“Education is what is left after what we have learned has been forgotten”

by Arinola Adefila, Research Fellow, GLEA

My most enduring educational experience occurred at the beginning of secondary school; I had just started taking Yorùbá classes and we had learned the days of the week. The teacher, had provided a helpful acronym for helping us remember the days and we had discussed the etymology of some of the words. However, I was very confused! One of the few Yoruba words I knew up to that point – Ṓjṓ Jimoh did not feature in her list. Growing up in northern Nigeria I had taken for granted the fact that Muslims prayed on Ṓjṓ Jimoh (Friday). Mrs Bami, a recent Christian convert had explained that Jimoh was an Arabic word and encouraged me to focus on learning the words of the seven day week she provided. After all, the etymology made perfect sense to my eurocentricised mind. Sunday (ójó-Àíkú) was the first day of the week and as duly explained, was celebrated in Christendom as resurrection day; translated in Yorùbá as the everlasting day. The other days revolved around this. So where did Jimoh come from?

When I discussed my puzzlement with my father, he asked me to recite the days – I sang the song Mrs Bami had taught, then he went through another version which did really sound Arabic – it had Jimoh in it too. The next question he asked threw me, “Which one is correct? I was puzzled. In Yorùbá? I picked Mrs Bami’s version, I had critiqued it against observable facts. He looked astonished and explained that both versions were wrong. Mrs Bami’s version was introduced by Christian missionaries a mere 80 years before I was born, the other version by Arabs traders a lot earlier. Yorùbá people had a four day week which honoured some of the Òrìṣà (deities).

This was the very first time, I was encouraged to “unlearn”. Every single thing I learned before then was building on what I had previously studied about the world. At that point, I was confronted with a different epistemology of the world and my mind was opened to a whole different ecosphere. That experience has stayed with me through every educational programme I have encountered. Studying across five different University campuses on 3 continents, I have used the skills I learned that day to both learn and unlearn.

Nevertheless, the process of unlearning is not easy, how do we deal with major upheavals of our worldview, shifts that rock our educational scaffold, stretch our imaginaries and challenge us to enter new paradigmatic realities. I learned relatively early to deal with this precarity, to be open to different views of the world and more importantly to critically analyse what I was being “fed”. Later on, I learned how to be respectful of other knowledges and how to hold different knowledge traditions up to examination. Unlearning is painful and humbling; it enables one to examine the boundaries of what one knows whilst accepting the depths of other possibilities. It enables us to be innovative and curious.

Today, as a researcher at the Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment, I am focussed on understanding pedagogies of “unlearning”; exploring ways we can open spaces for global learning in HE and investigating pedagogies through which we can engage our students in sites of precarity. This is particularly poignant within our internationalisation agenda where we are researching interculturality, decolonisation, open resources, educational technologies and academic development. On some projects, we explore ways to enhance HE access to refugees in Jordan, on other projects we are looking at making education accessible to disabled students or students from non-Eurocentric traditions whose epistemologies are delegitimised by modern, discipline-specific educational repositories and programmes.

We are contributing to the development of a global learning that validates the experiences of our students – home and international; and facilitates a rich journey of discovery for them. Providing experiences along learning paths that help them to prod deep into the reservoir of resources they have and the ideas we introduce.

Arinola Adefila works at the Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment on research themes linked to internationalisation, interculturality and decolonisation.

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