“I am from a Naga community near Kohima; my ancestors taught me fishing, forestry and hunting. Now I am studying for my PhD in this prestigious institute of technology. How can I relate these studies to my own existential realities? How can I undertake field work based on long and committed period of engagement in my community? How can I get credits for that engagement?” These words from a student challenged the participants during a regional conference on Community Engagement in Higher Education held at IIT, Guwahati last week.
Many engaged and committed scholars present in the conference from colleges and universities from the north-eastern region of India had spent a day sharing various examples of engagement; those examples had not really questioned the core concern of curriculum and pedagogy that this student was raising.
It appears that several forms of engagement in higher education continue without necessarily challenging the established curriculum drawn from disciplinarian perspective. Local knowledge from indigenous communities is rarely the organising basis for such a curriculum, even if some aspects of it are included. For this to happen in a meaningful way, academics have to acknowledge that a body of knowledge exists outside the academe, in the community itself.
Likewise, the challenge of engaged pedagogy requires abandoning the classroom as the mainstay of educational transaction. Being in the field, on-site, in a community can in itself be a powerful educational experience, provided it is critically reflected upon with indigenous and academic scholars.
Can engagement in ‘high class’ academia be responsive to the student above? Can he find a coherence in the academe with his own community? How can such coherence be mainstreamed? Can social responsibility of intellectuals not include empathy for the concerns of this student?
September 22, 2014