Incredible India – 1

I saw a really inspiring Marathi film two weeks ago, “Dr Prakash Baba Amte – the Real Hero.” It was a most refreshing experience to see the difference a few people can make to those living in abject poverty, exploitation and repression. India is a great country in many ways, but also a country in which the disparities between the rich and the poor are ever increasing.

The film is a biopic about Dr. Prakash Amte, his wife and a small team of selfless doctors and social workers who, led by Dr. Prakash Amte, devote their lives to the development and upliftment of a group of tribal people in the forests of western Maharashtra.

There is no Bollywood slick song and dance cinematography here, but the film is brilliant in conveying a truly humanitarian message. This film is a must-see for all who care, and this is made easier by even providing English sub-titles in the cinema version. I will certainly bring a few copies to Australia with me. This film provides a truly heart-warming experience and restores one’s faith in humanity. This is important everywhere, but especially in India where it is hard to find a charitable organization and group of people, who in a truly Gandhian spirit, are genuinely committed to the poorest of the poor. Here at least we find one.

The Amte's real and actors

(Photo above: The real Amte’s on the left, and the actors on the right)

India is a wonderful country but has many socio-political challenges. This film is a reminder that the real danger to social stability here is not the Naxalites or Maoists but abject poverty and its neglect by a growing middle class pre-occupied with flaunting both its wealth and its disregard for the poor.

I highly recommend both the film and support for this great humanitarian project. For more information go to: http://www.anandwan.in/anandwan-project-sites/project-hemalkasa.html

Hemalkasa - cottage-hospital-thumb

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Welcome to my blog

My aim for this blog is to encourage a critical approach to all aspects of learning and teaching in higher education with a special emphasis on open transcultural dialogue with higher education students and professionals around the globe.

Why ‘open transcultural dialogue’?

Despite much hype to the contrary the world at large and the world of higher education both nationally and internationally, are far from ‘level playing fields’. Around the globe, students from marginal and low socio-economic social groups such as Indigenous, Tribal and First Nation peoples, ethnic minorities and the poorer sections of the working class generally have highest attrition rates and lowest participation and progression rates. International students at Western universities often find themselves subject to high failure rates and to a Western neo-colonial rather than a genuinely ‘international’ experience. What they all have in common is this; their cultures, languages, learning modes and literacy practices are disprivileged in a higher education system that still privileges the cultures, languages, learning modes and literacy practice of Western, white, urban upper and middle classes.

Where do we put the pressure for change up or down?

At present, most universities ignore this disprivileging by labeling the problem as one of social disadvantage; deficiencies that reside in these student groups themselves and by providing an array of access, enabling and bridging programs. In Australia at least, and while important in their own right, they have not by themselves been able to achieve any significant structural shifts in the participation rates of these social groups in higher education. So far the strategy has been to put the pressure for change down onto students from these social groups. In this blog I will argue that yes, we must invite students to change and for us to teach them what Lisa Delpit refers to as the ‘discourse of power’. Yet, on the other hand, we must also take responsibility for our institutional practices and for the ways in which they disprivilege many social groups. This means putting the pressure up into the system – to promote changes in our disprivileging practices as well as explicitly teaching our students the discourse of power.

Turning our learning spaces into ‘equitable transcultural contact zones’

A major challenge is for us to promote a form of higher education in which a diverse range of classed, coloured, gendered, and ethnic ‘Others’ will be equally ‘at home’ and will enjoy equal outcomes as well as equal opportunities. To achieve this I propose that our learning spaces – real and virtual – be transformed into equitable transcultural contact zones based on a post-colonial, post-positivist epistemological framework, premised on mutually respectful open dialogue based on a commitment to the “right to difference in equality” (Bhabha, 2004).

My point is that learning within a massified and globalised higher education sector now takes place in distinctly transcultural ‘contact zones’ that is, in “the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect” (Pratt, 1992:6-7). Learning in higher education now occupies a third space, which, situated  in-between cultural traditions can generate new hybrid forms of knowledge and practice that do not have their foundation within the discrete world of any single culture or language” (Bhabha, 2004)

Why ‘Acharya’

Most of us are familiar with the Indian term guru meaning ‘teacher’ or, more broadly, a person who is recognised as being competent in a particular domain of expertise. However, following some workshops in India, participants introduced me to the Sanskrit term ‘acharya’. They explained that the term ‘acharya’ takes the concept of ‘guru’ to a deeper level because it is reserved for those teachers and scholars who teach not just with their words but by example; by inspiring learning through modelling the very practices they talk about.

As an adult educator I figured it would make a great inspirational title for this blog. After all to become an ‘acharya’ rather than a ‘guru’ is something that all good eductors strive for – whether we work in formal or informal educational settings. Moreover, I think of ‘acharya’ as neither passive nor prescriptive so that, as used here, it is more like a verb rather than a noun; it denotes something we actively strive to become rather than a static condition of something achieved once-and-for-all. In addition, it is a process open to, and respectful of, our own socially situated settings.

I hope this blog will have something to offer all of us who aspire to become an ‘acharya’ in socially inclusive higher education.