University of Central Asia’s Online Summer Training: Pluralism and Resilient Societies
On August 11, 2020, GCP’s Education Team presented a session as part of the University of Central Asia’s (UCA) two-week virtual summer training, “Pluralism and Resilient Societies.” Sixty-three participants attended from 13 countries, including several Central Asian and European countries, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, New Zealand and India, and included UCA students, faculty and staff, employees from Aga Khan Agency for Habitat in Tajikistan, and Aga Khan University medical students from Pakistan.
The interactive session, “Personal Identity and Pluralism”, began by delving into the concept of pluralism and asking participants to share one word about what pluralism meant to them. We introduced the concepts of ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ and spoke to the importance of using a pluralism lens in education, for instance by looking at what is being taught, how it is being taught, and the extent to which educational institutions model and lay the foundation for pluralistic societies. Both ‘hardware’ (e.g. legislation, policies, hiring practices, curriculum/textbooks, and monitoring mechanisms) and ‘software’ (e.g. norms, beliefs, attitudes, language, historical narratives) can either facilitate inclusion or exacerbate tensions and deepen social exclusion. For example, when simplistic and/or negative perceptions of and responses to difference are put forward, inclusion is threatened.
Multiple Identities and ‘Identity Threat’
After sharing our Key Principles of educating for pluralism and introducing our Learning Framework, we asked participants to engage in two interactive activities to connect the concepts of identity and pluralism, and link these concepts to their own contexts. Both activities resonated with participants and evoked good discussion. The first activity focused on examining the multiple identities we each hold and the concept of ‘identity threat’ – what happens when one aspect of your identity is challenged or when you feel you have to give up a part of yourself. Several people remarked that our identities evolve and change throughout our lives, and that to understand and engage with people who are different from us, we first need to reflect on and understand who we are as individuals.
For the second activity, we asked participants to answer 20 questions from our “Inclusion/Exclusion Inventory”. This ‘inventory’ encourages us to reflect on the ways that we may have been excluded, discriminated or not represented in different aspects of our lives – whether economically, politically, socially, religiously, sexually/from a gender perspective, etc. A few participants commented that they were not able to express their political views openly where they live, while others said that this exercise made them recognize their privilege.
We ended the presentation with a Q&A session, which covered questions, such as: What do I do if I feel discriminated against by my own family? How do I talk about political issues in the classroom when it’s illegal and/or frowned upon by the administration and/or parents? How do I talk to my institution about pluralism issues?