Students produce multimedia exhibition on colonialism’s effect on educational systems today

December 07, 2020

Students at Northwestern Qatar produced more than 30 multimedia projects – including podcasts, videos, poems, articles, and a webinar – that address how education systems are shaped by the political context where they operate, particularly in countries that experienced colonization. 

The projects, which are exhibited on a class website, provide insight on how systems shaped by colonialism continue to operate globally – including the use of Western curriculums, a lack of diversity among teachers, and discrimination in the classroom based on gender and race.

The exhibition is part of a liberal arts course that introduces students to interdisciplinary learning where they reflect on what they know and how they know it, and then think about an issue that affects their lives analytically.

"The class – Ways of Knowing – encourages students to think critically and objectively about a given topic – which, this year, is education in the contemporary world," explained Professor Sami Hermez, who is co-teaching the course. "The students theoretically and practically examine the notion of knowledge production, the purpose behind it, what it achieves, who has the authority to decide to produce it, and the limitations it has." 

One of the educational concepts that students explored this year is the banking model of education, which is a traditional educational system where students are more passive and simply absorb information and learning is the memorization of facts.

Using film that integrates audio and visual components, students Princess Collado and Mohammed Al-Khulaifi said that their class project expressed their "desire to break free from the system where we are held to absorb knowledge without resistance.” The film focuses on the issues and challenges of being part of an educational system where critical and objective thinking is non-existent.

Providing another perspective on the same theory, students Aesha Hussein, Asmae Nakib, Linda Feng, and Raghdan Alhennawi interviewed Northwestern Qatar's Kelly Wilson, administrator of the school’s Writing Center, for their podcast on the importance of freedom in the classroom. In the interview, Wilson encouraged the students to take ownership of their writing and to be free with the choices they make. 

"Students should be able to take risks in what they're learning. They should be able to learn in ways that are not just about rote memorization and then regurgitating that information back," said Wilson. "What is lacking in the banking system is the willingness to ask questions and to make space for doubt, uncertainty, and curiosity, and those three things are fundamental to learning."

Muhammad Shahan Ejaz, William Gitta Lugoloobi, Noura A.S. AlShantti, and Beatrice Zemelyte analyzed the impact of a colonial education system on women through a video where they examined how and why women were discriminated against and the role Western colonialism played in promoting the oppression of women.

The film – Colonialism and the learning experience for women: Past and present – connects the dots between today’s educational systems and the systems used by European colonizers in Africa as a mechanism to "create obedient and civilized members of society," by providing men with an education designed "to produce semi-skilled labor for the colonial economy," while, education for women was seen as a waste of money and something that would "undermine the feminine attributes of a woman."  

Language, and specifically the English language as the lingua franca, was the subject of another podcast project that looked at the effect of colonialism on the erosion of cultures, the disappearance of native languages, and adaptions to Western influences, especially the preference for Eurocentric beauty standards.  

The students – Noura Abdulaziz Al-Thani, Shaikha Al Thani, Azma Hasina Mulundika, and Makeda Shimelis Ararso – noted the significance of language in a culture, and how "when one language overpowers another, this consequently results in one culture replacing or altering its predecessor, bringing about numerous elements such as beauty standards." 

Professor Torsten Menge, who is co-teaching the course, pointed out that students came to understand that global issues like racism, climate change, and political disputes have also shaped the progress in education.

"Students were able to take a step back and reflect on how their educational journey and lives are impacted by historic events and foreign influences and come up with creative ways to convey these issues and provide their thoughts on how education can be improved in the future,” he said.