THE ACT OF VOLUNTEERING: AN ADULT EDUCATOR'S PERSPECTIVE JAMES A. DRAPER...
THE ACT OF VOLUNTEERING: AN ADULT EDUCATOR'S
JAMES A. DRAPER
The act of volunteering is discussed from the perspective of an adult educator. The paper is divided into
three major interrelated parts. Part I lays the background for understanding the meanings of the term
"adult education", defined in broad terms. This is followed by discussing the terms, "learning" and
"education", since learning is the essence of adult education. This is followed by stating some of the
assumptions, principles and philosophies which guide the practice of adult education. Part 11 discusses
the link between adult education and volunteerism and the tradition of volunteering, of which India is
notable. The paper ends with a look at the implications of volunteers seeing themselves as adult
educators, with some knowledge of the principles and philosophies mentioned earlier in the paper.
James A. Draper, Ph.D., is Professor of Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto, Canada. During 1964-66 he was an advisor to the University of Rajasthan, working
with Indian colleagues in establishing the first university extension programme in India. During 1972-73
he was a fellow of the Indian Council for Social Science Research and during the same time was the
Resident Director in India of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. Dr, Draper has visited India a number
of times, and continues to pursue his research and writing on India.
The Essence and Guiding Values of Adult Education
The Meaning of Adult Education
The term "adult education" connotes two meanings:
• as a field of study,
that is, as an academic discipline within the social sciences
(Draper, 1988, 1989). The focus of these study programmes (masters and
doctoral degrees) is on the development of theory and literature on learning and
adult education based primarily on research. Adult education, as used here, has
the basic characteristics of many other social sciences, for example, economics,
political science, sociology, psychology. That is, each has a "world view", the
focus of each discipline is on human behaviour (individually and as members of
groups) and the approaches to research design are similar, representing appro-
priately both qualitative and quantitative aspects of data collection.
• as a field of practice,
that is, the numerous programmes which facilitate adult
learning offered by countless numbers of agencies and organisations, many of
whom use volunteers to achieve their goals. Such programmes include (but go
much beyond) literacy education for adults. In fact, non-literacy or non-basic
education programmes far exceed adult literacy education. The diversity of
practice of adult education is now widely acknowledged (Kundu, 1992; Draper,
1991, 1992; Bordia, 1973).
From the above, it can been seen that adult education, both as a field of study and
a field of practice, includes any situation in which adults are learning, at any level,
and would therefore include, for example, programmes for senior administrators,
the training of factory workers, educational programmes within the Indian army,
4 James A. Draper
continuing education programmes for professional groups, as well as the many
programmes in which volunteer workers participate. All these and other settings are
of interest to the adult educator-researcher. Since education,
which is defined as "intentional learning",
always takes place within a context, the adult educator is
interested in and acknowledges those social, political, cultural, administrative,
physical and environmental factors that influence the learning of adults. Adult
education is concerned with the motivation people have for learning as well as the
knowledge, skills or attitudes which are being acquired.
As a social science, adult education needs to be seen in its broadest form. On the
other hand, adult education as a field of practice and as a programme area will
undoubtedly need to focus on specific programmes for special target groups,
depending on individual and societal needs and the resources available. For
instance, in India, priority might be given to literacy education for men and women
living in rural areas. Here, literacy education can be seen within the larger field of
adult education. Focusing on literacy education is a matter of preference based on
certain needs at a given point in time but "literacy education" is not synonymous
with "adult education".
It is the practice and not the definition of adult education
which is restricting.
A World About Learning and Education
The essence of adult education is adult learning. That is, adult educators as
researchers examine all those factors that influence or relate in any way to the
intentional learning of adults. It is adult learning that adult educators strive to
understand and facilitate. Since learning is essential for living, it becomes obvious
that the learning of adults is not confined to:
• any specific time of day
• the place where learning takes place
• the methods used for teaching and learning
• the content, attitudes or skills to be acquired.
Generally speaking, as a field of study, adult education limits its research and
programming to "adults" — young or old, although much of its research and
literature may apply to children as well. The concept "adult" is culture-bound and
determined by what constitutes adult roles a given society or a community at a given
point in time.
Traditionally, the concept of "learning" incorporate three interrelated components:
• The Cognitive component.
