UNESCO-CCNGO/EFA seminar in the framework
“Alternative Discourse in Education:
Towards New Notions of Quality to Promote Lifelong Learning
for Social Transformation”
TRANSCRIPTION OF THE DEBATES IN ENGLISH
Carlos Zarco Mera: Good evening, welcome. We are here tonight to try and construct a space for collective reflection. To start this, we will try to know who we are here and where we are coming from. [People from different regions raise their hands.] It seems that we have a full house. We are not the United Nations but we are individuals from diverse nations who are in the process of interaction. We are going to try to host this reflection in a different way because the subject of this seminar, is there [point to the poster on the wall] written in big letters as you can see: “Alternative discourse in education: towards new visions of quality to promote lifelong learning for the social transformation". The person who can memorize and repeat this title by heart will receive an award!
The idea is that we do not only want to talk about alternative discourse in education, but we want to try here, between all of us, to find new ways and formats to also construct this knowledge, this discourse and these ideas for social transformation. Because all of us, we want a critical education, a liberating education, an education for social transformation. This is the reason why we would like to request you to take some time for brief exchanges with the person seated next to you. There may be some language difficulties…but it seems that there already are language groupings. You are requested to discuss the following question: “Why we are here to reflect on an alternative discourse on quality and education for social transformation? What is the need to do so?” Your active involvement is important because a central principle in alternative discourses is that we are all intellectuals, that we are all specialists in life. Nobody can say I know everything and you know nothing, we all know something.
Therefore, we will initiate the first part of the dialogue with a reflection between the specialists of life, that is, every one of us. The suggestion, then, is to interact about the main questions you have regarding tonight’s proposed theme. You, who are the specialists in life, education practices and social organization, what are your experiences and what questions do you face? Unfortunately, we will not be able to listen to all of us because it is just not logistically possible. However, we will request that three or four people come forward to share with us the results of their interaction, one or two key ideas please. Our colleagues here on the panel will also interact quickly on the main ideas that they want to share to begin this collective reflection. [Discussion begins amongst the audience members.]
Good. We are now ready for the first round of interaction and we would like to invite three or four people to come up and take the microphone to very briefly share one or two of the questions that they discussed with their neighbours.
Woman in Portuguese : One of our concerns is how to guarantee that learning is central to what is going on in the classroom? How to keep children interested in learning? This is the core of the problem. We will not see any social transformation if we do not guarantee that the learning that occurs evolves from the commitment of children to constructing knowledge for the common good. My main preoccupation today is the corruption of learning in the classroom.
Huguette Redegled : The question that we discussed was the
following: “Why are we here, in
Our small group
was very international since there was a lady from
Carlos Zarco Mera : Thank you. Before hearing from our panelists, we are going to watch a short slideshow presentation that our friend Manish from India would like to share with us.
Manish Jain : Just to help set the mood for the evening,
we had a conference last month in
Manish Jain shows the slides
Carlos Zarco Mera: Good, this gives us a first glance at possible interactions around learning. One of the issues raised is to question the underlying assumption behind our habit of looking for quick answers instead of looking for deeper questions. In this sense, we would like to use this time to explore questions together – and at the same time why not some answers, but in a particular way, that is the essence of unlearning and learning.
dialogue is organized by the UNESCO and several NGO networks involved in the
UNESCO partnership mechanism called the Collective Consultation of NGOs. This
includes networks from Asia, the Arab Region, Africa and Latin America. It is
in this international spirit that we have invited some personalities that have
a wide variety of experiences in the field of education. To my left is Munir
Fasheh, of Palestine, the director of the Arab Education Forum and professor at
for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. Next to him, is our colleague Aminata Traoré psycho-sociologist working with a
very interesting initiative called the African Initiative for Ethics and
Aesthetics. On the other side, we have Manish Jain from
Munir Fasheh: First, I have a comment on the title “alternative discourse in education”. We fall into the same logic if we try to find a discourse which is universal. So the question here is not if we are finding a discourse or not, but it is about regaining something very fundamental -- which is the ability of every human being to make sense of the world. This is for me one of the most important characteristics of what we call a human being. It is the ability to create meaning, to form meaning, and I think this is where I have a big problem with schools because they wipe out that ability totally.
In schools, the
meanings are given in the curriculum, the words are given in books, and all the
answers are given as ready answers. So, we, as creators of meaning (I do not
like the word “creators” as much as “co-authors” of meaning), author meanings
together. Notice that the word author comes from authority, which means once
you author the meaning, you have authority over others. So the only way I can
deal with this is if every one of us is an author of meaning. And I think this
is one of the ideas that I would like actually to talk about in this meeting
and emphasize, because during the past two days in our sessions, amidst almost
all the words that were used - maybe there was some words that I missed - I did
not heard a word that was not originated in Western countries. And I mean by
Western countries mainly
At that point, I would like to introduce a word from Arabic, because I think it’s a beautiful concept, and again it is about putting our own words and our own meanings. I think Portuguese may have some similarity with Arabic in the sense that every word in Arabic has a root. There is no word in Arabic to mean “an individual”, in the sense of separate from history, separate from the society, etc. Now, the word for “dialogue” in Arabic is “tanakosh”. “Tanakosh” comes from a root in Arabic, which is the same as “chiselling a stone”. Now when you chisel a stone, in a sense, you form some shape out of the stone that you make into a statue or something else. In Arabic, when we discuss, the meaning is to “chisel each other’s minds”, to “chisel each other’s souls”, to “chisel each other’s hearts” -- which means I make you a little bit more beautiful, and you make me a little bit more beautiful. It doesn’t mean that I want to change your point of view with my point of view. Nor does it mean that I do discuss with you only so that one of us will win. Rather, the purpose of our discussion (according to the root meaning of the word), is to try to come out of the discussion a little bit more beautiful as people. I think that this idea is totally different from the current debates and current dialogues where eventually there is a winner and there is a loser, or there is somebody who has really better arguments, etc.
