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LGD 2004 (2) - Claude Alvares

Launching Multiworld

Claude Alvares
Convenor,
Advisory Council,
Multiworld Network
multidiversity@multiworld.org


Editor's Note:

This article is reproduced from the Multiworld Network website: http://www.multiworld.org and was taken from a speech made by Claude Alvares at the launch of the Multiworld Network in Penang, Malaysia last November.


A few months ago, at the request of Haji Mohamed Idris, President of the Third World Network, I prepared a brief note on the need to overthrow the present day ‘educational system’ represented everywhere on the planet by the familiar structures of school and college. In most of our countries, it is considered normal (and even desirable) if children commencing from the time they are two and a half years old, up to the time they reach the age of 21 are kept for long periods of time every day within the walls of these institutions, under compulsion, and drilled to memorise things that are supposed to assist them when they become adults.

The note I prepared for Idris was hardly original: it reflected the feelings, anxieties, insights, convictions and conclusions of a fairly large group of scholars, teachers, intellectuals, humanists, educators, pupils and students not just from Asia, Africa, Aotearoa and South America, but from the so-called high-income countries as well. Many of us felt we were being forced to spend the best part of our lives teaching or learning sterile, mostly borrowed material, bereft of life, cut off from reality. Worse, we were mechanically engaged in these tasks within institutions that were expressly set up decades ago to destroy our creativity and our identity; to make us to doubt our innate abilities to deal with our environment, to question our inherent sense of worth and, finally, to discard reliance on indigenous intellectual traditions, knowledge systems or cosmologies.

The present day educational system was not only an imposition (requiring mandatory attendance and compliance at every stage), it demanded implicit allegiance to the homogenising values and objectives of State and Market. As such, it was a means of preparing the spirit of people to unquestioningly accept the presently entrenched model of development and globalisation even when the latter implied deeper entrapment and bondage. The educational system appeared to be nothing more than a vast recruitment ground for a project of continuous colonisation and westernisation that had commenced 500 years ago and was now being spread to even the remotest corners of the planet like a disease. Jamal-ud-din called it the ‘plague of the West’: the urge to condition all children and young people to accept and conform to a perception of human nature that was profoundly anti-nature, anthropocentric and individualistic to the point of being anti-social.

As a follow up to the note, Citizens International, a trust also headed by Idris, organised a meeting in Penang where the Nai Talim Project was formally launched in February 2002 with one overt aim: to attempt to generate and support, in the place of the present ‘educational system’, better, superior, diverse and more effective learning opportunities that would stimulate, rather than suppress, the inherent creativity of human beings. If, during the processes unleashed by the Project, the influence of the present day ubiquitous education system is undermined, or if we are able to encourage large-scale or significant desertion from its ranks, so much the better for all the living species on this planet and also for the earth.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Actually, if one looks at it closely, the idea of the Nai Talim ought to have come five decades ago, when many of our countries achieved political independence. Either our leaders and intellectuals then were unprepared for the opportunity presented by the departure of those who had designed the colonial education systems, or they were affected by a massive failure of nerve. Many perhaps did not even recognise the opportunity when it dropped in their laps, despite the fact that there were people in their midst who made strong vocal representation against the inherited, colonial system of schooling. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, railed against it on several occasions and went on to create an independent, parallel system of education which he called ‘nai talim’ or ‘basic education’. Rabindranath Tagore, India’s first Nobel Laureate, went to the extent of establishing a brand new center of learning called Santiniketan as a counter to existing colleges and universities.

It must have appeared obvious to many political leaders except those completely besotted with the institutions of the West that there was something profoundly disagreeable and wrong with the colonially-inspired system of developing the intellects of citizens. After all, the colonial structure of governance and the educational policies associated with it had been fabricated for meeting a set of political objectives that were if seen against the background of the new Constitutions adopted after lengthy debates in Asia or Africa invalid and unacceptable. The entire educational system, not just in India but elsewhere as well, was erected on the basis of assumptions that were not only an insult to the people living in these countries, but to their intellectual and spiritual traditions as well.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, a fairly good representative of the colonial educator, laid down the assumptions behind the new system of education the English introduced in India in a note he wrote in 1835. It was based on the following clear-cut convictions that he had derived from his colossal ignorance of India’s intellectual traditions: Whatever Indian society had produced in 5000 years was rubbish and had to be wholly discarded; Indians should be de-linked from their traditions for these reasons; The English system should be introduced on a wide scale, in order to create a class of middlemen who would mediate between the rulers and ruled and thereby obediently assist in the exercise of imperial power. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has done a remarkable analysis of similar assumptions underlying the installation of ‘modern education’ in Africa in his book, Decolonising the Mind.

