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COMMENTARY
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Community Learning in Winnipeg

DR. LLOYD AXWORTHY, President & Vice-Chancellor, The University of Winnipeg, and EPI Board of Director

Building on its founding values and on the important and longstanding work underway throughout its many departments, the University of Winnipeg has, over the past five years, instituted a series of innovative learning initiatives in an effort to deal with issues of access and community capacity building.  The experience we have gained in these projects convinces me that these initiatives in their cumulative effect can reposition the University in ways that are responsive to the learning needs of our community and the broader challenges of our times.

We call these initiatives community learning, a term that describes the active integration of the University into the social, cultural, and educational life of the community.  It recognizes the responsibility of the University to function in an accessible manner and to open itself up to the wide diversity of knowledge and experience represented within society.

Broadly speaking, community learning at the University of Winnipeg, consists of: 1) the provision of innovative learning opportunities for various populations currently underrepresented in the University population; 2) the use of the resources of the University to analyze and address social, economic, cultural and environmental issues in partnership with community organizations and other groups; 3) the cultivation of dynamic and reciprocal relationships between the campus and the surrounding community in which University resources are used to facilitate community-university learning development in ways that are sustainable in social, economic, cultural and environmental terms and; 4) the understanding that these initiatives serve as learning opportunities for our students and others from within a broad range of local and global communities.

To date, our community learning initiatives have been especially focused on addressing the barriers faced by individuals who have not been able to access resources or whose needs are not fully addressed within conventional school and educational structures.  This priority is in keeping with the broader movement to reach beyond the traditionally structured, classroom-oriented, lecture-based and timetabled concept of education into one that is much more inclusive of a wide range of the population, conducted throughout all times of the day and year, and which makes comprehensive use of digital learning media.

Broadly, our community learning initiatives are designed to promote the understanding amongst all members of the community that the University belongs to them and that they have equal rights to benefit.  We work to assist public schools in meeting academic standards and improving high school graduation rates, to reach out to adult learners using innovative career-based programming, to support newcomers in their transition to post-secondary education, and to create opportunities for retirees and seniors to engage in dynamic learning experiences. 

A primary area of concentration, therefore, in response to needs urgently expressed during an initial period of community consultations, has been engagement in the education of urban Aboriginal young people – the fastest growing population in our neighbourhood and Canada as a whole.  This initiative has subsequently expanded to a similar involvement with new Canadian and refugee children in the inner-city, along with efforts to work in rural First Nations and Métis communities.

In response to the success of this community learning work, I wrote a policy paper with a twofold purpose.  First, to demonstrate in outline that the various initiatives undertaken thus far can be given a shared framework and to illustrate that their combined results set the stage for redefining the role of the University and its relations with the broader world it serves.  And, second, to generate a discussion on how to prioritize the issue of community learning as a central pillar of post-secondary education in the 21st Century.

To review the entire paper, click here.

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR, Dr. Watson Scott Swail: Winnipeg is my hometown. Many Canadians don't know this. But I grew up in Fort Garry, went to school at Oakenwald Elementary (across the street), Viscount Alexander (down the street), and Vincent Massey Collegiate (still walked home for lunch in the snow), and the University of Manitoba (didn't walk home for lunch; went to the Pub). I taught school for five years in St. Vital. Loved it. A big shout to those at Victor Wyatt School! This said, and especially as an alum of UM, the work of the University of Winnipeg is so critical to those of the people of Winnipeg, and the rest of Canada can learn from what UW has been doing in the urban sector of Winnipeg. They are the cutting edge on Aboriginal and community issues. Let's learn.

DR. LLOYD AXWORTHY serves as President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Winnipeg. Prior to joining UW, he served in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly and the Federal Parliament. He held several Cabinet positions, notably Minister of Employment and Immigration, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Minister of Transport, Minister of Human Resources Development, Minister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996-2000. In the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Dr. Axworthy became internationally known for his advancement of the human security concept, in particular, the Ottawa Treaty - a landmark global treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. For his leadership on landmines, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. For his efforts in establishing the International Criminal Court and the Protocol on child soldiers, he received the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe. Dr. Axworthy earned a BA from United College (now The University of Winnipeg), and received an MA and PhD from Princeton University.

 

 
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