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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 4: Learning Through Experiences of Otherness in Malagasy Schools: Exchanges Between the ENS in Antananarivo, HEP Vaud, and the Zazakely Association (Denis Gay / Célestin Razafimbelo)

Denis Gay* and Célestin Razafimbelo**

denis.gay@unil.ch – crazafimbelo@yahoo.fr

* University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud, Switzerland –

University of Lausanne, Switzerland

** Ecole Normale Supérieure d’Antananarivo, Madagascar

Chapter 4: Learning Through Experiences of Otherness in Malagasy Schools: Exchanges Between the ENS in Antananarivo, HEP Vaud, and the Zazakely Association

Abstract

In this chapter, we describe how a group of three Malagasy students and a professor from the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Antsirabe, Madagascar, and three students and a professor from the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud) undertook experiences of otherness in two schools in Antsirabe (Madagascar). Several themes attracted the group’s attention: the status of the French language at school, the authority of teachers, pupil diversity, and descholarization. Our framework of analysis is that of double distantiation through experiences of otherness. We show how a sense of surprise among students and professors can lead to a better understanding of cultural aspects of other peoples and of oneself in return. Our method also leads to a calling into question of certain professional practices on professional practice. We emphasize that it can be transferred to fields beyond that of teacher training.

1. Introduction

The PEERS program (the Projet d’Étudiants et d’Enseignants-chercheurs en Réseaux Sociaux or Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Project) began in Madagascar at the same time as the country finally←75 | 76→ elected its president. The Swiss ambassador in Antananarivo played an important role in this transition (Châtaigner, 2014)1.

The aim of the PEERS program is to encourage cooperation between students and teachers in the Swiss Confederation and partner countries on an educational theme in an international and intercultural framework established by the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud) located in Lausanne that trains teachers to work in public institutions in Switzerland’s Vaud region. The Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), a high school teacher training institution, was the second partner.

The recent history of Madagascar is, in itself, a topic that arouses strong feelings. The island has an indisputable natural, human and economic potential. Unlike many countries of the South, it has not suffered any wars or armed conflicts in its history2. Today, Madagascar is characterized by continuing recession and recurrent crises. And the country is still in the throes of an ever-growing hardship: 87.5 % of the population lives below the poverty line and 53 % of those under the age of 15 are illiterate (Vancutsem & Razafimbelo, 2015). The impact on education is very alarming: according to the Millennium Development Observatory, the net enrolment rate in primary education fell from 83 % in 2005 to 69 % in 2012. In 2012, UNICEF reported that 1.5 million school-age children do not attend school and only three out of ten children complete primary school.

This article focuses on the exchanges between the HEP Vaud and the ENS of Antananarivo in Madagascar. The aim pursued by the PEERS is to lead research, to share experiences in order to build the professional capacities of the trainees and to improve school performance. A modest contribution in the quest to pave the way for development.

The Zazakely association, the third partner, is both the object and purpose of the research: largely financed by a Swiss NGO (<www.zazakelysuisse.ch>), its mission is to prevent the poorest from dropping out of school, by providing lunch to targeted pupils and giving them help with revision in addition to the education provided at the district’s public←76 | 77→ primary school: Ambavahadimangatsiaka public primary school. The association also has a preschool in charge of early childhood education, and helps to encourage parents suffering great economic difficulties to enroll their children. It is also a way of offering services to the poorest that have, so far, been reserved for wealthy families.

In Fiadanantsoa, near Antsirabe, the association has set up a free clinic. Its farm aims to contribute to the association’s financial sustainability. In concrete terms, in the mid-term, this project serves to examine and improve the effectiveness of the association’s activities. Field surveys made it possible to identify the training needs.

In this chapter, we ask: what were the experiences of otherness experienced by our international group? Our goal is to show how our group uses the distantiation principle, consisting of “rendering the strange familiar and the familiar strange” (Melhuus, 2003, p. 73). This involved a three-phase approach: first, showing how the students who were surprised by a cultural practice of the others call that practice into question; secondly rendering the familiar strange, i.e. calling into question an aspect of their culture that had, up until then, been familiar, obvious and unnoticed; and finally, taking a fresh look at their own professional practices. This type of heuristic approach can be applied to all student exchanges within the framework of the PEERS program. It could provide a general framework for other PEERS exchanges, or even transfer to any exchange program in the fields of education, social work, and health.