This includes the learning of content and subject-
matter and is usually the focus of attention in many educational programmes
(often to the neglect of the other two components).
• The Affective component.
This refers to the learning of attitudes, values and
feelings, and how to express these within one's cultural and social surroundings.
• The Psycho-motor component.
This domain refers to the learning of specific
skills and includes learning to read and write, to speak in public, to communicate
(including the skills of listening), the skills of preparing and presenting a proposal
for social action, or the learning of such motor skills as riding a bicycle, or using
a typewriter or other piece of machinery.
The Act of Volunteering 5
"Learning" is a natural and lifelong process of absorbing from, experiencing
and adapting to one's environment, as one acquires attitudes, values, skills
on the other hand, is an attempt to organise and structure
"Education" through planning and reflection is an intentional learning
process, guided by predetermined goals which seek to bring about changes in
attitudes. Education is influenced by values and in turn modifies values.
Adult educators know a great deal about "learning" (Barer-Stein, 1992). Learning
is cumulative: a natural and individual process (only individuals learn, not groups)
that involves change, implicit and explicit, personal to the individual; it is not always
measurable and is frequently taken for granted; it involves understanding and
ownership, and is active, not passive.
Just as unintentional learning can also be called "informal learning" (not informal
education) we can speak of intentional learning as comprising either "non-formal"
or "formal education". That is, non-formal education (NFE) refers to education
(intentional learning) whose outcome does not include formal academic credit or
certification. Formal education, on the other hand, refers to education whose
outcome includes formal academic credit or certification. What distinguishes the two
must be perceived from the intention of the learner and what is "formal" or
"non-formal" is not limited to any particular location or institutional base. Most adult
education is of a non-formal nature.
Each social science is based on a number of assumption unique to itself but
overlapping with other sciences. These assumptions often become the basis for the
hypotheses to be tested or the questions to be answered through research. Through
critical analysis, these assumptions evolve and become redefined and refined. It is
these tested or assumed assumptions that guide research and practice in adult
education. Based on these assumptions, adult education associates yet distin-
guishes itself from other fields of study within the social sciences.
Given the breadth of its definition and mandate, it is essential that the primary
assumptions underlying the field of study and practice in adult education will begin
with assumptions about people as learners. Some of the assumptions made by adult
• All persons wish to improve the quality of their daily lives.
• People are able to describe and judge the conditions of their lives.
• All adults have living experiences which must be taken seriously.
• All adult groups, men, women, villagers, fishermen and the elderly, are hetero-
geneous, wherein each individual has different experiences and perspectives.
• Adult men and women are willing and able to learn and take responsibility for
their own learning, and the learning of others.
• Adults are continuous learners. Learning is synonymous with and inseparable
from living, regardless of whether these adults live in rural or urban areas or are
parents, workers, soldiers, or research scholars.
6 James A. Draper
• Average people are capable of being involved in, and able to contribute to,
• Any act of behaviour, any thought, any value expressed is always part of an
individual's larger and total being. That is, individuals and communities act and
react as an integrated whole even though, for the sake of convenience, the social
sciences segment individuals and societies when undertaking research.
• Only individuals are capable of learning, and learning is theoretically, a voluntary
• Illiteracy or being "un-schooled" is not synonymous with being unlearned, unedu-
cated, or ignorant. Rather, each human condition has reasons for its existence
and illiteracy. Poverty and other human conditions are primarily due to a lack of
opportunity to learn and to act.
• Adults are capable of being involved in a process of planning and implementing
programmes for individual and social change aimed at improving the conditions
of their daily living.
• Education, including adult education is not a neutral act. Intentional learning
(education) attempts to bring about individual or social change. For individuals to
become involved in education is a process of personal change. To change
individuals or society is to alter the status quo. This is a political act since
relationships between people are altered through learning.