People in the know thus recognised that the colonial system of education had really nothing to do with ‘education’ as such, and had been specifically designed in form and content to create a class of human beings, who would be devoted to their masters and who would enable their rulers to exercise power and dominion over people of colour. Education was also based on the conviction that those certified would not be able to function or perform better, unless they were de-linked from their own experience, their own traditions, their own histories and myths, and their own ability to think freely.

To think that such a system of learning installed and enforced by a colonial government demanding obsequiousness and obedience would be continued, supported and expanded by a free government after independence is something we find today difficult to understand. After decades of struggling for freedom from foreign servitude, it appears that the ‘freedom fighters’ only had sufficient courage left to doggedly and uncritically pursue the educational project they had inherited from their erstwhile masters. Getting rid of the colonial educational system essentially designed to benefit the colonisers seemed more difficult than getting rid of the colonisers. Or perhaps the new rulers thought that since it had helped the colonisers to control and rule, it would enable them to do so as well.

There was of course one section of the ruling elite that had already been completely brainwashed and indoctrinated in the superiority of English institutions and of the necessity to expand the influence of bourgeois civil society in India. It appeared to them that schooling had become a tradition in itself, an institution as sacred as our temples, worthy of worship. They shared dreams of industrial power and were convinced that modern education of the British (and later, American) kind was fundamental to the construction of a military-industrial society, developed outwardly as an frank imitation of advanced countries with their technology. This educated group was deeply convinced that commitment to education of the kind they had received was essential to progress.

Nonetheless, it is incredible that our educators simply and uncritically adopted the colonial system. They poured money, time, talent into it. They allowed (even encouraged) the slaughter of the innocents, millions of them. They abused the young charges assigned to them, emptied them of content and identity, and stripped them naked, prior to filling their heads with what they felt was new knowledge, all of it imported of course, but the assumptions and contents of which they themselves had rarely examined. Those very assumptions have today placed the planet and its communities at the very brink of survival.

It is therefore not surprising that what passes off as an ‘educational system’ today and its higher culmination, the college and university setup has become a cruel trap in which millions of people, most below the age of 20, unwittingly find themselves. While all educators gallantly promise in their grand theories that education is designed to make people free, the institutions to which people have been sent to learn are prisons and boring reform houses, from which many normal human beings flee or drop out at the earliest possible opportunity. Invariably, only those who are ready to deny the existence of their own brains or who profess total allegiance to the values inculcated by the state-controlled schooling system are passed off as ‘successes’ even though they remain, for their rest of their lives, on some kind of parole and, nowadays, in constant need of ‘re-training.’

The political objectives, true, have changed. If the system originally set out to implement the imperial powers’ aspirations for control, it has now become a vehicle for the specific political ideology of individual national governments everywhere, in turn subject to the influence of corporations who need a constant supply of unthinking serfs for their business lines.

Today, with the downward pressure of globalisation and WTO regimes breathing down our backs, the education system is getting even more skewed in the direction of investing the resources of societies to produce workers for the global mega-production machine. The more young people are sucked into it, the more the prospect of challenging the present model of development or the globalisation of the economy recedes. We cannot fight the globalisation process, without also dismantling the education system, in which the ‘global consumer’ mentality is created and nurtured. Thus, the Nai Talim is an idea whose time has come. It can openly assist in the worldwide war to cook the globalisation devil.

Let us now take a frank and unvarnished look at what schools and colleges accomplish in almost all parts of our world.

Schools Can Only Generate Asses

Every year we find the exercise of mental torment dutifully and mindlessly repeated in thousands of institutions all over the world, from the USA to the Philippines. Whether rich country or poor, advanced or backward, it doesn’t make any difference. Indeed, the scale of the regimentation is worse in countries like the UK and the USA, where almost every aspect of what is taught and how it is taught is under centralised state control. Paradoxically, the children of the middle and upper classes suffer the regimentation the most, while the children of the poor at least have the choice of dropping out and retaining their common sense.