2. The Trip

Upon arriving in Antananarivo, our group of eight visited the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) and met its director. We visited the Queen’s Palace and the Prime Minister’s Palace which, despite renovation, is starting to fall into disrepair. Then the group visited the “Blue Hill,” the pinnacle of Imerina’s history and the sanctuary of the sovereigns. It←77 | 78→ would indeed be difficult to understand the central highlands without a historical retrospective through the ruins of the past. The current state of the main historical monuments bears witness to the tumultuous history of independence.

In Antsirabe, we met the director of the association, who provided us with an introduction to its work. We then spent two days of intense observation at the school in Zazakely.

The group met with the head of the educational administrative zone (ZAP, Zone Administrative Pédagogique), then the two professors visited the head of the school district (CISCO, Circonscription Scolaire) and the heads of the regional directorate of national education (DREN, Direction Régionale de l’Education Nationale).

Over the weekend, the team discovered the market, the town of Antsirabe, the town of Betafo and the countryside around Vakinankaratra, known for its meticulous agriculture and its judicious land use.

The students were given the opportunity to use the last three days to complete their investigations. The director of Zazakely proposed a visit to the very poor “village of solidarity”, a former village swallowed up by the city whose occupants enjoy the privileged support of the association Zazakely. Most of the men in the village work as rickshaw pullers, and the women as laundrywomen: the least well-paid professions. Meetings were primarily held in Malagasy, with the ENS students translating for their Swiss colleagues. Some individuals chose to hold meetings in French, and despite the need for some guesswork they made themselves understood.

This trip to Madagascar made it possible to forge strong ties between the participants. Although the stay was short, few visitors have, in such a limited time, the opportunity to come face to face with such different realities; and the Malagasy students also discovered their country from a different angle. The intention was for the students to mutually exchange information to build on their investigations and, if necessary, for the Malagasy students to return to Antsirabe to further examine or to confirm certain elements at the request of their Swiss partner. This is a point that was somewhat neglected because there were few exchanges. For the Malagasy students, the trip to Switzerland was quite an event, as can be←78 | 79→ imagined: first journey by air, first contact with a foreign country, first confrontation with an ordered world, run according to the rule of law. Fortunately, there are films and the people realize that such a world really exists. Magical, unreal, but the Malagasy do not show their feelings too much: it is not in their culture, as Célestin Razafimbelo explained to us.

The partners meet up again: Tolotra was hosted by Tanja, Harinaivo by Patrick and Toky by Nancy. And all three were to come away with different experiences. But what is wonderful is the ease with which the ENS students adapt. The students had the privilege of visiting Swiss schools and making classroom observations. They particularly appreciated this opportunity and it deeply affected them. Tolotra and Harinaivo, who come from a rural environment, showed a particular interest in the landscape, in studying land use. But the city, the cleanliness, the great organization of transport and public life, impressed the visitors, generating a great deal of admiration tinged with melancholy when they compared it with the situation in their own country. Another surprise: the wealth, but also the prices of everyday items, converted into ariary, the Malagasy currency. “A Malagasy teacher could not survive a day in Switzerland!” Visits to historic monuments sparked interest. The historian culture has been enriched.

3. Double Distantiation Through the Experience of Otherness: Theory and Practice

Before the trip to Madagascar, several meetings took place, and information on the Malagasy school system was discussed. The professors suggested an anthropological approach: double distantiation through the experience of otherness. We – Célestin Razafimbelo, a historian whose←79 | 80→ approach is very close to that of anthropology3, and Denis Gay – guided the students in the use of this methodology.

3.1 Experience, Feelings, and Emotions

Experiences of otherness constitute a fundamental dimension of the anthropological approach4. Anthropology “consists of a human experience. It is the experience of otherness in the fieldwork, where the anthropologist is confronted by a confusing environment. The relational parameters are overturned” (Géraud, Leservoisier, & Pottier, 2000, p. 18).

Otherness is a relative concept. The distinction between ourselves and others depends on the contexts of speech, society, and historical period. Thus, the Other for the Swiss is not necessarily the Malagasy, and vice versa. We will return to this key point.

