The article, “A Pedagogy of Mutiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” by The New London Group begins with an analysis of the spheres of our working, public and private lives and how these changing realities are redefining the concept of literacy pedagogy.
The concept of multiliteracies is explored as a focus on “modes of representation much broader than language alone” (New London Group 1996). The idea that “mere literacy” can no longer negotiate the diversified and globalized contexts in which we live is a fact that has opened the door to integrated modes of meaning-making that include textual, visual, audio, spatial, behavioural etc. (New London Group 1996). Another understanding of the term multiliteracies explored by the authors refers to the multiple Englishes, languages, and communication patterns that are part and parcel of a diverse society. These factors are the reason it is necessary to revisit our understanding of literacy pedagogy and reshape its meaning to encompass multiliteracies.
The article focuses on the concept of Design to forward the pedagogy of the multiliteracies agenda. “The idea of Design is one that recognizes the different Available Designs of meaning, located as they are in different cultural contexts” (New London Group 1996). Linguistic Design, Visual Design, Audio Design, Gestural Design, Spatial Design and Multimodal Design form a metalanguage of multiliteracies that “accounts for the infinite variability of different forms of meaning-making in relation to the cultures, subcultures, or the layers of an individual’s identity that these forms serve” (New London Group 1996). Given the diversity of society today, with its interrelations and pluralism, new meaning is produced of by this cultural dynamism, which can be understood as the Redesigned. We are each creators of Design in this respect, as creative and responsible makers of meaning, each designing our social futures (New London Group 1996).
As I read this article, the visions for work, citizenship and lifeworlds explored by the authors resonated with me. I felt empowered by the idea that perhaps the world can change by implementing a metalanguage to communicate across cultures. This ideal made me think about the work of a non-governmental organization called The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan, which I have volunteered with since 2007. TCF’s vision is one that embraces diversity in the sense that the authors discuss in their article. The organization raises funds globally to open and maintain schools in rural areas of Pakistan in order to bridge the socio-economic divide in society that is at the basis of Fast Capitalism. It does so by creating an opportunity for the less privileged classes in Pakistani society to earn an education that is of the same quality as the best private education in Pakistan. Being a poor student does not mean poor education – an idea that is at the basis of the authors’ discussion on public lives. In that section the authors give the example of societies in Los Angeles, Sarajevo, Kabul, Belfast and Beirut – “the absence of a working, arbitrating state has left governance in the hands of gangs, bands, paramilitary organizations and ethnonationalist political factions” (New London Group 1996). Public education in Pakistan is largely nonexistent; with schools that are not schools at all, but cattle pens with teachers that are on government salaries but never come (Kristof 2011). However, groups like the Taliban have capitalized on this weakness and even they see education as a tool for change – the literacy pedagogy that they teach though, is one that does not embrace diversity, but calls for an end to it (Kristoff 2011). The geopolitics of the nation has left no hope for the education of those who are not members of the middle class (Kristoff 2011).
TCF’s role in the education of Pakistan’s less privileged starts there. Their 2006 Annual Report, called “Embracing Diversity” begins:
“It is our dream that the children of this nation get an opportunity in life.
An opportunity to realize their potential, to prove their worth and above all, to become better human beings.
Education can ensure a better quality of life for all children and a better world for all people.
At TCF, we aim to get children off the streets and into schools, ensure that they stay in school and are equipped with the basic tools they need to succeed in life” (The Citizens Foundation 2006).
This is the very idea behind literacy pedagogy and the metalanguage of multiliteracies. Pakistan is a kaleidoscope of people. The land on which it was formed has been host to civilizations dating back five thousand years. Its cities flourished before Babylon. Today, Pakistan is a medley of diverse ethnicities and cultures formed through legacies of Persians, Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Huns, Mongols and the British advancing through its land. Its people and culture bear deep imprints of its momentous past and dynamic antiquity. When Pakistan was created in 1947, its people took positive steps towards consolidating the unification of their pluralistic society and bring about its progress, however, the country’s turbulent history and current political situation is proof that such tasks are never easy.
TCF’s belief is that education will bring about tolerance of diversity and help achieve much needed harmony in Pakistan. Now, every morning, 115,000 children enter the gates of 830 TCF Schools (The Citizens Foundation nd). Regardless of ethnicity, caste, race, beliefs or ideologies they all come together in the single-minded pursuit of education.
This education is quality education that is communicated in a metalanguage that negotiates a place for these children in the country’s local spheres of work, public and private life as well a place for them on the world map. These students are offered with opportunities to continue their education at universities around the world through scholarship and mentor programs that cross the boundaries of language, culture and caste (The Citizens Foundation nd). The curriculum taught at TCF schools does indeed teach English but also hygiene and other essential life skills through multimodal avenues to ensure success. TCF schools are equipped with laboratories, computer rooms, libraries and art studios. Engaging in such multiliteracies does indeed give these children a chance to Design their own social futures.
Kristoff, Nicholas D. 2011. “A Girl, a School and Hope.” The New York Times. November 11, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2012 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/opinion/11kristof.html
The Citizens Foundation. 2006. “Embracing Diversity.” TCF Annual Report 2006. Retrived November 9, 2012 from: http://www.tcf.org/ePanel/Resources/DownloadFiles/Publications/Category/1/60/AN2006.pdf
The Citizens Foundation. No date. “About TCF.” Retrieved November 9, 2012 from: http://www.tcf.org.pk/TCFStory.aspx
The New London Group. (1996) “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies:Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review 66(1), pp. 60-92.