I will stop probably here, and then will pick up again, but this idea is to bring in our own words, looking at ourselves. Whether we are two years old or eighty years old, we are constantly creating meaning. We should not ever lose sight of this very important fact and how we can introduce it in anything that we call learning or in any activity of life. There are several examples, but I will give just these two examples. “Human rights” is a universal concept that killed diversity, pluralism and killed the dignity of human beings in almost all societies except Western society. In a different way, it may have killed it in Western society, but I don’t want to talk about it as if I am representing the West. I'm talking about representing my own experience in my own country, and I feel that I can see it everyday – the dominant concept of human rights has actually robbed me of many of my rights.
Aminata Traoré : I will start with where Munir ended, that is, with the question of meaning. What is
the meaning of our presence here in
At the same time, the
current state of the world also gives us this new possibility for a level of
conviviality that we have not experienced before. I think it is fabulous for the
history of human kind. For the first time, thousands of people are gathering
Because it is obvious
that the entire system is wired and it is based on pure madness – precisely
because the interaction with the Other started and
continues to be carried out with violence. This interaction is on-going, and it
is imposed upon us. We do not have any control over this form of interaction.
It has been declared that it is the age of globalisation, but one needs to add
that it is a neo-liberal and mercantile kind of globalisation. As soon as we
say globalisation, at least in some parts of the world, we are under the
impression – and this is what has always been fed to us - that we are
second-class human beings, backwards people, until we follow the path of those
who dominate (the winners of the Cold War and other conquerors of the past
Therefore, the challenge today is to understand the destructiveness of this path, which has two dimensions. First, it is destroying the human being at the level of the mind – in our capacity to imagine who we are. Second, it is destroying our capacity to imagine our place in the world, our relationship with the Other. This form of symbolic violence goes hand in hand with economic, material and military violence. If you do not comply with how you are told to behave, then you will have a war launched against you. It is this unbearable reality which we should question today.
So now, how to reinvest in the human being, how to reconstruct our humanity? I believe that it is this challenge before us today. How to rebuild the human being, invest in him/her with a view to help reconcile him with himself and with the Other? Because they succeeded in inculcating hatred in us through competition. What shall we do after all this brainwashing – that we cannot exist without competing, country against country? Even inside our countries, unfortunately, social systems are completely demolished because, within families, within households, people have the impression that they can only exist through competition; they need to constantly be above the Other. Because education today is above all concerned with teaching you to be the enemy of the Other. Then, how to break free from this form of training? How can we escape this kind of learning? How to de-link us from this school which deforms and dehumanises? How to get away from this school, which makes that you feel that you cannot exist if you cannot consume?
Now, if we are talking about alternative discourse, this discourse should be defined in the framework of the current state of the world: a world in which we do not recognise ourselves anymore. Thus, the other possible world that we are asserting here should start with revisiting learning and education. We need to delve deep into our inner selves, in our memories, our inheritance, to reclaim these “know-how” and these “know-to-be” that enabled us to exist, to resist until now. This is what is being destroyed through the media, through hegemonic thinking. And when these fail, then military violence is used. So now, even if we refuse the war, they still will impose it on us.
Jain: I think I’ll also start with the title “Alternative Discourse in
Education”. From the perspective of our work in
So if we are to actually talk about “Alternative
Discourses to Education,” it means
that we’re opening ourselves up to a whole set of different kinds of questions:
questions around nationalism, national identity, national boundaries; questions
around an industrial, military paradigm of growth; questions around what it
means to be modern, what it means to be civilized, what does progress mean. I
think these are the kinds of core questions that are confronting us today and,
unless we ask these kinds of questions, the trap of globalisation is going to
get worse. In
I’ll give you an example from
I believe that the central question in facing us today then is: What does it mean to reclaim control over our own learning? Institutions of education have taken that control from us; they define it for us all the time. But I think that we can learn without the experts to always tell us how. When we hear this idea of co-authoring meaning, or this idea of regenerating our imagination, I would say that reclaiming control over our own learning is essential step.
For us, part of that process starts with what we call “unlearning”. Unlearning certain mental frameworks we’ve been conditioned by – mental models, narratives and assumptions about who we are, what our future is, what our past is, what our problems are, what our potentials are. Unlearning certain fears we have, unlearning that there are no alternatives, unlearning stereotypes about our neighbours and about the Other. This process of unlearning is very important, I think, when we are talking about alternatives to education, and it is something that we have been doing a lot of research on recently. The most interesting (and provocative) thing that we have found so far is that there can be no curriculum for unlearning. This raises the question, then: What are we talking about when we say unlearning is necessary? If we’re trying to think of another world, or other worlds, then we have to unlearn the worldview of education that we have all been indoctrinated in. The problem is that there can be no curriculum for doing that. So what do we do?
Carlos Zarco Mera: It could be an interesting task to try and elaborate a curriculum for unlearning….Now, I would like to invite to Carol to share her initial reflections with us.
Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo : First of all, let me start by telling you my story. I come from four generations of teachers. My grandmother, an elementary school graduate was already a teacher during American colonization in my country. My mother was a high school science teacher while I used to be a university teacher of sociology and my eldest daughter is now a lecturer in the university in my country as well. So in a way I have been exposed to the different ways of learning in these four generations and these have shaped my understanding and my practice of teaching and learning..
When I was teaching, I always started my class by
saying, “I will not teach but instead provide an environment for learning.” As
for me, the essence of teaching was to provide an environment for learning.
