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The State of emergency and emergences: Democratising education

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‘The battle against the KNDU Bill has brought to the fore the impulse on the part of successive governments to usher in a regimen of control, externally imposed discipline, authoritarianism and surveillance.’ (Picture Courtesy Gloalperspectice)

 

By Sivamohan Sumathy

Kuppi Talk nears its half year mark in the midst of a pandemic. In these months, we witnessed the country sink into a mire of a COVID crisis, and an economic slump. It has also been a battleground of protests and counter protests. Through much of the past year, the writers associated with it raised critical questions about issues that the pandemic has created or exacerbated; issues that have far reaching consequences for education, not merely in their temporary modality, like online learning and teaching, or the closure of schools and universities, but in their very functioning as productive forces of civic and public culture. In summarising and distilling these range of concerns into a theoretical undertaking, and simultaneously pointing to the directions our engagement may take. I focus on the salient concerns besetting education as a whole and higher education in particular.

Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci are two notable activist theoreticians who have written on the intimate connections between the state and civil society. Gramsci’s name today is synonymous with hegemony while Althusser famously formulated the two-part constitution of the political state: the ideological state apparatus (ISA) and the repressive state apparatus (RSA). The military, as Althusser would say, is the repressive apparatus of the state, while the ideological apparatus is made up foremost of education. Both political theorists hold the view that the field of education is the site of play of ideological signification, namely hegemony. I draw upon these theories in exploring the connections between militarisation and privatisation, and militarisation as a state of emergency.

In the ever-increasing blurring of lines between home and work, work and out of work, open and closed, more open, and more closed, social distance and socially distanced, we enter a state of uncertainty. Order is imposed on this state of uncertainty, the workings of an RSA. A state of emergency impinges on public and private life, raising the spectre of a semi-totalitarian state in its crudest form, the military state. On the other hand, within the ideological field, the ISA—the normalisation of neoliberal undertakings, particularly those pertaining to reducing education to skills and competencies—theoretical underpinnings are understood not as political and ideological, but as natural. To this end, we need to re-evaluate the reforms facing the universities, schools and education as a whole.

De Military and demilitarisation: the task for an emergent democracy

The battle against the KNDU Bill has brought to the fore the impulse on the part of successive governments to usher in a regimen of control, externally imposed discipline, authoritarianism and surveillance. These forces already prevail in the university and in other educational spaces, where increased surveillance has been instituted through a series of monitoring mechanisms, orders of control exerted upon academic spaces; every activity of life undergoes a close supervision through a technology of surveillance. They range from close monitoring of the curriculum, policies being drafted elsewhere and imposed on the academic community, and circulars to CCTV cameras, body checks, barricades and security check points. These moves, old and new, go hand in glove with encroaching privatization of university spaces as government policies of funding, think tank proposals for the universities would demonstrate (Sumathy, “University as Institution: transforming the modern” in

“The University as Institution: Transforming the modern” in Neo Liberalism, Critical Pedagogy and Education. Delhi: Routledge, 2015). Previous Kuppi Talk articles too have amply touched on these aspects.

Educational spaces have always been hierarchical, and reforms have done little to address them; instead they have side stepped questions of class, ethnicity, gender, and other social faultlines, and exacerbated them in the disregard for a bottom up, transformative programme of education. Concerns like sexual violence, disregard for minority and women’s voices are apt to get even more lost than they are in the ongoing programme to homogenise the curriculum and to reduce it to a matter of skills and competencies.

