UNESCO-CCNGO/EFA seminar in the framework

of the Porto Alegre Forums


“Alternative Discourse in Education:

Towards New Notions of Quality to Promote Lifelong Learning

for Social Transformation”

21 January 2003




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 Porto Alegre?” We would like to hear an alternative discourse so that change occurs in schools, in our own schools. Most importantly, we would like to see a shift in the discourse of those who govern us. We are living in a world which does not give any possibility for the poorest to access an education of good quality and we would to look for solutions together, here and now, to be able to fight together for possible answers. I think this is the reason why we are here in Porto Alegre.

Our small group was very international since there was a lady from Zambia, a man from Thailand, a man from France and myself. We would like to highlight four points. The first thing that seemed important to us was that it is important to be here together because we are not approaching things from a theoretical level. It is not about discourses, it is about life. Being here and exchanging would help us to face our own attitudes towards one another and therefore this is related to the quality of our relationships with one another. One of us said “it is our business” to pay attention to what people learn. It is not possible not to feel involved in learning, for oneself, but also from others. It is a kind of moral obligation. A third point was: it is very important to learn not only in schools - of course the curriculum is important - but it is also very important to learn other capacities, to learn from life, skills for life. And our last point is that it is very important to develop in us, to cultivate in us, an attitude of sharing knowledge and know-how. It is very important to go outside our closed circles, this habit of being “just between us”. We have to open ourselves to giving what we can share and receiving what others can share. This attitude is especially important vis-à-vis poor populations, because often one thinks that they do not have much to give. Lastly, we stressed that it is also important to be critical towards knowledge shared by others. This means moving away from just receiving or transmitting information to engaging in constructive dialogue and sharing. Thank you.


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 India on the topic of “Unfolding Learning Societies”, so this is a little slideshow to give you a feel for the kinds of questions and issues raised when we are talking about alternative discourses in South Asia.

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.

This 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 the Centre 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 India, coordinator of Shikshantar: the Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development and finally there is Carol Medel Añonuevo from the Philippines who has wide experience in the area of gender equity. After our first round of interactions with the audience to highlight some of the main questions that we would like to discuss here, I would now like to request our panel members to start sharing their reflections on these issues, with a view towards continue our dialogue. Munir, please.


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 Britain, France, Germany and right now, of course, overriding all of these is the United States. At least in Europe there was some diversity between the Germans and the French and the British, but right now there is this uniformity of thinking which is very tragic. So, for example, I will take the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It means some twenty people in New York got together and decided, in my absence, what are my “rights”. In this situation, the only way really to regain my rights is not to tell them that I have a different Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but to say that no one really has the right to tell somebody: “I know your rights better than you”. This idea of somebody giving himself or herself this upper level, saying “I want to transform the world, I want to change the world” is a very, very inhuman idea. Right now, after having worked in education and society and all kinds of communities, I discovered that I can not change anyone. If I have ever have the power to change somebody, it means again that I am putting myself in a position where I am going to do harm to the person -- no matter how good my intentions are, no matter how “human-oriented” my plans are. I cannot change anyone, except only one person - myself. And I have been working at least for the past twenty years on changing myself. But it is important to note that I am not changing myself in isolation of others. I am changing myself in cooperation and interaction with others. Others are also, of course, changing themselves. By interaction, we are changing together.

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 Porto Alegre? I think it is initially a process of questioning the state of the world – a world that we cannot decipher or make sense of anymore. It is also a process of questioning the meaning of our own presence here, and I am talking here from an African point of view. During the first social forum, I used a concept that I call the rape of the imagination. What I mean is the following: what we suffer from the most in the South in general and, in Africa in particular, is from this rape of our imagination. This means that we are never able to say who we are, to situate ourselves in our own history because there is always somebody who knows for us, who decides for us, who wants to lead us where he thinks the desirable objective is – what the ideal society is. After the first social forum, I wrote a book on the subject, and it is clear that the debate is still on-going.

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 here in Porto Alegre. We do not necessarily belong to international or governmental institutions, even if today, at this session, we owe our presence here to UNESCO. What is most extraordinary is the solidarity, this conviviality, to counter the macabre path on which the world is walking.

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.

Manish Jain: I think I’ll also start with the title “Alternative Discourse in Education”. From the perspective of our work in India, as shown in the slide show, we would rephrase it slightly different, as “Alternative Discourses to Education.” I think this distinction between “in” and “to” is a very essential one for me, because to properly discuss education, we must understand the historical basis of how it has emerged and is situated within a certain paradigm of development. I think the starting point for this dialogue has to be questioning of various notions of development we continue to hold on to -- notions of development which are not our own, which have been imposed upon us, where the entire reference points come from a different place.