Through the years, I have slowly deconstructed this idea provide an environment
for because now I think, one also has to contend with the questions of, “What
is learning, what are we learning, and what should we learning about? I think
that Munir, Manish and Aminata have all raised these
questions and maybe let me give some of my reflections on the question, What should we be learning? Coming from the women’s movement
Now that I am working at the UNESCO Institute of
I think that as we are here in
Carlos Zarco Mera: Thank you very much Carol. In our discussions around alternative discourses, there is indeed this idea that for education to play a liberating role, we all need to go through a critical self-reflection process vis-à-vis the values that we have been taught. This is what happened in Palestine, when Munir talked about co-authors. And in the case of Palestine this is not simply a word or a metaphor. This is what starts to happen when Aminata speaks from Africa and says, "they colonized to us and so we spoke French. Now, we want to think differently about that language, with which they colonized our minds." When Manish asks, "what is development, what are the main concepts that we have inherited in education and what is their real meaning and agenda?” When Munir says, “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by 20 people in New York but still claims to be universal.” And when Carol shares her experiences about the meaning of being a woman, teacher and immigrant engaging in intercultural dialogue.
In this complex debate, I would like to ask a question. In the field of popular education or alternative education, we talk about empowering people. It is a statement that is always present when we talk about our practices. We say that that we want to empower women, to empower the poor, to empower the young people. I would like to invite our participants to share their reflections regarding this word “empowerment”.
Munir Fasheh: For me, the word “empowerment” is another one of the words that I feel is part of the problem. Whether we talk about “educating others” or “empowering others” or “saving others” or “helping others”, it always out of a relationship of somebody who knows more and who is actually treating the other as “less”, instead of putting enough effort to understand and to realize what the other has. And this is really where unlearning comes in. The person who helped me unlearn a lot of what I had learned or what I was educated in through schools and universities was my mother who was illiterate. I was “educated”, my mother was not and did not have any of my symbols. I somehow thought that she was ignorant and that she always needed somebody to tell her how to do things. But all of a sudden something really clicked in my mind, and I discovered, and I’m still discovering (she died in 1984) not only how much she had that I can understand, but how much she had that I can not even understand.
I have a doctorate in “education” and she had zero “education”. The environment that she created for me and my sisters at home – she and my father – is something that I couldn’t create for my children. I have a doctorate in education, but I couldn’t, because the creation of an environment is not something that you can do just from reading books. It is something that you learn from life through so many different ways. One of the ways that have been wiped out in education is wisdom. And wisdom has been locked in jail since Descartes declared that somehow thinking is above life, is above existence: “we think, therefore we exist,” instead of “we exist, therefore we think”. His statement is a very strange of perceiving the world; and for me, that was one of the problems that I had to unlearn with the help of my mother. Because her thinking and her life were so much a part of each other that you could not even separate them. For me, things were separated. I studied mathematics, and I taught mathematics at every level for a long time, and then I discovered – and this is the story of my mother – that my mother really had an understanding of mathematics totally different and really superior in every sense to my understanding of mathematics.
So, back to the word “empowerment”… When they talk about “women’s empowerment” or “empowering women”, I say: Who would really empower whom? I couldn’t empower my mother in any way, in any sense, while she empowered me for the past thirty years while I have been really trying to rethink education and development and the whole process that is called progress. This idea that somebody has the right and authority to know what is good for another is, I think, the seed of dehumanising the other. It is the seed that we really have to unlearn to regain our humanity. I will probably give my mother something, but she gives me other things. This is not decided by who has a higher degree, who has a higher rank, but actually by our relationship to our environment. Her relationship to life and her relationship to her surroundings and to her culture was almost organic. For me, my relationship to my surroundings was always through words – they really control (and limit) my whole understanding. This is very problematic for me.
Carlos Zarco Mera: Without a doubt, women’s movements around the world are clearly actors in education. They are helping us to unlearn many things, to question many other things. Carol, drawing from your experience in the women’s movement, could you also share what you think about the subject of power and empowerment?
Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo: Of course “empowerment” is a very slippery term. The World Bank uses the word “empowerment”. The private sector and big business use the word “empowerment”, and so a big question among women’s groups, among the women’s movement is should we use the word “power” at all? On the other hand, we also say that there are different kinds of power which we have to learn and to appropriate. This would be the “power to” which means the capacity to change, the capacity to become an agent of one’s life. And this is what women have been trying to learn. For many years, for many decades, for thousands of years, they have learned that they are properties of men – that what men want to do they can do to women, they can violate women, they can rape women. Many women still have to realize that they have within them their own capacities to change such situations.
Another kind of power is “power with”. It means that women and men can work together, and if they are able to work together towards certain goals, realizing at the same time that there can also be conflicts between women and men, “power with” can be a viable force. Often, individual women think that they can do it on their own: “I’m a successful woman so I have arrived.” But what women’s movements, what groups are saying is that we have to work together, and working together can be very powerful. For us, it is very important to look at these different meanings of power. To be able to appropriate the term “empowerment”, one has to be critical about the root word “power”. Unfortunately, many groups do not look at the term “power” because it’s a very strong word. Many women do not want to talk about power, but I think this is one of the key words that women need to learn.
Aminata Traoré : In reference to the question about the significance of our presence here, I think that by participating here we are defying an extremely powerful system. But this process is also to challenge ourselves because the deconstruction of a system of thought – the questioning of entrenched concepts -- is shifting the whole architecture of our thinking regarding the meaning of development and co-operation. The main difficulty is at this level because starting from the very words we use dominant institutions continuously put on new clothes. Often these words do not have much meaning for the very people which they claim to help.