The militarisation of education needs to be understood historically, contextually, and nationally. Militarisation itself is not a new story. The long years of the ethnic conflict, the war and its aftermath instituted the military establishment as a core unit of the governance structure of the state apparatus, an indispensable RSA. In post war north and east, the military was not only occupying ordinary people’s land, but also came to be a part of the structure of admininstration, the structure of the economy and the structure of higher levels governance. Civilian structures were overseen by the Army in the early years of post war north and east. Ex- military personnel were appointed as governors. The Army engaged in economic production and became an employer. This normalisation of the role of the military in civic political and economic life allowed surveillance of university academics and the monitoring of university spaces to take place with impunity, in the name of national security. An instance of this is recounted in. While the military in the north and east was not particularly a neoliberal establishment, they are a part of the RSA that oversees and gives form to the ideological maneuvers in education, privatisation, militarisation and increasing surveillance of academic life. The disciplinary mechanism in place at KDU, though absurd, is hardly eyebrow raising. KDU might seem like outright repression, but we had allowed the military as an institution to take control of our lives long before the KNDU Bill came along and long before we had been able to name it as such.

Militarisation, Privatisation and the Ideological State Apparatus

In the insidious combination of military order and privatisation, one witnesses a blurring of lines between the ISA and the RSA. The KNDU Bill demonstrates very clearly the privatising impetus couched within the act of militarization. The hegemonic apparatus, albeit complex, hinges on the persuasive power of a set of terms that draw upon populist rhetorics like employability, soft skills in higher education, performances, and demand. Critical thinkers in the field, too, have fallen into the trap of anecdotal referencing of the imperatives of education. For instance, Panduka Karunanayake makes thought-provoking remarks in his article

though I may not agree with his theoretical basis. He questions the superficiality of the received wisdom on efficiency and performance, much touted as the panacea for the ills of education. In his response to Kuppi Talk, he makes a painstaking effort to delineate the column’s preoccupations, engaging with it at a conceptual level (https://island.lk/thinking-outside-kuppi-box/). However, surprisingly, and unwittingly, he makes a case for the neo liberal set of poorly conceptualised market reforms in education, in a reductive and simplistic move that demonstrates how hard it is to confront the ideological moves of the militarist and neoliberal paradigm of education.

Populist rhetoric has come to shape research as well. The Audit Office’s report on Arts Education is an instance of the shaky premises on which reforms toward arts education are founded (https://island.lk/myth-of-unemployable-arts-graduates/). The mantra of employability which Kuppi Talk writers have tried to counter and complicate is found everywhere. One is doubly confounded when funding organisations, like the World Bank, rather than academic bodies set the terms of discussion and reform on education and higher education.

Emergences: A counter hegemonic struggle

In the paradox of the state of uncertainty rests our survival as democratic beings. It is a productive statement of purpose. It invokes a renewed call for democratisation; an emergence within the paradigms set for us by the emergency of the pandemic call. For Gramsci, who called for a capture of the hegemonic field, democratisation of education is a political need. Much of the anecdotal superficiality of the prescriptive modalities of educational reforms stems from a lack of a philosophical and political inquiry into education and its imperatives. In alterity, I would argue that free education as a principle is the starting point for us today, not only for an analysis of sociological and political considerations, but for the formulation of a response to neoliberal reforms of education—reforms of the curriculum and pedagogical concerns. Free education is the motive force of a counter hegemonic struggle.

FUTA’s action today against the KNDU Bill, calling for a halt to encroaching militarisation of educational spaces brings back memories of our historic struggle for 6% GDP and the Million Signature Campaign. Today, another mighty force takes to protest, raising vital questions about education: Teachers. These struggles may not be sustainable over a long period and maybe riven from within. However, the field is set for a counter hegemonic struggle, a struggle that will push the boundaries of the discussion on education, opening up spaces for all voices to emerge, whether they be about privatisation or about hierarchies in the university space. The struggle should open spaces for a discourse on ownerships and marginalities, curriculum and access, language and languages and sexuality and sexual violences, ragging included. In other words, free education and the multiple mobilities it enables.

(Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies



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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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Hair care mask

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

* Aloe Vera and Olive Oil:

Aloe vera can beautify your hair when used regularly. Aloe vera is a three-in-one plant and is the best medicine for health, skincare, and hair care, too. Using products, containing aloe vera as the hair strengthening agent, is quite expensive. So,treat your hair, naturally, by trying out these natural hair care masks.