In the experience of otherness, the researcher is often taken aback and sometimes shows a strong emotional reaction to what he feels to be “other” . For example, anthropologist Nigel Barley was annoyed when the Dowayo people of Cameroon among whom he was leading his research went through his pockets and took the tobacco that he had bought, without asking him (Barley, 1983). Paul Rabinow (1977) was surprised that Ibrahim, whom he considered to be a friend, kept hiding information from him and asking him for money. The Malagasy students were shocked to hear a Swiss student using the familiar “tu” form of address with their professor and using his first name. A Swiss student “was disgusted”, in her own words, when she learned that during Madagascan shroud replacement rituals (famadihana), families remove corpses from their tombs, replace their shrouds, then dance with the dead on their shoulders before returning them to the tomb.←80 | 81→

In these situations, the expectations and social conventions of researchers differ from those of their protagonists. The researchers are therefore shocked as a result of their own cultural bearings constructed in their social milieu. Barley had a certain idea of private property; Rabinow a certain idea of friendship; the Malagasy students a certain idea of teaching authority; and the Swiss student a certain idea of desecration and death. It is important to note that this experience is characterized by the involvement and engagement of the researcher, including in the choice of concepts.

Thus, from the outset, the researcher is included in the object of research. Furthermore, the individual anthropologist is considered to be a tool in the methodology. “The most intimate subjectivity [is] a means of objective demonstration […] The observer apprehends himself as his own instrument of observation” (Lévi-Strauss, 1976, p. 3). Everything is filtered through his self. It is always through his own original milieu, cultural development, and life course that he observes, has experiences of otherness, and learns.

It is in this context that the concept of reflexivity (Rabinow, 1977; Ghasarian, 2002; Leservoisier, 2005) has become a cornerstone of anthropology. It is now common to highlight the role of the presence and actions of the researcher not only when describing the results of research, but also its approach. This core competency in anthropology consists of describing and analyzing the researcher’s involvement in the situations studied, and to reflect on the role of his origins, social class, sex, age, etc. – and of his deeds and actions too. It is about “objectivating the subject of objectivation,” in the words of Bourdieu (2004, p. 88). It is worth noting that it was following the questioning of ethnographic authority (Geertz, 1996; Clifford, 1988), as it had been set down since the 1920s, that this concept was developed and became essential (see among others: Rabinow, 1977; Ghasarian, 2002; Leservoisier, 2005).

On the professional level, there is a striking parallel here with the skill standards of the HEP Vaud, “Acting as a critical professional and bearer of knowledge and culture” and standard No. 1.3, “Reflecting critically on one’s own origins and cultural practices, and one’s social role.” The level of mastery to be attained at the end of training is: “Demonstrating a←81 | 82→ critical understanding of one’s cultural development and appreciating its possibilities and limits.” In fact, the concept of anthropological reflexivity could give meaning to a core professional competency. We will return to this point.

Double distantiation involves taking a step back and questioning oneself first about a cultural aspect of “the Other”, then about a cultural aspect of the researcher: the “distance of the ethnologist from his object of study is one of the conditions for acquiring the critical gaze needed to understand “the Other”, but also oneself – a gaze that is one of the major contributions of the discipline” (Géraud, Leservoisier, & Pottier 2000, p. 18). The methodology therefore involves three phases. The first phase is surprise at a practice or cultural phenomenon. This leads to asking questions about the other’s culture, for example, the views of the different social actors regarding the practice. This is one avenue for research.

In the second phase, the researcher asks himself what cultural aspects of his own self have made him feel this surprise. He thus questions himself about an aspect of culture that he has himself internalized. Very often the practice or concept in question has remained until now largely implicit, if not unconscious for the researcher in return. It can be studied. This is another avenue for research.

But this double distantiation from cultural aspects of both another world and one’s own world is never settled. An obstacle rears its head: the culture that the researcher has internalized may be naturalized, normalized, and taken as given. A second epistemological barrier is ethnocentrism, “the technical name for the view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” (Sumner, 1906, p. 13).

In the third phase, the researcher who is also a professional makes use of the experience of double distantiation in order to make connections with the competencies that characterize his specialism.

