Modern Education and the Alienation of the Child from Identity and Culture

Dr. Siri Gamage

It was well known that Education along with religion were tools employed by imperialist centres of the world to control their colonies and their people.  Modernist paradigm underpinned this process. Abidi who edited a book about African education and colonialism states that intellectuals and education were the main force of colonialism- not the foot soldiers. Global powers that dominate the world via economic and other means today utilise so-called international education which has become a marketable commodity and migration for the same purpose. Countries of the global south that were subjected to colonial process and obtained independence under the leadership of elite families continued with Western-centric education, including language education.

With the opening of borders and globalisation, this process intensified. More and more providers of education from pre-school to university level entered the markets with the covert or overt blessings of governments. Not much attention has been given either by political or educational authorities to what happens to the child during the contemporary educational processes. One obvious result is the child’s alienation from his/her own cultural and knowledge heritage, identity, language and ultimately from the country. When the child grows to be a youth equipped with a degree and professional skills, in many cases this person is subjected to migration and settlement in a foreign country.  Once there, his/her children are subjected to monolingual assimilation processes in the host countries with the ultimate result of losing not only the original identity but also dimensions of such identity such as the language, cultural knowledge and skills, loyalty to the mother country.  Psychological assimilation ensures that these professionals become alien to their own culture, language, religion, literature, people etc. in the long run.  In this context, when we reflect on the appropriate kind of education suitable for countries of Asia for example, we have to raise several pertinent questions.

Q. Is this education and transformation of the child appropriate for their national needs?

Q. Does this education alienate the child from his/her surroundings, families and communities?

Q. Does it create an independent critical mind or a dependent mentality in the person?

Q. Is the curriculum heavily biased toward imported knowledge?

Q. How much of what is taught include local or indigenous knowledge and skills?

Q. Are there indigenous knowledge and skills that are valid and how to incorporate them in teaching and research?

Q. Should the training of professionals in fields such as engineering, medicine, accountancy, nursing for the global economy be the priority without regard to the alienation process mentioned above? Or should a holistic person with values, norms and caring attitudes be trained?

Q what should the role of higher education institutions be to arrest this situation and produce individuals who are culturally capable along with technical and management skills required in the global economy?

There are a range of post-colonial sociologists who have emphasised the domination of the formerly colonised countries and their knowledge production by the imperialist countries, particularly in the social sciences, starting from the colonial period.  For example, Alatas has stated that Asians have a ‘captive mind’ to Western knowledge products.  He was referring to the academic dependency among social scientists. Sujatha Patel and others have emphasised the need for making sociology a pluralist one embracing sociologies in the global south. Julian Go, Raewyn Connell, B. Santos etc. have elaborated the need for an anti-hegemonic knowledge project from the global south where alternative epistemologies available in different parts of the world are incorporated to make knowledge production and dissemination more democratic. They recognise the global context where there is an unequal global knowledge order. A recently concluded Symposium at University of Peradeniya led by the Social Affairs Journal team explored some of these topics in depth with a focus on indigenous knowledge.

From the perspective of Sri Lanka, a review and rethinking has to occur among education establishment and those who are outside about the kind of education, knowledge production and dissemination suitable for 21st century keeping in mind the process of alienation the child experiences throughout his/her educational (and professional) journey and the need to create culturally knowledgeable and capable individuals. This needs to be conducted by a team of eminent educationists informed by the visions of former educationists such as C.W.W. Kannangara, Ananda Guruge, G.P. Malalasekera and Premadasa Udagama – among others.  One matter to be considered is whether it is sufficient to produce functionaries for the global economy or whether we need to produce scholars and intellectuals as in the past? Another is to explore the ways and means of improving research and innovation in universities.  Another is to look at curriculum and teaching reform at all levels. If education leads to situation where the person who obtains it in the country leave permanently and along with culture and language loss, whether this is a desired outcome can also be considered.

Though countries like Sri Lanka are at the receiving end of globally produced knowledge, they should not abandon the process of knowledge production with an indigenous slant based on historical and cultural traditions.  Because each country has its own intellectual traditions that can be revived and promoted for the benefit of the world.  Though the global tendency led by powerful countries and multinational corporations is to create uniformity, diversity is the real fact of life.  This applies to knowledge field also.  In Sri Lanka’s case, government sponsored Educational Research Institute is very important for conducting research and policy development. Identification and promotion of indigenous knowledge for contemporary use should be part of the mission of such an Institute.  Similarly, in major towns libraries should be established to collect information about the area, its history, and heritage. Local artists can be encouraged to turn these into literary and art works for public display.  Such libraries can be meeting places for those residents who are interested in local histories, cultures etc.  In essence, along with knowledge projects a cultural revival is necessary for community empowerment and sell being.

 

 

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