Launching the Multiversity

Claude Alvares

A few months ago, at the request of Haji Mohamed Idris, President of the Third World Network, I prepared a brief note on the need to overthrow the present day "educational system," represented everywhere on the planet by the familiar structures of school and college. In most of our countries, it is considered normal (and even desirable) if children – commencing from the time they are two and a half years old, up to the time they reach the age of 21 – are kept for long periods of time every day within the walls of these institutions, under compulsion, and drilled to memorise things that are supposed to assist them when they become adults.

The note I prepared for Idris was hardly original: it reflected the feelings, anxieties, insights, convictions and conclusions of a fairly large group of scholars, teachers, intellectuals, humanists, educators, pupils and students – not just from Asia, Africa, Aotearoa and South America, but from the so-called high-income countries as well. Many of us felt we were being forced to spend the best part of our lives teaching or learning sterile, mostly borrowed material, bereft of life, cut off from reality. Worse, we were mechanically engaged in these tasks within institutions that were expressly set up decades ago to destroy our creativity and our identity; to make us to doubt our innate abilities to interact with our environment, to question our inherent sense of worth and, finally, to discard reliance on indigenous intellectual traditions, knowledge systems or cosmologies.

The present day educational system is not only an imposition (requiring mandatory attendance and compliance at every stage), but it also demands implicit allegiance to the homogenising values and objectives of State and Market. As such, it is a means of preparing the spirit of people to unquestioningly accept the presently entrenched model of development and globalisation even when the latter implies deeper entrapment and bondage. The educational system appears to be nothing more than a vast recruitment ground for a project of continuous colonisation that had commenced 500 years ago and is now being spread to even the remotest corners of the planet like a disease. Jalal Al Ahmad1 called it "occidentosis: the plague of the West": the urge to condition all children and young people to accept and conform to a perception of human beings that was profoundly anti-Nature, anthropocentric and individualistic to the point of being anti-social.

As a follow up to the note, Citizens International, a trust also headed by Idris, organised a meeting in Penang where the Multiversity Project2 was formally launched in February 2002 with one overt aim: to attempt to generate and support, in the place of the present "educational system," better, diverse and more effective learning opportunities that would stimulate, rather than suppress, the inherent creativity of human beings. If, during the processes unleashed by the Project, the influence of the present day ubiquitous education system is undermined, or if we are able to encourage large-scale or significant desertion from its ranks, so much the better for all the living species on this planet and also for the earth. As this issue of Vimukt Shiksha is dedicated to a continuing discussion on "Unfolding Learning Societies", it is the most apt place to introduce the Multiversity Project and what it seeks to accomplish in the coming decade.

 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Actually, if one looks at it closely, the idea of the Multiversity ought to have come five decades ago, when many of our countries achieved political independence. Either our leaders and intellectuals then were unprepared for the opportunity presented by the departure of those who had designed the colonial education systems, or they were affected by a massive failure of nerve. Many perhaps did not even recognise the opportunity when it dropped in their laps, despite the fact that there were people in their midst who made strong, vocal critiques of the inherited, colonial system of schooling. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, railed against it on several occasions and went on to create an independent, parallel system of education which he called Nai Talim (Basic Education). Rabindranath Tagore, India’s first Nobel Laureate, went to the extent of establishing a brand new center of learning called Santiniketan (Abode of Peace) as a counter to existing colleges and universities.

It must have appeared obvious to many political leaders – except those completely intoxicated with the West3 – that there was something profoundly disagreeable and wrong with the colonially-inspired system of "developing" the intellects of citizens. After all, the colonial structure of governance and the educational policies associated with it had been fabricated for meeting a set of political and economic objectives that were – if seen against the background of the new Constitutions adopted after lengthy debates in Asia or Africa – invalid and unacceptable. The entire educational system, not just in India but elsewhere as well, was erected on the basis of assumptions that were not only an insult to the people living in these places, but to their intellectual and spiritual traditions as well.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, a fairly good representative of the colonial educator, laid down the assumptions behind the new system of education the English introduced in India in a note he wrote in 1835. It was based on the following clear-cut convictions that he had derived from his colossal ignorance of India’s intellectual traditions:

1. Whatever Indian society had produced in 5000 years was rubbish and had to be wholly discarded;

2. Indians should be de-linked from their traditions for these reasons;

3. The English system should be introduced on a wide scale, in order to create a class of middlemen who would mediate between the rulers and ruled and thereby obediently assist in the exercise of imperial power.

