Swedish ABF carry out more than 85 000 study circles every year. We are present all over the country, in all main cities, in small towns and rural areas. When Corona hit us, we quickly had to find ways to stick to our method and digitize at the same time.
Supporting and transforming during corona
To meet, to talk, reflect together, discuss and share knowledge in a study circle has always been our method. When physical meetings are out of the question, we must actively counteract isolation and contribute to creating digital communities that support liberal adult education (folkbildning in Swedish). In doing so we manage to stick to the core of our method and assist those who need it the most.
In the last few months ABF has modified numerous of study circles to make them digital, without losing the very important element of interactivity, which is essential to our method. In order to support the regional branches in the national organisation and education facilitators quickly, we produced a website with guidelines, checklists, tips and tricks for the digital meeting. We also provided digital classrooms, online education, as well as a national helpline “The Meeting Emergency Room” for customized support for our local branches and all our affiliates in their work to adjust and switch to digital.
The initiatives quickly started to pay off and we have seen numerous digital activities within the ABF organization nationwide, adapting the slogan: ABF don’t cancel – we digitize!
Study circles in choir singing, gardening and weaving have all been able to continue their activities as digital meetings. ABF in Gävle transformed their office into a studio to stream everything from dance classes to live debates from the local area, online.
An early example of how we digitized is the 84-year-old author Hervor Sjödin. She regularly does readings at her local café in a small town in the northern part of Sweden. The corona pandemic made it impossible for Hervor and ABF to follow through with these readings. Instead of cancelling, Hervor did her reading on Facebook- with some duct tape, a smartphone and a flowerpot as a camera stand. Instead of the usual 10 people Hervor reached at a regular reading, the audience grew to one of 9 000 people overnight. That’s digitizing!
Folkbildning works in Sweden
Folkbildning isn’t just essential to support society and its citizens in times of crisis. The annual report from Folkbildningsrådet investigating the role of folkbildning in 2019, showed that the method reaches over 1,2 million of Sweden’s population of 10,3 million. As the largest study association in Sweden, ABF, together with the other national study association, fulfil our mission to strengthen and develop democracy, increase participation in societal development, even out educational gaps and increase participation in culture.
In areas and situation where the formal education and support system faulters folkbildning has become a reliable tool to fill in the gaps and to service those who need the support and information the most. Folkbildning doesn’t come with a diploma. It’s a method for learning, together with others without a formal teacher of a formal curriculum. Scientists from International School of Economics in Jönköping, Sweden, found an obvious correlation between participation in study circles and the chances of getting a job. The link is particularly clear when it comes to citizens born abroad with little formal education.
This pandemic situation has forced us to act fast and determined to prioritize our previously quite slow digitization. We must find new ways to do things and at the same time keep focus on our prioritized audiences and main goals. We must learn to reach out even more to the most vulnerable people in the society. We are learning how to cooperate even more within our own organization, but also with affiliates and the study circle facilitators. We learn to not give up, to listen and improve. ABF will come out even stronger when we are finally back to a new normal.