Weaving rights: Educational equality from Critical Social Work
Social work educational institutions are faced with reproducing parameters of educational exclusion dictated by the colonial structures and influences entrenched in current models which arguably respond to global economic-productive matrices. Decolonial theories have the power to annul indigenous knowledge through the imposition of a colonial matrix of power.
This paper is based on action research which came about as a result of experience, from critical social work perspective, of a group of indigenous university students seeking to ensure their right to an inclusive, quality education. They expressed concern about a number of issues including the visibility of educational inequality due to the poor recognition of their mother tongue. Also, a teaching body that does not always keep cultural diversity in mind in the classroom. In addition, the students felt discriminated against when joining academic work groups. The findings suggest that social work academics should guarantee validation and integration of "own" knowledge of ethnic minorities and ensure its integration into existing interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
Access barriers to higher education for indigenous youth: a critical social work perspective
Analyzing educational equality from critical social work (CSW) perspectives is a challenge. The barriers imposed by hegemonic models reproduce inequalities at all levels of the process but young people who are historically excluded are particularly disadvantaged at the point of access. This has the effect, among other things, of keeping indigenous knowledge in a place of inferiority and indigenous people in constant subordination. Respecting values, dignity, diversity, the defense of human rights and social justice constitute the fundamental principles of social work. The right to a reasonable education is a fundamental position (IFSW, 2014) along with civil and political freedoms, such as free expression and conscience.
There are variables that limit inclusive education, such as gender, self-identification, disability, language, geographic location, and poverty. The lack of equal access to a university education is a violation of human rights if it breaches protected characteristics aligned to indigenous needs. Although some young people do find ways to access higher education those who manage to do so face not only academic difficulties, but also emotional, social, economic, and cultural barriers. This can lead to negative consequences and not all of them manage to generate adequate personal resources to remain in the system. This can lead to demotivational states, possible desertion and abandonment of studies. Our research suggests that deepening understanding of educational equality from the perspective of the Critical Social Work would lead to improved value placed on those belonging to a different social stratum. Critical Social Work approaches can lead to social denunciation and better expression of counter-hegemonic struggles (Viscarret, 2014; Vivero, 2017).
The aims of this paper are to share the reflective experiences of indigenous Ecuadorian university students from their different perspectives. This knowledge is based on their expectations of their studies in a medium of continuous disagreement with the formal education system.
“Other” knowledge and critical social work
Educational policies and processes are part of the problem of the system. However, the "order of knowledge" broadens the debate because the hegemonic models used are an elementary device of power, concentrating all forms of control with subjectivity, culture, and the production of knowledge.
Talking about the order of knowledge allows us to think how education contributes to the colonization of minds, to the notion that science and epistemology are singular, objective and neutral, and that certain people are more apt to think than others. (Walsh, 2021, p. 18)
The intellectual colonization that exists in the universities legitimizes academic production as a science under the parameters of the global north, relegating the thinking of the south to the status of "localized knowledge". In fact, in Latin America, knowledge is crossed by its geographical location, history since colonization, the present cultures "have value, color and place of origin" (Walsh, 2021, p. 14), strengthening what Anibal Quijano (2000) called "matrix colony of power. One of the fundamental axes of the power matrix is the idea of race, a mental construction that classifies the world population socially. For Quijano (2000), in Latin America the idea of race was a way of granting legitimacy to the relations of domination imposed by the conquest. Race as an axis sustains the matrix of power and conditions people's subjectivities, leads to inferiorizing, infantilizing and delegitimizing what is not considered "white". As Zapata mentions (2020), the creation of a racial structure of social identities in whites, mestizos, Indians, and blacks annulled cultural differences, creating common and negative identities known as Indians and blacks. The coloniality of power strategically favored the organization of world capitalism as a homogenizing model of culture, especially of knowledge and the production of knowledge.
In this framework, decolonization is proposed as a project of modernity based on the development of an objective science, which permeates reason and allows the development of sensitivities. Also, cognitively open to other possibilities of understanding and living life, as mentioned by Rain and Muñoz, “as human beings in permanent construction, incomplete, and therefore require “other” knowledge to complete themselves” (2017, p. 332). It must be recognized that the Critical Social Work is also made up of “other” knowledge that responds to local realities (Alvarez & Gutiérrez, 2001; Montaño, 2019; Muchiri & Nzisabira, 2020). This implies promoting social justice and human rights as general principles of the profession (IFSW, 2014). Could this be maintaining a critical horizon within the classroom resulting in the problematization of education and generation of liberating processes? In order words a search for a radical transformation of the hegemonic forms of power, being and knowing (Iglesias et al., 2020; Kohli, 2012; Paraskeva, 2020; Veugelers, 2017).
