Critical Ideas from the Periphery

By Martin Preston and Betzabé Torres-Olave

A year ago, free from the knowledge of what 2020 would have in store for us all, we invited people to join us in the idea of creating a collective place to discuss critical theories.

Inspired in part by the activities of the Standing Seminar in Critical Theory based at Bath University, we were interested in establishing a collaborative space in which to interact with different perspectives of critical theories, to build community around similar interests, and to foster creativity. Also, we were happy to have an excuse to see each other beyond our research interests, something perhaps we value even more at present. As Antonia Darder reminds us, there is an “importance of building communities of individuals who share a collective vision and recognize the importance of critical relationships of solidarity. They are comrades, compañeros and compañeras who share a revolutionary love for one another as brothers and sisters in struggle” (2017, p.64).

This is key since from different approaches, we are working within education which can be a vehicle to change ourselves and inevitably the relationships we build within the world. We hoped that in creating a space built on the recognition of others with similar dreams and hopes, we could learn from each other and progress further than if alone. We sought to draw on the rich and diverse interests and knowledge of those in our learning community. This is particularly important within the multidisciplinary department within which we are based, the University of Bristol’s School of Education, but also because we hoped to reach out beyond its boundaries.

Central to our idea was to go beyond those critical thinkers typically associated within European Critical Theory. We sought thinkers from different perspectives, locations, and where possible, those who were still contributing to critical theoretical approaches.

With this in mind, we initiated this collaborative process by facilitating the group to contribute names of authors or theories which we might be able to explore further:

Our first meeting was a success, success measured in our own way: we were not alone. Students and academics from across the university and beyond gathered to create something. Through a lluvia de ideas (rain of ideas) we came out with some topics to explore: Critical Race Theory, Feminist Critical Theories, Critical Theories in Education, Decoloniality, and Eco-feminist theory.

We named our group Critical Ideas from the Periphery. Why this name? Firstly, we thought that our group would not simply look to gather theories and collect schools of thought, but rather experiences and concepts formulated in our conversations and distilled in the act of co-creation. Moreover, many of the scholars introduced in our initial scoping task and some others who we will go onto explore in the next term, are not the common ones related to critical theory.

Equally, the name is aspirational, and one which we hope challenges us to seek out new and different understanding of the areas we cover. Just as significantly, many of us, whilst engaging with critical theories in our various research approaches, do not consider ourselves within one school of thought.

Lastly, the word periphery gives us perspective to look from far away and then to go closer and explore further.  Moreover, we would like to use the periphery also as a position, in the same way bell hooks uses the idea of margin: ‘place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge.’ (1989, p.36) where we can create and resist confinement.

A Reflection on the Year

Space here does not allow for us to sufficiently convey the richness of the contributions from those who led on each of the sessions. However, there are some of things we learnt that we would like to share.

In our first session, we read Restoring our Humanity. The Dialectics of Revolutionary Praxis by Antonia Darder. We shared questions and thoughts around what is the role of knowledge for revolutionary praxis? How can we introduce these critical ideas of community, collective love and educational praxis in our lives as researchers, teachers, family members?

In the second session, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics by Kimberle Crenshaw, we reflected on intersectionality not just as a lens, but as a way of acting. We were challenged: ‘How do we actually use it in our praxis?’ We also reflected on the need to create alliances of solidarity with those under different conditions of oppression. Even though this could mean tensions and sacrifices, it is from there where we transform.

The third session was on feminism, and we moved to the south of the globe. We read A Manifesto in Four Themes by Rita Segato. In it, Segato invited us to understand patriarchy as a model of exploitation of territories and bodies that have been reproduced through other kinds of oppression. As she says “[e]conomic, political, colonial, and racial forms of supremacy are thus effectively replicas of the patriarchal order” (p.199). Under this order, women’s bodies are seen as inferior to those at the top of the hierarchy, men, or as she calls it, The Masculine Mandate. This mandate has trained men to be loyal to the dynamics of that group, which also oppresses them. In this session, we also reflected on how patriarchy as a form of domination is even replicated through the exploitation of our natural resources, where the non-human is seen as having a lower place in the hierarchical chain. 

How to face this masculine mandate? Politicising the private space, dismantling binarism, and creating bonds between us is one of the ways of facing many forms of hierarchisation and exploitation. Bonds that diverge from neoliberal and capitalist ideas, bonds that are embedded within a “communal rootedness.”

Our fourth session, coming just days after the UK went into lockdown, saw us meet online for the first time. It was the beginning of a time of many uncertainties and a welcome opportunity to meet with others and share ideas, albeit remotely. Not only because of the pandemic, but because of different struggles and injustices that were starting to gain more attention, including in the academic world.

For this session, we read The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century by Ramón Grosfoguel. The reading was especially timely as it problematised how non-western perspectives provide new opportunities, spaces, and hopes for the creation of knowledge. Epistemic diversity offers the opportunity to understand the world in a richer way overcoming the single (male-western) perspective that favours one side of history.

During the fifth session, we read Virus: all that is solid melts into air. In the article Boaventura de Sousa Santos covers a lot of ground in the context of the onset of the pandemic and the implications for our societies. de Sousa Santos outlines a state of permanent crisis for the world created under neoliberal capitalism. In this state, a sense of security is generated for the classes able to benefit from social provisions such as healthcare, whilst those denied it are victimised. For de Sousa Santos the pandemic crisis has simultaneously revealed the failure of such a system whilst interrupting the notion of security and ‘common sense’ of the minority who benefited from it. Such an event, he asserts, provides the opportunity for a ‘common awareness of planetary, democratic-like communion’, even in the very act of our enforced solitude.

Centrally de Sousa Santos points to the window which the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns have revealed into ‘alternative mode(s) of life’. A window often hidden to us through entrenched political and economic systems. In concluding, he points to the ‘shadows that visibility creates’ within a sociology of absences. Poignantly, he invokes the case of ‘migrants and refugees’, people on the Greek island of Lesvos residing in ‘camps’ (detention centres) such as Moria. These places, where people are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus and other diseases are within Europe, and yet are perhaps more invisible than ever before. Thus, it is not a coincidence that de Sousa Santos chose Marx’s phrase “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” (p. 38) for the title of his article.

The sixth session approached the area of Eco-feminism, a theory significantly tied to the activist experiences of its most significant contributors as well as to movements such as the Chipko in India or the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. We discussed two distinct, though interrelated, approaches to eco-feminism: essentialist or radical and Marxist or existentialist. Drawing on contributions from some of the most prominent contributors such as Vandana Shiva, Mary Meller, Maria Mies and others, we focused on the work of Ariel Salleh. Reading Salleh’s 2008 ‘Ecofeminism as Sociology’, we delved into their discussion on the place of reproductive labour and its knowledges in the formation of an ‘ecologically literate sociology’.

Freire Cem

Our central focus over the coming year will be in anticipation of the centenary of the Brazilian Educator and critical activist Paulo Freire. As well as restarting our readings, we are looking forward to hosting a series of activities, events and opportunities for collective thinking under the name #Freire100. This is also the name Education International is giving to the celebration. By doing this we would like to not only disseminate Paulo Freire’s contributions to the philosophy of education but also discuss how his work has influenced our own as students, teachers, researchers, and as humans in the world. We seek to question how his ideas are relevant as we all venture into the post-pandemic future. In doing so, having a place to talk about his ideas on autonomy, liberation, humanity, hope, community, and so many others, is a good excuse to imagine collectively how best to put these ideas into practice.  We aim to create ethical and democratic relationships with others, at the school, university, nature, and beyond following Freire’s idea that “the pursuit of full humanity, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity” (Freire, 1970/2006, p.85).

Excitingly, the group continues to grow, as do the number of those who wish to bring something to share. If you would like to lead an activity with the group around any of the subjects we have discussed or simply wish to connect, do get in touch.

