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A teaching toolkit to explain worker and social cooperatives in France

27 October 2015 [ English ] français ]

Raise your hand if you were taught about cooperatives in school? Until now, it was almost easier to discover them during your stay in kindergarten and primary school, with the school cooperatives, than during your higher education! Things progress slowly. In 2013, a framework agreement was signed between the French ministry of education and the ministry of social and solidarity economy (ESS) to increase awareness about social economy in schools. On the cooperative side, the results are quite low, school cooperation week excluded. This is why CG Scop, the French worker cooperative confederation, has decided to, this year, take the bulls by the horns and create educational tools and partnerships in order to make these type of enterprises known in middle school and high school.

Educational yet playful tools

“It is, in fact, a need to teach young people about the diversity of entrepreneurial models”, declares Jacques Cottereau, elected official in charge of training at CG Scop. “As soon as they learn more about the cooperative world, they are interested, because it answers to the aspirations of new generations, in the sense that it creates jobs with a meaning. Some many business models exist; each needs to be taught at school”. However, tools are needed to help teachers learn more about business status, because there is a good change that they have never come across that information during their time on the school benches either. It is for that reason that CG Scop has just put together an educational toolkit that includes animation units for kids and educational means for teachers. “We wanted to created detailed material, that was also playful”, continues Jacques Cottereau. “Cooperative life is never dull! The toolkit contains an animation picture, created by the cooperative Possum Interactive, as well as historical and economical documents, simple definitions and testimonies from cooperators”.

Created with the input of teachers

The teachers weren’t waiting around during the creating process of the educational toolkit. Lionel Ricaud, history, geography and civic education teacher at the Cité de Narbonne (Aude) middle school, used the first version of the toolkit last year in order to interest his 9th grade students in the world of cooperatives. “At first, they mostly think of agricultural cooperatives, very present in our region, through cooperatives they about learn values such as equality and solidarity and they wonder why aren’t all enterprises like that!” The initiative of this teacher took place a year ago in the framework of Parcours Avenir, a project by the national department of education that aims to raise awareness about the professional world all throughout middle school and high school. This year, he wanted to go even further, by even proposing improvements for the toolkit: “I prepared a quiz for my students last year, and it was included in the toolkit. I also thought that students could be responsive to video testimonies, another feature that has been added. I think that it is necessary to encourage educators to invite workers in their classrooms. It is my project for next year, with the cooperative La fabrique du Sud/La Belle Aude, an ice business bought out by its workers.”

This year, two classes of thirty students, were taught this topic for 2 hours. And Lionel Ricaud has even convinced two more of his colleagues to use the brand new educational toolkit, made with a mindset of open source, meaning you can pick elements and add others. “Students need to understand that the concept of democracy can be present in the workplace, and that workers can be actors of their own decisions or even that an enterprise can share its turnover. Explaining them that information in a concrete manner might make them keep that information in the back of their minds”, concludes the teacher.

Why not encourage the most motivated students to embark on a cooperative journey? It is one of the practices advocated in the education toolkit, but also has been a plausible scenario for several years now through mini cooperatives, the cooperative version of mini enterprises, promoted by the network Entreprendre pour apprendre (Act to learn). Part of the scholastic framework, they also greatly involve teachers. In Marcq-en-Baroeul (Nord), a year ago, at Jeannine Manuel middle school, twenty students all decided to create a mini cooperative, with the help and supervision of Maxime Dupire, an art teacher that formerly worked in the business world.

«For a year, we focused on the creation of a mini cooperative, a status chosen by the student because it was in line with their project of making butter sticks for breakfast. Each student gave 15 euros to make up the capital, which made them really commit to the project. It taught them autonomy in a collective framework. » Their mini cooperative initiative was awarded the first prize in the national Entreprendre pour apprendre (Act to learn) contest.

Discover the educational interface of cooperatives: www.les-scop.coop/interface-pedagogique

Eric Larpin for ’Participer’ magazine.