Making visible educational inequality
The ownership of Critical Social Work by indigenous students has meant that the main factors that they point out are exposed, making it difficult for them to incorporate into university life, experiencing educational inequality promoted by the colonial matrix of power.
For students from indigenous peoples, the official language is not always their mother tongue and academic activity is carried out in a second language. This is not usually considered meritorious, so there is no different accompaniment in the preparation of tasks, presentations and other activities proposed by the teacher. The non-existence of official language leveling systems for the admission of indigenous students has an impact on the successful completion of their university studies. Teachers do not always keep cultural diversity in the classroom in mind, the statistical bases of student enrolment are not considered, where ethnic self-determination can be identified. When the technical-scientific language used by the teacher does not consider the linguistic diversity present in the classroom, academic gaps accumulate that hinder a correct understanding in learning. For an indigenous student, in many cases, it becomes difficult to request an explanation from the teacher on a subject not understood, whether due to embarrassment, lack of interest, lack of motivation or verticality in the teaching exercise.
The difficulty in joining work groups proposed by teachers generates, in some cases, exclusion and discrimination on the part of the peer group. This can add to linguistic disadvantages, both written and verbal and a feeling that students hold basic attitudes and will not contribute effectively to obtain a good grade. Such students are unlikely to actively integrate in face to face classes and, because of the distanced nature of on-line teaching, this disadvantage is accentuated in virtual classes. This type of exclusion and perceived discrimination leads to a detriment in their academic performance which in many cases is not verbalized or channelled. This can lead to the loss of interest in the academic purpose and on occasion refuge in the excessive use of technological devices and alcohol consumption.
One of the most frequent problems in contemporary society is the uncontrolled use of social networks, mainly by young people, with the aggravating factor of falling into procrastination i.e. a deliberate postponing of tasks. When indigenous students find themselves with unlimited internet access, away from their family, in a different context from the one they were used to before entering university, they find themselves in a situation of emotional vulnerability and guardianship. Therefore, they are exposed to the distractions that are offered on social networks, such as the indiscriminate use of video games, WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook and so on.
Excessive alcohol consumption is common and socially accepted on university campuses and in some cases of indigenous students it is made worse loneliness and distance from families. The lack of self-control and access to low-cost alcohol can add to the neglect of studies and aggressive behaviour.
Towards the decolonization of inclusive curricula
The formal education system is made up of tangible and intangible elements (curricula). The latter respond to a global structure of colonization of minds and bodies since the political purpose is to mold individuals and thus obtain a desired type of society.
In the study plans is where the knowledge that ensures the teaching-learning process is selected, organized, and ordered. Where a structured scheme materializes that determines who is suitable for obtaining academic titles and that enables the insertion of individuals in the productive-capitalist system. Decolonization consists of challenging these plans based on homogenizing texts, which delimit the actions of teachers, and which are part of the production of subjectivities. In other words, it is necessary to carry out an epistemological decolonization that recognizes that each territory has its own knowledge and its forms of transmission. Therefore, the inclusive curriculum will value the diversity of cultures and sciences, which must be placed in a horizontal dialogue that responds to local realities. The decolonization of education includes the equal consideration of contemporary knowledge and community education.
Conclusion: Weaving rights
Higher education is a right but it must be relevant and appropriate to the characteristics and training needs of indigenous people right from the beginning i.e. application and admission systems right to the end but also during their stay at the university. It would be a strength for the university community to have a diversity of knowledge from indigenous students since it would contextualize the national reality and contribute to reducing the gaps in intercultural educational inclusion.
The challenge of deconstructing imported knowledge involves weaving critical awareness in academic spheres. Maintaining the relationship between territory and students enables the application of decolonial pedagogies and strengthens intercultural dialogue.
Finally, inverting practices, identifying pedagogies that have already been walked and started, requires involvement in an interactive and reciprocal process between those who are considered professionals in social work and those who access and use services.
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