Contacts: Betzabé or Martin at BristolCIP@gmail.com

References

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1, 139-167.

Darder, A., (2017). Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of Love, Westview Press

de Sousa, B. (2020). Virus: all that is solid melts in the air, Open Democracy, https://bit.ly/3l2zPXL

Freire, P. (1970/2006). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum.

Grosfoguel, R. (2013). The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 11(1), 73-90.

hooks, bell. (1989). Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness. Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, 36, 15–23.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1847/1977). The Communist Manifesto. In K. Marx, & F. Engels, Selected Works in One Volume, Lawrence and Wishart.

Salleh, A. (2003). Ecofeminism as Sociology, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 14(1), 61-74.

Segato, R. (2018). A manifesto in four themes, Critical Times, 1(1), 198–211.

Learning and teaching under lockdown, the Chilean experience.

By Tamara Cepeda & Hugo Parra Munoz , PhD (C) School of Education, University of Bristol

I. Teaching and learning in Chile

Not even in our worst nightmares. As usual in the Southern region of Latin America, Chilean teachers, students and their families began the academic year on March 4. This fell just a day after the first COVID-19 case in the country was reported. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak classes in Chile were suspended on March 16. What means attend to school in Chile? The educative context is marked by the neoliberal politics. They have gradually dismantled the public education system (Bellei, 2018; Ruiz, 2012) and have installed a network of financing through demand (Verger, Moschetti, & Fontdevila, 2017) and a voucher system as modes for financing public schools (Murnane, Waldman, John, Bos, & Vegas, 2017). Moreover, the neoliberal project has installed a culture of New Public Management (Falabella, 2014), NPM, and has configured and established norms oriented around metrics of performance and results. The setting has been invaded by discourses which privilege numbers and mechanical notions of learning (Flórez Petour, 2014). The grading system used in the country, framed in a high-stakes system, promotes competition and rivalry (Percerisa and Falabella, 2017). The literature in the country evidences a strong connection between students’ socio-economic background and their school achievement (García and Paredes, 2010), and the resultant inequality is linked to the market-oriented transformation of the system (Torché, 2005). Piecemeal reforms have generally only exacerbated inconsistencies and the sense of outright chaos, a historical top-down approach in which a highly centralised policy fails to take account of local contexts and the use of policies based on foreign models which are uncritically applied to Chile without due note of its specificities (Flórez Petour, 2014).

After COVID-19 broke out, students and teachers had only eight days of face to face classes. Since that day until now, education has moved entirely online; tensioning the reasoning of monitoring and accountability associated to NPM. Likewise, in many other cases, Chilean teachers were not trained for that type of teaching practice; they did not receive any technological, pedagogical, or logistical support. A recent OPECH report (Chilean Observatory for Educational Policies, September 2020), stated that this unprecedented lockdown situation has deeply impacted upon learning, demanding everyone involved to adapt to new conditions that represented challenges in various aspects (OPECH, 2020). It has accelerated the sense of vulnerability of the current times, as Bauman (2000) denounces, intensifying the work and deepening the precarious conditions of overwhelmed school teachers (Sánchez Cerón, 2018). We find it necessary to emphasise here, that during March prior to the pandemic the country was already barely operating with any sense of ‘normality’ after the national uprising began in October 2019. That academic year was already challenging to finish. For the educational landscape, the uprising brought one significant change: the end of the PSU, the competitive test used to offer university places in the country. It had been identified as a significant element in the (re)production of acute social and knowledge inequalities in education. During January 2020, students protested fiercely during the administration of the PSU, demonstrating against the elitism of the test and thus access to Higher Education, as it foments segregation and inequality. The test was boycotted in masse with the slogan ‘No more PSU’ used widely. This demonstration culminated with the elimination of it and the creation of a ‘Transitory Admission Test’ that will be used for the first time this year during November if health conditions permit.

Students protesting against the University entrance test, January 2020.

Chile also presents damning data in the OCDE reports, as a member of this organisation. Particularly for upper secondary level education, where both authors had taught for several years before embarking upon our PhDs. The number of students per teacher at the secondary level is one of the largest among OECD countries (usually there are 45 students in a classroom with just one teacher!), and conversely the annual expenditure per secondary level students is one of the lowest (OECD, 2016). In that reality, Chilean teachers give their lessons and assess learning processes. In that reality, students are supposed to learn. Furthermore, teachers are expected to teach a large number of hours (1,064 hours in Chile, within an average of 655 working hours, in OECD countries), whilst receiving among the lowest salaries in the OECD countries. In these conditions, the COVID-19 outbreak hit the already crisis-ridden Chilean classrooms.

A typical secondary school group, these are some of the 45 students that Tamara was in charge of as teacher and tutor before coming to the UK to start her PhD.

II. The OPECH report and our experience

The OPECH report identifies three main issues affecting learning during lockdown. The COVID outbreak just makes worse a situation that was already complicated enough. Firstly, there is a clear issue of work overload. Teachers are spending more time working during the lockdown, doing even more than the usual. Consequently, many are declaring themselves ‘tired’ or ‘very tired’ under the current conditions. These conditions have clearly made it very difficult to harmonise work and family life. In spite of these considerable obstacles, teachers have shown a commendable level of commitment towards their students’ learning continuity. During these months, we have known about former colleagues stressed, working all day barely attending to their children and bursting into tears and breaking down. The increased time in front of the computer makes it difficult for them, for example, to engage with their children’s learning or even undertake simple daily tasks like cooking.

Secondly, the report highlights socio-emotional aspects by stating teachers’ worries about the health and emotional condition of their families and also the high reported levels of stress. A number of teachers also exhibited high levels of burnout. Inevitably, this has tended to be higher among teachers with parental responsibilities. In this regard, teachers also face significant worries about their students’ mental, economic and social wellbeing during the COVID outbreak. The demands of this seemingly ‘new world’ make teachers’ duties recording classes, doing online courses, sending material, homework and assignments, and assessing their students.

To add further complexity to the panorama, teachers were worried about their students: quarantined families, families who tested positive, death, unemployment and (increased) poverty. Not only students were left sometimes in households with no formal incomes, but also there were threats of not receiving payments for teachers as well, especially within the subsidised system. Following our well-known culture of the neoliberal system, parents would not (and indeed could not) meet the schools’ fees, prompting fears about teachers’ salaries. All this under the logic that ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t have the money to pay teachers’. One school in San Bernardo, a district in the South of the capital, mostly inhabited by families who belongs to the Chilean lowest quintiles, just cancelled online teaching by adopting the logic: ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t teach’. In private and subsidised schools, teachers were enlisted to call their students to know about their situation. So, beyond their teaching function, they were expected to remind the parents’ of their ‘debts’ to the school. This action was often carried out using their personal mobile phones, and consequently their own data and allowances. This meant that the schools sidestepped their logistical responsibilities in the same way as when teachers themselves supported all the online teaching/learning process. In this scenario, Teachers’ Unions reject the erratic government policies for returning to face-to-face education; claiming the lack of health equipment and the schools’ infrastructure, where students are crowded together.

Lastly, the situation made the lack of ICT learning and conditions among the educational sector manifest, even considering attempts to educate teachers and students about online learning. In a country with a significant rural population, the lack of internet access has also been problematic. Most of the schools did not supply the requisite technological tools for either teachers or students; a factor for stress and burnout increase and, on the other hand, engagement decrease. The lack of internet connection and technological supplies meant that many teachers had students who never participated in classes and thus were not submitting any type of assignments. Within a high-stakes system, that means that students could end up repeating the academic year. For others, learning to use new platforms, such as Zoom or Classroom implied long hours, a slow process, frustration and adaptation difficulties. One teacher said:

“The main challenges have been in the creation of resources with which to assess students, that allow the collection of full information, by using new platforms, which are engaging, but at the same time facilitate the revision or that give reports of students’ attainment. The lack of time is still a very present problem.”