As pointed out by the University Grants Commission (UGC) Working Group (1993),
it is assumed that
Education is a human right....(and) provides access to knowledge and under-
• standing of skills. It is a life-long process for the development of harmonious
personality to comprehend the ever widening and deepening spheres of
As with other members of the social sciences, adult education researchers also
assume: that people are capable of responding to probing questions; that the daily
lives of people are realistic (not superficial) expressions of their values and re-
sources; that no human behaviour is without a cause or a context. It is also assumed
that all people have had personal experiences with the social sciences. How many
social scientists actually articulate this, and build upon this assumption? All people
have had experience with education, that is teaching and learning; with sociology,
— being members of groups and communities; with political science — power
relationship between people; with economics — the handling of resources and so
Each of the assumptions mentioned above is complex and has tremendous impli-
cations for the way in which learning is planned, delivered, and evaluated. If each
assumption is not articulated clearly, not understood and taken seriously, then the
effectiveness and quality of working with adults by educators and other social
scientists will diminish greatly.
Guiding Principles of Adult Education
The assumptions made about people and about learning determine the values and
philosophical orientation that guide the practice of adult education. The purpose of
adult education is to help people to make choices, to help them define their "world",
The Act of Volunteering 7
to help them to write their history, and to work with them to become involved in
meaningful and relevant action and learning. A number of basic principles have been
identified within adult education in order to guide volunteers and others working with
people in examining problems and issues. These principles are numerous, well
documented and discussed in many publications (Taylor, 1992). As with assump-
tions, these principles need to be critically examined and refined through research.
Some principles of adult education are:
• Adults learn best in environments which provide freedom to discover, develop
trust and impose a minimum of insecurity.
• Adults learn best when what they are learning is relevant and meaningful,
especially to their daily lives.
• Adults respond and learn best when they are treated with dignity and respect.
• Adults are most committed to participating in educational programmes when they
have been involved in planning and setting goals for these programmes.
A far reaching goal of adult education is to bring about an equitable "learning society"
in which people are learning to be themselves (Faure, et al., 1973). As a social
science, adult education through research and reflection attempts to understand
how to reach these goals and practice these principles.
Developing a Philosophy of Adult Education as Volunteers
Why should we consider philosophy? In attempting to answer this question, Draper
(1993) writing in The Craft of Teaching Adults,
points out that "A discussion of our
values or philosophy of practice is more than an academic exercise. We may not
be conscious of it but each day we live our philosophy". Philosophy encompasses
the principles, values and attitudes that structure our beliefs and guide our behaviour
in our work as well as in our daily life.
To what extent do we articulate and understand these values, assumptions, beliefs
and attitudes which guide us? Our individual or collective philosophies are the basis
upon which we defend and practice what we do. The way in which we perceive and
deal with issues is determined by our philosophy.
It is a human tendency to feel that what we do is rational, and that we are right in
what we think and do. We do not usually articulate these feelings, but take them for
granted. Our philosophy of life, is an integral part of our identity that we seldom
question. But can it limit our perceptions? Are there other views to listen to and
benefit from? Are the assumptions we make about the educational needs of others
really a projection of our own values? How do we know? All these are philosophical
questions. Being able to answer these and many other questions helps us to
understand and implement the programmes in which we are involved, including the
identification of training needs, curriculum planning, delivery, evaluation and the
selection of teaching materials. Philosophy affects them all.
The Random House Dictionary
(1987) defines philosophy as "a system of principles
for guidance in practical affairs; the rational investigation of the truths and principles
of being, knowledge, or conduct". Articulating our personal philosophy helps us to
understand why we behave and think the way we do. Furthermore, it helps us to
understand the consequences of our behaviour and the influence our philosophy
8 James A. Draper
has upon others. It helps us to be consistent but also challenges us to question our
inconsistency. It can help us in communicating with others, providing we take care
to openly express our values and assumptions. It may help us defend our action,
for instance, as a volunteer. "I use this teaching approach because it expresses the
philosophy I believe in."
Being able to articulate our preferred philosophy also helps us to understand our
role as volunteers and as adult educators. That is, it helps us to describe our
behaviour through a thoughtful and rational point of view. The generalist practitio-
ner-volunteer is often only able to describe what is done, not why. Articulating our
beliefs and values also helps us to bridge theory and practice, and see with greater
clarity, the relationship between education and society and the various social,
economic, political and cultural forces which influence education.
Our philosophy influences our practice, and practice illuminates our philosophy.
Rooted in our individual History and the history of our society, our philosophy is
always personal yet it identifies us as members of a group. Focusing on our explicit
beliefs helps us to both utilise and create knowledge, especially when we are open
to the beliefs of others.