People in the know thus recognised that the colonial system of education had really nothing to do with "learning" and "empowerment" as such, and had been specifically designed – in form and content to create a class of human beings, who would be devoted to their masters and who would enable their rulers to exercise power and dominion over people of colour. Education was also based on the conviction that those certified would not be able to function or perform better in the tasks of the British Raj, unless they were de-linked from their own experience, their own traditions, their own histories and myths, and their own abilities to think freely.

To think that such a system of learning – installed and enforced by a colonial government, demanding obsequiousness and obedience – would be continued, supported and expanded by a free government after independence is something we find today difficult to understand. After decades of struggling for freedom from foreign servitude, it appears that the "freedom fighters" only had sufficient courage left to doggedly and uncritically pursue the educational project they had inherited from their erstwhile masters. They could not master the strength, the will and the courage to see de-colonization through to its logical end. Getting rid of the colonial educational system – essentially designed to benefit the colonisers – seemed more difficult than getting rid of the colonisers themselves. Or perhaps the new rulers thought that since it had effectively helped the colonisers to control and rule (while amassing huge personal fortunes), it would enable them to do so as well.

There was of course one section of the ruling elite that had already been completely brainwashed and indoctrinated in the superiority of English institutions and of the necessity to expand the influence of bourgeois civil society in India. It appeared to them that schooling had become a tradition in itself, an institution as sacred as our temples, worthy of worship. They shared dreams of India becoming an industrial power and were convinced that modern education of the British (and later, American) kind was fundamental to the construction of a military-industrial society, developed outwardly in blind imitation of the so-called developed countries, especially their technology. This "educated" group was deeply convinced that commitment to education of the kind they had received was essential to Progress.

Nonetheless, it is incredible that our educators simply and uncritically adopted the colonial system. They poured money, time, talent into it. They allowed (even encouraged) the slaughter of the innocents, millions of them. They abused the young charges assigned to them, emptied them of content and identity, and stripped them naked, prior to filling their heads with what they felt was new, essential knowledge (all of it imported of course). Unfortunately, they did not take the time to examine the assumptions and contents of this imported knowledge. Those very assumptions have today placed the planet and its communities at the very brink of survival.

It is therefore not surprising that what passes off as an "educational system" today – and its higher culmination, the college and university setup – has become a cruel trap in which millions of people, most below the age of 20, unwittingly find themselves. While educators throughout the world gallantly promise in their grand theories that education is designed to make people free, the institutions to which people have been sent to learn are prisons and boring reform houses (from which many normal human beings flee or drop out at the earliest possible opportunity). Invariably, only those who are ready to deny the existence of their own minds or who profess total allegiance to the values inculcated by the State-controlled schooling system are passed off as "successes" – even though they remain, for the rest of their lives, on some kind of parole and, nowadays, in constant need of "re-training."

The political and economic objectives, true, have changed. If the system originally set out to implement the imperial powers’ aspirations for control, it has now become a vehicle for the specific ideology of individual national governments everywhere, in turn subject to the influence of corporations who need a constant supply of unthinking serfs for their business lines.

Today, with the downward pressure of globalisation and WTO regimes breathing down our backs, the education system is getting even more skewed in the direction of investing the resources of societies to produce workers for the global mega-production machine. The more young people are sucked into it, the more the prospect of challenging the present model of development and the globalisation of the economy recedes. We cannot fight the globalisation process, without also dismantling the education system, through which the "global consumer" mentality is being created and nurtured. Thus, the Multiversity is an idea whose time has come. It can openly assist in the worldwide war to decapitate the globalisation devil.

