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PIMA Bulletin No.34 (January 2021)

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

Editorial Chris Duke

We begin this ambiguous New Year on an upbeat note: Chris Brooks demurs at the prevailing doom and gloom with which we farewelled 2020, noting causes for collective pride. Yet there is also a blunt closing challenge: in his rural village ‘flat-earthers’ display ‘thoughtless thinking and a failure to identify and examine the facts’. ‘Surely this is a major educational failure. What should we do?’ Brooks asks.

First, however, please note the upcoming Webinar a few days after you received this Bulletin, jointly with Canadian and UK kindred bodies, which asks: about links between Climate change, resource extraction, and adult learning and education – what are the links. Note to President Shirley Walters’ purposeful confrontation of these vital issues via the ‘impacts of extractivism on African women and… women-centred and just development alternatives’.

Here we go first to the theme of the Special Interest Group on later life learning convened by Brian Findsen who opens the set. In this symposium, most of the contributions arise from his invitation to consider different countries' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final paper here, by Ornwipa Mongkondaw, looks at a different aspect: older people not as a health-vulnerable problem, but as a resource: a reservoir of old wisdom and a means to transfer knowledge to youth, and assist their viable future in rural Thailand.

A new book on higher education co-edited by PIMA members Maria Slowey and Hans Schuetze with a colleague of Slowey is subtitled ‘Challenges of Migration and Ageing Populations’. For sure, Covid-19 is an unwelcome companion to older adults; but with wise leadership and good thinking, they, like migrants, also represent an invaluable resource and not just a problem. Nor is a virus a brand-new foe to humankind: Carol and Thomas Kuan remind us that ‘viruses are 1.5 billion years old living proteins… Longer civilisations have developed indigenous cures’.

We invite and encourage members from other countries to add to the discussion (send papers to Brian Findsen as Convenor, or myself as Bulletin Editor), for the next issue.

Most of these papers are from countries with reasonable records of pandemic management; we need also to hear more from Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Every country faces much the same dilemma: how rigorously to combat C-19, which takes its heaviest toll among the elderly; and how to balance this with the economic damage of rigorous lockdown and adequate support to people affected.

The second main section of this Bulletin probes themes, which deserve PIMA attention through 2021. Also, in continuing to examine modes of collaboration by PIMA and its members with other global and regional networks and organisations, Heribert Hinzen draws attention to the role that universities can play in promoting active applied adult learning, and ways that PIMA members can collaborate, as by building on the work of the Wurzburg’s Adult Education Academy now involving 10 universities. ‘New roles for new times’ may sound like a tired slogan reaching its late middle age: but in this century, decade and year, it has a new urgency that PIMA should address.

Back in ‘Other themes’, Bernt Gustavsson begins: ‘Mass media and social media spin us around in labyrinths, such that, ultimately, we do not know where we are or what we can believe and know’; and closes with the question: ‘what and how do we think together to be the right, the good and the true? What can be an answer in this time of ‘post-truth?’

Gavin Moodie comes onto similar issues in exploring the thorny and superficially speaking internal conundrum for university administrators: free speech on campus; and the need to rethink this in current political-social contexts. Administrators allowing or banning visits and speeches on campus by controversial speakers whether of left, right, or of other kinds of passion, face a choice between student action, perhaps violent and destructive, and opprobrium from mass and social media for allowing or prohibiting. Citing Voltaire is all very well, but big reputations can be shredded; image may mean success or bankruptcy. Is the rehabilitation of science and reason enough to guide appropriate long-vision policy and action? Or do the market values of governing bodies prevail?

Between Gustavsson and Moodie there is also a relevant celebration of working-class scholarship (in the UK ‘neath the dreaming spires of Oxford) by Budd Hall. Who gets to go there? Whose knowledge counts for what? How far are universities (and in which if not all countries) asking the research questions that the community wants and needs to be answered? We used to speak of ‘organic intellectuals’; for New Zealand according to Roger Boshier, farm-gate intellectuals. Steve Garlick has pressed the question on universities: are they good at…or good for…what? And are ALE and LLL policy, research, and ‘knowledge’ (still) made in the North for export to the global South? And will it ever be thus?

This Bulletin also carries for the first time a book review – something that may become a regular feature. The review and the book, on Public Sociology as Educational Practice, are recommended and of relevant interest. But they carry another story, and a different important question for universities, the scholars of the academy, and the production, ownership, and use of knowledge, as Hall’s preamble to the review explain. In separate correspondence this reviewer explains why he had withdrawn the review, which has instead been welcomed, to the Bulletin:

“I am very concerned about the evolution over the past years amongst many of the established publishing companies to charge fees for the sharing of intellectual property created by scholars such as myself. I am particularly concerned when this practice affects the dissemination of knowledge in a field such as community development. Academics are not paid for articles that are published in journals such as the CDJ [Community Development Journal]. Oftentimes our IP rights are taken by the journals in question. But more disturbing is the impact that a paywall creates for those who do not subscribe to a given journal, or who do not have funds to do so or access through a university library. Community Development started as a field of theory and practice based in communities and driven by the concerns of communities to create more opportunities for improved lives… It saddens me that the Community Development Journal, in particular, long the vehicle for transformative community action, would now be located behind a paywall. The idea that I would personally pay to be able to freely circulate a book review that I had written myself, is exploitative and furthers knowledge inequity.”

To Gustavsson’s Jekyll and Hyde ambiguity of the mass and social media we may add the consumptive commodification, conscription, and collusion of the mainstream academic press. It is a subject to which we may return.

PIMA Bulletin No.34 (Jan 2021)
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