The Need for a Dialogue on Philosophy
A number of question further help the volunteer to focus on the need for a dialogue
on values and philosophy. For example, how do we account for differing perspec-
tives and perhaps differing philosophies in an organisation? Where is the place of
the volunteer-educator as learner in the educational programme? Are educational
programmes to focus only on learning immediate skills or does it include goals which
help people become more socially responsible and more critically reflective? Does
our educational philosophy help people to reflect on possibilities and make choices?
Education is not a neutral enterprise but involves both political and philosophical
decisions and influences all aspects of an educational programme from its original
inception to its teaching and evaluation. Particular philosophies, based on particular
assumptions about human nature can help democratise an educational programme
and society. There needs to be a compatibility of management and infrastructure
with the philosophy that is expounded.
Philosophy like culture and values, is studied and acquired. Philosophy may
encourage one to seek partnerships with student learners, with the community and
with other organisations, or it may encourage one to remain closed. The values the
volunteer holds may come in conflict with the agency for whom he/she works. For
example, what will a volunteer do if he/she is asked to perform tasks or use
methodologies with which the volunteer is in disagreement? What is the role of one's
conscience in being a volunteer? How does one philosophically handle these and
Philosophy is an expression of an ideology. By understanding values one maximises
the rationality and ethics of behaviour. Philosophy is the foundation upon which the
volunteer acts; it is the rudder which steers the volunteer through daily life. A
philosophy is not a theoretical thing that other people possess. It is the profound
understanding which provides meaning for each individual.
The Act of Volunteering 9
Linking Adult Education and Volunteerism
Regardless of the tasks or functions which volunteers perform, there is always a
component of learning which occurs, both for the volunteers and for those who guide
them and with whom they work. Even though the first part of this section focuses
on the close links between the long traditions of adult education and non-government
organisations (NGOs), it must be acknowledged that NGOs are not the only
agencies which use the services of volunteers. Such services are also used by
governments, business and industry and the corporate sectors of Indian society.
"The work of voluntary organisations (NGOs) has always been closely linked to adult
education, social work, community development, social action, and the training of
both lay volunteers and professionals" (Draper, 1984). Traditionally, volunteer
organisations identified closely with geographical communities as they attempted to
deal with the social, health and educational programmes of community members.
Today, such organisations are characterised by their work with functional commu-
nities and with a community of ideas, interests and concerns that are not confined
by geographical boundaries, for example, working with the elderly, or dealing with
environmental issues or literacy education.
Traditionally many agencies often took a treatment approach to human and com-
munity development. Their primary concern was to deal with immediate crises such
as poverty, ill-health, unemployment, and discrimination. Now, organisations are
devising programmes aimed at preventing a condition from occurring, such as
ill-health or discrimination. Such programmes are built around the assumption that
people are willing and able to change, if they can see relevance to themselves. Such
programmes are primarily educational, attempting to bring about change from within
and making the individual or a given community more self-sufficient, self-reliant and
more independent. All these are worthy human goals. Often, both treatment and
preventive approaches are required in programmes which use the services of
It is well accepted that NGOs and non-profit organisations support the social,
economic and cultural development of communities and individuals. In every
community there are unmet economic and social needs and many of these can best
be handled by non-government agencies as compared with government or private
business interventions. It is also true that such NGOs utilise human and material
resources that otherwise remain untapped, such as the extensive use of volunteers.
The proximity and rapport that most NGOs have with their communities also
enhances the speed and responsiveness of these organisations in dealing with the
concerns of community members. The government cannot be responsible and
accountable for solving all the problems in society. In fact, within a democracy, one
can argue that the government should not be all-encompassing in its social policies
and programmes, but supportive and appreciative of the work of the NGOs.
10 James A. Draper
Social Action and Individual Learning
Previously the point was made that most community and social action is really an
act of individual learning, of changing attitudes, of acquiring skills including those of
communication, and of gaining information and knowledge. Self-help and self-
reliance seldom takes place without a voluntary act of learning. The constraints to
innovative learning are often the same elements that constrain participation. The
book No Limits to Learning: Bridging Human Gap
(1979) makes the point that all
societies must enhance learning in order to close the gap between the world's
growing complexity and our
capacity to cope with it at the macro
level. Focus is
placed on learning and what is stated at the international level is applicable as well
to the local and national scene. The authors state that "the challenge of complexity,
the poorly established linkages between individual and societal learning, the widen-
ing of contexts, and the need both to enrich and compare contexts through dialogue
and interaction are several factors underlying the need for and requirements of
innovative learning". The authors describe two concepts which they believe consti-
tute the main features of innovative learning, that is, "anticipation" and "participa-
tion", both of which are important concepts for volunteers and adult educators to
Anticipation is the capacity to face new, possibly unprecedented situations.