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 India, what continues to pull more and more communities into this violent and destructive process of globalisation is the unfulfilled promises of development – the dangling in front of us the promise that with this kind of development we will have greater equality, greater democracy, greater freedom, and so we keep chasing after this model of development. At the same time, this model of development has produced very unsustainable kinds of structures, institutions, even nations, which continue to exploit the entire world’s resources to feed their insatiable appetites. Unless we actually open ourselves to this kind of discourse of asking fundamental questions around development, I think that the perspectives of education will remain limited to within a certain framework. We won’t be able to get out of it.

I’ll give you an example from India. Many of you are familiar with Gandhi and the Indian freedom struggle. Gandhi and others, including people like Rabindranath Tagore, made an attempt to get out of this framework of development. They used a word called “swaraj” to articulate a different worldview. Swaraj can be translated as “rule over the self,” and this represents a very different framework for defining our individual and collective priorities – starting with actually trying to figure out what does it mean to have “rule over” the self and what is “the self” as well as also thinking about what are the processes for doing this so that our ends and means are consistent. I think that this notion of swaraj opens us up to a different framework of thinking about learning. In our work right now with Shikshantar, we are continuing to develop this idea of swaraj.

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 in the Philippines, I have been very conscious that women should learn about their rights, that women should discover themselves, that women should be able to talk about their sexuality, that women, most important, should be able to learn about power.

Now that I am working at the UNESCO Institute of Education in Germany, I am confronted with a different learning, because I am not in my own cultural context, I live outside my country. I’m confronted with learning about other cultures. And it is not so easy to learn a certain culture which is quite dominant. And I have my own background. The Philippines was colonized for 100 years by the Americans, in one way during that period, many Filipinos had to learn what it is to be a little brown American. And during my 10 years stay in Germany, I realize that there are other things that have to be learned…to learn as a woman, what it means to be an empowered woman, what it means to be in a society where you have different contexts, what it means to be a migrant woman in such a context. In the Philippines, we are saying that we are now 8 million Filipino migrants all over the world. I always tell my co-migrants that in one way I have a privileged migrant position because of my work situation. On the other hand, I also share the experience of confronting different cultures.

I think that as we are here in Porto Alegre, it is a moment of confronting cultures and learning from other cultures, and I think this is one important moment to try to interrogate each other about our cultures. So, for me, alternative learning means learning about other cultures, and it is not so easy to learn about other cultures. I think the challenge for these continuing conversations as we are dialoguing across different cultures is try to transcend our own dominant ways of thinking.

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.

I refer to a fishing village in the Ivory Coast, about 15-20 years ago. We entered into this village in the name of gender equality and empowering women. We observed what was going on for a few days, and we realized that women spent their whole nights smoking the fish and, during this time, the men slept. We thus concluded that the women were being overexploited, and that it was necessary to change this by talking to the women and other people in the village about their rights. A strange response came from the women because they could not understand what we were trying to do. They asked us: "what do you want to achieve with this project?" We said "we would like to improve your working conditions and your status in the community." Then, together with their men-folk, they came to see us and explained: "It is true that the women spend their whole nights to transform the fish, it is hard and long work." However, they explained that they could not transform and smoke the fish if the men did not go fishing. The men went fishing with dugouts and everyday they were confronted with death because there was a risk of the waves that made the dugouts capsize. So the main concern of the women was not the length or painfulness of their work, but the life of their husbands and sons which were in danger when they went fishing. They told us "While you think of the type of fish-smoking-room possibilities, can you also think about a new kind of boat that would prevent our husbands from dying?" We came prepared with an un-holistic project that targeted women only in a specific environment. But the reading that we had of their reality had nothing to do with what they were actually living. Moreover, concerning household budgets, there were pre-existing forms of solidarity and the women of the village did not even authorize us to look at the issue of their incomes.

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 example from India about this whole empowerment discourse that is going on within the framework of the modern-colonial, neo-colonial institutions. Its has actually disempowered people because it has reduced their option for resistance and for creation. It says that, as an empowered person, what you should do is to go and file your case in court, or you should go and sit on strike in front of the President’s office or the Collector’s office or something like that, or you should do a letter-writing campaign. But if we think about it, our notions of power have been actually reduced. This is a real problem because they are always defined in relation to a particular set of institutions.

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 India, we are still colonized. We are not free, because we continue to depend on these big institutions to define who we are -- institutions that are not in our hands. The logic behind those institutions, as long as they continue to exist, is actually spreading more violence and more destruction in the world today. So how do we actually transcend these to liberate ourselves from the framework of those institutions? This is not to say that we do not engage with those institutions, it is to say that we need to engage with them from a different place. We do not engage within their rules. We have to create our own rules. This is the kind of unlearning that I am really interested in. How do we start to create our own rules to redefine the terms of engagement? Otherwise, as you know, they have all the money, they have all the sophisticated language, they have everything, and we are not even able to see or understand what we have anymore. That is the problem.