As has been stated, Chilean teachers have a historical work overload that makes it almost impossible to teach in the right conditions; the lack of time is a transversal theme. During teacher interviews that Tamara conducted online in July, time appears a crucial axis for several issues. Time influences teachers’ decisions about assessment methods. In this line, it was a determinant sphere in the decisions made associated with the use of tests and standardised test formats; a formative assessment that becomes summative. These curricular and assessment dilemmas are an expression of the teachers’ desires, which collide with the demands of the system, the lack of student feedback, the overreliance on grades and numbers, and the lack of reflection on students’ attainment. It generates the conditions for configuring a scenario of teachers’ and students’ reticence to embrace changes. In the meantime, at one moment, the country exhibited some of the worst rate of infection per inhabitants and high fatalities percentage in the capital city (June 2020, OECD). Therefore, the health system collapsed.

Ambulances waited up to 12 hours with COVID-19 patients outside a collapsed hospital in the south of the capital, in the cold winter weather and without any food or drinks.

III. Open analysis

The full analysis of what we have set out cannot yet be satisfactorily concluded. We have been in permanent contact with former teaching colleagues on the ground who are facing this unprecedented situation on a daily basis in the country. They have been doing teaching online for seven months now. The precarious context that Chilean teachers have faced for decades has been exacerbated by the health crisis and the intensified work under emergency conditions. Teachers have reported and felt a lack of support and even absolute abandonment from the educational authorities and employees. The ongoing situation in Chile; in the political sphere, along with the upcoming election for changing the constitution at the end of October, forced by social mobilisations; the ongoing demonstrations which have maintained the momentum from the social uprising; the opposition of the Teachers’ Union to returning to the classroom; configure a scenario which remains open for further reflections. However, we suggest that the historicity of dismantling public institution as part of the neoliberal privatising processes has generated a situation that we, at least, could characterise as incompatible with dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. It invites us to think about the challenges of education in aspects such as the curricula of the teacher training; the support that teachers and students require undertaking online teaching and learning. Elements such as the technological imbalance of Internet access within a deeply uneven society; the lack of technical support at the national scale and also the constant tendency toward imposing the Western paradigm with scant regard for the reality and specificities of firstly Chile and secondly the various Chiles, a pluriversality, which have unveiled from the aforementioned might also be reviewed.

A typical cramped Chilean classroom environment.

As many scholars have suggested, the pandemic provides spaces for analysing what is occurring at the interior of the education institution. However, the analysis might surpass the reduced limits of the didactic procedures. The academic and political debates of the last two decades have been dominated by managerial calculations, policymakers and educative actors who have discussed aspects such as, who has to administrate the public system and what are the modes for better assessing students and teachers. The debate has been reduced to the engineering of education. This feature could be associated with the gradual dismantling of public education. It is a process of dismembering it from its material conditions and symbolical values. We must recognise, the precarity of Chileans schools has impelled us to concentrate our analysis in statistical aspects, such as the quantities of students and teachers in a classroom, or learning accountability as a guide for determining the meaning of educative quality. The reflection on the educative purposes and the place of the public education – from a pedagogical perspective, in so far construction of comprehensive subjects – is avoided. The current situation at the Chilean school invites us to think not only about better methods for teaching, rather to steer our thought to aspects related to what we are teaching. As an example, the Ministry of Education of Chile has commanded a curricular reduction to “essential pieces of knowledge”, without questioning the overwhelming objectives of learning, their uncountable learning indicators and the implications of that selection or body of knowledge. A critical analysis might transcend formal aspects, inasmuch as procedures, in order to reflect holistically upon the epistemological aims and limits of education and by extension the meaning and raison d’etre of schools within our societies.

As teachers, we may wonder how ‘social distance’ will work within classrooms with 45 students and a very limited space, where if we have corridors, it is only because of earthquakes…. By now, the re-start of face to face classes seems to be something that may happen in March 2021, as most educational actors refuse to come back to school due to the insecurity of the health situation. It is noteworthy that in the last weeks some students in Year 11 and Year 12 of 4 private schools in the most exclusive areas in the capital, went back to classes in person. It would be interesting to continue analysing the Chilean situation in the upcoming months, especially when in the last weeks all the districts of the capital were declared to be out of local quarantine for the first time in 7 months.

Finally, we must mention here that as a product of the national uprising that started one year ago in the country, on October 25 2020 Chileans voted to have a new Constitution, with an overwhelming 78.27% of the votes. People’s participation in this plebiscite was the highest since the return to democracy in 1990. The new Constitution will replace the one imposed in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship. The constitutional convention voted to write the new Constitution will be the first in the world to have gender parity and will be fully elected by popular vote during April 2021. For the educational sector, the new Constitution will support and reformulate the redefinition of the balance between State and the market in guaranteeing quality public education (against the private), freedom and diversity, and therefore, education as a human right. These events open hope for change related to the inequalities of the system. As both authors come from low income backgrounds and also were in the country during the social uprising one year ago, we see these aspects opening multiple possibilities for future analysis.

Massive protests in Chile one year ago, during the social uprising.

References

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Bellei, C. (2018). La nueva educación pública. Santiago: CIAE.

Centro de Estudios de MINEDUC. (2018). Estadísticas de la Educación 2017. Publicación diciembre 2018. Santiago.

Falabella, A. (2014). The Performing School: The Effects of Market & Accountability Policies. Education Policy Analysis Archives22(70), 1–29. 

Flórez Petour, M. T. (2014). Systems, ideologies and history: A three-dimensional absence in the study of assessment reform processes. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(1), 3-26.

Garcia Palomer, C., & Paredes, R. D. (2010). Reducing the educational gap: good results in vulnerable groups. The Journal of Development Studies46(3), 535-555.

Murnane, R., Waldman, M., John, W., Bos, M. S., & Vegas, E. (2017). The consequences of Educational Voucher Reform in Chile.

OECD (2016). Report for countries: Chile.

OECD (2020). Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The territorial impact of COVID-19: Managing the crisis across levels of government.

OPECH (2020). Principales resultados de encuestas sobre el trabajo del profesorado chileno en periodo de pandemia.

Parcerisa, L., & Falabella, A. (2017). La consolidación del Estado evaluador a través de políticas de rendición de cuentas: trayectoria, producción y tensiones en el sistema educativo chileno. Education Policy Analysis Archives/Archivos Analíticos de Políticas Educativas, (25), 1-24.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La república, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía68, 11–28.

Sánchez Cerón, M. (2018). La intensificación del trabajo docente en tres países latinoamericanos. Voces y silencios. Revista Latinoamericana de Educación9(1), 4-27.

Torché, F. (2005). Privatisation reform and inequality of educational opportunity: The case of Chile. Sociology of education78(4), 316-343.

Verger, A., Moschetti, M., & Fontdevila, C. (2017). La privatización educativa en América Latina. Una cartografía de políticas tendencias y trayectorias. Barcelona: Internacional de la Educación.

Going away or not: International collaborative research and coronavirus

By Julia Paulson

I initially wrote this blog post in late April 2020, in the midst of the UK coronavirus lockdown. I felt uncertain about it at that time, like I did about everything then. But, now in September 2020 as the Network that I describe in the post is beginning (slowly and gently) to start its activities and as the academic year kicks off (hectically and potentially dangerously), it seems a good time to share these thoughts about the difficulties and delights of pausing, staying home and going slow with collaborative, international research. I’ve edited the post slightly to reflect the timeline, but is still largely as written from lockdown:

“We aren’t going away,” said my lovely colleague, Leon Tikly, who leads a network on Transforming Education Systems for Sustainable Development. He described the ways in which he and his colleagues are expanding their foci to include coronavirus and how they are finding new ways to continue their important work. On a Zoom call with other colleagues leading collaborative, international Network Plus projects, researchers described the digital methods they are working to develop and opportunities for online networking they hope to open. On another call with a University research group, colleagues strategized around how to build up our web presence, generating new blogs and profiling exciting ongoing research.