Let us now take a frank and unvarnished look at what schools and colleges accomplish in almost all parts of our world.

 

Schools Can Only Generate Asses

Every year we find the exercise of mental torment dutifully and mindlessly repeated in thousands of institutions all over the world, from the USA to Kenya to the Philippines. Whether rich country or poor, advanced or backward, it doesn’t make any difference. Indeed, the scale of the regimentation is far worse in countries like the UK and the USA, where almost every aspect of what is taught and how it is taught is under centralised institutional control. Paradoxically, the children of the middle and upper classes suffer the regimentation the most; while, the children of the poor at least have the choice of dropping out and retaining their common sense.

The universal and unquestioned allegiance to the enterprise of schooling is simply astonishing, if one peeks behind the curtains to find out what is really going on. This is, in effect, the largest exercise in stultification being carried out in human history. Its sole intent appears to be to demoralise human beings, by convincing them of their need for almost life-long tutoring by other persons, who themselves succumbed to being tutored under similar compulsions earlier. But the vast enterprise also has other undisclosed objectives. It blandly undermines the pupil’s grasp of reality, cuts off her links with the natural world, successfully incubates within the victim a wholesale contempt for the history of her own people, their traditions or ways of being. It takes diverse, bright and beautiful inquisitive children and turns them into hesitant, timid and dull individuals by the time they reach puberty, continuously in need of additional training so that they can continue to service the global, consumer-oriented, profit-inspired mega-machine.

As Idris noted in his inaugural speech on the launch of the Multiversity:

"The creative energy of children and youth, from the age of three or five till they reach the early twentiesthe best and most impressionable part of their livesis first frozen and abused by suppression and wholesale discounting, then encouraged to atrophy by default, until it appears to disappear completely from their normal life."

From Mahatma Gandhi to Rabindranath Tagore, Ivan Illich and Jiddu Krishnamurti, the critique of schooling has established that not only does it not educate, it actually cripples. This assessment is based on the following facts regarding the impact of schooling.

First, schooling destroys human creativity in fundamental ways, by constantly reinforcing the unwarranted ideas that those who do not attend it are inferior. It promotes the notion that all people are born either empty or with rudimentary ideas and must therefore go through the grind of being "finished" or "polished" or "certified." Above all, it promotes the conviction that only the official knowledge imparted in the school is knowledge and all else may be interesting, but is not valid. Reality, in fact, is to be discarded if it conflicts with what is provided for in the text. This set of assumptions is rigorously drilled into young people seeking education both in the so-called rich and poor countries.

In fact, schools today have no need for creativity. They do not either recognise or encourage it. In places where it is recognised, it still remains tightly controlled so that it does not interfere with the larger agenda of indoctrination and commodification. Those in charge of education systems have decided that children only need to memorize pre-digested answers (prepared by faceless textbook writers, working in centralised educational institutions) in order to be deemed "educated" and fit for society. In examinations, the answer which most closely resembles the pre-decided "correct response" will receive the highest marks. On the other hand, a creative answer which differs from the standard/accepted response is almost certain to be marked wrong. This humiliating brain-devouring exercise is conducted fairly ruthlessly. What is more, it has the sanction of parents, ruling institutions, the corporate class, the State and most intellectuals and parents. Eventually, it earns the sanction of the victim too.

Compulsory schooling – now given legal sanction by draconian education Acts (such as the 93rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution) that promise to punish parents that do not send their wards to school – is seen as the only option available to welfare States, to force people to take up opportunities, which will eventually enable them to come up in life and to be seen as equals of more privileged folk. Any move to criticise schooling is then perceived as an elitist maneuver to block the mobility of the poor.

However, experience of the schooling system in all countries has shown that it has more often than not helped maintain and reinforce inequality, rather than eliminate it. Aside from the obvious fact that rich people attend elite or public schools, and poorer folk go to poor schools from which they eventually opt out, "quality education" available to the rich actually creates an additional layer of inequality to those layers created by other social devices.

