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Two-day Capacity Building Workshop for faculty on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) through Service-Learning

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Date(s) - 22/08/2022
10:00 am - 5:30 pm

Lady Doak College

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A two-day capacity-building workshop for the faculty of Lady Doak College, Madurai, was planned as part of the activities under United Board for Christian Higher Education (UBCHEA) sponsored two-year Project on “Capacity Building to Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by Integrating E-Service Learning and Research.” 

In his remarks, Dr. Tandon said, ‘The pedigree to SDGs is the MDGs’. MDGs were launched at the turn of the millennium 22 years ago. The rationale behind MDGs was that individual areas of development like health, education, water, sanitation etc., do not necessarily result in a composite well being of all citizens of society. But that was an era (late 90s, early 2000s) when there was a strong differentiation between the developed and the developing world. MDGs were directed only at the non- OECD countries i.e., developing countries or the countries of the global South. But by 2010, three phenomena had become more important in international space: 

1.   Economic growth and wealth creation was decisively shifting to the Asian region- earlier led by Japan and Kore and Taiwan, recently by China Indonesia and India. There was a shift in economic relations. It was argued and later agreed that these goals are universally applicable. All the countries of the world associated with United Nations system signed this universal declaration. It was first time in the history that a universal declaration was signed by all the nations.  

2.  The second phenomena was the crisis of climate. By 2010, it had become decisively obvious that the course of development being followed by the world at large was leading us to an ecological disaster. While all the scientific evidence was available policy makers and businessmen did not want to bother. They wanted to continue the same path ahead. While the discussion on SDGs were taking place, simultaneously an international conversation on climate change was also taking place. In the year 2015, a UN platform signed the universal declarations of 17 SGDs. Later that year in Paris, an agreement on climate was introduced by the global conversation and formal decision making. One of the anomalies of SDGs is that while there are targets about poverty, hunger, health, education etc, Goal 13 almost amusingly has a separate target on climate action. The last 2 years have made it even more defined.  

3.  Evident by 2010 and accentuated during the pandemic was the inequality of wealth – the pandemic made the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is a global phenomenon and has increased manifold in our country.   

These three trends – universal, climate and inequality, needs to be kept in focus whenever we talk about paying attention to a local SDG. We need to focus on contextually prioritised SDGs and locally tweaked solutions. There may be national policies, but they require adjustment/ tweaking to make them relevant to local context. This can be done through partnerships with HEIs. 

Speaking of the current constraints in HEIs, he said, “In order to contribute to SDGs, the core mission of HE is teaching, research and service”. When we flip teaching- teaching is what teachers do. Learning is what students do. In the digital age, there is very little that teachers can teach but there is a lot that teachers can enable, facilitate the students to learn. It is important to shift our focus from teaching to learning. The second mission is research- the purpose of research is production of knowledge. It is important to remember that knowledge doesn’t reside in academia alone. Knowledge resides in everyday life. It was more so evident during the pandemic, where every community found household wisdom and practical steps in the face of adversity – they found local food, local health care etc.  

Advancement of human civilisation through the knowledge produced by academia is only 300- 400 years old. Therefore, we must shift the second mission to actionable knowledge when it comes to SDGs. When we look at actionable knowledge, we must start with the knowledge that the communities already have and then build on that knowledge through our specialised expertise. Unfortunately, HEIs in India and elsewhere have devalued the experiential, oral, everyday knowledge of the community. The third mission is service and he reiterated, ‘service is not charity’. The purpose of service is mutual empowerment- we learn form them and vice versa. Learning actionable knowledge and empowering engagement as the mission. 

Each SDG needs to be looked at from several disciplinary lens. We need to link various lenses of disciplines together and use a pedagogy that is different from disciplinary boundaries. We don’t just have to make the subject matter transdisciplinary but also the pedagogy. One of the biggest challenges is the curriculum of professional educations like that of doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers etc. This curriculum doesn’t consider understanding either climate distress or SDG requirements. It was based on early work done in each discipline largely by western institutions and it grew out of that socio-economic era. For instance- the engineering curriculum that I studied back in the day, in my view, is part of the problem of non- achievement of SDGs. How? Because we were taught that there is no limit to natural resources, one just needs to invest and design dams, power grids and so on. It is important that we revisit the curriculum that we have been teaching our professionals in the light of SDGs and the climate issue. The ecological problems that our society’s face has not been caused by the semi- literate or illiterate people, but it has been caused by educated people like you and me. Let us accept it. It is time we question what we have learnt and what we are propagating. The starting point is to understand that the system of curriculum pedagogy, research methodology, research tools etc  that system itself requires critical examination if we want to engage with SDGs in an impactful manner.  

Speaking of NEP 2020, he added that social responsibility is about engaging with community in a respectful manner. In this context, he emphasised that a day should come when the communities adopt the HEIs. Social Responsibility of HE is going to be a benchmark for national and international ranking. 

Next, Dr. Tandon spoke of the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi) reports. In this light he mentioned that GUNi was established in 1998 after the 1st UNESCO Conference on Higher Education that was held in 1997. The 5th GUNi report states that, at a global level, for the first time ever GUNi and UNESCO jointly proposed that transformative knowledge in partnership with communities can drive social change. While the 6th GUNi report talks about contributing to SDGs and rebalancing the local and the global.  

In May 2022, 3rd UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC) took place.  UNESCO had set up an Expert Group which presented its report at the WHEC2022. The report emphasised and reaffirmed that we need a stronger and continuous engagement with societal actors; fostering epistemic dialogue and inter and transdisciplinary ways of producing knowledge.  

PPT_for_Lady_Doak_College_Workshop_22 August_2022

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