On these calls, I’ve found myself nodding along, smiling, trying to agree, trying to think about how the network that I am leading might also ‘not go away’. But, in the call with Leon my 6-year-old was climbing on me while I tried to reimagine our work and my 4-year-old was pulling on my jumper, repeating over and over that she was hungry. I had to leave the Network Plus call early as both kids started throwing pillows at me in a bid for attention. So, despite my smiles and nods, the refrain that has really been running through my head about our network as I sit on these calls is “we are going to go away, we are going away, we have gone away.”

I didn’t and don’t want to go away. I’ve cried about it. I’ve tried to think about ways around it, to be creative, to innovate, but I’ve also been interrupted to rebuild a den three times since I sat down to write the above two short paragraphs. So, I haven’t gotten very far on the creative new ideas.

Where I have gotten to though, which I have come to think of as progress, is to a point where I can see reconstructing the den as a priority. I now know that I need to put the den before what I might rather be doing professionally. I add the den as urgent to the top of my list of work tasks, many of which are also communicated to me as urgent.

I know we are privileged to be safe and comfortable in our home. Much more privileged than many around the world, including those with whom our Network Plus partners work directly. Knowing this, I’m starting to accept that despite my resistance to going away, it might actually be an appropriate response for international collaborative research. Our network, EDJAM, officially started at the beginning of April. It brings together colleagues based in Cambodia, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda and here in the UK. When I first wrote this in late April, each country was in a version of lockdown and this has fluctuated since with different parts of the world moving in and out of lockdown. In April, all the organisations where our colleagues work were physically closed and all our colleagues were trying to work from home. Schools were closed and, like me, colleagues were trying to home school and fill our children’s days in ways that ease some of the strain on them. And, in all cases, our inboxes were filled with various urgencies involved in keeping our Universities and NGOs going. Across our network, our families and social circles have been affected by Covid-19 in different ways and we are all mourning in some way. Some specific individual combination of mourning for our lives before, the distance from those we love, the things that we or our close family members have had to see and do in responding to coronavirus, the mounting numbers of deaths around the world and in our home places, and the individuals that were ours within those numbers. So, all that happened on April 1st in our network was that I emailed everyone involved to say that for the time being, we are going away.

Permission for things to be how they are

I sent the email out of the necessity of being on pause – the necessity for me. Because my kids have developed ever more creative strategies for sabotaging work Zoom calls (including my 4-year-old daughter mooning colleagues and my 6-year-old son closing the computer with a ‘goodbye forever’ to the Undergraduate Dean). Because other parts of my job have not gone away, will not go away, and I am struggling to do them. Because I needed something to go away and this was one thing that I had (some) control over, though of course the funders do not want us to go away and there is work involved in making pause a possibility – more on this later. I cried about the email, though. This was not the part of my job I wanted to go away.

The replies from Network colleagues around the world brought a different kind of tears. Like me, colleagues needed things to go away. They needed things removed from their to do lists so that they could do the urgent things that our new realities require of them, whether that is building dens on repeat like me, or leading the approach to school closures but ongoing learning in Cúcuta, Colombia like our colleague Arturo, or providing much needed perspective and critique on the move to online learning at Universities in Pakistan, like our colleague Tania, or celebrating Khmer New Year at home in matching Hawaiian shirts like our colleague Duong.

Having permission, in one aspect of professional life, to acknowledge that things are how they are and to not have to keep going was welcome news to most colleagues in our network, despite how excited we all are about this project and the work we will eventually do together. On another project, those who were keen to carry on and innovate were in urban centres, had fast internet, and were in life stages where caring responsibilities were minimal. Not going away is more possible for some than for others and trying to pursue this strategy, changing course rather than pausing, produces new silences as well as producing new knowledge.

Maybe eventually we will have to innovate and find new ways to do our work together. Maybe we’ll have to be creative and resilient and all the things our employers are urging us to be already, now, today. But for right now, we’ll just wait and see. We’ll take it day by day. We’ll make dens.

Going inside

And, it turns out that we made ourselves a den, too. It turns out we haven’t entirely gone away, we’ve just gone inside. Like we’ve been asked to, as my son regularly reminds me. We do meet on Zoom or Whatsapp and on Facebook or Twitter to check on one another. To hear about how things are going in our corners of the world, to laugh at the latest ways our children are slowly driving us crazy, to rage at Amazon’s profit margins, and to see each other’s faces. We don’t talk about our project specifically, but often we do talk about the ideas that underpin it. The ideas that we all care about and that brought us together and from which we’ve become friends as well as collaborators. I think this being inside together (but apart) – an inside together that comes without to do lists and expectations, with patience and a willingness to listen, care and support – means that when the day by day makes it possible for us to go outside again, to have a more public-facing element to our work and to start our activities together in earnest, we’ll do so from a place of trust and energy. We’ll have more fun and we might also do a better job of the work. We’ll hopefully be more attuned to each other’s realities and be able to work respectfully together in a way that continues to give us each permission for things to be how they are and maybe also allows us to get something done.

Work for later or making pause a possibility

When we were writing the proposal for our network, we agreed underpinning values for it, aspiring for a feminist and anti-racist collaboration. And, while I’ve railed against going away or staying inside, I think that probably, for us, in the circumstances that the colleagues involved in the project find ourselves, it is probably the approach that most embodies those values we laid out to guide our work. I’m not suggesting that all international collaborative projects should go away for a while or that going away is necessarily a feminist response. But I am suggesting that it is okay for us to go away, and in some circumstances like ours, it is probably right for us to go away. And, as coronavirus has been described as a disaster for feminism and for academic careers of women and those with caring responsibilities, maybe going inside, which I found so disempowering, gendered and unfair, is a feminist response in its putting caring for each other, ourselves and our loved ones, listening and giving space, first. Looking at going away/inside from this angle also makes clear what we should put second and – as is often the case when choosing feminist and/or anti-racist courses of action – choosing to go away/inside will also create more work for us. So, instead of first turning our attention to innovation in the delivery of our planned activities, we’ll need to work to make a pause a possibility. This will involve work with funders who have already opened the doors for no-cost extensions, but not for costed ones, which will be essential for colleagues funded by our project; work with our Universities whose workload spreadsheets don’t include going away time and whose expectations for coronavirus include ‘innovation’, ‘new solutions’ and ‘one activity to keep your children busy until lunchtime’ and whose progression criteria haven’t changed to accommodate how things are. So, we’ll come outside for that additional work, in this case the work of making it okay to pause. At some point, we will also weave that work into the existing commitments of our network and we’ll use the relationships we’ve strengthened while inside at home to open new possibilities and create space to acknowledge and work within the realities of international collaboration during a pandemic.

Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez: A Mexican teacher in the School of Education

By Mirna Carolina Valladares Celis & Artemio Arturo Cortez Ochoa

Last November, the teacher training college of Colima, Mexico, also known as ISENCO, organised its first International Conference on Educational Research and Evaluation. It was such an achievement considering that these normal schools[i] in Mexico were not involved in these academic environments until very recently. We both graduated from ISENCO and therefore, presenting and leading a workshop about qualitative data analysis meant for us giving back a little to the institution that forged a foundational stage in our lives.

Many valuable experiences could be drawn from the conference. The energy emerged from the first space to exchange research and practice between pre-service teachers, young and established academics, generated a unique environment with high potential to build bridges of collaboration. At another level, deepening our understanding of the contributions of Mexican Scholars in the field of Education was hugely gratifying. It was particularly remarkable to learn about Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez’s work in the Mexican Polytechnic and at the University of Bristol.

