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Sustainable Community Engagement Partnership Beyond Boundaries, University For Society International Conference

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Date(s) - 18/11/2020
6:00 am

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APUCEN

Dr. Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and UNESCO Co-Chair, Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education gave the Keynote Address at the 4th APUCEN Summit 2020 under the big umbrella of University for Society International Conference (U4SIC), hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education (KPT). The sub-theme for the 4th APUCEN Summit 2020 was “Sustainable Community Engagement Partnership Beyond Boundaries”.

Dr. Tandon spoke of reconnecting with our roots in the context of Covid-19. He reflected upon the excesses in lifestyles that came to a halt during the pandemic; people enjoyed their grandmothers’ food instead of eating out, the fancy wardrobes of the privileged elite were of no use, consumption, production and marketing remained negligible. We studied from home, we ate at home, we worked at home and even started praying at home as well. Covid-19 therefore did not leave any community out, all of humanity were in the same boat.

There was a huge divide in society which only became brighter during this global disaster- while we had all the privileges to stay safe inside our houses and have access to resources, there were millions of people including many migrant workers who had no access to health and sanitation, who lost their jobs overnight, who live in small slum dwellings and had no place to do physical distancing. Society has extreme fault lines – young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban. The inequalities in age, gender, access to technology were seen to exacerbate in these last few months. When the privileged elite of the world went digital to access support systems and resources, there were millions who had no phones, and many of them who did still did not have access to internet and data services.

Asian Countries had lower mortality rates during the pandemic than countries in the West because people had developed local capacities. Local community leaders rose up to the challenge based on local knowledge and traditional practices on health and hygiene. These countries relied on community trust, community knowledge and community leadership. Dr. Tandon appealed to the world to break walls of disparities between communities.

Education was most affected and this disruption in education systems has created both opportunities and challenges. Students have faced extreme anxieties about their entrance tests, academic work and other issues. Local educational institutions must motivate students to make curious enquiries in their local neighborhoods. There are long term consequences of infections caused by digital instruments-  and students will lose capacity to use their senses if they get too dependent on technological instruments. Educational institutes must encourage young people to go back to society and to engage with community support systems around them. Can we imagine society becoming a university of knowledge? Sites of new knowledge are the society at large and can we encourage young people to explore these sites? Lessons of Covid- 19 relate to issues of where is local knowledge, the multi-disciplinarity of knowledge, the use of economic theories which talk about economies of scale. For us to change, we must unlearn our modes of learning and what our evolving role and social responsibility is in society.

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