This weekend was CampEd12, a learning festival held, for the first time, near Oxenhope in Yorkshire. The event was conceived after Tim Rylands commented that learning conferences were often too expensive and disappointing and he could run a better one from his shed. The idea went viral on twitter amongst UK twitterers involved in education and the concept of ShedFest was borne, with a seamless change of name to avoid the conflict with a wine festival which had already ‘bagsied’ the ShedFest name. Camped12 shares much of its DNA with ‘Learning on the Beach’ events (organised by John Davitt), and with the ‘unconference’ concept where the top down organisation and control of the conventional conference is rejected in favour of a looser structure, a more democratic mode of participation and a more affordable price tag to boot.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Dughall McCormick (@dughall), Bill Lord (@joga5) and Helen Daykin (@helendaykin); what started as a tiny little riff on twitter – 140 characters of aspiration with nothing solid behind it; turned into reality as a full education festival emerged complete with a tea urn, portaloos and people travelling from all over England to take part. I was lucky enough to attend, and had a brilliant time, meeting new people, meeting people I had only before known from Twitter, and renewing acquaintances with people I know both in real space and on twitter.
Sat down on the final evening, chatting about CampEd12, @Dughall and I had a brief conversation about the event and the great opportunities it presented for both the children who came (there were lots, CampEd12 was a real family event), and the parents. The kids got to do some really cool things such as: geocaching (using GPS to find hidden goodies on the site), den building, practical science, arts and crafts, astronomy and a game of perpetual football on the top field which would still be going on now if the parents had not hidden the ball. We then got to talking about how ‘middle class’ the event was. We weren’t completely consumed with guilt (I don’t think), that the event *was* middle class, but there was also a realisation that the children who could gain the most from #CampEd12, and see learning in a new light, set in the context of engagement with the outdoors and practical activities were also those least likely to ever have a chance to experience it. Children trapped in urban poverty in Northern Cities just 30 minutes travel from the CampEd12 site, children whose parents for whatever reason, don’t have the social capital and networks to connect them into events like this or the required knowledge and confidence to take part.
I think that many (perhaps even ‘most’) teachers believe that educational opportunities should be available to all (regardless of background or economic circumstances), and therefore educators have a moral and ethical obligation to find ways of spreading opportunities to as many as possible. So this lays down a challenge to CampEd. What could be done to enable participation in this event for those least likely to ever come to it? Is that possible, and if possibile, is the desire there to make this happen? Is the CampEd ethos and methodology one which could somehow be tweaked to give the event a social impact far beyond its original ambitions?The left hand image is of the campsite for CampEd12, the right hand side is a derelict community building in Bradford. The Bradford image is creative commons licenced and provided by kind permission of Tim Green on Flickr and is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/6882270649/