How can universities and civil society connect to support EFA?

By Manzoor Ahmed, Professor Emeritus, BRAC University, Vice-Chair, CAMPE, Bangladesh
19 November 2014

– Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) along with its Global Engagement Office were the host on 19 November, 2014 to a group of participants at the on-going 50th Anniversary celebration of Asia Pacific Association of Basic and Adult Education in Jog-Jakarta. Of various sites selected for visits as part of learning exchange, the UGM visit attracted the largest group of 18 visitors from some ten countries, including ASPBAE heavy-weights, such as, President Robbie Guevara, former President Sandy Morrison, Rajesh Tandon, Heribert Hinzen, Alan Tuckett, among others.

One of the oldest and largest universities of Indonesia, UGM was established in 1947 soon after independence of Indonesia. With 55,000 students, 6,800 faculty, and a reputation for commitment to quality and innovation, UGM was an ideal setting for exploring the question how tertiary education can shed its ivory tower image, engage with larger society and be a force for social change. Of particular concern to ASPBAE visitors was how universities can support the EFA goals, perhaps in partnership with civil society actors, in the context of the global development and education agenda for 2030, which will replace next year EFA2015 and MDG2015.

Dr. Aziz Purwanto, head of the Center for Academic Development, gave an explanation of the STAR (Student Teacher Aesthetics Role Sharing) initiative at UGM, designed to build the character of the graduates based on offering student-centred learning experience and valuing local wisdom. He spoke of the triangle of Pratap Triloka – observing purposefully; imitating critically and constructively; and constructing knowledge by adding, modifying and developing. Building the learning community, gradually and patiently, rather than just producing smart and competent graduates, is the goal, Dr. Aziz noted.

Heribert Hinzen, regional director of DVV for South and South-East Asia, providing a timeline since adoption of the Dakar EFA Goals in 2000 to expected adoption of EFA 2030 next year in Incheon, Korea said a “breakthrough” was made in the on-going discourse on post-2015 education and development agenda when unanimity was achieved taking “equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all” as the overarching goal. Now the challenge is to ensure that all, including the tertiary education sector, do their part to make it a reality.

Rajesh Tandon, co-chair of UNESCO’s “community-based research and social responsibility in higher education” described briefly the content of the empirical evidence-based study “Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education – Contributing to Social Change.” He noted that higher education globally is in turmoil and is challenged, particularly in developing countries, to engage with society and its various driving forces to assist in coping with the critical problems in promoting sustainable development, and creating just societies where human dignity and rights prevail. “ Be knowledgiastic”  Tandon urged the higher education community and civil society, coining a term which for him meant “co-creating transformative knowledge for social change and changing the way we handle, use, build and understand knowledge.”

The rather brief and intense exchange set the stage for continuing the discourse between the ivory tower of the academia and the activist stance of civil society, and to find a common ground for working together to fulfill the common goal of social change through learning and human capability enhancement.

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