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Dr Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vazquez (‘JM’)

During the conference we talked to Dr Mario Chavez Campos, Head of the Directorate for Higher Education for Educational Studies in Mexico. He was highly intrigued that we did not know his old friend, Dr Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vazquez (also known as JM by his friends and colleagues). According to him, ‘JM’ was a renowned Mexican scholar that worked at the Graduate School of Education after his retirement. He also mentioned that Pablo Latapí, a distinguished academic in Educational Studies in Mexico (particularly famous among normal schools) admired JM. This fantastic introduction made us very keen to explore further JM’s life and contribution to the School of Education (SoE, previously known as the Graduate School of Education, GSoE).

On our return to Bristol, we kept thinking about him, and luckily, we found several papers of JM, including an obituary written by his wife, Ruth Watson, published in The Guardian in December 2008[ii]. JM was a microbiologist who pioneered in the search for a vaccine for tuberculosis and author of free Science textbooks for Mexican primary school students in the 1970’s. His widow mentions in the obituary that he worked at the University of Bristol for ten years since 1987. Also, we gladly found an extract of the preface written by Pablo Latapí for the last book ever published by Juan Manuel Gutiérrez, Education and Ordinary Life, in 2008. We hope to make justice to the translation of such an emotive display of friendship between these two grand scholars:

Those who know him in person, or who have the privilege of considering him a friend, know that he is an extraordinary person. In himself, there conflate in admirable synergy, as rarely seen in a single individual: the scientific, the teacher inside and outside the classroom (in all levels and modalities of the education system), the leaders’ advisor, the producer of educational mediums, the critical writer, the excellent communicator and the sincere artist, sentient and erudite. Those of us who have interacted with him have gained. He has transmitted to us his joy for living and his kindness, his tenacity, and generous friendship, fine in spirit, open to the world, adept to the unconventional and of human closeness[iii].

Our search for more insight about this notable scholar led us to ask among the current academics at the SoE. We were not successful, but we were still to ask Prof Michael Crossley, Emeritus Professor of Comparative and International Education and Founding Director of CIRE. He was returning from a trip to Papua New Guinea and Australia and was glad that we found out about his very good friend JM. Professor Crossley let us know of his closeness to him and his family in the 1990s, and the various research projects they worked on together in Belize, Central America and in Northern Pakistan. He sent us pictures of them in Islamabad and Northern Pakistan where they were collaborating with the Ministry of Education to help in the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning, and in providing workshops on textbook provision, writing and use. Michael permitted us to share such pictures with the CIRE community through this blog entry, and we sincerely appreciate the time he took in looking for them in his library.

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From left to right: Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez, Bob Smith, and Michael Crossley. All academics from the GSoE, University of Bristol. Circa 1991/92 in Northern Pakistan.

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From left to right, Michael Crossley, Bob Smith, Myra Murby (textbook consultant) and JM.

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A group photo in Islamabad, Pakistan. Circa 1991/92.

Besides being the scholar and the friend, Juan Manuel takes on great significance for the times we live. Ruth Watson, his widow, couldn’t summarise it better:

He is remembered in Mexico not only for his achievements in improving science education but also for defending the Polytechnic against government troops in 1968. His refusal to allow them on campus to quell student riots resulted in the temporary confiscation of his passport. A disillusioned member of the Communist Party, he held to strong socialist convictions which translated into a life dedicated to public service and the upholding of freedom of political expression.

JM’s legacy provides testimony of the diverse community that has forged the past and present ethos of our SoE. In particular, the image of JM with Professor Crossley and other scholars from different contexts should remind us all about the rich history of our SoE, and the potential for fruitful partnership between scholars from the global south and north. We wish many more JMs emerge and keep inspiring, educating, and giving hope to the future generations of students at the SoE.

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We want to express our gratitude to Professor Michael Crossley for his invaluable insight into the academic work of JM while in Bristol, and for sharing these photos from his collection. Furthermore, we want to thank Betzabé Torres for commenting on the preliminary version of this text.

Most of JM’s work was published in print. Few of his contributions were digitalised after his death for academic journals in Latin America. In 2008, the journal Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativagathered some of his latest works for a Special issue that can be found here

[i] These are Higher Education institutions concerned with the initial teacher education of most pre-service educators in Mexico.

[ii] Gutiérrez, Ruth (2008). Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez. The Guardian, Obituaries. Retrieved here.

[iii] Latapí Sarré, Pablo (2008). Recuerdos de Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez. Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativa. Vol. 13 No. 39, México Oct/Dec 2008. Retrieved here.

CIRE summer reading list

Compiled by Arathi Sriprakash

What ideas inspire and challenge your thinking in Comparative and International Research in Education? 

Here is a list of books that have animated some of us at CIRE. These are a selection of books that we’ve found exciting for our scholarship, or that we are reading at the moment, or that are on our never-ending wish-lists.

A quick glance and it’s clear that there are so many ideas and resources that can be brought to our shared interest in issues of social, environmental and epistemic justice in education.  

We’d love to hear what you are reading over the summer – please leave your suggestions and thoughts in the comment box below!

 

Also … join us for three reading events this week and the next!

  • Tuesday, 7th July, 11am – Critical Ideas from the Periphery are hosting a reading group session on ecofeminism. Details here.
  • Thursday, 9th July, 6pm – Decoloniality and comparative education reading series on Vickers’ (2020) response to Takayama et al. (2017). Info available here.
  • Thursday, 16th July, 5pm. Book launch Education for Sustainable Development in the Postcolonial World: Towards a Transformative Agenda for Africa by CIRE co-director Professor Leon Tikly; the event features guest speakers Emily Echessa (Save the Children), Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka (Rhodes University, South Africa), Dr Zibah Nwako (University of Bristol, UK), and Professor Arathi Sriprakash (University of Cambridge, UK). Sign up here.

Carving out epistemic communities: Reading series on decoloniality and CIE

In this write up from Leanne Cameron and Martin Preston, we summarise the conversation from the first in a series of reading group sessions around decoloniality and the field of comparative and international education (CIE). This first session (held 25 June) was focused on the 2017 article “Toward a Postcolonial Comparative and International Education” by Takayama, Sriprakash, and Connell. We were fortunate to be joined by Arathi Sriprakash, one of the authors.

In starting off the discussion, Robin provided some contextual information about the article itself: the article introduced a special edition on “Contesting Coloniality: Rethinking Knowledge Production and Circulation in Comparative and International Education” in Comparative Education Review. He noted that it is rare to have a special edition in CER – they occur about every six years – and since CER is printed through a non-profit press, they have a set number of pages and thus journal space is “a finite resource that people are fighting for.”

CIE can be viewed as a field dominated by white voices and perhaps more conservative viewpoints. He provided the example of AERA (the American Educational Research Association): the theme of social justice runs as a distinct thread through all of their work. Even a casual glance at the website indicates their celebration of Juneteenth, the African-American holiday in celebration of the emancipation of slaves. CIE can perhaps be seen to function as a space of ‘white flight’ away from more progressive, reflexive scholarship.

Robin provided some further context around CIE journals across the field, noting that every other major journal has a white male editor, with the exception of Compare, which has a female co-editor. It was unprecedented, then, for this special edition to be headed by a diverse editorial team. The special edition has become known as the ‘blue issue’ (which Robin noted reminds him of the Beatle’s White Album) and Takayama et al, as the introduction to that issue, is the most downloaded article from CER in 2019 by a factor of three. The second most downloaded article, he noted, was a review of the children’s film Zootopia, where the authors analysed the use of racist tropes for the animal characters. Robin argued that this demonstrated the sort of appetite for critical, decolonial work within the journal and the field at large.