Ultimately, even the so-called "alternative" schools, which claim to protect and enhance the creativity of those who come to their portals, promote the same myths and work under the same assumptions. This is because they indicate that the only problem with schooling may be mediocre educational methods, and that if their methods were introduced in conventional schools, the latter would become "creative" as well. Yet, the "products" of alternative schools are also scheduled to enter the Market, maybe at a more advantaged point than those coming from normal schools.

The second major problem, which we people in the former colonised territories exclusively face, is that the content of education contains largely negative perceptions of our local and national histories, cultures, languages and religions. This is a direct consequence of the success of attitudes represented so well by people like T. B. Macaulay. In this context, European ideas are considered the only basis for a proper schooling programme and for "civilized" living. History textbooks in India, for example, still unabashedly hail the arrival of Vasco-da-Gama as a great event. Or repeat themes proposed by English historians like James Mill or even Karl Marx. Incorporating the intellectual corpus of Indian or other civilisations into the materials prepared for courses still provokes resistance from some quarters. Earlier, it had provoked penalties and punishments.

By far the most pernicious of these perceptions has been the idea that there was no learning or valid knowledge generated prior to the arrival of the British, a myth now exploded with the work of the Indian historian, Dharampal. On the contrary, just as vaccination from England wiped out the indigenous Indian system of inoculation against small pox, the imported idea of the school wiped out existing indigenous learning places and processes. These were undoubtedly very different from modern European model schools in their purpose, the control they exercised, their diversity of pedagogical practices, their views of knowledge, wisdom and the human spirit.

 

Higher Education = Advanced Stultification

For the past couple of centuries, the institution of the university has also been replicated ad nauseam in every nook and corner of the globe. This has been done with the noble intent of spreading a uniform perception of Nature (based on modern Science) and therefore a similar method of research and training across the world. The widespread assumption of the universality of modern Science and – and by association naturally – the superiority of other aspects and products of American and European culture, has provided legitimacy for this action. Replication of the college and university system was made possible due to the dominant position of Europe in the colonial world. As power defined knowledge, the process was easily facilitated.

The intellectual centres are located in the West, and they supply the categories and terms for all intellectual debates. We play along. They remain the center, while we keep ourselves at the periphery. They create; we copy and apply. We do not challenge the underlying assumptions. We blandly copy because these disciplines are apparently "well-tested" and "precise," an officially-recognised body of knowledge. Replication is safer than attempting something different.

In such a situation, studies and research are considered best if done within the framework and "guidance" of Western institutions. We have no felt need to go beyond the settled disciplines of sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, etc. Yet, these "sciences" only retain value within the precincts of the academic world. Even within this world, there is hardly any true belief in their premises or assumptions. We must remember that the perceived validity of such knowledge rarely goes beyond the boundaries of universities.

Today, we may think that it is absurd that one culture has become the norm for all others, to the extent that diverse majorities around the globe would seek to destroy their own identities and communities in the misguided drive to imitate or replicate the main features of the dominating culture. But this depraved belief in homogenization has remained the basis of development theory for the past five decades, and it still retains influence. No wonder the World Bank – a coterie of bankers – also dabbles in education and now routinely produces publications on what it believes are sound global educational policies.

University education in the South was thought by some to be a benign project, designed to impart a "liberal education." But, as in the case of schooling, the content of that higher education was supplied in the form of printed texts wholly imported from the so-called developed countries, and rarely related to experience in our own societies. None of the courses taught had anything to do with what we call shiksha.4 They were largely in the form of some capsules that had to be taken for purposes of certification. The ultimate purpose of the mind-numbing exercise was not intellectual and spiritual freedom but institutional servitude.