The universal and unquestioned allegiance to this enterprise is simply astonishing, if one peeks behind the curtains to find out what is really going on. This is, in effect, the largest exercise in stultification being carried out in human history. Its sole intent appears to be to demoralise human beings, by convincing them of their need for almost life-long tutoring by persons, who themselves succumbed to being tutored under similar compulsions earlier. But the vast enterprise also has other undisclosed objectives. It blandly undermines the pupil’s grasp of reality, cuts off her links with the natural world, successfully incubates within the victim a wholesale contempt for the history of her own people, their traditions or ways of being. It takes diverse, bright and beautiful inquisitive children and turns them into tentative, hesitant, timid and dull individuals by the time they reach puberty, continuously in need of re-training and additional training so that they can continue in service of the global, consumer-oriented, profit-inspired, mega-machine.

As Idris noted in his inaugural speech on the launch of the Nai Talim:

‘The creative energy of children and youth, from the age of three or five till they reach the early twenties the best and most impressionable part of their lives is first frozen and abused by suppression and wholesale discounting, then encouraged to atrophy by default, until it appears to disappear completely from their normal life.’

From Mahatma Gandhi to Rabindranath Tagore, Ivan Illich and Jiddu Krishnamurti, the critique of schooling has established that it is a fatal institution for normal people everywhere, because it does not educate, but actually cripples. Further, there is acknowledgement of the following facts regarding the impact of schooling: Schooling destroys creativity in fundamental ways, by constantly reinforcing the unwarranted ideas that those who do not attend it are inferior. It promotes the notion that all people are born either empty or with rudimentary ideas and must therefore go through the grind of being finished or polished or certified. Above all, it promotes the conviction that only that knowledge imparted in the school is knowledge and all else may be interesting, but is not valid. Reality, in fact, is to be discarded if it conflicts with what is provided for in the text. This set of assumptions is rigorously drilled into young people seeking education both in the North and the South.

In fact, schools today have no need for creativity. They do not either recognise or encourage it. In places where it is recognised, it still remains tightly controlled. Those in charge of education systems have decided that children only need to memorize pre-digested answers, prepared by faceless textbook writers, working in centralised educational institutions in order to be deemed ‘educated’. In examinations, the answer which most closely resembles the originally decided ‘correct response’ will receive the highest marks. On the other hand, a creative answer which differs from the standard/accepted response is almost certain to be marked wrong. The brain-banging exercise is conducted fairly ruthlessly. What is more, it has the sanction of parents, ruling institutions, the State and most intellectuals and the corporate class. Eventually, it earns the sanction of the victim too.

The compulsory nature of schooling now given legal sanction by draconian education Acts that promise to punish parents that do not send their wards to school is seen as the only option available to welfare States to force people to take up opportunities that will enable them to come up in life and to be seen as equals of more privileged folk. Any move to criticise schooling is then perceived as an elitist manoeuvre to block the mobility of the poor.

However, experience of the schooling system in all countries has show that it has more often than not helped maintain and reinforce inequality, rather than eliminate it. Aside from the obvious fact that rich people attend elite or public schools, and poorer folk go to poor schools from which they eventually opt out, ‘quality education’ available to the rich actually creates an additional layer of inequality to those layers created by other social devices.

Ultimately, even the so-called ‘alternative’ schools, which claim to protect and enhance the creativity of those who come to their portals, promote the same myths and work under the same assumptions. This is because they indicate that the only problem with schooling may be mediocre educational methods, and that if their methods are introduced in conventional schools, the latter would become ‘creative’ as well. Yet, the ‘products’ of alternative schools are also scheduled to enter the market, maybe at a more advantaged point than those coming from normal schools.