The idea of an ‘appetite’ was also broached by Arathi. Leanne and Martin, as PhD students and early career researchers, asked the more senior academics for advice about taking on work. Especially in the era of coronavirus and economic downturn, what are the ethical concerns in taking contract work or jobs from institutions like the World Bank, whose work may perpetuate the epistemic hierarchies that Takayama et al. (2017) seek to dismantle? Arathi (and several other academics) advised that ECRs take work wherever they can get it, but we can still look to “carve out epistemic communities within your institution.” In these epistemic communities, you can create spaces for discussion and debate – to build coalitions and bring people together. “There is an appetite for it,” she told the group. “Everything begins with ideas.”

Leanne posed a question meant to provoke: in the article, the authors expose the racist viewpoints and expression of CIE ‘father’ Isaac L. Kandel. He was instrumental in pushing the discipline to “provide fully contextual knowledge of other countries’ educational practices, especially because superficial ac- counts of them are often mobilized to justify policy options at home” (Takayama et al., 2017, p. S2). However, he also demonstrated his beliefs of Western superiority, the ‘importance’ of the colonial project, and white supremacy in statements such as “the education of backward or indigenous people in colonial dependencies is beginning to receive attention to a degree never manifested before” (p. S9). So, Leanne asked, what are we supposed to do with this history in CIE? Can we simply argue that Kandel (and others) was a ‘product of his era’, a response favoured by apologists for slave masters and the like?

Arathi pointed to the work of Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal whose recent book Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent demonstrates who is erased when the narrative focuses only on the colonizer – or, in the case of Kandel, on Eurocentric education scholarship. “Who is erased when the narrative is told that way? Saying simply that he was ‘a product of his time’ erases those structures.” It is a question of epistemic politics in deciding who gets included and excluded, and these are active politics: those voices did exist, but who today do we count as ‘knowledge’ from that era? Who is in the room, and who is allowed to be in the room?  Rafael noted as well that “there are spaces to look back at figures [like Kandel] but that kind of history is one that is relevant as far as it is informing what we are doing now. Where are we going?” Looking back to dissenting, ‘hidden’ voices emerged as a concrete step that CIE as a discipline can take in moving the debate forward.

Several other ideas were put forth as ways to move forward as a field. Terra suggested that we continue to focus on writing blogs in multiple languages (as with this example from Julia Paulson’s interview with Arturo Charria Hernández, written in both Spanish and English). We can do small things, Terra advised, in order to “show that we are not comfortable with English dominance and what that says about knowledge.” She also noted the burden that falls especially on American/European researchers and white people in the field: “we have to welcome not being welcome.” As researchers, whilst we can look to work with communities of epistemic resistance, we don’t belong in every space – there are places where we need to sit out. Just as colonialism expertly abused nations and people for raw materials and data, diverse epistemologies are also not simply “data mines for the accumulation of knowledge and the development of theory in the global North” (Takayama et al., 2017, p. S3).

The conversation also included the concept of intellectual and epistemic reparations as a form of reparative justice. Dismantling existing epistemic hierarchies is, in fact, a form of repair as it corrects what has previously been built on violence and prevents the reproduction of those same damaging dynamics. Material and financial reparations in larger community spaces are gaining some traction in this social moment, but as intellectuals, we can act concretely in our own spaces. Arathi asked that we think about what knowledge has been denied or silenced. How can we give voice – not in a paternalistic sense, but a critical, uncomfortable, and meaningful way – to diverse epistemologies? How can we think differently about dominant knowledge to see where that knowledge has become redundant or not feasible?

In moving forward with this series of reading groups, we discussed the possibility of collaborative writing to consider the future of the field. Terra suggested an approach used in the January TESF workshops, where visual notetakers asked participants three questions: what do you dread? What do you dream? How do you realise that dream? We will take these three questions forward, thinking around our dreads, dreams, and paths to realisation for the field of CIE when we meet again.

 

Next meeting: Thursday, 9 July from 6:00-7:15pm on Zoom. We will look at the Vickers’ (2020) response to the Takayama et al. (2017) paper. Please sign up here

Vickers, E. (2020). Critiquing coloniality, ‘epistemic violence’ and western hegemony in comparative education–the dangers of ahistoricism and positionality. Comparative Education, 56(2), 165-189.

Colour-blind Racism in University Hiring

By Professor Robin Shields

In Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout, the protagonist laments that his town of Dickens has lost its status as an official city. The fictitious city, based closely on Compton in Southern California, becomes absorbed into the greater city of Los of Angeles. The erased city limits of Dickens come to represent the paradoxical status of race, which is both a ubiquitous feature of life yet also a category that is not officially recognized in a “colour-blind” society.

The weeks following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have witnessed two competing discourses on racism in British Universities. On the one hand, universities have been quick to vocalize their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, advocating racial equality in more assertive and urgent terms than in the past (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4). On the other hand, critical commentators have rightly pointed to their poor record of supporting racial equality in practice (e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). This is evident in the lack of Black members of staff, who comprise just 2.1% of UK university staff but 13% of the population. Universities that truly value Black lives would ensure that they are well-represented and empowered in the organization, but the online movement #BlackInIvory highlights experiences of persistent marginalization.

In response, most universities would point to hiring policies that specifically promote equality, diversity and inclusion. Such policies protect against discrimination by ensuring data on applicants’ social backgrounds (including race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and other protected characteristics) is processed separately from the application and by specifically welcoming applicants who hold these “protected characteristics.” Universities could therefore claim that the underrepresentation of Black staff is not due to hiring practices, because these practices do not consider race and therefore cannot be racist.

However, these practices also closely resemble what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (15) terms colour-blind racism, spurious attempts to achieve racial equality by suppressing acknowledgment of racialized histories and identities. Like Beatty’s town of Dickens, color-blind racism erases the city limits, but the landscape remains unchanged. While the categories of race are removed from legitimate discourse, the experiences and standards of dominant race groups remain the norm and expectation in public institutions. This means that students and staff at Universities must confront racist and discriminatory treatment, assumption and expectations, but they are also denied recourse to the terms that would articulate their oppression.

Instead of maintaining a “colour-blind” approach to hiring, British universities could do much more to embody and promote racial justice in their hiring practices. The Equalities and Diversities Act of 2010 allows employers to give preference to under-represented groups in hiring, provided that the candidates are equally qualified (Part 11, Ch 2.4, also 16). In practice, universities tend to cite practices such as targeted advertising or statements welcoming underrepresented groups as positive action (e.g. 17, 18, 19, 20), although the Equalities and Diversities Act instead more directly identifies contracts of employment to equally qualified, applicants from under-represented groups (Part 11, Ch 2.5). Thus, it seems that universities are watering down the intentions of “positive action” and also under-utilizing the means to achieve equitable representation of Black staff provided by current legislation.

A better step to addressing systemic racism in hiring would be to embed contributions to diversity as a priority in appointment criteria. For example, requiring candidates to demonstrate their accomplishments contributing to diversity and inclusion, with the same weight and objectivity that research and teaching are considered, through a written statement would give meaningful recognition to the additional work and challenges that most academics from Black and other minority groups have been required to undertake as part of institutional survival (21, 22). Well-evidenced statements of contributions to diversity are already a standard aspect of academic hiring at many elite universities in other countries.

The title of a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute – The White Elephant in the Room highlights the extent to which the colour-blind approach embraced in British higher education is no longer tenable. However, progress against the report’s top two recommendations, that universities should participate in the sector-wide Race Equality Charter and facilitate more conversations about race, is minimal. More than four years after its inception, only 14 universities have received a bronze level award from the Race Equality Charter, with no awards at higher levels. Writing in the HEPI report, Kalwant Bhopal notes “there is little or no imperative to shift the focus to uncomfortable conversations about race and racism in higher education,” because, unlike Athena SWAN certification, the Race Equality Charter is not required by research councils.

