Hunter Gatherer Education

Organizers: Jennifer Hays, Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø (UiT); Edmond Dounias; French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD); Velina Ninkova, UiT; Sidsel Saugestad, UiT

This panel held at the Twelfth International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS 12) in July 2018 focused on the role of education in the lives of contemporary hunter-gatherers. It attracted several papers and was divided into three sessions according to geography: a session on Asia, one on the Congo Basin, and one on southern Africa. Abstracts for these sessions can be found here.

All of the presentations addressed issues of education both in the broad sense of intergenerational knowledge transmission that is practiced by all cultures, and also those associated more narrowly with formal education, commonly associated with schooling – and the inter-relations between these spheres. For hunter-gatherer communities today, questions related to education in both senses are inseparable from their broader struggles for survival and recognition of their rights.

The panel was grounded in the recognition that, around the world, the extreme marginalization of hunters and gatherers in modern societies is mirrored in their schooling experience. For most hunter-gatherer communities, formal education is simultaneously difficult to access, of poor quality, culturally insensitive, and disconnected from communities’ immediate realities. Cultural forms of education are based on knowledge transmission approaches that are deeply integrated into social structures, values and cosmology, and subsistence strategies of the group. These approaches have been highly successful in a hunter-gatherer context. As traditional livelihoods and resources are increasingly narrowed, hunter-gatherer communities are seeking other options. Formal education is one route to increased economic opportunities, and ideally provides access to dominant languages and other skills needed to negotiate for their rights. It is also a favored approach of governments and international organizations; global development goals of “education for all” present schooling as the solution to improving livelihoods and circumstances of hunter gatherers (and other marginalized groups). However, cultural disparities and enormous structural barriers make successful participation in formal schools extremely challenging. Furthermore, in many areas, the available schools do not prepare hunter-gatherers for realistic livelihood options. Alternative education projects have been developed in some communities, with varying degrees of success.

Papers in this panel addressed the multi-faceted and interconnected questions and issues that education poses for hunter-gatherer communities. Questions addressed included:

  • How are hunter-gatherer communities engaging with formal education systems?
  • What kinds of alternative projects are in place, and what kinds of approaches do they take?
  • What traditional knowledge-transmission practices are in use today among contemporary hunter-gatherers?
  • To what extent are traditional knowledge transmission methods integrated into teaching approaches practiced in the available formal education systems? (or, how could they be?)
  • What does ‘western’ pedagogical research have to contribute to the study of hunter-gatherer education?
  • What strategic approaches are hunter-gatherer communities employing to gain access to the skills and knowledge that they deem appropriate for their needs?
  • How is the concept of ‘education’ connected to broader issues, including realistic livelihood opportunities, land rights, and self-determination?

Importantly, this panel asked the question: How can a research-based understanding of these issues lead to better support for educational self-determination for hunter-gatherer communities? And what kinds of research are needed?

Abstracts of the papers presented in this panel can be found here. Some of these papers will appear in a forthcoming special issue of the journal Hunter Gatherer Research.

This panel was connected with the establishment of the Hunter Gatherer Education Research and Advocacy Group under the ISHGR, which began with a pre-conference workshop at CHAGS 12.