The Social Educator in a Globalised World: AIEJI World Congress, Copenhagen, 2009

AIEJI, the International Association of Social Educators, held its 17th World Congress from 4 – 7 May in Copenhagen. Attended by over 700 delegates, the Congress brought together social pedagogues/social educators from more than 40 countries for a series of key note speeches, workshops, field visits and social events. All the main proceedings were in English with simultaneous translations in French, Spanish and Danish.

The first indication that the Congress might be different from ‘your average’ UK conference came during the opening ceremony which included a young people’s song group from a local youth club in Copenhagen. Having played half a dozen tracks and promoted their latest CD, the audience demanded an encore!

One of the first key note speakers was Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, MEP, President of the European Social Democrats and former Prime Minster of Denmark who spoke about the impact of globalisation and the international financial crisis on children, families and vulnerable adults. His version of Putting People First seemed to have much clearer connections with social democracy than our English model. Nyrup appears to have been a close friend of Danish social pedagogues during his time as prime minister and was treated to a standing ovation (see: mms://

Dr Martin Brokenleg introduced the Circle of Courage which highlighted the principles of Belonging, Mastery, Independence and Generosity, and how one’s culture and life experiences either enhance or prevent these from being fulfilled. The Circle of Courage is a resilience philosophy based on the wisdom of North American native peoples. Full of professional and personal anecdotes – the elderly aunt who walked through a snow storm to see him off to college for the first time, the fire brigade who came in through the hospital window to say ‘goodbye’ to a young boy with a life-limiting illness whom they had befriended – Brokenleg’s presentation was a favourite among many delegates for his passion and ability to weave theory and practice (See mms://

Jacob von Uexkull (Sweden/Germany), whose subject was the Media of Globalisation and the Globalisation of Media, is a former MEP, the founder of the World Future Council and patron of Friends of the Earth. Karl Elling Ellingsen (Norway) spoke about Self-determination for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Dr. Rosa-Maria Torres del Castillo (Ecuador) gave delegates a View from the South.

Dr Inge Bryderup’s (Denmark) presentation was on Research in an International Perspective emphasising, among other things, that research in social education must make the “societal and structural reasons for young people’s marginalisation visible” echoing critiques of recent efforts to introduce social pedagogy into the UK[i]. Dr Bryderup also gave an update on the YIPEE project (Young People from Public care Pathways to Education in Europe) which is being undertaken by a consortium of universities in Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and the UK (Institute of Education, University of London).

The Congress included over a hundred paper sessions and workshops ranging from Work with Street Children (Pakistan), Media Education for Social Educators (Spain), The Social Integration of People with Severe Mental Illness (Canada), Positive Peer Culture: a resilience-based intervention in adolescent foster care (Switzerland), The Eradication of Infant Labour (Brazil), Inclusion of People with Special Needs at Work (Cambodia), Links between Formal and Social Education (Uruguay), The Education of Children in Care (Denmark) and Working with Prostitutes and Glue Sniffers (Nicaragua). There were two workshops on developments within the UK including the DCSF funded project which is piloting social pedagogy in residential children’s homes in England.

There were field visits to a range of local resources, and a reception in Copenhagen’s impressive City Hall gave delegates a chance to network, including an opportunity to hear Danish social pedagogues sharing their concerns about the increasing influence of regulation and inspection as a response to recent ‘scandals’ in residential care.

Whereas the focus of conferences in England often reflects the departmental and organisational divisions between services for children and adults or between ‘social care’, ‘health’ and ‘education’ this community of social educators were able to move freely between speeches, workshops, field visits, etc which were less encumbered by the organisational and professional barriers we are familiar with in the UK.

Alas, the next AIEJI conference isn’t due until 2011. In the meantime, the Congress website includes videos of the speeches and copies of workshop presentations and is well worth exploring. (See

Brian Paget is a Children’s Services and Social Care Consultant and Shadow Board Member – FICE England.

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[i] Coussée, F., Bradt, L., Roose, R. and Bouverne-De Bie, M. (2008) The Emerging Social Pedagogical Paradigm in UK Child and Youth Care: Deus Ex Machina or Walking the Beaten Path?

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