In addition, many initiatives claiming to think about the state of the world and to transform it, emanate from those institutions which, like the World Bank, are at the origin of the majority of people’s problems. The intervention of the World Bank to strengthen the capacities of women is a political curiosity for me because it is the Bank which inflicted, over the course of two decades -- in a unilateral way -- structural adjustment programmes onto our countries, without the large majority of the Africans knowing what was happening to them. Today what do they ask in the name of expenditure control? School fees for everyone, including the most marginalized. In the area of health, the same is happening. Any woman in my country can die while giving birth because she cannot pay 25,000 francs for a "kit." So, where is “empowerment” when the right to life is violated? There is a proverb which says "when the person seeking the needle is putting one’s foot on it, it becomes impossible to find." It is a travesty that the same institutions which declared a certain type of development -- and that have destroyed a good part of the world -- now claim to transform society by empowering women. And to follow Munir, I will give a concrete example.
refer to a fishing village in the
In North-South relationships, there is this cleavage between the feminist vision and gender perspective from the North. But this solidarity between women is also shaken when women from the South narrate this type of reality. Our friends and sisters from the North find it tough to accept sometimes when we say, "It may look difficult for us from the outside, but we would like to be able to think about certain solutions from within." I wanted to share this story to relate it with transformation and learning. The challenge before us is not only a challenge against the Dominant powers and the forces of money, but it is also a day-to-day challenge amongst us -- in our practices of solidarity, in our approach to development which sometimes does not match what people want for themselves.
Manish Jain : I think for me the
problem with the empowerment discourse is that it gets again framed within a
certain set of institutions, so we empower people within a certain framework.
And what happens as a result of that is a few things.
One is those is that institutions have defined power as a zero-sum game, so it
forces everybody to fight against each other for certain limited power within
the framework of those institutions. The other thing that happens is that our
own notions of power, and our ability to develop and
to generate different forms of power somehow gets reduced. I can give you an
When we talk about swaraj (I mentioned this idea earlier), the idea is that we start to create our own reference points – that we do talk about power but we talk about it in relation to a different set of possibilities, a different set of structures, a different set of assumptions, which are not always going to be within a framework of scarcity in which we have to always fight one another. There are also notions of power that stem from a worldview of abundance: power is there and I can actually share my power without losing anything in the process. The problem is that anybody today who thinks through the lenses of institutional frameworks thinks that they cannot share their power because they’re always doing calculations about “how I’m going to lose this or that”. Until we get out of those limited frameworks, I don’t think that we can actually really regenerate new possibilities, new worlds, new opportunities.
Carlos Zarco Mera: When we talk about alternative discourses, there is also the idea of expressing things through our bodies. We are going to try this now. Ok. Please raise your left hand up and down. Very good, now you must be getting a nice tingling feeling in your hand. With your right hand, make some horizontal movements like this. Ready? Good, now use your left hand and right hand together to try to coordinate both movements...historically. Is it difficult? [laughter]. Now, here’s another very simple exercise. Put one foot please up, and the other. Ok. Now, raise the hands above your head, stretch your two hands and try to touch the ceiling of the room...little by little...one is to touching the ceiling.. here we go, here we go! Very good, bravo!
Manish Jain: I just wanted to add one more point about this notion of empowerment, which I think is really critical to what we are talking about. It is the assumption that we need experts to come and empower us, some professionals to empower us. However, the idea of swaraj means that this search, this struggle for meaning, for generating one’s own power, has to come from a different place. It doesn’t come from experts who come and run training courses on empowerment, and tell us the latest theory from the West on empowerment. For example, these days, one thing I am very disturbed about is what is happening with the notion of creativity. There are now “creativity kits” which are packaged and sold to us by experts! Something that is so natural to our way of life, that permeates everything from our food to our clothes to our festivals. Why is it that we now need some professional to come and give us a course on creativity? I think this is where the trap starts.
I believe that today, in
Carlos Zarco Mera: In a short time, we have discussed the issues of culture, development, power, human rights, language, and the social and political realities of marginalization and colonization. These issues raise many challenges for learning and education. Several points of view have been shared, and we would like now to explore with you what ideas you have taken thus far from this dialogue and what questions have arisen within you. We would like to invite you to share these with the person next to you, or sitting behind and ahead of you. Please try to highlight a few points that you would like to stress in this debate. We would like you to reflect during these exchanges on new questions that emerged, with a view to go deeper into our collective reflections. A little later, we will ask two or three people to share some of their points with us.
Woman in Portuguese : Our group discussed that we all who are present here represent the privileged elite. But when you work at a grassroots level with children that have no education, no economic opportunities, etc., how can we give them hope, support, motivation and have an impact for changing the international situation? How to link this discourse with our teachers, in our regions, so that they can effectively believe in what we would like them to believe? How to foster change together with teachers and educators?
Woman in French: Really, I have to say that I did not want to speak with my neighbours…this is violence for me. I do not know, perhaps what you said is beyond my intellectual capacities. It is very symbolic. Say that I agree with you – that the school is a destructive institution, that everything is imposed upon us – but what are the alternatives? What are the solutions? Really, I have not been able to understand. Excuse me.
Claude Vercoutere : A
little more than one year ago in
However, there are a certain number of points that you raised with which I do not agree completely. When you denounce human rights, I can understand, but for me, human rights have been a part of my culture since the French revolution! You referred to your parents, but I remember my great-great grandparents who fought against oppression…then won, lost, and won again. In this perspective, human rights are very important and I hold on to it! However, I can agree that this is perhaps not good enough a reason to transmit this framework to the whole world, but still! It is true that today I feel very disturbed when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is held up in one hand while the other hand promotes "big business" and depends upon Dollars, Euros or Yens. I agree with those denouncing it, because it is a reality that the two are presented on the same level. So I show solidarity with this battle. At the same time, if I can understand that some cultures wish to refuse human rights, it is only with certain conditions – which are that those cultures do not oppress their people. I am aware that in societies recognising human rights there is oppression and misery, but there are also forms of oppression which affect the weakest, which affect women. Thus if one argue against human rights, one should at the same time specify what kinds of behaviours or conditions are absolutely unacceptable.