Anticipation is the ability to deal with the future, to foresee coming events as
well as to evaluate the medium-term and long-term consequences of current
decisions and actions. It requires not only learning from experience, but also
"experiencing", vicarious or envisioned situations... Anticipation is not limited
to foreseeing or choosing among the desirable trends and averting cata-
strophic ones; it is also the creating of new alternatives.
Anticipation implies "taking responsibility for our ability to influence, and in some
cases, determine the future". The parallel turn, 'participation' is also defined:
Whereas anticipation encourages solidarity in time, participation creates soli-
darity in space. Anticipation is temporal while participation is geographic or
spatial. Where anticipation is mental activity, participation is a social one. There
are many reasons why anticipation must be complemented by an additional
feature, and why participation should be the complementary feature. On the
one hand, it is no longer feasible to hand down decisions or ready-made
solutions from above. On the other hand, there is a need for the social
interaction inherent in participation, both to reconcile differing anticipation as
well as to develop the harmony or consensus essential to implementing a
chosen course of action. There is a near-universal demand for increased
participation at all levels.
Involvement in voluntary, non-government organisations holds the potential for both
"anticipation" and "participation" as the bases for innovative learning. Hayden
Roberts (1979) reinforces the idea of viewing the process of community develop-
ment as a learning experience and the importance of understanding and applying
learning theory to community action.
In its Report on
Education (1980), the World Bank emphasised that education needs
to be recognised as a central element in development. Following the Second World
The Act of Volunteering 11
War, education was perceived as a means of raising political and social conscious-
ness. However, by the 1960s, it became apparent that the definition of "devel-
opment" had to be broadened beyond a narrow economic focus. The broader
definition saw the relationship between such issues as education, health, nutrition,
housing, and social welfare and the terms "comprehensive" and "integrative"
approaches to development became more evident. The World Bank emphasises
that this comprehensive approach to development underlines the significance of
education in three interrelated ways.
• As a basic human need. People need education to acquire a broad base of
knowledge, attitudes, values and skills on which they can build in later life, even
if they do not receive further formal instruction. Such education provides people
with the potential to learn, to respond to new opportunity, to adjust to social and
cultural changes, and to participate in political, cultural and social activities.
• As a means of meeting other basic needs. Education influences and is in turn
influenced by access to other basic needs, such as adequate nutrition, safe
drinking water, health services and shelter.
• The third way is as an activity that sustains and accelerates overall development
which includes, prepares and trains skilled workers at all levels, facilitating the
advancement of knowledge, concern for the management of the environment,
and transforming the relationship between the individual and society.
The educational component of voluntary actions is vital to the success of such
programmes which is sometimes overlooked or underestimated. Those involved in
community programmes through non-government, non-profit agencies are both
teachers as well as leaners.
Although the term "voluntary organisations" is still in use, the actual use of
volunteers varies among specific organisations. Even the kinds of tasks that
volunteers perform and the background of volunteers, many of whom are profes-
sionals, has changed greatly over the years. Caution is still raised about the potential
exploitive character of volunteerism, but organisations and volunteers themselves
seem to be aware of this. One can observe that the relationship of the volunteer and
the organisation takes on the characteristics of a "learning contract" between the
two parties. Volunteerism is still rationalised, in part, by its contribution to citizenship
and leadership development.
Stereotypes of the volunteer as being passive and uninformed have also changed,
recognising the volunteer as an important, sometimes an essential component of
the organisation, for example, as members of the board of directors. Volunteers
want a serious commitment in their participation. The new volunteer has much to
offer the field in developing innovative approaches to serving clients. Today's
volunteers are to be viewed as colleagues. "This new volunteer prefers to be seen
as an associate rather than an implementer of a programme." (Ironside, 1979-80)
MacNeil (1980) reinforces the point that it is the element of member commitment
which promises to make voluntary organisations important vehicles for adult learn-
ing. According to her, although the educational concerns of many voluntary organ-
isations are not always identifiable or even articulated, most organisations have
some educational purpose: for example, to inform the public about an issue, to
12 James A. Draper
develop leaders who will function in certain roles, or to present new technical
information to its members. Appropriate methodologies are important to both
teaching and learning situations.
