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Adult education and ecological awareness Results of a long term study 1991-2006 Paper presented by Benno Bickel Volkshochschule Schrobenhausen

3rd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

2 I am happy to present you a summary of a long term study on our ecological courses offered from 1991 to 2006. One of the intentions of this study was trying to deduce principles in order to enhance schedules for future courses. In this paper the results of the above mentioned study are supplemented by some information on the general arrangements of adult education in Schrobenhausen. Courses dealing with ecological items – I must sadly confess – are outnumbered by almost all other departments we are offering. For instance, in 2006 we reckoned 6520 attendants. 260 persons, only 4,0 percent, attended ecological courses. Table 1 gives the ratios for three selected years: Year 1991 1997 2006

Attendants Eco Courses‘ Attendants 4478 376 6050 64 6520 260

Ratio (%) 8,4 1,1 4,0

Table 1: Ecological Courses: Varying Patronage

Altogether from 1991 to 2006 3351 persons booked ecological courses. Our courses – we offer about 350 events per term of which 20 to 25 are ecological courses – are advertised in three different ways: • in our printed leaflet (approx. 100 pages, 23 000 copies twice a year) • at our website (by the way the first Bavarian online adult education progam in 1997) • in the local newspaper we remind about the course if it is not fully booked one week before its beginning During these 16 years we could see a significant fluctuation in the demand for ecological courses. There were sharp decreases and not so abrupt rises. Is this fluctuation due to chance?

CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

3 Unfortunately a decrease in demand forces us to reduce the number of courses offered because in Bavaria there is a dramatic lack in public subsidies for adult education. So there are many situations where we have to respond as managers and not as educators. If we cancel courses, there is the danger of a downward spiral: less courses, less attendants. As you can see in Table 2 and Diagram 1 (Appendix 2)there was • a very high demand for ecological courses in the late eighties and the early nineties • a severe cutback in the first half of the nineties • a considerable cutback in the second half of the nineties • a clear increase since 2004 Year 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998

Attendants 376 332 361 133 245 211 64 99

Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006

Attendants 253 144 151 97 275 159 191 260

Table 2: Ecological Courses: Attendants per Year

In spite of the downward spiral effect and other disruptive factors we detected a statistically significant correlation between the number of attendants and changes completely beyond of our control. These changes were as follows: • In Germany the eighties were affected by a broad awareness of ecological issues. During a while, the green movement was spreading. To think and to act „green“ was a status symbol of the middle classes. • The German reunification caused a tremendous trend towards an economical instead of an ecological lifestyle. You remember: After the collapse of the Soviet Union Francis Fukuyama overhasted proclaimed „the end of history“. CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

4 • The soap-bubble of „new economy“: Many people at that time believed that the „digital revolution“ would cancel the basic rules of – just as you like – capitalism or market economy. Today we all know that this was a misbelief. Anyway, in the late nineties we suffered from a very significant decline of attendants of ecology courses and subsequently had to reduce our offer. Our all-time worst year so far was in 1997 when we counted only 64 participants, a loss of four-fifths compared with 376 attendants in 1991. Correspondent we had the worst rate of cancellation of ecological courses in that year: 67 percent of the courrses had to be cancelled (see Diagram 3, Appenix 2). Not really surprising in those years there was an erraticly increasing demand for courses teaching how to play the stock market. • Increasing costs for energy and especially the new worldwide debate on climate change and global warming create a new batch of demand. The fluctuations we encountered reflect the current political, economical, and social development. Due to our mass mediadominated post-modern society new movements don‘t need much time to radiate and to reach our rural-coined area.