The white elephant in the room also highlights an important aspect of universities; they tend to think of themselves as neutral rather than white spaces, despite the many signs of white dominance. A first step in moving from colour-blind racism to an anti-racist university will be to come to terms with this whiteness, to listen to the experiences of Black academics and other academics of colour (23, 24), to unlearn current practices and to make universities a space that recognizes and values the experiences of Black academics and professionals and ensures their representation as colleagues in universities.

Thanks to Julia Paulson, Deborah Brewis, Ugbaad Aidid and Lizzi Milligan for feedback on a draft of this post

Unheard voices of climate activism

By Angelika Peplinski, Liz Barrett, Muassua David, Natalia Hayes, Gaukhar Kenzhebayeva and Collet Mweene

This blog is an output from a reading group on climate activism that ran from February to March 2020 as part of the Masters unit ‘Education, Peace and Sustainable Development.’

On the 28th February over 15,000 people gathered in Bristol to hear Greta Thunberg and take part in the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate. Despite the miserable weather, Greta’s presence inspired thousands of people to join the collective effort to tackle the ecological crisis and hold politicians and leaders accountable for their lack of action.

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Marching up Park Street following Greta’s talk (photo credit: Aminath Shiyama)

Our capitalist economy has often led us to believe that “the structural problems of an exploitative system – poverty, joblessness, poor health, lack of fulfilment – [are] in fact a personal deficiency.” We need to be vegan, we need to reduce plastic, we need to use more public transport, we need to fly less: the list is long. While individual action is important, it is fossil fuel corporations that need to be held accountable. The Guardian reports that “a hundred companies alone are responsible for an astonishing 71%” of carbon emissions since 1988.” Movements like FridaysForFuture or Extinction Rebellion counteract the neoliberal ideology of individualism by collective action as it is “only mass movements that have the power to alter the trajectory of the climate crisis.” However, this idea is not new.

Indigenous resistance is rooted in collectivism. Their “systems of sustainability were destroyed precisely because they were incompatible with systems of exploitation and extraction” (Niheu 2019: 124-125) emblematic of neoliberal ideology.  Via nonviolent collective action, many indigenous communities have sought repatriation: “Indigenous people are the guardians of ancestral knowledge that draws from the environment the solutions of everyday life” (Ibrahim 2019: 56). Therefore, climate justice and indigenous rights interlink. However, this is often not recognised in mainstream media.

Media coverage of the climate emergency focusses mainly on the Global North. It depicts climate activism as led by mainly white, middle class people and thus neglects the experiences of the Global South. Uganda climate activist Vanessa Nakate “was cropped out of a press photo in Davos” when posing alongside white climate activists, including Greta Thunberg. This incident illustrates the connection of climate justice and social justice. Issues of racism need to be addressed as the Global South is experiencing immediate consequences of the ecological crisis. Lake Chad, which used to cover 25,00 square kilometres, now only covers about 2,500. Indigenous communities “have lost 90 per cent of this resource so essential for the life of one of the poorest regions in the world” (Ibrahim 2019: 54). Almost 52 million people in Africa have become food insecure due to the effects of climate change, yet the media often choses to ignore these stories. The irony is not only that the Global South remains unheard while they are the most impacted, but that they also contribute the least amount of the global greenhouse emissions.

The lack of recognition of ethnic minorities and their voices has been an issue for centuries and right now this ignorance poses an immediate danger. With the ongoing disappearance of indigenous knowledge, “it is a part of the memory of humanity that is threatened with extinction” (Ibrahim 2019: 56). More than ever, is it important to include, recognize and represent minorities in discussions regarding climate change and climate activism. Nature is the work tool for many indigenous communities. Hence, their expertise is needed to protect nature. “Indigenous peoples do not want to be silent victims of climate change. They are ready to share their traditional knowledge, and to (re)teach humankind how to live in harmony with nature” (Ibid. 57). It is easy for the Global North to dismiss climate change as an abstract future threat, but activism has the potential to make unheard voices heard: “In the southern narratives, we see how hope, guilt, and anger combine to avert the paralyzing effects of acute fear” (Kleres & Wettergren 2017: 517). The Global North has a responsibility to embrace these feelings in a collective effort to tackle climate change. Activism can pave the way for climate and social justice, but only if we recognise the voices that up to now we have chosen to ignore.

 

References

Ibrahim, H. O. (2019). Indigenous people and the fight for survival. In Extinction Rebellion (ed.). This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook. Penguin Books. pp. 54–57.

Kleres, J., & Wettergren, A. (2017). Fear, hope, anger, and guilt in climate activism. Social Movement Studies, 16(5), 507-519. doi:10.1080/14742837.2017.1344546

Niheu, K. (2019). Indigenous resistance in an era of climate change crisis. Radical History Review, 133, 117-130. Available here.

 

Hong Kong protests and lockdown: Conversation with Dr Liz Jackson

By Dr Janet Orchard

In this post, Janet speaks with her friend and colleague Dr Liz Jackson from the University of Hong Kong regarding the situation in Hong Kong, where protests and Covid lockdown have marked life in the past months. 

I enjoyed catching up with good friend and academic colleague Liz Jackson on Skype this week in anticipation of her key note address to the first ever online University of Bristol School of Education Doctoral Conference on 5th-6th June 2020, which will bring together members of our doctoral community from Hong Kong as well as Bristol and all other parts of the world. You can find out more about Liz’s keynote here; the abstract for her talk is featured at the end of the post.

Liz and I haven’t see each other for months now; normally we would catch up in person three or four times each year; however, with all non-essential travel into Hong Kong from the UK suspended indefinitely for the time being, following the Covid outbreak, we decided to catch up via Skype instead. Our conversation continued in between opening our respective front doors to receive home deliveries: life under lockdown across two continents.

I was keen to know more from Liz about a recent piece she was invited to write on the impact of Covid for teaching and learning in Hong Kong for Postdigital Science and Education (read Liz’s powerful account here). Liz found it impossible to share about Covid in Hong Kong, she explained, without first setting the wider scene of the anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong over the past year, one in a series of recent movements ongoing in Hong Kong related to Hong Kong’s status and the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement with Mainland China. The Covid response in Hong Kong is certainly related to the past experience with SARS, as several commentators have indicated; however, Liz maintains that the virus also struck a society that was already in crisis. The rest of the world has been rocked by Covid, but Hong Kong society was already in shock, profoundly shaped by months of experiencing precariousness and instability, both politically and socially; in other words, putting it crudely perhaps, just another shock.

At a personal level, Liz told me about friends and colleagues around the world she has spoken to subsequently, as the pandemic has spread. She mentions her family and friends in the US in the piece. Fortunately, they are all fine and fairly confident that they had Covid, but due to lack of testing they do not know. They express tell-tale signs of shock, Liz observes, such as making energetic reactions and responses to challenges, trying to fix things, save the day, and work it all out. She added:

I personally wanted to appeal to them, and defend myself, in terms of moving more slowly and taking things easy. Catching me at this confused international moment, the article reflects on my experience with Covid as part of a broader experience of social crisis in Hong Kong, also suggesting the need for more international awareness of our connectedness. As these crises impact us all, even if we are not personally affected, understanding crisis and contingency requires new ways of thinking about social relationships and civic engagement.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there have been very few new cases in the past few months which means that as socialising ceases to be a taboo, the protests are back. Liz worries that political instability will be a key feature of the ‘new normal’ going forward, for Hong Kong and for the UK, US, and other societies around the globe. This is being overlooked, I reflect afterwards, amidst all the concern for ‘listening to the science’ by the dominant, but inherently unstable, policy discourse.

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To sign up for the School of Education virtual doctoral conference (5-6 June) and see Liz’s keynote, please see this Eventbrite page.