I would like to also to come back to another point, which is the rejection of schooling. I can understand that one condemns schooling… Nevertheless, if I owe a lot to my parents, I also owe a lot to the French public school. This, I will never disavow. I agree that this school does not function as I would wish it to function, and this is why I have fought for 30 years to transform it. And it is difficult. Why? Because one trains the teachers in didactics, but one does not give them genuine skills in the area of pedagogy to make them into genuine educators. Because, as it has already been underlined during the conference, one does not give them the means to do it. However, if the school is demolished, one leaves power to the rich, to those that were given everything in their cradle when they were born. I excuse myself. I am the son of a mechanic fitter. I learnt a lot from him, I have already said this. But it is also the school that made me who I am now today. And I do not agree that we should leave all power and possibilities only to these who were born with wealth in their cradle! Thank you.
Coumba Touré : First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks to this panel. It has been a very long time since I attended a panel like this one, where one really lets people participate in this way. I would really like to congratulate the people who organized this. My question, after having listened to you - because it has been really extraordinary to hear your ideas – is the following: After accepting that it is necessary to shift the paradigm, after accepting that schooling as it exists in our the communities is an oppressive if not sometimes criminal institution, after accepting many things that you have said, what happens when you face a power that is ready to eliminate you physically? Because when you want to shift the paradigm, when you refuse to follow the path that has been laid out for you (and not just limit yourself to proposing a petition or a law or something like that), when you decide to actually do things differently, then one goes beyond a certain boundary where one finds oneself facing people who are ready to kill. This has been happening for a very long time. Thus my question is: what does one do after all that?
Samir Jarrar: Thanks for opening the discussion. I had a big problem listening to you and if I didn’t know at least three of you very well, I would have done something foolish. I am bothered by the fact that what you’ve done here is you’ve put yourself in a trap. All we have done in the last hour and a half, roughly, is fallen in the same things we are trying to change. We give the word “empowerment” to the World Bank, and we gave other ideas to colonizers, and we made them the force that are looking over our life and forcing us. At a certain point in time, yes there was colonizers, and there still is globalisation. There is a World Bank and other institutions that are even worse in this world but if you are going to keep falling in their hands by spending all our energy trying to deconstruct them, we are not going to be able to help those that are growing now and looking for a better future. This discourse is very good at the intellectual level for a small group. Here, I’m afraid, as a member of the audience, it really made me feel that I have no hope whatsoever.
All these things are happening, but much of it we are doing to ourselves. Within a paradigm of education, I think the school too has failed totally in delivering what we want. Can anybody in this room tell me one country in the world that’s happy with its schooling system? Raise your hand! Nobody raises hand This proves the point. We are spending zillions of dollars on schooling with a certain curriculum, and all we have done over the last fifty years at least, that I’m aware of, is we are trying to find means and ways to make this thing that does not belong, this paradigm of education that does not belong, produce something that it was not designed to produce. So what we really need as an alternative is an alternative way of thinking towards what needs to be available for us to help our people learn.
This means we need to start looking for a positive rather than a negative. I don’t want to see “not what”, but the “yes of”. I don’t want to use my time saying no. I want to say yes to the alternatives, whatever the alternatives are. My thinking tells me that what we need is a group of visionaries who should revisit the paradigm of education and look at what the human being is going to be doing in the coming fifty years from now. They can call back the educators to develop the type of things that needs to be shared with the people to learn how to improve their living. They might find out that maybe 80% of what is in the school needs to stay there, but they might also find out that that much needs to be cut. Do we still need 16 years for human beings with a brain to get to the level that we can make a computer reach in a couple of hours?
Man in Spanish (26.9): In our group, we noted that we are now listening to several cultures and they are giving visions that are different that the ones that we normally hear. I do not know if this can be considered a new paradigm, but being open to the different cultures, and recognizing diversity is indeed a central subject. We reflected upon two main points: first, our friend from Palestine pointed out a very deep irony, "I am a doctor in education and my mother was illiterate. She gave us a home and a warm familiar atmosphere, but I am not able to give such an atmosphere in my home." That is a very radical critic, a very radical self-criticism indeed. If I relate it to my own environment and familiar images, I see that it is not lie. Because education is something that separates us from the reality. We are seeing very similar things in the poor sectors of society in which we work. We think it would be very useful to reflect a little more on this.
The second point on which we reflected was the issue of empowerment. We understood that our friends from Africa and India question this concept because coming from outside, it is a discourse from the World Bank. Our group agreed with that. Ideas and concepts should arise from the reality of each country. Our companion from Africa explained that women in her country want their reality to be respected and reject outsiders coming with ideas that do not correspond to their culture. We also agree with that. At the same time, we also agree with the point made by our friend from UNESCO in Germany about the necessity to talk and learn about power. We did not reach a conclusion but tried to contextualise the debate in our own context in Latin America. We try to defend our cultures, we try to generate local pedagogies building on the roots of our cultures, but we would like to explore in greater depth the links between these local processes and globalised processes because we see that these lines are not fixed. We think that it is a complex situation, and believe that it would be interesting to deepen our understanding of it.
Carlos Zarco Mera: Many of the questions that were raised during the exchanges are concerned with what does alternative mean. If we challenge and deconstruct the system, the current paradigms, then how to generate new dynamics? I would like to invite our panel members to share some ideas on this.
