Global Academics Discuss the Need to ‘De-colonialize’ Higher Education

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Habib University’s third Postcolonial Higher Education Conference highlights the specific historical and educational challenges of the postcolonial world, under the theme, ‘The Inheritance of Injustice’.


This year conference includes top global academics from South Asia, Africa, the US and UK, including the economist Dr. Mwangi wa Githinji from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, whose keynote speech addressed the question of a just postcolonial development.  Professor Githinji explored the ways in which “inherited economic, social, language and ecological structures transmitted colonial injustice into the present.” He further highlighted how the transmission of injustice and the structure of the economy led to the “failure to improve the well-being of the vast majority of the population.” He continued to say that today, “Development still is understood in a deficit model based on dualities with the aim to move countries to be more alike the ‘modern’ and ‘industrialized’ world” and called for “development as constantly expanding along multiple vectors that requires radical inclusion”. Education systems also need to break out of their post-colonial inheritance to indigenizing systems in which “language is a library of ideas that allows us to create our own histories.”

After the keynote, the conference was structured in three panels. The first panel ‘Imagining a Post-colonial Politics’ broadly engaged with the question of political imagination as outlined in 18th European thought and as practiced in contemporary societies. Speaking from his pedagogical experience in South Africa, Dr. Suren Pillay, University of the Western Cape, offered an alternate, less Eurocentric way, of the genealogy of the modern state in Africa. Dr. Pillay stressed that “intellectuals must struggle to decolonize knowledge, by not taking progress and civilization at face value, but by telling more multiple and messy stories that co-constitute the story of the modern state.” Professor Peter Hallward of Kingston University, London, explored the nature and value of popular sovereignty. His talk looks at the “several ways that past injustices cast a shadow over political self-determination in the present.” He paid particular attention to the role of popular will as a productive force in the sovereign state.

After the keynote, the conference was structured in three panels. The first panel ‘Imagining a Post-colonial Politics’ broadly engaged with the question of political imagination as outlined in 18th European thought and as practiced in contemporary societies. Speaking from his pedagogical experience in South Africa, Dr. Suren Pillay, University of the Western Cape, offered an alternate, less Eurocentric way, of the genealogy of the modern state in Africa. Dr. Pillay stressed that “intellectuals must struggle to decolonize knowledge, by not taking progress and civilization at face value, but by telling more multiple and messy stories that co-constitute the story of the modern state.” Professor Peter Hallward of Kingston University, London, explored the nature and value of popular sovereignty. His talk looks at the “several ways that past injustices cast a shadow over political self-determination in the present.” He paid particular attention to the role of popular will as a productive force in the sovereign state.

The second panel titled ‘Confronting a Fractured Past’ brought two well-known academic-novelists, Dr. Minoli Salgado and Dr. Sabyn Javeri, in conversation with Dr. Asif Aslam Farrukhi to speak of their creative work as a symbol of political resistance. Dr. Salgado’s novel A Little Dust on the Eyes, reflects on the conditions of civil war and the traces left of terror and trauma on people in Sri Lanka: “Writing is a way of bearing witness of the past […] Self-censorship destroys from within.” Dr. Javeri’s novel Nobody Killed Her, addresses varied struggles of women’s empowerment within patriarchal and class-based societal structures. She also touched upon the issues of teaching feminist fiction in a postcolonial context.

 The third panel ‘Revisiting Emancipatory Futures’ highlights alternate economic visions needed to improve life of economically marginalized people. The interim Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences of Habib University, Dr. Craig Phelan, explored the role of trade unions in the struggle for labor rights. According to Dr. Phelan, “Unless African trade unions are prepared to shed their European notions of what the working class is and adopt a postcolonial vision that more accurately reflects economic circumstances, one of the most progressive forces on the continent will soon wither and disappear.” Expanding the dialogue further, well-known academic-activists, Dr. Shahram Azhar and Dr. Ammar Ali Jan challenged dominant discourse of labeling Marxism as a ‘Eurocentric’ ideology. They problematize the intellectual history of Marxism which looks at the rest of the world with Western-tinted spectacles of ‘progress’ and ‘modernity.’ Dr. Azhar proposes progressive political visions of South Asia “have to start talking about the economic system of capitalism that keeps perpetuating the injustices left by inherited systems and thought”.

The conference concluded with the great Sufi poet and soul of Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s message of universal love. Renowned national performers Fakir Juman Shah and Choir, took the audience on a soulful journey, by performing Shah Jo Raag.

 


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