07 SES 09 B, Promoting Social Justice in Higher Education
Our paper will present and discuss an online Palestinian Arabic language course (OPAC), co-designed by staff at the Arabic Center (Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine) and the University of Glasgow's School of Education (UK). This beginners language course is built on three key principles of the Capabilities approach as developed by Naussbaum (2011). The course is a unique resource, both in the way it was developed - through online intercultural communication in partnership across the virtually impenetrable borders of the Gaza Strip - and in how the principles behind its design inform the course content and delivery.
Contribution of educational theory to practical outcomes:
We will discuss how the capabilities approach helped us to design a course that is both rooted in everyday aspects of Palestinian life in Gaza, and accessible to learners internationally with minimal need for a bridge language.
Intercultural communication and partnership working:
We will present ways in which this course is a resource for communicating culture and identity as much as language. We will also reflect on our own experience of intercultural communication as we built the course in partnership.
Power imbalance and exclusion:
The course is also a way for people living and working in Gaza to move beyond the isolation and exclusion imposed by the ongoing siege; to share their language and culture from a position of power and agency; to overcome prejudices that are often connected to Palestinian identity in particular (Said, 1992) and to the Arabic language in general (Versteegh, 2014)
Implications for integration policies in Europe and beyond:
The framework and methods of this course are useful in the context of integration policies in Europe and beyond: with many Arabic speakers seeking refuge from conflicts in the Middle East effective intercultural communication is becoming a basic necessity, and this approach teaches language while giving those involved opportunities to exchange meaningful experiences connected to identity, exclusion and belonging.
How does the capabilities approach help design a language course that enables learners and teachers of Palestinian Arabic to relate to each other’s daily lives, emotions and experience?
To share a unique resource and experience so we all can learn more; to present the capabilities approach when applied to language education as a useful framework; to promote a relevant tool for wider needs of intercultural communication and integration in Europe and beyond.
This course grew from a previous research collaboration between the Islamic University of Gaza and the University of Glasgow which was grounded in intercultural and multilingual encounters (see: http://researching-multilingually-at-borders.com/?page_id=818). Given this context, and the importance of the reinterpretation of stories in and from different cultural perspectives as part of language education, we are operating within a subjectivist epistemology.
The theoretical perspective of social constructionism emphasises the role and importance of individual agency within (often problematic) social structures - this is of particular relevance when working in partnership with Palestinian people in Gaza who, while besieged and isolated, also struggle against being objectified and misrepresented by power structures that are both imperialist and Orientalist (Said, 1979)
The framework that we have found most useful in building the OPAC course is the capabilities approach, as theorised by Sen (2009) and developed by Nussbaum (2011). According to the capability approach, ‘functionings’ (i.e. individuals’ ‘beings’ and ‘doings’) and ‘capabilities’ (the effective opportunity to achieve functionings) are what make a life valuable and which constitute the best measure of interpersonal evaluations. The ten ‘central human capabilities’ listed by Nussbaum (2011) are particularly relevant in a context, such as that of the Gaza Strip, where asymmetric power relations are manifest in everyday life.
Participatory research has been our methodology of choice, following on from the theoretical frameworks outlined above. This methodology is particularly suited to contexts such as Gaza when issues of collective social justice and the need to express both individual and collective identities all become important elements in developing a language course. The iterative process of planning, action, reflection and evaluation identified by the theoretical model of Participatory Action Research (PAR) help us to observe and collate the reflections prompted by such problematic circumstances and allow the course to develop in a flexible yet structured way despite the different daily realities experienced by the two research teams . This iterative process is outlined in the PAR toolkit, referenced below. Three of the ten capabilities described by Nussbaum are particularly relevant to language education and intercultural work. These are: critical self-examination; affiliation; narrative imagination (Nussbaum, ibid.). They have informed our methodology and methods and have been key to developing a course that aims to increase intercultural communication and decrease the suspicion and fear that - in many parts of Europe, certainly - are associated with Arabic and Arabic speakers as potential terrorists. In particular, we used the following methods: Mind maps created collectively to connect the important theoretical points of the Capabilities approach with practical language learning outcomes. Skype conversations between Glasgow and Gaza colleagues. Pilot sessions with volunteers to test the course units as they developed; these were followed up by questionnaires and semi-structured interviews Self-reflective practice, in line with PAR principles outlined above. We also used the Capabilities approach to observe and understand the experiences of intercultural and language learning within the team of partners that occurred as part of building the course itself (not just delivering it).
Expected outcomes are an Arabic language course for beginners, rooted in Palestinian culture and identity, entirely delivered online. The objective in co-designing this course was to create a resource for Palestinian people besieged in Gaza so that they can: sustainably earn an income from their expertise in teaching Arabic; move beyond the realities of siege and isolation through online technology and communication; express their culture and identity from a position of agency and power rather than being passive and objectified. We fully expect that these objectives will be realised. We also expect that it will be a case study demonstrating the viability of Nussbaumm's capabilities approach when applied to the context of language education in contexts such as Gaza where people have daily experience of exclusion, isolation and challenges to their identity. While we do not intend or want to normalise a situation of siege by creating mechanisms to cope with unacceptable living conditions, we expect that this course will go some way to redressing the isolation of people living and working in Gaza through the regular, meaningful communication between teachers and their students internationally. We are confident that this course will be a model of learning and intercultural communication that will be relevant to people developing education and integration programmes intended to decrease the misrepresentation or Arabic and Arabic speakers in Europe and beyond, particularly in a context where large numbers of Arabic speakers are dispersed across the world following conflict in their home countries.
Nussbaum, M. (2011) Creating Capabilities. The Human Development Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. PAR toolkit (https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/beacon/PARtoolkit.pdf) Said, E. (1979) Orientalism. New York: Random House Inc. (Vintage Books edition) Said, E. (1992) The Question of Palestine. New York: Random House Inc. (Vintage Books edition) Versteeg, K. (2014) The Arabic Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2nd edition)
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