Aminata Traoré : The last speaker reassures me. If not, I would have had the impression that we wasted our time criticizing the World Bank and the institutions. I believe that we did not even speak sufficiently about these institutions, with regards to their capacity for doing harm in the world. We could have gone on further. Now, as far as alternatives are concerned, we cannot take about one alternative, but many alternatives. It has to be plural. I believe that our quest -- this quest that is going to be a long journey -- starts with questioning certainties. This is what we have done since the beginning of this dialogue. Because certainties consist in believing that there are teaching methods and pedagogies that are more or less good for everyone, and in believing that human beings are like receptacles which must fed by these in order to be able to adapt.
Both the force and the weakness of this type of forum stems from the plurality inherent in the world. We speak from different points of view, different life experiences. As far as I am concerned, I speak about my own experience of being dominated, on behalf of a people that has been dominated for more than five centuries, a people devastated by slavery, colonization, neo-colonization and globalisation. This is this experience that is familiar to me. This is what I would like to share when I talk about the type of education given to Africans -- an education which does not allow us to resolve our problems. This education system has primarily propagated a feeling amongst that we are somehow inferior human beings -- a belief that until you resemble the Dominant culture, you are nothing. Those individuals which betray their people are well-paid for it. Today, our leaders know this game better than anyone.
Reconsidering our certainties, revisiting them, saying that today we can construct only by drawing upon ourselves -- it is all a question of self-confidence. It is about children and adults learning together. This is the meaning of the question: how to regenerate the human being? This is what I said in my introduction. Today, if we are to assess education and lifelong learning vis-à-vis the current state of the world, I have to say that there is nothing to be proud of. We are at a stage where desacralization of life and vulgarisation of death is such that we must ask ourselves the question: What humanity is left within us? And that points us to the question: How do we re-link with culture? One participant was saying earlier that she does not understand. But I do not think that there is a ready-made package of alternatives which one can use -- life does not work like that. It is a process of questioning and the difficulties which emerge from this are tremendous. Maybe it is difficult for us to figure out what an education that re-invests in humanity might look like. And today, given the current power games at stake, where shall we find the necessary financial and logistical resources to re-anchor education with the human being? When Education itself is becoming an economic good? Because today, schools are looked at in the same way as bread and medicines, they are all marketable goods. And it is the children of the poor, precisely, who do not have right to this bread or, in any case, it is not bread of quality.
We are in the mercantilisation of the world, and we sold education a long time ago. I have a duty to address the central role of the World Bank in this process. There is no sovereignty in my country anymore -- it is the Bank who decides about everything for all and this is the reason why I have to challenge it. It is not for personal pleasure, it is because I do not have a choice. To answer the question of my sister Coumba: how to say this and maintain the right to live? Because the simple fact of denouncing it puts you in danger under our skies. Fortunately, our opportunity today lies precisely in this world social movement because the leaders, all the tyrants of the world, have begun to realize that somewhere a counter-power is building itself.
What is important today is to create, at the level of each country, a critical mass of citizens, of men and women who understand that transformation today is not done in the interests of present and future generations, but continues to be done on a path that leads us towards greater dispossession, a path of built on plundering. Today the richest countries -- which keep us in indebtedness, which are pressurizing us because we do not correct our budget deficits -- know that at the heart of their own territories, there are certain measures that they cannot take because if they do, all of their citizens will begin demonstrating in the streets. But in our countries there is no freedom of demonstration. So this poses serious problems. Today, we plead for our lives, the lives of our children.
Munir Fasheh: First, I would like to say how wonderful it
is to hear all these different points of views. That does not mean that I agree
with all of them, but I definitely feel that this really tells us a little bit
about where we can go into the future regarding education and other aspects:
having a space for all views to be presented, and for me this is the true
meaning of pluralism. I would like to use “pluralism” more than “cultural
diversity”, because it is possible to have cultural diversity in a zoo sense,
in the sense that we are all in cages, but we don’t talk to one another. We
have diversity in a zoo, but the animals in the different cages don’t talk with
each other. Right now I work in
The kind of diversity that I care about and that I really love is when I can listen to what others have to say but I am not forced by anybody to agree with them. First, I do not compare and second I do not measure. I do not really like to conclude that there is one view which is absolutely better than the other. I will go on believing what I believe in, but having the dialogue with others ongoing. This really leads a little bit towards pluralism, towards an alternative. A basic thing, in my opinion, for alternatives is to move away from universal thinking that has universal tools. All of us probably believe that what we believe in is universal. That’s not necessarily harmful, but it becomes harmful when I develop universal tools like education has done.
I’m not against schools for those who want them, but I’m against imposing them on those who do not want them. If you like schools, that’s fine. Build schools, send your children to schools, that’s fine. But don’t impose them on me. And I have the right to regain the taxes going to a central office that decides what my children have to learn. I have to have that option and have to have that demand – the demand for the means rather than the demand for a particular meaning or a particular way of doing things.
I got my doctorate from Harvard, and during the
period I was studying there three teachers were expelled. These teachers were
not expelled by a government. They were expelled by the senior faculty, and
they were expelled because these teachers actually made a lot of sense to
people like me, who come from outside, who really want people to think
differently. It was a professional, institutional act that expelled the three
teachers, and they were actually very, very good. One of them was the teacher
of Noam Chomsky. He was expelled from the
Now, I want to talk very specifically about an
alternative that I was involved in. In a sense, I was privileged because
schools in the
So when people ask, “What are the alternatives?”, what you are actually saying is, “Let’s again regain diversity in learning and talk about pluralism in living.” As I said, pluralism and trying to measure people according to a universal measure do not go together. So one thing we have to start to demand is to stop measuring people against one another, because there is no idea that I find more dehumanising, more degrading than grading people. If you reduce a human being into an A student, that is one of the worst things that you can do, even if that student is doing well on exams. Because by telling that student, “You are an “A” student,” that student becomes a slave to your words and to your measurements, and loses connection to his or her inner world, and control over the growth of his or her inner world.