The university, as we know it today, is a dead place. From its early origins several centuries ago, as a respected and autonomous site, which hosted a community of scholars and students who met to discuss specific issues, it has now almost wholly surrendered itself to the supremacy of texts and all that this implies – particularly the tyrannies associated with the various hierarchies of interpretation that such texts require. Scholarship has degenerated into a skill of text recognition, text replication, and a display of the names of the manufacturers of key texts. (Quoting Derrida, I hear, is the latest intellectual fashion. I thought he was a Spanish bullfighter.) Less and less associated with learning and instead increasingly concerned with the supply of newer recruits to function as cogs in the global economy led by giant multinational corporations, the university has become today a text-dependent machine, almost wholly alienated from the real world and sterile. Both the pursuit of knowledge and research agendas are openly dictated by MNCs.

From school to university, the entire exercise appears to have a single-purpose: kill the mind, generate obedient serfs, feed the Market.

The crisis in the system, caused by the over-production of thousands of "paper" graduates, has driven young people to seek additional certificates, in order to bring down the numbers against whom they may have to compete. So one goes for an MBA or other additional courses (diplomas in computer science are also a rage), or pays extravagant sums for a "name-brand" education to enable one to stand out of the crowd (or the mob) for the few places available as high quality employment (which, the world over, remains as insecure as low quality employment).

The situation is actually worse in the so-called developed countries, where "education" is in a state of structural crisis. People had been transferred from agriculture to industry (primary to secondary) and then from industry to service (secondary to tertiary). With the takeover of service industries by automation, there are simply no further transfers possible. Key institutions are unable to figure out what kind of "re-training" can be done to shift people from tertiary industries, when there is no new sector beckoning on the horizon. IT and biotechnology are now being seen as the latest saviours. The IT industry has already undergone a meltdown, taking with it a considerable part of e-commerce and the "new economy." Biotechnology is embedded in serious controversy across the planet.

In countries like India, where "education" has been seen almost exclusively as a means to employment, the rapid capitalization of imported technology and increasing automation in industry has led to a stagnant and now declining workforce – around 25 million in India for the past five decades. It is also in its own structural crisis, as there is a gross misfit between what is being churned out of schools, colleges and universities and the requirements of prized, high quality global employment. The system is now facing a cul-de-sac.

The scale of the injustice facing young people is simply mind-boggling: millions must submit to the tyranny of performing well at memory tasks, so that the best of these can be chosen for further training. This leaves the majority, who have unable to get high marks, as "failures." A system of education, which practically dismisses the bulk of its young people as failures, should have been banned long ago.

This violent circus has gone on for more than 150 years. The Multiversity project has been initiated to put a full stop to it now. At the Multiversity inaugural meeting, Yusef Progler, a critical thinker in education based in the Arab world, told us that the Western educational system, far from being competent to guide the rest of the world, is itself in a profound state of crisis. It is unable to figure out the new direction in which it should go. Therefore, it is as good a time as any, to strike out in fresh directions on our own. There are no teachers available to guide us in which direction we must move. We must be our own teachers.

If we agree that this is the challenge facing us, we can set out to propose a counter set of assumptions which would better reflect what we are, where we live and also take account of our intellectual histories. We may take a critical stand on various aspects of such histories, but it cannot be our position that all of them are "absurd," "humanly unacceptable," "predated," "irrational," "invalid" or "unscientific." Before this statement is even remotely confused with the political claims of groups like those, for instance, promoting Hindutva in India, it is important to clarify that the violence, intolerance and regimentation associated with such forces is similar to the violence associated with conventional schools. The drive to indoctrinate and disempower is a cardinal feature of both.

If we distinguish the Multiversity’s aims and objectives from the aims of such groups, so must we distinguish it from post-modern discourse as well, the latest intellectual import from the West. The Multiversity must have, of necessity, a strong agenda in relation the task of decolonising the mind, decolonising knowledge and asserting our complete intellectual independence. Such an agenda will help open up new possibilities for creative, collective action. Without this focus, the Multiversity’s work will be incomplete and will have little credibility. Even after a trial of more than a hundred years, Western modes of perception have proved incapable of being drafted or accepted as a truly universal way of understanding Nature or interacting with it. They are, in fact, helping to raise entire generations of people who think that killing all life on the planet is a matter of unconcern.

