Crucial Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Formal Education Systems

Crucial Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Formal Education Systems

Claudia Koehler (University of Frankfurt a.M., Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0838-0.ch004
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Abstract

The chapter emphasises the important role of indigenous knowledge (IK) in formal education systems. If formal education does not take appropriate account of IK, learners will not be able to connect their learning experiences with their social and cultural environment. This impacts negatively on their ability to apply education for the construction of their life pathways. The chapter argues that in different countries, formal education has been shaped and dominated either by the majority population or by a ruling group and as a result is based on the respective groups' epistemologies and ontologies as well as their language. This has led to a separation of IK from the type of knowledge mediated through formal education. The consequences of this separation and the resulting argument for the significance of a strong integration of IK into the body of knowledge mediated through formal education as a prerequisite for relevance and usefulness of education is discussed on the level of the student and on the level of development.
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Introduction

Indigenous knowledge (IK) is defined in this chapter as a global concept referring to knowledge that arises out of the respective cultural, historical and social backgrounds of indigenous peoples, in other words prior knowledge that is primarily shaped by the family, community and the environment, e.g. informal mediators of education, and based on their ontologies and epistemologies. The definition of Emeagwali (2014, p. 1) is further applied which conceptualized IK as “the cumulative body of strategies, practices, techniques, tools, intellectual resources, explanations, beliefs, and values accumulated over time in a particular locality, without the interference and imposition of external hegemonic forces. IK Systems are not confined to the material sphere, but often interconnected with spiritual and non-material realms of existence.”

The chapter argues that through the process of the introduction and increasing relevance of formal education systems, IK, which is primarily mediated through informal actors, has become excluded, mainly through colonialism, from the type of education mediated through formal education. This is primarily due to the fact that in different national contexts, formal education has been shaped and dominated either by the majority population or by a ruling group and as a result is based on the respective groups’ epistemologies and ontologies as well as their language. This is the case for multiple regional scenarios, e.g. America, Australia, formerly colonised countries in Africa, and Europe in the context of the increasing diversity of its populations due to immigration movements. The chapter places a focus on the latter two: immigration countries in Europe and formerly colonised countries in Africa.

The objectives of the chapter are:

  • 1.

    To demonstrate the consequences of this process on the level of the student and on the level of development, and

  • 2.

    To demonstrate an alternative to the described Eurocentric education in an approach to education which considers multiple knowledge systems and appreciates diversity.

After outlining the background, – the mediation of (Indigenous) knowledge, the disconnection of formal education and IK, and the multiliterary approach, the relevance of IK in formal education are discussed. Firstly, this will be on the level of the student (based on a discussion of the theory of risk factors and interpretational shortcomings, the building of education on IK, and multilingual instruction in school), and secondly, on the level of development. The discussion concludes with an explicit call for a strong integration of IK as well as diverse languages in formal education so that education becomes relevant for all students and useful for the construction of life pathways and to enable equal and inclusive societies. Furthermore, some promising initiatives for reaching this goal are outlined and research gaps are identified.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Eurocentric/Eurocentrism: A worldview that focuses primarily or exclusively on the European knowledge system and connected European ontologies and epistemologies. It comes with the ignorance and mostly the disrespect of and claim of superiority over other knowledge systems.

Education: The act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

Indigenous Knowledge (IK): A global concept referring to knowledge which arises out of the respective cultural, historical and social backgrounds of individuals, in other words prior knowledge which is primarily shaped by the family and community.

Formal Education: Education that is mediated through institutional arrangements such as schools and universities.

Immigration Country: A country where immigration exceeds emigration. This means, more people move into the country (immigrate) than out of the country (emigrate). Over time, an immigration country is also characterised by high rates of people with a migrant background among the total population.

Migrant: A person who migrated from one place/country to another.

Ontology: The understanding of what to know, e.g. the understanding of which knowledge is relevant.

Informal Education: Education that is not mediated through institutional arrangements but through informal actors such as the family and the community.

Epistemology: The understanding of how to know what to know, e.g. the understanding of how to acquire relevant knowledge.

Person with a Migration Background: A person whose parents or one of his/her parents migrated from one place/country to the current pace/country of residence.

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