Liz’s keynote: “Ignoring History and Facts: The Ongoing Politicisation of Hong Kong Education”

Summary: Over the last tumultuous decade in Hong Kong, the topic of education has been in the front and centre stage of controversy and media coverage. As youth in secondary schools led the Umbrella Movement (2014-2015), while universities became battle grounds of the more recent anti-extradition protests (starting in 2019), popular discourse by politicians and others in media blamed the education system, anti-Mainland educators, and Liberal Studies, for radicalising and liberalising youth. While this message is spread time and again, it puts educators in a nearly impossible position. And it flies in the face of best evidence, based on academic research, about education’s role, historically and today, in Hong Kong.

In this lecture, Jackson will discuss her experiences of investigating Hong Kong education at multiple levels in relation to its civic and politicising influence. This includes discrete studies of the history of civic education in Hong Kong, student experiences with the Umbrella Movement, and research on the nature of the social studies curriculum in Hong Kong, including Liberal Studies. Offering a historical overview of this topic, Jackson also reflects on the challenges of doing research in a politicised climate. This lecture thus aims to offer both an academic analysis of political and civic education in Hong Kong, in relation to civic engagement—as well as personal reflections and insights, on the role of academic researchers to study important social events, thorns and all.

About Liz Jackson: Liz Jackson is currently an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Hong Kong and Director of its Comparative Education Research Centre. President of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, one of the largest and most international academic associations of philosophy of education, Liz has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters, and books in the areas of philosophy of education, global studies in education, and multicultural and civic education. Her fourth book, Protesting Education and Identity in Hong Kong, will be based on her work over the last 8 years studying curriculum and youth civic engagement in Hong Kong. In September 2020, Liz will be taking up a new role as a Professor of Education at the prestigious Education University of Hong Kong.

Learning Under Lockdown: Rwanda

From the 13th of March, the Rwandan government has suspended all institutions where people gather in large groups: as with many other nations around the world, this is a core precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. Rwanda was the first sub-Saharan nation to mandate a full lock-down, with borders closed to anyone except Rwandans returning home. Because of quick action, the nation has managed to limit the spread with no deaths to date. Medical officers report that the existing protective equipment and ventilators are sufficient for the time being, but medical facilities would be stretched to a breaking point if the caseload were to accelerate. President Paul Kagame has warned of the long-term impact that the virus will have on the African economy and suggested $100 billion as the figure required to prevent mass deprivation.

In this blog, Leanne Cameron interviews two Rwandan teachers, Cleophace Nzabagerageza and Laurien Ikuzwe. They comment on changes at their respective institutions and those that have occurred throughout Rwanda since the lockdown.

LC: How are you feeling about everything that is happening? Are you staying busy?

Cleophace: Physically I am feeling well. And in this lockdown period every day I take approximately four hours to read different resources about the subjects that I teach (English, Kinyarwanda, and ICT); I look at books and materials from the internet to try and improve my understanding. But I am worried about when this pandemic will stop so that we can go back to school. Due to the speed and the number of people who are sick from or spreading COVID-19, different counties have taken measures to wipe it out, so I am concerned for people who are suffering. But about my career as a teacher I am worried whether the students will forget things that they have studied which would require me to begin from basics. Nobody knows when the lockdown will end and we will return to normal.

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Cleophace delivering a motivational speech at his school pre-COVID

Laurien: This COVID-19 period has been a time of reflection to me about my profession. I’ve been reflecting on my work as a teacher, asking myself; why I do what I do? What kind of a teacher was I? What kind of a teacher I want to be? How does my teaching matter in the lives of my kids and the community?

In this period, I see the power of effectively-shared knowledge. My prior teaching was mainly philosophic and followed these steps: acquisition, understanding, application and becoming. But as we have found ourselves in this trying situation, I went quickly to check on my students (especially those who are my Facebook friends) and asking them how they are coping with the situation. I realized the power of connection and see how my job has impacted my students in many ways. Considering what I see around me, I think it gives me opportunity for understanding social cohesion and what life means in a community. I am learning that life is about understanding one another and seeing that life is relative. Whatever is happening to one might happen to another. Thus, it reminds me to dive into how we should build a common life together.

LC: Tell me about your students. How are they coping with the lockdown?

Cleophace: My school is a private technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution working under the control of Rwanda Polytechnic with the Workplace Development Authority at the head head. It is a coed school with male and female students from both local and urban areas in attendance; my students are 15 to 19 years old. They are working towards a TVET certificate of completion in the trades of  Motor Vehicle Mechanics and Tailoring. I talk to my students regularly through social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, but we also talk on the phone and email as well. They tell me how they feel; many are scared and have lost the hope about when the pandemic will stop to let them go back for their studies.

Laurien: I teach student in Grades 10-12 at a government-aided boarding secondary school. Their ages vary from 15 to 22 and they come from all across the country: from cities, suburbs, and countryside. They all are in scientific studies (STEM), and I teach them English for communication. They have all been sent home.

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Laurien at work

LC: Can you talk a little about the situation for primary-aged students? 

Cleophace: Our government has initiated a media programme of teaching via television and radio called Building Learning Foundations Radio and Television Programme; it is delivered in partnership with UKAid. The subjects that are delivered in this radio and television program are examinable in national examinations from lower primary to advanced secondary. For primary students, the subjects of Kinyarwanda, English and Maths* are delivered. For lower secondly, students can learn English, Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Kinyarwanda. For upper secondary, most of the schools use their websites where they post lessons and assignments. The Ministry of Education has also strengthened the program of e-learning so the students can find different resources to help them keep the ‘mood’ of education and learning. Universities are also using e-learning platforms to keep students connected.

But access to the internet and even to power is still a big problem for many Rwandans, especially in the countryside. Many students don’t have a personal computer or smartphone to even access the internet this is a problem especially for students who are in universities. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education have assured those students who aren’t able to follow either radio or e-learning programs that they will go on from where they stopped when schools start again. Further, to facilitate even those students who cannot easily find internet, smart phones and computer, the Rwanda Education Board has initiated a toll free line of *134# where they find some questions to test their knowledge. So the use of those programmes is to keep their mind sharp and occupied but not to replace the classroom.

LC: Do you think your approach to teaching will change in the future due to this period of lockdown? 

Laurien: When it comes to the approach to teaching English language after COVID-19 period, I absolutely think that I will change somewhat due to the lock down. I will adapt to new approaches because it is the first time in my life (maybe for many people) to experience a global and yet local lockdown, I realised education has a reason to be much more contextualized to the real life situation. There are a lot of things to consider in English language teaching (ELT). For instance, we are likely to be persuaded to integrate technology and to use all available digital devices in ELT because the world is becoming more digitized; many jobs from different domains of life have been saved by working at home during COVID-19 due to the support of the internet. For instance, many schools were forced to shift their schooling activities to e-learning, though it has been tough for many. I believe that everything started like this and there is hope that learning and work will continue to be customized.

Cleophace: With this lockdown period, I have enough time to think and reflect about the content that I will deliver whenever we will go back to school. I am preparing and writing clear and relevant notes for content delivery. This will help me to change my teaching style since notes will be prepared in advance; I will be able to engage students in more hands-on learning. I know I will also need to think about different learning theories and try to individualise my teaching strategies.

LC: Do you think this will influence what English language you teach in the future? More vocabulary about viruses and pandemics, maybe?

Laurien: Yes! Now, I think some language items will be added in my ELT: medical vocabulary, and vocabulary for talking about pandemics and epidemics, as you have mentioned. I will also add more work on technology and other necessary language commands.

Cleophace: When we prepare for classes, we go through the line of curriculum that the Ministry of Education has established. But illustrations, examples and explanation together with cross cutting issues are adapted depending on the situation. This means that my teaching will be led by the moral lessons left by this COVID-19 and some unpopular vocabulary items will be retained, and vocabulary around pandemic, lockdown, confinement, outbreak, curfew, etc. will be integrated in the courses that I deliver.

 

*English, mathematics, and all other subjects apart from Kinyarwanda are taught in English for the primary level.