These three methodological phases are illustrated in the following example. Students from HEP Vaud visited schools in Burkina Faso, as part of an intercultural exchange organized by professor Moira Laffranchini-Ngoenha. For a week, they shared the daily life of←82 | 83→ teachers and pupils at a school. But they were shocked above all by the subordinate relationships between men and women: women carried out the most menial activities and consented to polygamy. Having had this experience of otherness, they questioned both the Burkinabes’ culture, in particular the social and historical construction of concepts legitimizing the power of men, and also in return their own culture, and in particular male domination in Swiss schools. Why is it that women make up the majority in elementary school teaching, but are less recognized and less well paid? Why is it that at HEP Vaud, the higher up the hierarchy you go, the fewer women there are? They then decided to be mindful in their own teaching practices when it came to their choice of textbooks, the creation of teaching materials, and addressing pupils in an equal way.

As our students had a limited amount of time to conduct their research, and because anthropological fieldwork, which served as a model for our methodology, is a long-term approach, we provided the students with instructions. We asked them to seek out moments of surprise, to describe the situation (the actors present, discussions held, etc.) that provoked such moments, and to discuss them with the professors. We suggested that they take interactive situations as their unit of analysis, following the perspective of interactionism (Woods, 1986), ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1994), and interpretive anthropology (Moerman, 1990, 1994). The three-phase methodology could therefore be implemented more rapidly.

4. The Experiences of Otherness

During the trip to Antsirabe, the professors regularly asked the students for their observations, their astonishments, the circumstances of these surprises, the cultural references that provoked these astonishments, and finally, the link to their research question.←83 | 84→

We, the two professors, took notes and built up a corpus of experiences of otherness, as they were recounted verbally, on the spot or later, or as they were described in the students’ dissertations. We also included our own experiences of otherness. Using an inductive approach, we reviewed numerous situations and selected and analyzed the following four themes: authority; the language of teaching; the diversity of pupils with regard to statutory groups; and finally, descholarization. We lack the space here to discuss other themes that arose, such as teaching methods, the role of repetition, time, family education, violence, and symbols and rituals at school and university.

4.1 Authority

Claude Rivière (2000, p. 15) defines authority as “the ability to make oneself obeyed when one commands, through an influence exerted by the holder of power. The recognition of superiority in command leads to consenting obedience.”

Authority at School. The Swiss students were astonished when they entered classrooms accompanied by their Malagasy colleagues. Firstly, the 30–70 pupils at the Ambavahadimangatsiaka EPP and the 15 pupils at the Zazakely School stood up together. Then they said together “Bonjour Monsieur, Bonjour Madame.” These foreign teachers seemed very important to them.

In Malagasy society, teachers have the recognized status of raiamandreny, or “fathers and mothers.” Children must obey and not question the validity of the orders they are given. This stood in sharp contrast with the experiences of the Swiss students.

One Malagasy teacher, at the end of her lesson, asked the Swiss students to evaluate her work. The students assumed the role of experts, completing a half page of recommendations. This revealed the image that this teacher had of the Vazaha. A standard local expression is “mahay ny Vazaha”: the Whites are capable, they know things well. This must be placed in the more general context of Malagasy society, which is very←84 | 85→ hierarchical and unequal, and where the Vazaha still have a privileged, although ambivalent, status (Dahl, 2006).

This incident enabled consideration of the current authority of Swiss teachers in relation to children and their parents. A very big issue, which raised questions about professional practice. Teachers currently complain about the lack of pupil discipline, but how far should we insist on the value of pupil independence in the school system? Could another kind of authority be thinkable in Switzerland?

In light of this, Célestin Razafimbelo notes that the three Malagasy students adopted a new attitude to authority after being confronted with the realities of Swiss schooling.

Authority at the University. The Malagasy students were amazed when a student addressed Professor Razafimbelo using the familiar “tu” form, and used his first name, and by the fact that all the Swiss students did this with their professor. The Malagasy students were also astonished that the Swiss students expressed disagreement with their professor. This was not normal for them. Nancy’s analysis showed in great detail how the Malagasy students were acutely frightened of saying something that their Swiss colleagues did not like.

Célestin Razafimbelo adds: in Malagasy universities, teachers are raiamandreny, (father and mother), and are always addressed as Mr A or Mrs B. In discussions, they avoid transmitting ideas that go against those of the teacher. “The words are chosen to create the atmosphere most conducive to conversation” (Dahl, 2006). Personal opinions are put forward with caution. Students do not say directly what they think, avoid discussion with the teacher and are willing to accept and follow all instructions from him. These norms of respect do not always have a positive effect on learning. They inhibit initiative, and lead to constraints in teaching practice. In light of this, the trip to Switzerland would inevitably lead the three Malagasy students toward the choice of a new teaching style.

