Collaboration is, without a doubt, a positive and important part of academic life. Scholars benefit enormously when they’re able to develop teamwork skills for conducting research jointly or in partnerships.
Scholarly alliances can lighten the heavy burden of publishing in high-class international journals. It makes investigative ground work and funding procedures far less intense. It enables more scholars to share in successes. It is also crucial to identifying and grasping seemingly intractable social problems. All of this can benefit entire regions and even nations.
But there are also pitfalls and problems. Scholars from the global north still tend to dominate such “partnerships”. With more capital in hand, they often call the shots. Over the past decade or so, there have been some attempts to change these power dynamics.
The South-South Educational Scholarly Collaboration and Knowledge Interchange Initiative – or S-S Initiative – fits into this mould.
I am among those who initiated this endeavour. Over the past 18 months or so, its work has yielded some valuable lessons, insights and results. We’re a small group of academics with a shared focus on rural education. We all come from areas in the global South: Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Together, we’ve set up good, effective working engagements.
A history of oppression
In 2014 I started developing a national data base of rural education researchers. My goal was to boost general awareness of, and possibly create linkages between, local scholars dedicated to producing new and improved knowledge of a globally neglected yet crucial area of public schooling.
This culminated in the S-S Initiative. Current participants and collaborators are from Cuba, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina, Mozambique, Rwanda, and South Africa. Scholars from Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Malawi and the Ivory Coast have also expressed interest in getting involved. It’s clear, then, that participants have something in common beyond their interest in rural education: they all come from countries that have historically been the victims of acute colonial oppression, marginalisation and underdevelopment.
This history continues to negatively impact on the provision of good, quality education, particularly in the realm of rural schooling.
There are many potential approaches to the global problem of rural education. There currently exists a range of secluded, often insulated remedial measures and strategies concerning this sector. These must be shared to develop and increase knowledge that ultimately is mutually beneficial. It is important to create suitable spaces where such prospects can be presented, engaged, and eventually applied where feasible.
The initiative has several key aims. With appropriate interest and support, these will be expanded and developed over time.
First, we’re reaching out to rural education scholars from the global South to join the membership data base. This provides opportunities for the exchange of ideas and experiences, as well as the possibility of launching partnerships in future.
It also sets the groundwork for conference presentations as well as the constitution of review boards. The selection of postgraduate supervisors and external examiners are further opportunities under consideration. In this way, experts can come together and apply their insights and work in a collective manner. Such a course, we hope, will offer suitable prospects to initiate and advance meaningful change in the broader S-S educational field.
We have launched a call for book chapters on the topic of rural education. It is hoped this will eventually lead to the formal establishment of a South-South Educational Journal, with a duly-appointed international review board. There is a dearth of academic journals collectively or especially devoted to learning and teaching practices in the global South as a whole.
It is not a question of expertise: scholars in this initiative have deep knowledge and experience of academic publishing. While some occupy leading positions on editorial boards, others have played key roles in actually establishing and administering academic and scientific journals.
We also hope to merge DVD documentary production with educational field research. This has the potential to reach a wider audience, thereby bringing parents and communities more decisively into the research fold. Schools and children thrive more when parents are more engaged in education.
Together with a dedicated, supportive team, I have already produced one DVD of this nature. A second is close to completion. And, with a colleague in the S-S Initiative, plans are underway for a documentary about rural schooling in the Republic of Cuba.
Small, steady steps
Funding will always be an issue for academics, particularly those from less developed territories. Fortunately, the S-S Initiative was enriched and boosted with funding I received from South Africa’s National Research Foundation. This allowed us to organise a symposium hosted at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Education Faculty.
This gathering brought together a range of educational research scholars from the global South. Established, emerging and postgraduate scholars presented their work with special attention devoted to rural education. It was, as such spaces can be, fertile ground for the exchange of ideas and knowledge. It also allowed us to discuss possible future collaborations.
At their best, these kinds of initiatives don’t just benefit individual academics. Our hope is that by drawing together experts from the neglected global South, rurally-based school children’s educational development can take centre stage.