We are incredibly excited to write this letter to you – a letter that we hope will communicate the deep sense of passion, sincerity, and gratitude that we felt while writing it. Through this platform we hope to give form to many of the thoughts shared by our team members in our transnational discussions, which, now that we think of it, span 4 continents and 7 universities!
In what follows, we begin with the ‘origin story’ of our Zine as well as some background information about the Critical Edge Alliance (CEA). Following that, we hope to delve into some of our reflections about our collective experience of contemporary education and identify some factors that concern us. After elaborating on that, we go on to describe the approach we could possibly take to address some of those concerns. We then locate these ideas in our understanding of how education, specifically critical education, could look like. We conclude with an invitation to the international student community to continue the conversation we have initiated, and contribute to its evolution with a diversity of voices and perspectives. Sounds good? Let us begin…
The CEA Zine has emerged from the collaborative efforts of the students who are part of the Critical Edge Alliance – a global collaborative framework for universities that focus on student-centered learning, critical thinking, interdisciplinary teaching and research, and social engagement. If we were to articulate the singular purpose of our coming together, it would be – Education.
It all began In June 2016, with a collaboratively planned conference on critical education hosted by Roskilde University, Denmark. Here, a small number of students from different parts of the world got to meet each other and work together to voice their ideas on education in the concluding keynote address. While we are thankful for the role of Critical Edge Alliance in making this possible, by connecting universities who wish to strive towards these ideals, it is we, the students that have the final responsibility in shaping these ideals and ensuring they come to fruition.
What followed was traveling far and wide, learning little by little, discussing passionately and dreaming ceaselessly. And after almost one year, our efforts and friendship have finally materialized into this Zine – A platform that we hope will bring together more voices, diverse allies, and serve as a forum to bring about an international collaboration and praxis towards more critical, human centered educational experiences for everyone.
So, What’s really up with Education today?
Our take on this is more like a journey of reflections on our own educational experience, while taking into account differences in cultural background, expectations, concerns and so on. We invite you on this journey and hope you will add much more to it as time progresses.
Our Reflection on the what Education represents:
When thinking about education as a concept and as an experience, we came to realize that it is quite a broad term. While one can conceptualize ‘formal education’ and ‘learning’ distinctly, there is also a lot of overlap between the two. Education, as we think of it, encompasses not only our institutional learning, but also the wide range of formative experiences we have throughout of our development and maturation. If life is about finding meaning and purpose of our existence, then education symbolizes the process through which we gain the cognitive and social capacities for doing so. It is a process that coincides with our ‘coming of age’ – our confrontation with the human condition. While this may seem a bit of a stretch to some of us, let us see how it plays out as a process.
Education and learning, as we see it, ranges from our sensory, cognitive and social experiences in life – encompassing, formal institutions (like schools), friends and family and the varied insights we gain from them. All of this shapes the way we approach and lead our lives. So it would be fair to say that education, or at least learning, is integrated in every aspect of our life. Going back to the metaphor on life being about finding purpose and making sense of our existence, we can rephrase this aspect of education as learning to be human, by being human.
What “being human” means can vary to a certain degree depending on different factors. Our understanding of our experience is informed by the circumstances of our social context – coming from different family backgrounds and upbringings, cultures, and societies, as well as the way we individually interpret these experiences.
So what are we getting at? We are saying that these variations and diversities are our strength. They are fundamentally constitutive of the human condition. By examining them we can reflect on and shape our world views. We learn about each other and learn to understand one another. So while education is generally seen as something an individual experiences, engages with, or consumes, we think it also has undeniably social ramifications. It is simultaneously the development of an individual while being rooted in the shaping of society as a whole.
Given all of this, let us try and make sense of our present experience.
Our reflection on our experience of Education
Going by our thoughts above, it would be worthwhile to examine our current mainstream education model and ask the question – are the contemporary models of education really serving the purpose of human development and shaping of societies? At a certain level, yes. But in what direction?
Learning from history we find that the present education is still deeply rooted in the industrialization that took place so rapidly and widely at different times throughout the world. Societies demanded work forces equipped to meet the needs of large scale standardized production, and specialized division of labor. It is well established that the present structure of education has emerged from this. The education we are receiving today serves the then prevalent need for efficiency, standardization, and production that characterizes the process of industrialization. Now that these needs are becoming outdated in themselves, we find that society in general and the formal employment sector in particular, still value these qualities and they are positioned as vital to economic progress. But, there is more to this.
The world has changed in complex ways since the industrial revolution and continues to expand; a technically-minded labor force does not holistically meet all the needs of our current society. But, even if you take the argument of ‘economic progress’ and ‘serving the changing needs of the employment sector’ – we find that the current fact based education is obsolete. In today’s society, there is mention of ‘lifelong learning’ for the ‘employee to reinvent their skills every few years’ , 21st Century Skills for students, and the ‘knowledge economy’ which needs very different skill sets than what our education system provides us. This is well established in the mainstream discourse on education. However, we would like to go beyond this as well.
According to this logic, we students are supposed to be trained to become the perfect shapes that fit our social constructs. Be it becoming employable individuals based on needs of the market or developing ‘21st century skills’ to survive in the current ‘knowledge economy’. We would like to question this predominant view of education serving what is valued by the status quo. We do this, not by resorting to a specific political or theoretical line of argument, but, going back to our understanding of life and being human introduced above, and by simply asking ourselves – is that the right kind of growth for us as human beings?
