participants learned that Germany burns the most lignite in the world, that around 80% of the global primary energy supply consists of fossil fuels, practiced with bank balance sheets, debated crisis scenarios and collected macro and micro factors that need to be considered when founding a company. And much more. The materials will now be revised in the light of feedback and made available on the learning platform in early 2021.

Online workshops: a nonsensual-sensual experience

Nevertheless, an online workshop can bridge the gap, but cannot replace the intensity and versatility of a ‘real’ exchange. Not all didactic parts could be applied and discussed together. What was missing were the discussions in pairs or in small groups over lunch or in the evening, which have such a positive effect on the group activities. There was a lack of ideas from the breaktime discussions and the opportunity to deepen individual topics. Most of the group already knew each other. That was our advantage.

Socioeconomic education is democracy education

Our goal is to make economy and society understandable. Particularly in times of profound transformations, of climate change, changes driven by digitalisation, and the negative consequences of the corona crisis that are to be expected for the economy and the social security of citizens: this understanding may help to avoid lapsing into interpretations of reality that go hand in hand with disdain for other people or groups.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

Video conference, 29th October 2020

Women are often disadvantaged on the labor market. They generally earn less in comparable positions. Women are hardly represented in management positions. They are perceived as a “risk group” if they are single parents. And they often still lack self-confidence when it comes to turning their possibilities into realities. The partner of the Czech organisation AVITEUM addressed these questions and presented in her contribution strategies for the empowerment of women with regard to their skills on the labor market. The feedback from colleagues was factual, fruitful and driven by respect. Again, the topic came up with the question of what constitutes a multi-perspective approach in the presentation of a topic. To this end, various considerations were brought together. We will see what the result is. Soon to read on the learning platform. 🙂

The art of giving feedback

Working on the learning platform is itself a learning process. This became clear during our last video conference on 06.08.20. In a good sense. On the one hand, we discussed the contribution that was developed by the colleagues of the University of Vienna. The topic: “Climate and Economy“. On the other hand, the project partners gave their feedback on the contribution of the Estonian colleague on “Public Goods and Social Welfare“. The comments were differentiated and factual. Then the discussion turned to the question why we try to be multi-perspective. And what does that mean? Would we overburden the readers when different interpretations of individual topics – corresponding to the different schools of thought in economics – are mentioned? It turned out that the partners are at home in different cultures of thinking economics. This is what makes the cooperation so charming. It would be nicer, of course, if we could come together for a physical exchange and discuss some questions more intensively. But we’ll stay on, online.

Yet another (!) video meeting

Our project’s staff were already familiar with online meetings before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. But like many others, in this project we have moved to cooperation through virtual exchange almost exclusively in recent months. However we also realise that working on our learning content, and in particular sharing educational methods, will always be best done face-to-face. At our last meeting, we discussed various possibilities for cooperating both online and in person, within the timeframe of our project. Fostering a European spirit among citizens as well as opening minds to international perspectives depends on open borders – for all.

Photo by Fabio Mangione on Unsplash/montage SB, weltgewandt e.V.

Economic strategies to manage the crisis

Instead of a five-day workshop in Tartu, Estonia, the group of colleagues from seven EU countries started a series of video conferences to exchange contributions to the learning platform that is currently being developed. The first meeting was dedicated to the discussion of two articles. One was written by the Spanish partners from the organisation ITD -Innovación, Transferencia y Desarrollo “Economic strategies to overcome the crisis: austerity measures or government investment programmes? The other was produced by the colleague from the WSEI University in Lublin/Poland: “Europe: Competition or Cooperation”? Very “hot topics” that fit very well with the current situation in Europe. The exchange was accordingly stimulating and fruitful.