Adult education can respond to trends but is not at all able to launch trends. Instead of a scholary abstract definition I do prefer to frame an utilitarian target, which is beneficial for our daily job: Ecological adult education has to communicate knowledge and to generate an existential orientation so that an attendant having to reach a practical or a political decision will hopefully make an ecological sustainable decision. We all are aware that it is a very delicate and demanding task to modify the behaviour of adults. Ecological education has to start early in kindergarten, nursery school and primary school – not to forget the parents‘ reponsibility from early childhood on. CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

5 It is the business of adult education to build up basics or – probably in most cases without success - to compensate failures of the past. A fundamental change towards environment conscious behaviour can only be accomplished by • legislation • financial incentives for good conduct • financial punishment of irresponsible conduct This achieved, it is the mission of adult education to provide information and encouragement. For example we offer courses concerning the newly introduced German Energy Pass. Cognition and facts knowledge is more effective if there is an emotional basis. With this is mind, we emphasize also an emotional approach towards ecological consciousness. If someone appreciates the benefits of an unspoilt environment and has discovered how gratifying sound nature is, then he will more likely be willing to change his attitudes: from personal behaviour up to political engagement. There is a close cooperation between Volkshochschule and „Bund Naturschutz“, the local environment protection association, e. g. • Guided walking-tours to listen to singing birds • We offer guided walking-tours to collect herbs in combination with a following cookery course. • We have been presenting in this house for the last 18 months an exhibition of photographs showing the storks who have returned to Schrobenhausen four years ago after a long absence due to lack of feed. • We helped to install and to promote a web camera showing the storks‘ family life in nest on the town hall’s roof in Internet 24 hours a day.

CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

6 Over the years we also closely observed the gender-relation of ecological courses. I am pleased to show you three samples dating of 1991, 1998 and 2006: Year 1991 1998 2006

Total 376 99 260

Female (%) 40 59 68

Male (%) 60 41 39

Table 3: Ecological Courses: Changing Gender Ratio

In 1991 ecology was the only department having a majority of male participants. As you see, the prominence of men declined, and 2006 also our ecological courses were dominated by female attendants.

Gender 120% 100% 80%

39% 60%


male female

60% 40% 20% 0%

68% 40% 1991

41% 1998



Diagram 1: Ecological Courses: Gender Ratio

It is not surprising that the fraction of female attendants prefer rather non-technical and down-to-earth attitude. On the one hand this reflects the role allocation in a typical rural, rather traditional and conservative area like Schrobenhausen. On the other hand pragmatical everyday progress may be much more useful than sophisticated utopia.

CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008

7 However there seems to be a chance emerging: Women also start attending courses like solar technology and passive house technology. Men traditionally prefer technically orientated courses for the handyman and home constructor: Fotovoltaics, thermal insulation and the domestic reuse of waste and rain water are topics predominantly demanded by males. Definitely technically orientated courses have their warranty, but there is a dangerous aspect: These „handyman courses“ suggest that all our ecological problems can be solved by technologic means. Of course, it would be a fatal mistake to believe that, and it is not our task to encourage this way of thinking. Far from it, we have to break new ground and to tell our attendants that renouncement is the most important factor to salvage earth: • reducing wealth, • reducing consumption, • reducing mobility. Again and again we do offer renouncement-related courses, although almost nobody is prepared to listen to this message. These courses are our least attended ones. Nevertheless this global approach is one of the most important challenges we have to meet.

We will not change this world, but we are trying to do it!

CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008


Appendix 1:

Diagram 2: Ecology Courses: Attendants 1991 - 2006 400












211 200

191 151

150 100 50

159 144

133 99



0 J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. J. 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006


CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008


Appendix 2:

Diagram 3: Cancelled Ecology Courses 1991 - 2006 64,7

60,0 57,1

52,9 50,0

50,0 43,5


40,0 33,3 30,0 23,8




23,8 17,1

21,1 17,4

10,0 6,9


0,0 J. 19 91 J. 19 92 J. 19 93 J. 19 94 J. 19 95 J. 19 96 J. 19 97 J. 19 98 J. 19 99 J. 20 00 J. 20 01 J. 20 02 J. 20 03 J. 20 04 J. 20 05 J. 20 06

Cancelled Courses (%)



CLAY 2nd Schrobenhausen Meeting 20th – 24nd July 2008


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