The second major problem that people in the former colonised countries exclusively face is that the content of education contains largely negative perceptions of our local and national histories, cultures, languages and religions. This is a direct consequence of the success of attitudes represented so well by people like T B Macaulay. In this context, European ideas are considered the only basis for a proper schooling programme and for ‘civilisedliving. History textbooks in India, for example, still unabashedly hail the arrival of Vasco-da-Gama as a great event. Or repeat themes proposed by English historians like James Mill or even Karl Marx. Incorporating the intellectual corpus of Indian or other civilisations into the materials prepared for courses still provokes resistance from some quarters. Earlier it provoked penalties and punishments.

By far the most pernicious of these perceptions has been the idea that there was no learning or valid knowledge generated prior to the arrival of the British, a myth now corrected with the work of the Indian historian, Dharampal. On the contrary, just as vaccination from England wiped out the indigenous Indian system of inoculation against small pox, the imported idea of the school wiped out existing indigenous learning places and processes. These were undoubtedly very different from modern European model schools in their purpose, the control they exercised, their diversity of pedagogical practices.

Higher Education, Advanced Stultification

For the past couple of centuries, as with the school, the institution of the university too, has been replicated ad nauseam in every nook and corner of the globe. This has been done with the noble intent of spreading a uniform perception of Nature (based on modern science) and therefore a similar method of research and training across the world. The widespread assumption of the universality of modern science and and by association naturally the superiority of other aspects and products of Western culture, provided legitimacy for this action. Replication of the college and university system was made possible due to the dominant position of Europe in the colonial world. As power defined knowledge, the process was easily facilitated.

The intellectual centres are located in the West, and they supply the categories and terms of the debate. We play along. They remain the center, while we keep ourselves at the periphery. They create; we copy and apply. We do not challenge the underlying assumptions. We blandly copy because these disciplines are apparently tested and firm, a well-recognised body of knowledge. Replication is safer than attempting something different.

In such a situation, studies and research are considered best if done within a framework of western institutions. We have no felt need to go beyond the settled disciplines of sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, etc. Yet, these ‘sciences’ only retain value within the precincts of the academic world. Even within this world, there is hardly any true belief in their premises or assumptions. We must remember that the perceived validity of such knowledge rarely goes beyond the boundaries of universities.

Today, we may see it as absurd, that one culture has become the norm for all others, to the extent that diverse majorities around the globe would seek to destroy their own identities and selves in the misguided drive to imitate or replicate the main features of the dominating culture. But this belief in homogenization has remained the basis of development theory for the past five decades, and it still retains influence. No wonder the World Bank a coterie of bankers also dabbles in education and now routinely produces books on what it believes are sound global educational policies.

University education was also thought by some to be a benign project, designed to impart a ‘liberal education.’ Again, the content of that education was supplied in the form of printed texts wholly imported from the so-called developed countries, and rarely related to experience in our own societies. None of the courses taught had anything to do with what we call shiksha. They were largely in the form of some capsules that had to be taken for purposes of certification. The ultimate purpose of the mind-destroying exercise was not freedom but certification.

The university, as we know it today, is dead. From its early origins several centuries ago, as a respected, feared and autonomous site, which hosted a community of scholars and students who met to discuss specific issues, it has now almost wholly surrendered itself to the supremacy of texts and all that this implies particularly the tyrannies associated with the various hierarchies of interpretation that such texts require. Scholarship has degenerated into a skill of text recognition, text replication, and a display of the names of the manufacturers of key texts. (Quoting Derrida, I hear, is the latest intellectual fashion: I thought he was a Spanish bullfighter.) Less and less associated with learning and instead increasingly concerned with the supply of newer recruits to function as cogs in the global economy led by giant multinational corporations, the university has become today a text-crunching machine, almost wholly alienated from the real world and sterile. Both the pursuit of knowledge and research agendas are openly dictated by MNCs.

From school to university, the entire exercise appears to be single-purpose: kill the mind, generate obedient serfs, feed the market. The entire exercise of homogenizing human beings to compulsorily read approved texts so that they are able to assist the designs of first, colonial powers, and now, hegemonic corporations needs to have its back broken.

The crisis in the system, caused by the production of thousands of ‘paper’ graduates, has driven young people to seek additional certification, in order to bring down the numbers against whom they may have to compete. So one goes for an MBA or other additional courses (diplomas in computer science are also a rage), or pays extravagant sums for branded or ‘quality education’, to enable one to stand out of the crowd (or the mob) for the few places available as high quality employment (which, the world over, remains as insecure as low quality employment).