 

Working Principles of the Multiversity

The Multiversity we envision, and seek to establish by our collective action, is in complete contrast to the educational system, as we know it. It shall be constructed with the support of a wide network and community of independent, free-thinking educators and learners from Asia, Africa, Aotearoa, and South America. The idea of a Multiversity is based on the firm reality of diverse universes of perception, separate cosmologies, and distinct existing bodies of valid knowledge.

The Multiversity will structure itself to function in ways that support the dynamic processes of decolonisation and creativity. We will tolerate no bureaucratic hierarchies. Nor do we envision centralised top-to-bottom directions. By definition, funding will not be accepted from corporate groups. Financial support will be accepted only from those by and large sympathetic to the Multiversity’s ideals.

At present, the headquarters of the Multiversity is based in Penang, Malaysia. The project will shortly have a Council of Elders, comprising wise men and women chosen from Asia, Aotearoa, Africa and South America. Routine administration of the project is in the hands of an Advisory Council, comprising members of Citizens International and serious educators from the different countries, beginning first with Asia and Aotearoa, then Africa and finally, South America. Apart from this basic structure, the Multiversity will take on the shape of a woven hammock, changing readily to accommodate the requirements of its users.

The Multiversity will not conduct itself through any of the practices associated with or used by the present educational system. Its working principles are:

- Orienting learning once again towards life; making it open-ended and creative;

- Separating learning from job training; or distinguishing between learning through work and learning to fit into a job (like a cog in a wheel);

- Eschewing exclusive dependence on analytical modes of learning, and nurturing affective modes equally;

- Rooting learning programmes in mutual respect between teachers and learners. This would involve breaking the artificial and rigid divisions between teachers and learners;

- Avoiding exclusive dependence on texts and memorising of such texts. It will use non-print media in a substantial manner. Knowledge generated in the form of videos, music, theatre, artwork, and other media will be listed, supported and circulated to break the monopoly of the printed text book as the sole repository of learning resources and as the primary means for dialogue;

- Conducting its activities largely in the local languages of the various communities of Asia, Africa, South America, etc. All documents relating to the Multiversity will be available in the major languages of these communities including Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, etc.;

- Refusing to certify learning experiences;

- Refusing to evaluate through examinations those who wish to learn.

Above all, the Multiversity will display an absolute commitment to protecting the integrity of every individual’s life, so that each one of us will be in a position to make real choices and not be compelled to reduce his or her life to complete and absolute bondage to an economic system or method of production.

 

Core Activities

Multiversity activities are being planned under separate country chapters e.g., Multiversity-India, Multiversity-Malaysia etc. Though these country-specific chapters will be independent of each other and led by their own advisory councils and core groups. They will each work to further the objectives of Multiversity as agreed upon, if they wish to use the Multiversity label. Each will plan their own activities and share these with the other chapters.

Within each country chapter, programmes for the following situations will taken up:

* Those designed for learners totally outside the school and higher education frameworks.

* Those designed for learners attending school but outside their school curriculum framework.

* Those designed for learners attending college/university but outside their college/university framework.

* Those designed for learners within their school curriculum framework.

* Those designed for learners within their college/university framework.

 

With regard to schools:

Work in this regard has already commenced with identification of a large number of learning centres already being run in different areas outside the framework of "factory-schooling" and studying and sharing their insights. One immediate goal is the production of an Alternative Education Sourcebook, which documents home-schooling experiences and community learning spaces. The Sourcebook will not only include detailed stories of all experimental, open learning centres, which have emerged as an alternative to the formal schooling system, it will also provide details of other resources, including: lists of educators, discussions on alternatives to school and college, successful learning programmes that eschew certification and fees, etc.

