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Professor Tsikata and Dr Kojo Aidoo in Thailand

The Principal Investigators, Administrators, and Institutional Heads from Africa, Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe of the Mellon Funded Humanities Across Borders: Asia and Africa in the World Program are locked in a strategy meeting in the Northern Thailand City of Chiang Mai. The program just completed the first phase of experimentation, and is moving into the next phase of institutionalization ie 2021 to 2026. The next phase is expanded, and seeks to anchor the program in the respective institutions, including the University of Ghana.

Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata, Director of Institute of African Studies, joined us as an institutional head. Prof. Tsikata, in her contribution, made a very perceptive analysis of the history, mission, pedagogical frame, and tendencies of the University of Ghana generally, and in particular the Institute of African Studies. She declared the unalloyed support for and commitment to the program. We have also started discussions on collaborative efforts with the Universities of Dar es salaam, Garston Bergon, Chiang Mai, and Mexico.

Dr. Kojo Opoku Aidoo's contribution took the form of self reflexivity on his pedagogical shifts over the last decade and half, paying particular attention to the shortcomings of mainstream social science and the imperative to decolonisation pedagogy via the humanistic education. Below is part of his presentation, which offers a background to the Ghana Project on Mobilities of Grassroots Pan Africanism:

In a very practical way, this piece reflects my divided self, but also a growing synthetization that I seem to experience: me as traditional educator and me as a humanistic pedagogue in a typical encyclopedic university. Tensions, opportunities and restrictions exist between these two selves. To confess: my pedagogical practice in an archetypal encyclopedic environment, until I became part of the Humanities across Borders Program failed to meet the stringent standards set by Paulo Freire , or as demanded by the humanistic sort of pedagogy.  I came to this conclusion as I have progressed through my Humanities across Borders engagements since 2017. I have been working at the Institute of African Studies, which even though is deeply rooted in pluridisciplinarity, is nevertheless located in a quintessential encyclopedic setting, i.e. University of Ghana. And, the University of Ghana is imbedded in western social science, an embeddedness that comes with its own pedagogical and knowledge-generation challenges. First, a weakness of western social science is its discouragement of dialectical thinking, which is related to the ideological commitment of western social science to the justification and preservation of the existing social order. With this kind of commitment, mainstream social science has an inbuilt bias in favour of categories such as mechanical and organic solidarity (Durkheim), traditional and bureaucratic authority (Weber), universalism and particularism (Parsons), Gemeinschaft and Gessellschaft (Tonnies), democratic and totalitarian political systems, which are discrete and in sharp contrast suggestive of good and bad.  Thus, at the University of Ghana, we have a social science of discrete, sharply contrasting and rigidly fixed categories and entities, a science that is inadequate for understanding a complex social world of subtle shades on which change is ubiquitous.  The university’s pedagogical framework is consequently one that is bereft of dynamism and humanism.  

A second weakness is that, as Freire maintains, there emerges a relationship involving ‘a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient listening Objects (the students)’.  The contents, as Freire argues, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, “tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified”.  Such pedagogical methodological framework suffers from ‘narration sickness’ , as topics expounded are often completely alien to the existential experience of the students. This way. ‘words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity’. 

A third weakness is that knowledge production in such conditions become lopsided and elitist.  Community-generated knowledge, though equally legitimate, is sidestepped, rendering the frontiers of knowledge bounded and ‘unfree’. The point then, I have learnt through my Humanities across Borders activities, is to ‘free’ the encyclopedic pedagogy from its “Babylonian captivity” in the academy. 

Dr. Aidoo and Colleagues


The Humanities across Borders Program therefore represents an intellectually and methodologically disruptive, and a radical departure from the pedagogical practices that I am familiar with. In the course of developing a humanistic pedagogy, as an alternative framework, I have, during field stints, encountered griot-like figures (migrants in Ghana, Togo, and Benin), who build their knowledge through their analyses of how the world is. They are regarded for their reflective philosophical knowledge, as ‘walking libraries’ with up-to-date knowledge and histories of their communities. With wide-ranging historical knowledge, they demonstrate illimitable possibilities for the formal educational establishment. They tell their stories from memory extemporaneously, elaborating the actions/events. These experiences challenge the conventional pedagogical paradigms and call for alternative frameworks. I recognize that the formal classroom setting with its structural limitations and trappings of scripted literacy curriculum and test driven can benefit immeasurably from such wise, knowledgeable griot-like figures. 

There are therefore two methodological changes in my pedagogical practice that I feel have the potential for rethinking existing syllabi. These are first, round-table and focus group discussion, and second, individual narratives/digital storytelling apropos everyday practices. I find individual narratives have to be a valuable resource for the classrooms, as they depict a way to see the world, to feel sensations, and to recall memories. On the other hand, digital storytelling, which is not a traditional classroom learning experience, is as Van Galen says, “… very fluid, non-linear, and sometimes faculty and students are challenged by the ambiguity of the process.” In discussing the power of personal narrative in the classroom, Van Galen points out that the work of composing a multi-layered digital story is a deeply reflective process, as students make connections between their own biographies and course content, and then anticipate how audiences will see those connections. 

Finally, in addition to been self-reflexive, I find it to be useful to jump-scale and also regard myself as part of a global collective. After all, the stretch of processes and institutions across national space to globality is a reality today. Collaboration with peers elsewhere, especially with peers along the Asia-Africa axis of knowledge. Emphasis upon community engagement is seen as a bridge-building collaborative endeavor between all those producing, utilizing and creatively advancing knowledge in academic establishments such as University of Ghana and community activists based in various kinds of communities of practice and other spaces of life-long learning. I thus find it to be of immense utility to develop and suffuse community-generated knowledge in the teaching of Pan-Africanism, one that is sensitive to the daily practices of living in a real world. Therefore, a curricula in-situ on Mobilities of Grass Roots Pan-Africanism has been constructed not just within the high walls of the university but also by and through the voices, narratives, histories and other forms of knowledge practices of communities living across borders in neighboring Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The two new humanistic syllabi, Grassroots Pan Africanism and Africa in Global Studies are ready for accreditation.