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 Brest (France), we organized a forum where many representatives from Africa participated. All, without an exception, denounced globalisation, economic globalisation, as a new form of colonization. This is, to me, a fundamental goal – that we must all fight against globalisation. The second point, and it is connected to the first, is the battle for preserving cultural diversity. The day that the world culture will all be uniform, will be the day that the world will have died. Thus, this is a battle which we all share and that should be at the top of our agenda as one of our top priorities. It is a condition for fighting against the misery of the world.

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.

Africa gave the best of itself, because all this richness which has been accumulated on the scale of the planet is somehow owed to the slaves who gave their lives a long time ago. How is it that at the same time Africa is considered today as the most backward region of the world? And they look at Africa with total disdain, precisely because we did not fully obey what the Masters demanded from us? Yes, I challenge this school which re-establishes slavery through globalisation.


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 Boston, and Boston is like a zoo. There is the Hispanic neighbourhood, there is the black neighbourhood, there is the white neighbourhood, there is the Chinese neighbourhood, and actually there is no dialogue among them. To me this is not real diversity. This is diversity of, as I said, the kind that exists in a zoo.

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 School of Education by the senior faculty, because he was supporting, at the time, Nicaragua and Palestine.

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 West Bank, in Palestine, were closed for 4 years by Israel, so I was fortunate to live 4 years without schools. I don’t think any one of you as a community has had that privilege. That is you do not know what it means to live without schools. I do. They were closed completely. No schools, no university was open for 4 years. And what was really amazing is how much we learned and how much we did without them. Actually, we learned so much and we did so much that Israel had to put a law against teaching in neighbourhoods, and anyone who was caught teaching in a neighbourhood would be liable to ten years, up to ten years of imprisonment and having his home demolished. That is the price for really creating an alternative. So alternatives – it’s not that they don’t exist – but sometimes the presence of the school does not allow them to exist. And when the schools were closed down, we really flourished as a community. We did a lot and we really were surprised how much we were able to do when our institutions and our professionals were paralysed. People rose up. Many of the things that we thought were impossible happened. Israel actually had to go to two places to suppress this uprising of people, this ability of people to do things by themselves. One was the PLO. They asked the PLO to come and they would give them authority to suppress the ability of people to run their own affairs. Second, it happened in terms of controlling mosques, because mosques became very social organizations (by the way I’m not a Muslim, I am a Christian). I really witnessed that the mosques in Palestine were transformed almost immediately into social open spaces, not institutions. They were spaces that were open for people to do anything. Churches did not, were not able to take that up.

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.


Manish 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 what, in India, is unfulfilled from the freedom struggle. Our own articulations are missing. It’s not that we are giving up something, but can we articulate it from a different set of vantage points, a different set of reference points, a different worldview? That’s the point. My question is, to you, “What does it really mean when we say we wish to create another world?” That question is what attracted me to this place, this forum. What does it mean to each of us to create another world? And, with that question, there are two questions I would like to share to elaborate this.

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 India, I can point to you three very strong examples of where that learning is very alive today. In the issue of water, in the issue of health, in the issue of food, there are many things we are learning from illiterates. There are other knowledge systems that exist which provide us glimpses to another world.

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 Brazil, I know there’s a whole, huge community in the Amazon talking about this. These people are all illiterates! And the whole education system has written them off for the last fifty years!

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 India is that people are polluting this knowledge: they are taking medicinal plants, they are pulling out the techniques, but they are losing the worldview which keeps regenerating and creating those techniques. So, what is the other world, what are the other worlds? Schooling has a value in some communities. But schooling has done nothing to regenerate those other ways of knowing, those other knowledge systems. Schooling has no concept of those other knowledge systems! It doesn’t have any concept of the languages and contexts in which those knowledge systems are produced! So, the question is: What are those knowledge systems? How do we actually tap into these without destroying them? How do we actually learn from these other knowledge systems? Are we open to actually explore that? Otherwise, this whole business of “another world” does not mean very much.

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 India, if you are given an exam question, and you write an answer based on your own experiences that it doesn’t match the answer in the textbook, you’re wrong. You’re wrong! So, where is your personal value then in creating this other world? What are the limitations of the textual mind that we have, and how do we start to get out of that? How do we start to find our own expressions? How do we start to create, taping into our wide range, wide base of experiences? The whole problem with schooling is it devalues those experiences. Only the things you get in the formal classroom are the things that are called “valuable learning”! How do we actually start to validate the learning we have in life? Are the experiences that we have to articulate, are the experiences we have to share, are the experiences that we are going to generate our own stories with, going to help us create these other worlds? These are some of the questions that I'm struggling with in my own work and interested in exploring more deeply with all of you.