There is another thing that I want to talk about that I learned – again because I was privileged to be in a place where institutions either did not exist or did not have a lot of resources. Because we did not have a lot of resources, we had to be very creative and very inventive. And I have several examples of this. I will give very quickly one example, and, if you are interested, I can give more. I was a science and math teacher, and we didn’t have laboratories, we didn’t have any of these things that usually are considered as part of teaching science and I said, “Let’s start clubs, science clubs and math clubs.” And the students asked, “What do we do? There is no lab, there is nothing. What can we do?” I said, “Science does not start with a lab. Science starts with a question that you have and you would like to pursue. So, let’s start, if there are 20 students, each one will come with a question. Then, they form a science club, and we move from there.” I asked, “Do you have flies in your classrooms, you know, the flies?” Of course, almost every classroom, especially in hot weather, has flies, every home has flies. I said, “Alright, if you really allow students to observe the flies, everything as much as possible about the flies, and bring together what they observe and compare. That will be the best curriculum for the learning and teaching of science.” So we have plenty of things. This is the concept of abundance that is, there is a lot we can use, but somehow we are made not to see it.
Jain: So many questions. One thing I will just say right away is a direct
response to the question about the discussion we were having on empowerment. I
was trying to articulate, and maybe this is again a cultural difference, but
there is a different notion of power, of sharing power, of growing power that
is in our culture, and it’s related to swaraj.
My point is: Can we start to create our own language, our own meaning, around
these kinds of terms, which has a different worldview? I think that this is
One is: What does it mean to create another world
that is neither driven by Western neo-liberalism nor dictated by Western
socialism? Is there another world or other worlds beyond these two worlds? This
is what I’m trying to explore, and with this exploration, my first question to
myself is: What can I learn from illiterates? This is what Munir
has raised, what Aminata has raised. What can I learn
from illiterates, in my quest to create other worlds? In
In the issue of water, we have a drought in my
state. None of the engineers in our state have any solutions that we can
afford. The solutions are coming from illiterates who have developed, over
thousands of years, indigenous ways of rainwater harvesting in the desert. Some
of our engineers, to their credit, have become open enough that they’re
actually going and trying to learn these ways. In terms of food, we are
experiencing today the devastating impacts of the Green Revolution -
fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Another world is emerging from those illiterates,
those illiterate farmers who have still retained control over their local
seeds, who have still retained knowledge about other ways of nurturing the
plants and soil, other ways of dealing with pests. The issue of health: today
everyone is aware of the rising costs of medical care. There is another world,
another way of knowing, which is linked to indigenous knowledge systems around
health, around medicinal plants. In
The question then comes: “If we recognize these as
valid knowledge systems, how do these knowledge systems actually regenerate
themselves?” Because what is happening in
The second question is in terms of our own
understanding of ourselves: What is our own role in
creating that other world? How does our own dependence on text, the creation of
textual minds – which is what schooling has done to us – limit us in our
articulation of other worlds? How does the fact that we have been totally
inculcated with dominant narratives around who we are, what our histories are,
what our stories are, prevent us from creating our own stories? How does that
prevent us from looking at our own experiences? Today in
Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo: I think the search for alternatives is a very difficult and complex process. I would like to share my personal experience in my search for alternatives, first in my personal life and second in my political life. I was raised in what one could call a militaristic atmosphere. As a military officer, my father would always tell us, when we were growing, that you should not question. You have to obey. At home, we were run like in a military school where we had to follow orders from my father. Because of the liberal atmosphere at the university and then as part of the political movement, I said to myself, “I would like not to raise my four daughters in this manner.” But, as I live my life, I realize that I will always have this past, an authoritarian past, a militaristic past within me, so every day is a struggle for me. Sometimes, I joke my friends that maybe it’s good that I’m living in Germany and my children are in the Philippines and I come to see them not so often because otherwise I might be teaching them in the same way that my father has taught me, in a militaristic and authoritarian atmosphere. So for me an alternative for parenting to be more democratic has been a very difficult process in my daily life.
And as I think about alternatives to education,
alternatives to learning, I also would like to share my movement experience in
my country. I think one of the criticisms raised vis-a-vis
this movement is that it has not been able to engender a certain critical
thinking, to question, because again, one was waging a people’s war. When you
have a war, you don’t question. This could also been seen in
It’s important to be self-reflexive; it’s important to question. But, on the other hand, one limitation of this, and this is maybe one criticism that has been raised, is that you just question and question and question, but when will you act, when will you change, when do you transform? And I think it’s important to question. Alternative learning, alternative education involves asking questions. As Manish was saying, perhaps it’s not enough to have the answers, what’s more important is what kind of questions. But, I think at the moment I’m not yet finished with my journey to what are the real alternatives. Slowly as I live, for example, in Germany, I appreciate my experience in Germany, not only encountering a different culture - and a dominant culture - but also to be able to have a dialogue, with my colleagues for example in the institute. At the same, I realize that questioning, constant questioning, can also be paralysing, because unless you move, unless you act, you will just be critical. You have to be active. For me, at this moment of my life, this is where I look at an alternative, to be a reflexive actor, to question, but to act, and not to be paralysed by continuously questioning concepts and discourses, but to realize what these concepts are, and, from there, act and transform and change.
Carlos Zarco Mera: As we approach the end of our dialogue, I would like to draw all of our attention to certain concepts that we often talk about in relation to the field of education, such as: pedagogies, didatics, learning, etc. In short, those series of words that we have learned or that are our reference points as education. I would like to invite you to share very concretely your experiences vis-à-vis these concepts. In reflecting on the consequences of our educational experiences, of the educational processes in which we have participated, what do you think of the idea of pedagogy? We often refer to liberation pedagogies, techniques and methods. What are your experiences and reflections concerning this?