The Multiversity will function as a global clearinghouse for the exchange of information that will assist the further decline of schools and other institutions of thought-control. It will carry on the publishing of books, journals and video films that will attack the legitimacy of schooling in effective ways (a task that is not difficult by any length of the imagination). The Multiversity will also ensure that good practices are circulated in a well-organised and systematic way for enhanced use across the planet, particularly among educators and parents, to create a groundswell against the "benefits" of compulsory schooling.

The Multiversity will prepare special programmes for parents, as in large parts of the world, they remain the principal agents responsible for demanding ever more educational burdens for their wards. Parents of children will hopefully become members of the Multiversity network en masse, especially when they are convinced that it will enable them to protect their children’s own unique identities and stimulate creative learning.

 

With regard to higher educational institutions:

Hitherto, the knowledge we had created, or which we create everyday, was suppressed or was simply ignored because it did not fit within the dominant paradigms. The present day output of books – that wield influence in the knowledge system being disseminated – is notorious for its lack of any works generated by people from the South. So one of the Multiversity’s first tasks is the rescue, airing and sharing of suppressed knowledge. To achieve this, the Multiversity has already initiated the following projects:

- A library of 500 of the most influential books written by scholars, thinkers, philosophers, educators from the South. The list is to be circulated to all the universities in our realms, while their texts would be available if not in print, at least through CDs. These titles would include, for example, Sardar Panikkar’s Asia and Western Dominance; Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind; M.K. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj; Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth; Ashis Nandy’s Intimate Enemy; Edward Said’s Orientalism; Rana Kabbani’s Europe’s Myths of Orient; Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive; J.P.S. Uberoi’s Science and Culture. Though the sample list provided above is dominated by titles written originally in English, the final list is bound to show a predominance of works produced in vernacular languages.

- An annotated bibliography of up to 10,000 articles organised under various disciplines and which demonstrate creative work, new ideas, methodologies equal to or superior to what we have learned from the intellectual institutions of the West.

- A catalogue of journals from Africa, Aotearoa, Asia, Australia, South America, so that we can know how we are thinking in our circles, and to support others in the direction of the Multiversity and its values.

- An annual publication or Yearbook devoted to the best essays and intellectual output originating exclusively from the South.

- The commissioning of critiques of existing knowledge disciplines like sociology, economics, psychology, history, anthropology, etc.

 

Affiliation to the Multiversity

The criteria for membership in the Multiversity Project will be the display of an independent mind, the ability to stand alone in a community of intellectuals or educators, and the courage to speak one’s mind, without being hemmed in by intellectual fashions, name-dropping, or government restrictions on jobs. We expect affiliation with the Multiversity to begin with a community of 500 active educators from Africa, Aotearoa, Asia and South America, who shall subscribe to a commitment not to submit to intellectual domination from the high income countries. They shall boldly eschew the conventional habit of wanting to show off to their acquaintances their latest intellectual work emanating from the West or the latest additions of Western literature to their personal libraries.

We then hope various groups will affiliate themselves with the Multiversity process in each country. Teachers associated with the Multiversity will include those with and without degrees; those with only knowledge of books and those without, including potters, carpenters, farmers, electricians, etc. These people will become the core expertise for fueling the learning programmes of the Multiversity. They will be joined by Multiversity Supporters of all ages, who will themselves participate in Multiversity programmes for learning experiences and eschew dependence on schools and colleges whenever and wherever possible. These various individuals and groups will be dynamically linked through networks within/across each continent.

The Multiversity will also connect with local, national and international social movements which have, as their primary aim, the complete overthrow of the present unjust economic system, represented today in the globalisation project installed under the WTO regime and the several institutions that are godfathers to the project. It will work with such movements to analyse their weaknesses, especially those weaknesses that can be sourced to their reliance on colonized knowledge, tools and frameworks. Every step to strengthen learning in these movements will be a strengthening of the Multiversity processes as well.

We will further work to increase affiliation through various other means. For example, we have designed a web-page <www.swaraj.org/multiversity> that, for the first ten years, will only feature work, and recognition of work, done in Asia, Aotearoa, Africa or South America. As the Multiversity does not believe in the game of intellectual property rights, all material on the website will be freely accessible and reproducible.

