What Is the Relationship between Community Development and Education?

Terry Masters

Education is often a key component of a community development plan. The rate of educational attainment is typically used as an economic indicator to judge the effectiveness of redevelopment efforts. Most theorists think community development and education proceed in lockstep, and are strongly related.

Child development is a form of community development theory.
Child development is a form of community development theory.

Community development is a process designed to empower the people in a targeted geographical area with the knowledge, skills and motivation to improve their surrounding environment and economic circumstances. It is a transformational approach to change that concentrates on creating embedded competencies, rather than just giving people a handout. The underlying philosophy that drives community development efforts spans many disciples, including such areas as education, job training, housing and child care.

A school is often one of the first things built to assist an impoverished people.
A school is often one of the first things built to assist an impoverished people.

The basic building block of community development, however, is education. Community development and education have perhaps the closest correlation of any of the other possible areas of change. When international development agencies go into impoverished areas, the first thing they do to begin the process of community development is to open a school. The average level of educational attainment typically determines a community's income potential and directly affects the quality of life.

Governments, nonprofit organizations and international development agencies invest community development money and other resources in targeted areas according to a plan that may be implemented over a number of years. The plan is often structured in a way that brings the residents of the area into the planning process. Ultimately, the plan is considered a success if the residents of the area are able to eventually manage the process of community change themselves. This idea of a sustainable approach to development where the community itself takes ownership of the process is one of the key reasons community development and education are so entwined.

Education under a community development plan will often take two forms. The program managers work to improve the educational system for children and youth so the economic statistics that track educational attainment will experience some improvement. So money and resources are targeted towards academic areas, such as literacy programs, mentoring and after school tutoring. Then, resources will also be allocated to teach people how to advocate for themselves. Workshops and seminars on social activism are made available, and the community is educated on the scope and consequences of issues of concern to their community.

The community development paradigm is used at the local level in developed countries and when doing international relief work in underdeveloped countries. Some of the typical components may be different in the two settings. For instance, international community development often has a component that works to ensure the community has a stable source of clean water, but this is rarely an issue in development countries. The correlation between community development and education holds true, however, despite the differences in the locales.

Community members may rally around local youth sports teams.
Community members may rally around local youth sports teams.

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