Aminata Traoré : Before talking about pedagogy,
I would like to respond to one of the concerns raised. There is a young person
who shared a question about values. I think that it is important to stop and
reflect on this question because it is central. Today, we are victims of consumerism, a feeling of emptiness overcomes us when we
cannot acquire this or that. In fact, dispossession (about which we have been
speaking) also plays out on this level. There is a feeling that one cannot
exist without possessing. After each forum here in
The fundamental question
concerning education, perhaps, is related to this fight between “having” and
“being”. Do we really need to materially possess in order to feel alive? Or,
can one have the feeling of existence without that? I do not speak about useful
goods, but about futile goods: the gadgets. For many people, the purpose is not
for all human beings to simply live normally, but it is to have the maximum for
oneself. It is like this regarding the relationship of the
How to inculcate in our children the ability to ask questions of ourselves each time we consume? Are the actions that we carry out, the choices that we make, contributing to enrich those which are already rich, or are we able to do things differently? It is here that culture finds its place in this debate, as Munir mentioned. Can we take a path towards different, plural, but rich education systems that are full of the diversity of the cultures in which they are rooted?
my country is seen as “poor”, but from my perspective it is not poor at all.
Munir Fasheh: There’s an article from a friend from Mexico, Gustavo Esteva, who in response to “pedagogy of liberation”, says that we have to move away from pedagogy, because having a pedagogy means somebody that knows what is good for others develops techniques and means to train people. I would say that the question is not a different pedagogy as much as a different set of values, convictions, beliefs, perceptions and relationships. When I was working in the area of math, most teachers had difficulty every time I was saying: “There is no student, there is no person, who is not logical. Every person is logical.” They had difficulty with that, because for them there is only one logic, and that logic is basically a dominant logic. Instead of saying he or she embodies a different logic, we say they are illogical. This was one of the biggest problems that I had in my dialogues with teachers. Most of them did not really buy this - a different belief - which is that every child is logical. It is possible that we do not understand that logic, it is possible that we do not agree with the logic, but our labelling of the child as illogical is something that I do not agree with.
I also believe very strongly that every person is a source of knowledge. Every person is a source of understanding. Every person is a source of meaning. If we really practice this in our relationship with others, in particular with students, and look at students, children and others people with whom we do not agree as a source of a different kind of understanding the world, of relating to the world, then our relationship with the other is never up and down, it is always horizontal. It is always dialogical. It is always about chiselling each other’s minds. We do not have to agree, but we become better or more beautiful.
Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo: Maybe let me share a
pedagogy which has been used by women’s groups, and here I would like to refer
to my experience with the Gender Education Office (GEO) of the International
Council for Adult Education and REPEM, the Latin American Popular Educators
Women’s Network here in
Manish Jain: I just had a baby daughter, my first child, who is ten months old now. One thing I’ve been observing quite a bit and, not only observing but actively engaging in, is the process in which children learn from other children. I have been trying to understand what that is. When one actually starts to understand that, then this talk of pedagogy, as something that can be predicted and pre-planned, goes haywire and actually does not have much meaning. Because the simplicity of the process of children learning with other children, the spontaneity of it, the beauty of it, is something we need to try to understand when we think of another world.
I have been trying to place this within a larger framework to understand processes of dialogue. Carol’s point around questioning and paralysis is well taken, but that questioning she is referring to usually does not take place within a context of dialogue. That questioning takes place within a context or culture of debate. Without an underlying culture of dialogue, you are right, the questioning does not lead to any action, and this is probably the whole trap of post-modernism and deconstruction of the West, because it is not done within a culture of real dialogue.
When I try to understand where that culture of
dialogue can grow from, one point of reference is through watching children, to
explore how to create genuine dialogue. The problem is that, in this framework,
dialogue requires several different things. The first thing it requires is
time. During the last fifty years in
How do we actually create physical space which is conducive to the kind of dialogue that we need to have, because, you know, quite frankly this business of creating another world or alternatives, it doesn’t happen just like that. It requires continuous engagement and experimentation. I don’t feel like we have even begun to even understand what it means, when we use this word “alternative”. What does that really mean? I think that is the first question to raise: How do we actually create the space to even think about what alternatives really mean? Most of what we see in the development discourse, in the education discourse in the name of “alternatives” are not real alternatives. They remain within the same set of rules, within the same institutions, within the same game, within the same conceptual frameworks. For me, the idea of dialogue is essential, because it’s about listening, listening in a different way. It’s about even at times suspending our own beliefs, temporarily suspending them to actually understand what the other person has to say without immediately processing them through our own frameworks. We have in our cultures, in all of our cultures, many different forms of dialogue, and I think that we need to start to reclaim those forms, understand those forms, and bring those forms into other kinds of spaces.
Before we end, I would to apologize for this format, because this is not conducive to real dialogue. We are trying despite the constraints, but it is still not real dialogue. And so maybe the next time we meet we can try to think of a different kind of space, a different kind of time, a different kind of way of expressing ourselves, which might actually generate dialogue. Then, we can really talk about alternatives.
Carlos Zarco Mera: That’s good. I was thinking that perhaps the conference rooms of the future are going to be circular and that dialogue sessions are perhaps going to last four or five hours… Maybe, in the end, instead of asking ourselves what conclusions we have, we should be asking ourselves what questions emerged for us after this dialogue. It would be good if, while on our way back home, everyone could write down their questions and share them with all of us. Thank you very much for your participation. Thanks to Manish, Carol, Aminata and Munir and thanks to all of you.