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 America where the leaders say we are waging a war against terrorists, let us be united so let’s not question, let’s not have dissent. But slowly, I think, and it is the women’s movement, the feminists who have raised this issue, that if you want to change things, you just do not talk about structures. Power is not only about economic structures, about the State structures. It is also about ourselves and our relationships with others, it is also about our relationship at the intimate level, it’s about relationships with our body. So, through the years, the strategies were directed at dismantling structures- and this way of changing has shaped my understanding of how alternatives could come about. But I think through the years, as I encounter other social movements, as I encounter other cultures, I have been faced with another alternative.

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 Porto Alegre, people ask us, in what direction we should go so that each of us can have a better life, both at our own community level and elsewhere? One of the values to be promoted is certainly simplicity, but how to be more temperate? Why do the powerful ones of this world — who know perfectly well that humanity is in danger because of their predatory behaviours — not manage to show a sense of responsibility or wisdom? Because they are afraid to lose what they gained or to renounce what they could have?

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 United States with the rest of the world. Their needs, in terms of energy supply, cannot be challenged, so much so that they can justify more slaughter elsewhere.

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?

Today, my country is seen as “poor”, but from my perspective it is not poor at all. Mali is not poor – it was declared poor precisely because we have had leaders aspiring to development models, which force us to borrow to buy what we do not own. Thus, the South spends its time today repaying debts for choices that do not make sense, choices that depend on external expertise and production. We want to be rich, but to be rich means following the example of others. Each one among us would like to be able to consume like somebody of the United States or France. The result is an enormous frustration. This reality is linked not only with over-indebtedness but with migration issues. Why do so many people leave? We leave because we can no longer satisfy ourselves with what we are, with what we know how to do by ourselves. However, locally, there are answers that are humanly, socially and ecologically valid.

Africa is trapped because it has locked itself in a production process, which is based on responding to the demands of the West. The cotton that we produce, we do not transform it; we export it. The coffee? We export it. This means that the fertile water and soils are devoted to production that fulfils foreign demands but does not feed Africa. These are essential questions, and alternatives exist. It is not because we are re-examining all these issues that solutions do not exist. There are plenty of solutions which have been documented but nobody wants to take account of them because they do not satisfy elites of North and elites of the South (because the South also suffer from its own elite).What we are saying when we talk about these liberating alternatives is addressed to the people. I believe that anchoring these processes of transformation in the compost of our cultures can initially benefit the most marginalized among us.


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 Latin America. For me, I think this is an example of how women all over the world can learn from each other, and it’s a pedagogy which has evolved through interacting with each other, knowing that we can not just say let’s be critical about our governments, but concretely, how can we be critical about our governments. In this Education Watch Project of REPEM, they have managed to make governments accountable by first looking at the situations in their countries: what is happening as far as adult education is concerned, how are women participating in adult-education classes, how are women given leadership positions in adult education. And this, for me, is a very important international project which is able to demonstrate that when women coming from their own national experiences can share at the international level the many diverse situations of different women from Asia, Africa and Latin America, one can have an effective tool - in fact a pedagogy - where I am learning about my government, I am learning about how to make my State accountable, my government accountable, and not just criticising without giving alternatives. I think this is one constructive way of changing, by saying, “Okay, let’s see what is an alternative,” and this is what we present to the government and use it as an educational tool to see how we can build other alternatives. This is a very important example of how an international network has managed to develop its own pedagogy based on its situation. I think it is crucial that pedagogy has to be based in context. It is important I think, to be able to see the range of experiences that we have and learn from these experiences.


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 India, we have been beaten on the head to act, act, act, act, and the time to actually dialogue and think and create and act together is not there. The second thing about dialogue, that you can learn from children, is how dialogue emerges. Genuine dialogue emerges out of active and honest engagement of the head, the heart and the hands. That is what we learn from children, which we do not have in academia and schooling (which fragment all of those things). So, a dialogue which is based on this active engagement with the head, the heart and the hands is a dialogue which is about questioning, it is about feeling and it is about doing. How do we start to generate that kind of dialogue? The third is a dialogue that is based on inter-generational relationships. It’s not only about children learning alone with each other (or just youths, or adults). I also happen to live with my grandmother. So, there is a different level, a different kind of dialogue that happens when the inter-generational dimension comes in. Somebody was raising the question of family earlier, but many of these opportunities for inter-generational conversations have actually been lost. The dialogue that used to happen around many kinds of community spaces has been systematically taken away from us.

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.