Opinion: Why decolonizing education matters in the post-pandemic world
My grandmother, Shanti, a.k.a. Prakashwati, was born in 1918 in colonial India during the last global pandemic.
For her role in the freedom movement, she was imprisoned for treason and sedition at the age of 12, and spent the next three years in and out of jail as a political prisoner.
Her experiences taught her at an early age that the freedom of the country will not automatically translate into social or economic freedoms for the most disadvantaged people, especially for women and children.
She considered education as the key to her own freedom and a tool for social change. So during her prison terms, she wrote exams through a distance and open institution and acquired her middle school and high school leaving certificates.
At 16, while being enrolled for a teaching diploma, she sought refuge in Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram, as a young political and social activist forsaken by her family. Gandhiji appreciated her quest for learning but told her to abandon the teaching diploma.
Gandhiji rightly believed that education is much more than literacy and rejected colonial education for not being connected to the needs of the masses. He proposed a radical concept of education, Nai Talim, the cornerstone of his perception of an ideal society consisting of small, self-reliant, and co-operative communities. He believed that his holistic integrative approach to education would change the established structure of opportunities, which entrench existing divisions of class, caste, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, and others.
While my grandmother wholehearted agreed with the principles inherent in Gandhi’s Nai Talim, she defied his order to not appear for the exam, finished the teaching diploma, and then started teaching at a primary school for girls in the Ashram.
Except for some small experimental efforts, Nai Talim was never really implemented. Two generations later as I did research into the life and times of my grandmother, however, I learned that Nai Talim has remarkable overlaps with the Indigenous worldviews in terms of emphasizing spirituality, a sense of community, respect for the individual, and acquiring knowledge through direct experience in our own natural environment.
“The role of education for individuals and communities cannot be overstated, especially in a world ravaged by a mutating virus, unfolding global climate crisis, deepening extreme inequality among and within nations, and the worldwide deterioration of democratic institutions. ”– Dr. Meenal Shrivastava
A century since the last global pandemic, the role of education for individuals and communities cannot be overstated, especially in a world ravaged by a mutating virus, unfolding global climate crisis, deepening extreme inequality among and within nations, and the worldwide deterioration of democratic institutions. Yet, the proportion of children in school, trained teachers, and support for higher education has been dropping around the world.
Exacerbated by the disruptions of the pandemic, not only are most developing countries not going to meet the education goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but funding for higher education has also flattened or declined in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
In this context, the debates around decolonizing education are critical in finding the way forward. We need education not only to find creative solutions for the problems of the day, but also as a tool of social transformation. In imagining what a decolonized curriculum could look like, we need to look at Indigenous worldviews, and perhaps also at concepts such as Gandhi’s Nai Talim.
More importantly, we will need to ask people like young Shanti how our education systems can serve their needs better and the need for the preservation of life on our planet.
By Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley and Ray Barnhardt. Published by Alaska Native Knowledge Network, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
By Gregor Lang-Wojtasik. Published by International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning.
By Meenal Shrivastava. Published by AU Press.