In conclusion, it is argued that those volunteers who see themselves as practicing
adult educators are likely to be more effect in their work simply because they will
perceive themselves and those they work with as lifelong learners.
The Implications of Volunteers as Adult Educators
Just as the essence of adult education is learning, a major function of the volunteer
is learning and education.
Applying the Knowledge of Adult Education
Since all volunteer work involves varying degrees of human interaction, it is
important to perceive this interaction within the context of learning and education,
and being aware of the differences between the two. It is important to recognise that
unintentional learning and intentional learning (education) interact with each other
wherever human interaction occurs.
Frequently, learning is often thought of as being confined to the learning of
subject-matter. It is easy to be misled that only one domain occurs at a given time.
For instance, the volunteer might be involved in planning an educational programme
for rural women, but what is learnt is more than the subject-matter of planning. The
volunteer, and those with whom he/she works are using and improving communi-
cation skills; reflecting on whether or not they like what they are doing; altering their
values and attitudes about rural women or the people in the agency with whom they
It is easier for volunteers to identify with the field of adult education when that term
is used broadly and not, by definition, limited to a particular programme, content
area, or to particular methods of teaching and learning. Adult education refers to
any process in which adults are engaged in learning. The agency with which a
volunteer works, the programme in which he/she is involved, the client group, and
the methods used in carrying out this work, all fall within the broader meaning of
The breadth of adult education as a field of study (as a discipline) in turn can be
seen within the breadth of the social sciences. In the eyes volunteers, this legitimises
adult education and the theories and literature which it expounds, much of which is
based on research and systematised study. Many volunteers themselves have
backgrounds in one or more of the social sciences.
Even without having formally studied one of the social sciences, the average person
has had some experience with these sciences, for instance, education, political
science, economics, psychology or sociology. It is important to make this assump-
tion about the children, the men and the women with whom volunteers work. The
volunteers want their experiences and knowledge to be taken seriously. In turn, the
volunteers accept the experiences of those with whom they work seriously. The
volunteers treat others as they would want to be treated.
The Act of Volunteering 13
It is generally accepted that volunteers are no longer to be perceived as inexperi-
enced amateurs. In fact, many volunteers are professionals and can lend credibility
to the agency or the programme with which they are associated.
Adult educators acknowledge the interchanging roles between "teachers" and
"students". All persons involved in the process of a programme are (should be)
teaching and learning from each other. Each person has a self worth in the process.
Viewing themselves as adult educators, volunteers are encouraged to be clear
about the assumptions they make, about themselves and of others, as learners. If
the volunteers do not have faith in the ability of people to learn, in their wanting to
learn, and to take responsibility for their own learning, then how can they (volun-
teers), in good faith, work with others to assist them to grow, change, adapt, and
develop? The volunteers would not wish for less, when viewed by the agency with
whom they work as volunteers. The statement by the University Grants Commission,
that education is a lifelong human right has wide application.
Personal reflection is an important component of the work of the volunteer and all
others as well. People are involved in volunteer work not only for the purpose of
assisting others, but also because they expect to learn something from the experi-
ence. For example, a group of college students in Bombay met for a day to share
their volunteer work with each other. The typical approach would be to focus on the
programmes in which they were involved, the outcomes of these programmes and
the people they had assisted. To the credit of those organising the day of reflection,
the students were asked to reflect on themselves as learners, What had they learned
from the experience? Many of them commented on their change in attitude towards
people living in slums, for example, or the confidence they had acquired and the
skills they had learned as a result of undertaking survey research; or the knowledge
which they had gained as a result of the content of their volunteer work such as
learning more about nutrition and health. Such reflections can often be enhanced if
the volunteer maintains a learning journal. One can also think of the agreement
between an agency or a programme and the volunteer as a learning contract. That
is, where the agency agrees not just to use the services of the volunteer, but to
enhance the personal learning of the volunteer. The term "voluntary" implies the
outcome of self-determination and having the power to make a free choice.