At a later date, collaborative programmes with select conventional schools and universities interested in operating along the lines of Multiversity thinking, may also increase membership. Of course, the Advisory Council is expected to eventually initiate negotiations with important conventional educational institutions and centres, to seek to introduce fundamental changes in methods and content which will further true personal freedom and creativity while meeting the ends of survival and local economy. Many individuals within these institutions are themselves already acutely aware of the steady degradation of the educational system at all levels and of its inability to equip ordinary citizens with the means with which they can deal intelligently with the modern world. They will look more and more to the Multiversity process for both vision and practical solutions in the years ahead.

The preliminary phases of the Multiversity will perhaps be the most critical in terms of developing its shape and direction. For this reason, it has been decided that the Multiversity will initially eschew dependence on intellectual sources that emanate from the West. For the past 500 years, the fate of billions of people of the South has been largely excluded from the concerns of the high-income countries. A little reverse exclusion will do no harm at this beginning stage and is entirely necessary if we truly wish to stimulate learning societies from within our own diverse contexts and from within ourselves. We need to take a break and to delink intellectually from the West in order to examine our own assumptions about progress, and to review and rethink what constitutes knowledge and learning. If we do not exclude the West from the sphere of this activity at this preliminary stage, conventional dominance will resume and we will once again be reduced to parroting ideas originating in other contexts, which may have little or no connection with ours. Individuals and organisations from the high-income countries may be allowed to affiliate themselves to the project at a later stage.

The Multiversity aspires to become the rallying point for every citizen of the globe desirous of reclaiming the arena of learning from the asphyxiating embrace of those who have come to illegally control it. This is no doubt a very major task and cannot be carried out except with the express participation of hundreds of educators everywhere. We hope that eventually the Multiversity will become a vast network and clearinghouse for all those wishing to resist and overcome cultural dominance, linguistic genocide and homogenisation at all levels.

Gandhi made bonfires of British goods and thereby charged the imagination of a colonised and defeated society, enabling it to revolt against the tyranny of British imperialism. Mao Zedong turned his party cadres against his own party to force a radical, far-reaching change in revolutionary practice. The Multiversity cannot aspire to anything less. Its impact on the learning practices of the human race, in the words of Mohamed Idris, should be similar to that of an earthquake (which is capable of shaking up foundational structures). Nothing less should be expected if one is desirous of making a complete break with the colonizing past and freely restoring control over the future of learning societies back to diverse local communities.

 

ENDNOTES

1 Jalal Al Ahmad. 1984. Occidentosis: A Plague of the West. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press.

2 Not to be equated with a new university offering courses and certification. The word is shorthand for "multiple universes," theories of knowledge, cosmologies, ways of seeing and believing, speaking in different tongues - all scheduled for flattening by the bulldozer of homogenising Westernisation, itself reduced to a global economy of consumers driven by corporates.

3 I am referring to the "West" as a recognisable set of ideas and institutions, as a distinct category, which once physically coincided with the geographical area of Europe and the USA, and which included the countries that ran the colonial empires of the past centuries. Today, the West may include people who may be outside those specific geographical areas, but who nonetheless support and endorse its positivist perceptions of Nature, its social values based on selfish-individualism and its manner of consuming the earth.

4 Not to be confused simply with "education," since the cultivation of civilisational wisdom, particularly ethical values, is intrinsic to its learning procedures.

 

About the Author

Claude Alvares <oib@goatelecom.com> is editor of Other India Press, one of India’s best known alternative publishers. His most recently concluded project was the publication of Fish Curry and Rice, a source book on Goa, its ecology and life-style. At present, he is working on completing a handbook for environmental activists, updating a source book for organic farmers, and creating new source books on alternative education and health. He spends a good deal of time on the Multiversity project itself. Claude lives in the village of Parra (Goa) in the company of Norma Alvares, an advocate who fights environmental cases, and three boys, all of whom have been infused with a healthy contempt for the education system.