The situation is actually worse in the so-called high income countries, where ‘education’ is in a state of structural crisis. People had been transferred from agriculture to industry (primary to secondary) and then from industry to service (secondary to tertiary). With the takeover of service industries by automation, there are simply no further transfers possible. Key institutions are unable to figure out what kind of ‘re-training’ can be done to shift people from tertiary industries, when there is no new sector beckoning on the horizon. IT and biotechnology are now being seen as the latest saviours. The IT industry has already undergone a meltdown, taking with it a considerable part of e-commerce and the ‘new economy’. Biotechnology is embedded in serious controversy across the planet.

In countries like India, where ‘education’ has been seen almost exclusively as a means to employment, the rapid capitalistion of imported technology and increasing automation in industry has led to a stagnant and now declining workforce around 25 million in India for the past five decades. It is also in its own structural crisis, as there is a gross misfit between what is being churned out of schools, colleges and universities and the requirements of prized, high quality global employment. The system is now facing a cul-de-sac.

The scale of the injustice facing young people is simply mind-boggling: millions must submit to the tyranny of performing well at memory tasks, so that the best of these can be chosen for further training. This leaves the majority, who have unable to get high marks, as ‘failures.’ A system of education, which practically dismisses the bulk of its young people as failures, should have been banned long ago.

This circus has gone on for more than 150 years. The Nai Talim project has been initiated to put a full stop to it now. At the Nai Talim inaugural meeting, Yusef Progler, a critical thinker in education, based in the Arab world, told us that the western educational system, far from being competent to guide the rest of the world, is itself in a profound state of crisis. It is unable to figure out the new direction in which it should go. Therefore, it is as good a time as any, to strike out in fresh directions on our own. There are no teachers available to guide us in which direction we must move. We must be our own teachers.

If we agree that this is the challenge facing us, we can set out to propose a rival set of assumptions which would better reflect what we are, where we live and also take account of our intellectual histories. We may or may not take a critical stand on various aspects of such histories, but it cannot be our position that all of them are absurd, humanly unacceptable, predated, irrational, invalid or unscientific.

Before this statement is even remotely confused with the political claims of groups like those, for instance, promoting Hindutva in India, it is important to clarify that the violence, intolerance and regimentation associated with such forces is similar to the violence associated with conventional schools. The drive to indoctrinate is a cardinal feature of both.

If we distinguish the Nai Talim’s aims and objectives from the aims of such groups, so must we distinguish it from post-modern discourse as well, the latest intellectual import from Europe. The Nai Talim must have, of necessity, a strong agenda in relation the task of decolonising the mind, decolonising knowledge and asserting our complete intellectual independence. Without this focus, its work will never be complete or will have little credibility. Even after a trial of more than a hundred years, Western modes of perception have proved incapable of being drafted or accepted as a truly universal way of understanding nature or interacting with it. They are in fact, helping to raise entire generations of people who think that killing all life on the planet is a matter of unconcern.

Working Principles of the Nai Talim

The Nai Talim we envision, and seek to establish by our collective action, is in complete contrast to the educational system as we know it. It shall be constructed with the support of a wide network and community of independent, free-thinking educators and learners from Asia, Africa, Aotearoa, and South America. The idea of a Nai Talim is based on the firm reality of diverse universes of perception, separate cosmologies, and distinct existing bodies of valid knowledge.

The Nai Talim will structure itself to function in ways that will be the opposite of those associated with the conventional school and university. We will tolerate no bureaucratic hierarchies. Nor do we envision centralised top-to-bottom directions. The Nai Talim will not conduct itself through any of the practices associated with or used by the present educational system. Its working principles are enumerated below:

  • Orienting learning once again towards life; making it open-ended and creative;
  • Separating learning from job training; or distinguishing between learning through work and learning to fit into a job, like a cog in a wheel.
  • The Nai Talim will use non-print media in a substantial manner. Knowledge generated in the form of videos, music, theatre, artwork, and other media will be listed, supported and circulated to break the monopoly of the printed text book as the sole repository of learning resources and as the primary means for dialogue. The Nai Talim will eschew exclusive dependence on analytical modes of learning, and exploit affective modes equally;
  • The Nai Talim will conduct its activities largely in the local languages of the various communities of the South. All documents relating to the Nai Talim will be available in the major languages of the South including Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, etc.
  • The Nai Talim’s learning programmes will be rooted in mutual respect between teachers and learners; this would involve breaking the rigid division between teachers and learners;
  • It will avoid exclusive dependence on texts and memorising of such texts;
  • It will refuse to certify learning experiences;
  • It will refuse to evaluate through examinations;
  • By definition, funding will not be accepted from corporate groups. Financial support will be accepted only from those by and large sumpathetic to the Nai Talim’s ideals.

