I. Pan-Arab meetings: Diversity in Learning
In follow-up to the October 14-16 2003 meeting in Lebanon on “diversity in learning”, (which was organized then by UNESCO regional office in Beirut and the Arab Education Forum), a second meeting was organized in April 2004 in Ajloun-Jordan on the same theme. During the period which elapsed between the two meetings, other preparatory and follow up activities were organized most prominent of which was the gathering of learning societies in Mumbai in January 2004, which consisted of workshops on various themes related to ‘learning societies’ as part of the World Social Forum (organized mainly by Shikshantar, Abhiviakti and others).
This Second Meeting on Diversity in learning was a collaboration between a wide range of groups and organizations (with various degrees of involvement): the Arab Education Forum (Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University and Jordan), UNESCO HQ (Paris), UNESCO Regional Office (Beirut), Shikshantar (India), Abhiviakti (India), the Arab Theater Training Center, UNESCO (Amman office), Amira Basma Center (Jordan), and the Multiversity group.
Forty-five people, from 17 countries across 5 continents participated in the meeting. Eight others (from Sudan, Mali, Canada, Lebanon, and Palestine) were planning to participate, but last minute conditions prevented them from being able to participate. Arabic and English (and sometimes French) were used with translations.
Themes and Discussions
Three broad themes were chosen as main themes for the meeting in Jordan. Short notes (one and the half page each for each theme) were sent to participants prior to the meeting in order to start the discussion. The three themes were: (1) learning societies, (2) al-jame’ah, and (3) search/ research as they relate to learning societies and al-jame’ah. (attached is a description of each theme).
In addition to the three main themes, other themes were presented and discussed (to varying degrees, especially within the small-groups discussions). These themes reflected what participants are involved in, which included: the multiversity initiative; the multiworld initiative; agriculture; theater, art and cultural expressions (including films and videos); the use of poetry in “stitching” the social-spiritual-intellectual fabric among people; youth initiatives; the centrality of the senses in learning; learning from life situations; collaborative growth and networking; walking out and walking on (to which were added ‘walking in’ and ‘walking beyond’); knowledges and wisdoms of indigenous communities; learning among refugees; community learning and community development; looking at cities as learning communities; role of Islam in building learning communities; relationship to land and food as central to learning; and broadening perceptions/ conceptions concerning universities and search/ research.
The meeting in Jordan (like the meetings in Udaipur, Porto Alegre, Lebanon, and Mumbai) confirmed the conviction of the tremendous importance of deepening the discussions and interactions with all cultures, especially with the South and the East as well as with indigenous communities. This need is particularly true of the Arab world where such interactions have been minimal in modern times. The meeting in Jordan also deepened the importance of trying to integrate more consciously the themes of learning societies, search/ research, al-jame’ah project, along with other themes. In fact, such integration has been followed up since the meeting.