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New Visions for International Development Education

This piece was original published on the RDI Network Website

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How can scholars and educators of development best enable students and practitioners to acquire the conceptual and pragmatic skills required to confront the immediate and inescapable challenges we, as a global society, now face?

And how can we best equip students with the resilience, reflexivity and hope required to become productive agents of positive social change?

From 23-25 June, scholars from 14 universities representing Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom came together to explore these questions at James Cook University’s ‘Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice: New Visions for Global Development’ Symposium.

Proceedings began with two insightful keynote presentations from the National University of Singapore’s Professor Jonathan Rigg and Cambridge University’s Dr. Emma Mawdsley, who respectively discussed emergent forms of impoverishment and the increasingly polycentric assemblages that constitute the international development landscape. Drawing on more than 20 years of empirical research in Northern Thailand, Professor Rigg highlighted the complexity that surrounds long-term shifts in the livelihoods and wellbeing of the poor, noting that while the aggregate data suggests continued overall improvements, some people’s wellbeing had become notably worse. This analysis was well complemented by the discussion provided by Dr. Mawdsley, who provided a wide-ranging discussion on the increasing significance of South-South development cooperation, and also contemporary forms of inquiry that seek to move beyond problematic binaries of the Global North and South.

Keynote presentations were followed by two further presentations exploring the shifting landscapes of international aid; the first a provocatively titled paper ‘The DAC is Dead?’ by Dr. Patrick Kilby, and the latter an exploration of the relationship between culture and development in China’s Belt and Road initiative by Deakin University’s Professor Tim Winter.

More directly attuned to questions surrounding pedagogy, were papers by Professor Petra Tschakert, Dr. Susan Engel and Massey University’s Professor Glenn Banks. Drawing on the reflections and experiences of students from the University of Western Australia’s Master of International Development, Professor Tschakert’s paper insightfully examined the significance of emotions in the teaching and learning of development. This analysis was well complemented by the discussion of Dr. Engel, who mapped the various development studies programs across Australian universities and gave attention to their various structures and learning outcomes. Finally, in Professor Banks presentation he explored the development studies program of his own institution, Massey University, where he emphasised the merits of stakeholder engagement in ensuring that teaching programs remain relevant to employer needs – an insight that was later further explored by Dr. Sheila Scopis in her discussion of La Trobe University’s Master of International Development.

For me personally, however, the most enjoyable aspect of the symposium were the 3 roundtable discussions that were held over the course of the two days. In an atmosphere of warm collegiality, more than 30 scholars, practitioners and students of development came together to discuss how we might better improve the content and delivery of development studies programs across Australia. Here, pertinent questions were raised, including:

  • Do we really know what our students want?
  • What will our students do with their degrees (within a somewhat contracting aid sector)?
  • How can we best teach both ‘core skills’ and reflexive life-long learning?
  • How do we encourage student voice in the classroom?

In seeking to identify some of the knowledges, skills, theories, and competencies that any development studies student should have, re-emerging key themes included:

  • Lifelong learning and research skills;
  • An understanding of social and environmental justice;
  • Appreciation of and exposure to interdisciplinary ways of thinking;
  • Critically reflexive practice;
  • Place sensitivity and cultural competence; and
  • Student/teacher positionality.

The symposium firmly highlighted that there is a gap within the field of development studies regarding the critical analysis of development pedagogy itself. This symposium represents an important moment in bringing this fact to the fore, and there was agreement that this conversation must be taken further.

With the kind support of the RDI Network, we are planning that this teaching-related symposium will become an annual event for Australia’s development studies community. In 2018, the first follow-up symposium will be held as a co-convened event by Murdoch University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

I look forward to seeing the directions this discussion takes.

The 2017 James Cook University symposium ‘Rethinking Development Pedagogy and Practice’ was convened by Dr. Kearrin Sims (JCU) and Associate-Professor Lisa Law (JCU). The event was held at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University Cairns Campus, and received financial support from the RDI Network and Rustic Pathways.

Published on
RDI Network

Title
New Visions for International Development Education

Author
Kearrin Sims

Date
25 August 2017