Above all, the Nai Talim will display an absolute commitment to protecting the integrity of every individual’s life, so that each one of us is in a position to make real choices and not compelled to reduce his or her life to complete and absolute bondage to an economic system or method of production.


Core Activities

Nai Talim activities are being planned under separate country chapters e.g., Nai Talim-India, Nai Talim-Malaysia etc. Though these country-specific chapters will be independent of each other and led by their own advisory councils and core groups, they will share in the objectives of Nai Talim as agreed upon, if they wish to use the Nai Talim label. Each will plan their own activities and share these with the other chapters.

Within each country chapter, the following broad classes of actions will have to be proposed and taken up:

  • Those designed for learners totally outside the school and higher education frameworks.
  • Those designed for learners attending school but outside their school curriculum framework.
  • Those designed for learners attending college/university but outside their college/university framework.
  • Those designed for learners within their school curriculum framework.
  • Those designed for learners within their college/university framework.

With regard to schools:

Work in this regard has already commenced with identification of a large number of learning centres already being conducted in different areas outside the framework of ‘factory schooling’. One immediate goal is the production of an Alternative Education Sourcebook, which documents home-schooling experiences and alternative schools (learning centers). The Sourcebook will not only include detailed stories of all experimental, open learning centres, which have emerged as an alternative to the formal schooling system, it will also provide details of other resources, including: lists of educators, discussions on alternatives to school and college, successful learning programmes that eschew certification and fees, etc.

The Nai Talim will function as a global clearinghouse for the exchange of information that will assist the further decline of schools and formal learning and certifying institutions. It will carry on the publishing of books and journals and video films that will assault the school is effective ways (a task that is not difficult by any length of the imagination).

The Nai Talim will ensure that good practices are circulated in a well-organised and systematic way for enhanced use across the planet, particularly among educators and parents, to create a groundswell against the benefits of schooling.

The Nai Talim will prepare special programmes for parents, as in large parts of the world, they remain the principal agents responsible for demanding ever more educational burdens for their wards.

With regard to higher educational institutions:

Hitherto, the knowledge we had created, or which we create everyday, was suppressed or was simply ignored because it did not fit within the dominant paradigms in circulation. The present day output of books that wields influence in the knowledge system being disseminated is noted by the absence of any works generated by people in the South. So one of the Nai Talim’s first tasks is the airing and sharing of suppressed knowledge. To achieve this, the Nai Talim has already initiated the following projects:

  • A library of 500 of the most influential books written by scholars, thinkers, philosophers, educators from Asia, Africa and South America. The list is to be circulated to all the universities in our realms, while their texts would be available if not in print, at least through CDs. These titles would include, for example, Sardar Panikkar’s Asia and Western Dominance; Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind; M.K. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj; Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth; Ashis Nandy’s Intimate Enemy; Edward Said’s Orientalism; Rana Kabbani’s Europe’s Myths of Orient; Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive; J.P.S. Uberoi’s, Science and Culture. Though the sample list provided above is dominated by titles written originally in English, the final list is bound to show a predominance of works produced in vernacular languages.
  • An annotated bibliography of up to 10,000 articles organised under various disciplines and which demonstrate creative work, new ideas, methodologies equal to or superior to what we have learned from the intellectual institutions of the Western world.
  • A catalogue of journals from Africa, Aotearoa, Asia, Australia, South America, so that we can know how we are thinking in our circles, and to support others in the direction of the Nai Talim and its values.
  • An annual publication or Yearbook devoted to the best essays and intellectual output originating exclusively from the South.
  • The commissioning of critiques of existing knowledge disciplines like sociology, economics, psychology, history, anthropology, etc.