Ingredients…

Aloe Vera Gel: 4-5 tablespoons

Olive Oil: 3-4 tablespoons

Egg Yolk: 2-3 tablespoons

Method…

In a bowl, mix well the olive oil (after heating the oil for eight to 10 seconds), the aloe vera gel and the egg yolk.

Apply the mixture on your brittle and dry hair with a hair brush and leave it for four to five hours. Apply it overnight for better results.

Wash off wish a mild shampoo later on.

When applied continuously, for eight to 10 days, your hair will definitely turn healthy and shiny, within no time

* Almond Milk and Coconut Oil:

Almonds are one of the amazing products when it comes to hair care. Try this mask to experience that salon affect you probably missed out.

Ingredients…

Almond Milk: 4-5 tablespoons

Egg White: 3-4 tablespoons

Coconut Oil:1-2 tablespoons

Method…

Mix all the ingredients well, in a bowl, and gently apply it on your hair with a brush.

If applied overnight, it is the best remedy for those with dry hair.

Wash off with cold water and a mild shampoo.

Use it thrice a week and if your hair is badly damaged a daily use for eight to 10 days improves your hair condition.

You can continue using it twice or thrice a week until you get the required results.

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Amazing Thailand… opening up, but slowly

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I know of several holidaymakers who are desperately seeking a vacation in Amazing Thailand, and quite a few of them keep calling me up to find out when they could zoom their way to the ‘Land of Smiles!’

Last year, they were contemplating doing their festive shopping in that part of the world and were constantly checking with me about a possible shopping vacation, in early December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved a disaster to most tourist destinations, and Thailand, too, felt the heat.

However, the scene is opening up, gradually, and fully vaccinated travellers are now being given the green light to visit quite a few countries.

The Maldives is one such destination…and now Thailand is gradually coming into that scene, as well.

Several provinces, in Thailand, have reopened, through the Phuket Sandbox programme, and there are plans to reopen five more areas, including Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and Pattaya.

Now, hold on! Before you rush and make plans to head for Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

The plan is to reopen to fully vaccinated tourists, and, in all probability, they would be able to visit without having to quarantine. But, that has to be officially confirmed.

Currently, travellers to the provinces that have already reopened, such as Phuket, must quarantine before travelling elsewhere in Thailand. The new reopening plans are the most significant travel policy changes the country has enacted since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Thai government relaxed some restrictions on gatherings in certain areas, including Bangkok, and that’s certainly good news for Sri Lankans who love to be a part of the Bangkok scene.

Bangkok is still in the ‘dark red zone,’ however — the strictest designation — that has restricted movement in the city for months.

The government has said that activities, such as shopping malls and dine-in services, in the dark-red zone, will be allowed to reopen – but no official dates have been mentioned, as yet.

Gatherings are now capped at no more than 25 people, an increase from just five people. A curfew still remains in place, however.

This October reopening (hopefully) will be launched alongside with the country’s newly adjusted ‘universal prevention’ guidelines against COVID-19 … including accelerating vaccination for the local population and formalising tourism campaigns.

Thailand will reopen in phases, I’m told: Phuket reopened in Phase One in July, while Bangkok is scheduled to reopen in Phase Two. Phase Three will reopen 21 destinations – hopefully at some point in time, in October – while Phase Four will begin in January 2022.

The measure comes not a minute too soon for local tourism operators as tourism is one of the nation’s largest gross domestic product drivers (GDP), and preventative measures against COVID-19 resulted in a massive blow to the industry.

Yes, we are all eager for the world to open up so that we can check out some of our favourite holiday destinations.

And, after staying indoors for such a long period, the urge to break free is in all of us.

I’ve been to Thailand 24 times (on most occasions, courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand) and I’m now eagerly looking forward to my 25th trip.

But…I wonder if Amazing Thailand will ever be the same – the awesome scene we all experienced, and enjoyed, before the pandemic!

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