The basic principles expounded by adult educators are applicable to other age
groups as well. Familiarity with these principles is essential to achieving effective
outcome of volunteer work. One of these principles is to treat people with dignity
and respect and to assist people in improving the concept they have of themselves
as learners. A few years ago, I met a number of engineering students in South India.
They were explaining that, as volunteers, they were going to organise adult literacy
classes in a local village and over a period of weeks, each student would take a turn
in instructing the class. I asked how they would feel if, in their college engineering
programme, they had a different professor at each session. My question seemed to
make a point. The students responded by saying that they would not like having a
series of different professors; they wanted the professor to know them as persons
and for this to happen, continuity was important. This illustrates one of the basic
principles and emphasises that the teaching of adults is not restricted to only one
14 James A. Draper
domain of learning. This illustrates one of the basic principles of adult education —
that continuity helps to create a supportive climate for learning.
Preparing Volunteers to Perform Unknown Tasks
Volunteers are to be encouraged to make their own judgement and develop their
critical thinking. What is learnt as a result of this process is transferable to other life
situations, including the development of communication skills within the family and
the community, the development of good citizenship and a variety of attitudes, skills
and content which comes from being a volunteer.
Volunteers can assist an agency in its extension function, for example, extension in
time (teaching programmes which are convenient to the people the agency is
attempting to serve) and in space (extending these programmes geographically to
make it convenient for people).
Collection of qualitative and quantitative data can also be an important learning
experience for the volunteers and others, since the outcome of research is to learn.
A basic assumption is that all people are capable of being involved in the entire
In adult education, an important philosophical distinction is made between the
"process" and the "product" of learning. To focus only on the product or intended
outcome of a programme or a project, may deter the participants from valuing the
process, or the learning journey which allows time for people to explore their
curiosity, interest and intuition, as one works towards the end goals of a programme.
In reality, there is no end, since learning is lifelong.
Volunteering should be an act of liberation and not an extension of one's oppression.
Volunteering is to be seen as part of one's transition and personal growth. The rich
and extensive field of adult education can help in perceiving and practicing the act
of volunteering as an act of learning.
"Learning about Learning", J. Draper and M.C. Taylor (Eds.)
Voices from the Literacy Field,
Toronto: Culture Concepts.
Bordia, A., J.R. Kidd and
Adult Education in India,
Bombay: Nachiketa Publications.
Botkin, J.W., M. Elmandjra and
No Limits to Learning: Bridging the Human Gap
(A Report to the
Club of Rome), Toronto: Pergamon Press.
"Voluntarism in Canadian Human Services", M.D. Nair, Robert C.
Hain and J.A. Draper (Eds.), Issues in Canadian Human Services,
Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
"Transforming Society: The Role of the Social Sciences in Adult
Education in India", The Indian Journal of Social Work,
Vol. 1, No.
Adult Education: A Focus for the Social Sciences in India,
Delhi: Indian Adult Education Association.
The Act of Volunteering 15
: "The Changing Face of Adult Education: Personal Reflections on
India", Indian Journal of Adult Education,
Vol. 52, Nos. 1 and 2.
: "The Dynamic Mandala of Adult Education", Indian Journal of
Vol. 53, 'No. 2.
: "Valuing What We Do As Practitioners", Barer-Stein and J.A.
Draper (Eds.), The Craft of Teaching Adults,
Faure, E., et al.
: Learning to Be
(The World of Education Today and Tomorrow),
: "The New Volunteer — An Important Resource in the Learning
Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall/Winter.
: Adult Education Programme in the University System
Level Consolidated Report 1978-91, Sponsored by the University
Grants Commission), Kurukshetra: Kurukshetra University.
: "Adult Education and Voluntary Organizations", Learning,
No. 2, Fall.
: Community Development: Learning and Action,
sity of Toronto Press.
: "Understanding Principles Guiding our Practice", J. Draper and
M.C. Taylor (Eds.), Voices from the Literacy Field,
University Grants Commission
: "Report of the UGC Working Group on Point No. 16 of the New
20-Point Programme of The Government of India", New Delhi:
: Education (Sector Policy Paper), Washington, DC: World Bank,