Affiliation to Nai Talim

The criteria for membership in the Nai Talim Project will be the display of an independent mind, the ability to stand alone in a community of intellectuals or educators, and the courage to speak one’s mind, without being hemmed in by intellectual fashions, name-dropping, or government restrictions on jobs. We expect affiliation with the Nai Talim to begin with a community of 500 active educators from Africa, Asia and South America, who shall subscribe to a commitment not to submit to intellectual domination from the high income countries. They shall boldly eschew the conventional habit of wanting to show off to their acquaintances their latest intellectual work emanating from the West or the latest additions of Western literature to their personal libraries.

We then hope various groups will affiliate themselves with the Nai Talim process in each country. Teachers associated with the Nai Talim will include those with and without degrees; those with only knowledge of books and those without, including potters, carpenters, farmers, electricians, etc. These will become the core expertise of the learning programmes of the Nai Talim. They will be joined by Nai Talim supporters of all ages, who will themselves participate in Nai Talim programmes for learning experiences and eschew dependence on schools whenever and wherever possible. Parents of children will hopefully become members of the Nai Talim network en masse, especially when they are convinced that it will enable them to protect their children's and their own personalities and unique identities. These various individuals and groups will link through networks on each continent and among them.

The Nai Talim will connect with local, national and international social movements which have as their primary aim the complete overthrow of the present unjust economic system, represented today in the globalisation project installed under the WTO regime and the several institutions that are godfathers to the project. It will work with such movements to analyse their weaknesses, especially those weaknesses that can be sourced to their reliance on colonized knowledge, tools and frameworks. Every step to strengthen these movements along these lines will be a strengthening of the Nai Talim processes as well.

We will further work to increase affiliation through various other means. For example, we have designed a web-page that, for the first ten years, will only feature work, and recognition of work, done in Asia, Africa or South America.

In its initial phase, the Nai Talim will eschew dependence on intellectual sources that emanate from the West. For 500 years, the South has been largely excluded from the concerns of the high-income societies. A little reverse exclusion will do not harm at this stage. We need to take a break or to delink in order to examine assumptions, and to review and rethink what constitutes knowledge. If we do not exclude the West from the purview of this activity at this preliminary stage, conventional dominance will take over and we will once again be reduced to parroting ideas originating in other contexts having no connection with ours. The Nai Talim is an initiative from the South. It will remain a creative institution largely within the South. Individuals and organisations may affiliate themselves to the project at some stage, but the overall direction of the project will always remain within the South.

Nai Talim, in its initial phase, must become a vast network and clearing house for the societies of the South, enabling them to resist Western cultural dominance, language, homogenisation at all levels. Only after it had found its feet, will it opt to discuss the globalisation project and its handmaiden modern knowledge with groups and individuals working on similar concerns located within the North.

At a later date, collaborative programmes with select conventional schools and universities, interested in operating along the lines of Nai Talim thinking, may also increase membership in the process. Of course, the Advisory Council is expected to eventually initiate negotiations with important conventional educational institutions and centres, to seek to introduce fundamental changes in methods and content which will further true personal freedom while meeting the ends of survival and local economy. Many individuals within these institutions are themselves already acutely aware of the steady degradation of the educational system at all levels and of its inability to equip ordinary citizens with the means with which they can deal intelligently with the modern world. They will look more and more to the Nai Talim process for both vision and practical solutions in the years ahead.

At present, the headquarters of the Nai Talim are based in Penang, Malaysia. The project will shortly have a Council of Elders, comprising eminent men and women chosen from the societies of the South. Routine administration of the project is in the hands of an Advisory Council, comprising members of Citizens International and serious educators from the different countries of the South, beginning first with Asia and Aotearoa, then Africa and finally, South America. Apart from this basic structure, the Nai Talim will take on the shape perhaps of a woven hammock changing readily to accommodate the requirements of its users, as hundreds and thousands of learning sites escape irrevocably from Macaulay’s walled prisons across the globe.


This is a report published on: 28 February 2005

Citation: Alvares, C, ‘Launching Multiworld’, 2004 (2) Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD). <www.go.warwick.ac.uk/elj/lgd/2004_2/alvares>