If you ask us, we would say that by our nature, we humans are curious and creative learners who seek meaning and purpose. We grow not only in terms of knowledge and skills, but also of purpose, connections, attitudes, and virtues. In addition to learning these things at an individual level, being in a globalized and multicultural world, we need to learn to be open minded, compassionate, respectful, and willing to collaborate in spite of apparent differences. We believe these are the aspects of us, as individuals and as a society, that need to be cultivated and developed through education and practice. What this requires is a kind of education that truly allows for diversity, communication, dialogue, collaboration, and creative problem solving. This will be instrumental in the evolution of human nature and in shaping the way society progresses.
But how much do we really see these things happening around us?
While an overwhelming number of international university websites advertise diversity, interdisciplinarity and collaboration, we do not see cohorts of students coming out with the kind of qualities the university claims it imbibes. This is juxtaposed with an explosion of education / access to higher education around the world. The number of the literate world population almost doubled in the last 50 years! While formal education as seen in China, Europe, India and the USA has created excellent professionals in the formal employment sector, it would still be fair to say that it has failed to provide students with the kind of holistic learning we need to be well-rounded, creative, and purposeful persons intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Often, we students have to struggle to learn about life in the “hard way” (it ‘builds character’ they say). As reported by numerous surveys and news articles, we find that there is a high incidence of anxiety and depression among students in different parts of the world today. So the question to ask is what is it in the experience of contemporary education that turns innately curious and meaning seeking individuals into a ‘demographic’ (it’s all the millennial’s fault) that is struggling with mental health and adjustment among other things?
Of course, we must hasten to state that education is not an isolated experience and we are simultaneously facing global threats, such as climate change, abject poverty, wars and instability, growing wealth gap, intensification of social antagonisms, and rapidly changing social dynamics. Given this, we must pointedly ask, how is our education helping us make sense of this world in which we find ourselves? Is it empowering us to deal with and address these challenges? Or, is it that, as some would argue, it isn’t the purpose of education at all. That education should just cater the needs of employability.
In fact, if we further examine the argument that education is ‘apolitical’ and should only focus on making us employable, we find that it has led to something we would like to simply term as ‘distance’. Allow us to elaborate.
The way these issues are dealt with in mainstream education communities, at least in our collective experience, it often seems for us as students, that these BIG issues are outside of our locus of control. In fact, the advice that is given is to disengage from these issues and instead pursue our own personal goals in life because, after all, only that is within our control.
This either leads to a sense of powerlessness or a sense of detachment and apathy. We believe there is no better word right now to describe this feeling than with the word distance. For many of us, these world issues seem distant. Even though we are aware of their presence, they still remain abstract to us, and to our daily lives, for the most part. A species goes extinct, someone in a truck runs over innocent civilians, water levels rise, children in schools are shot at, people flee their homeland in fear of their lives, banks collapse. We go on living. Because let’s face it, we are students – what can we do? Best to focus on our personal goals and careers.
In a way we also say ‘It’s a small world’. Hyperloop. Supersonic travel. Gigabyte Internet Speeds. Information and destinations at our fingertips like never before. Our economy has never been so well integrated, and never have we had such a vivid stream of attractive products available to us at these wonderful prices. E commerce bridging the gap between global demand and local production. A small world indeed.
While the world is small for all of this, why then is there a distance between me and a Syrian refugee? Between me and a black kid who is shot? Between me and the black horned rhinoceros? Between me and what really matters to society and humanity?
That’s the distance we want the process and experience of ‘education’ to bridge.
Overcoming the distance
And who better than us students to begin constructing that bridge? We believe, that it is our mission to overcome this distance. We feel a good way to begin would be to become more reflective on our experiences and, if need be, take the responsibility of critiquing our individual and collective journeys of education and learning. In a world which seems to be turning a blind eye toward the issues that threaten it the most, we believe those of us who are forging our own identities through education, can reshape societal identities in the process as well.
In doing so, we must learn to spread our wings and become as free as capital, voice our concerns and reflections and proposed solutions across the world. We should move to create new ties of understanding, so that we together can collectively stand up to all these issues, large and small, local or global.
For all of this – reflecting, overcoming distances, standing up to issues – the first step is Communication. It all begins with us listening to each other and sharing our views with one another. And this, dear readers, is why we’re starting this Zine: to communicate and overcome distance. To let students meet each other and learn from each other, despite our myriad differences – language, nationalities, ethnicities, class, genders, sexualities, castes, and many more. Through the Zine, we hope to create bonds of friendship, solidarity and understanding, between us students from all corners of the world. Greatest differences and distances can be overcome if we could only begin by reaching out. We hope that this Zine can facilitate these beginnings.
Editorial Team, June 2017.
- Vishakha Khetrapal
- Thea Pan
- Spurthi Kolipaka
- Siddesh Sarma
- Roderick Wijunamai
- Phelan Okeson
- Lisa Trebs
- Katrine Brædder Andersen
- Adrian Ortega Camara Lind
Would you like to join our team? Please contact us here
Front picture credit: taken from the CEA conference at Roskilde University, summer 2016.