Conversely, the Swiss students generally ask questions. For them and their professor, the confrontation of opinions is a given, and taken for granted. It is even a virtue justified theoretically by socio-cognitive conflict (Perret-Clermont, 1979). Students take the initiative and assume←85 | 86→ their own position with regard to the dissertation outline suggested by their professor. This is accepted and respected, as long as the students are able to justify the choices they have made.

This topic led to concrete questioning of professional practice. In Swiss classrooms, there are issues related to the phenomena presented above. For example, to what extent are pupils afraid to express themselves for fear of being mocked by their classmates? This gave rise to agreement on one particular consideration: it is important for teachers to identify discrimination between pupils and ensure the protection of each individual. This is supported by competency No. 6, “Planning, organizing, and ensuring the functioning of the class to favor pupil learning and socialization” and standards No. 1, “Defining and implementing a fair and relevant system of working for class activities,” and No. 5, “Maintaining an environment conducive to learning.”

It seems pertinent here to clear up a potential misunderstanding. It was not only the Swiss students who experienced otherness in their relationships with the Malagasy and vice versa. When the Malagasy students were shocked by the student using the familiar “tu / you” form of address with the Malagasy professor, so was Denis Gay.

As we have seen, otherness is indeed a relative concept: social actors mobilize reference points of identity among all the others that make up their identity repertoire (Douglass & Lyman, 1976) and thus construct distinctions between “us” and others that fluctuate according to contexts, speakers, and their statuses.

When the Swiss students and professor were shocked by the poverty of families in the “village of solidarity,” this was also the case for the Malagasy students. The poor were thus encountered from the perspective of otherness by the group made up of Swiss and Malagasy students and the Swiss professor. It would be very dangerous to reduce otherness to an opposition between the Malagasy and the Swiss. This would be an implicit and unconscious throwback to the Great Divide, the original sin of anthropology!

The Great Divide was a concept of division between the West and other countries at the root of the separation between sociology and anthropology: the former studying Western societies and the latter←86 | 87→ studying the others. Following the same implicit principle, anthropologists chose a priori different concepts to describe similar phenomena: for example, in the West the region, regionalism, the nation; elsewhere, ethnic groups, tribes, clans. But the Great Divide has now been rejected (Lenclud, 1992), and Alban Bensa reminds us that “the Great Divide does not exist. There is no solution of discontinuity between Them and Us and the maintenance of any kind of dualism in this area is nothing but a condescending return to evolutionist assumptions” (Bensa, 2006, p. 13). It is for this reason that we emphasize the multiplicity and diversity of experiences of otherness.

4.2 Language

The three Swiss students were astonished: one even said they were shocked. They had observed elementary level lessons given by teachers in the two institutions, the Zazakely and Ambavahadimangatsiaka schools, and saw that several of the teachers struggled to communicate in French, even though it was the language of teaching. The Swiss students particularly noticed pronunciations that made comprehension difficult. In addition, there were errors on the blackboard that were recopied into the pupils’ exercise books.

How should this fact be explained and put into context? As Célestin Razafimbelo explains, language policies during the four decades since independence have as their common denominator the parity between Malagasy and French, and the lack of means and will to implement them have left a considerable margin for maneuver for the institutions and teachers. This choice currently advocates the use of both official languages, but finding a balance between them is, admittedly, not always understood and followed by teachers. To simplify, we will say that Malagasy is used to describe and explain for teacher-pupil verbal exchanges. French is the language of any written production and assessment. A survey was conducted among lower and higher secondary school teachers about their preference regarding the language of a history textbook. Over 80 % opted for French. Among the reasons cited were←87 | 88→ the desire to improve the success rate of the ‘brevet’ and ‘baccalauréat’ examinations, to facilitate understanding of the notes written in the exercise book, and to put an end to dictated lessons which are more akin to a French language class (Razafimbelo, 2013). In addition, the policy of the Malagasization of teaching has been implemented since the 1970s to the detriment of French learning.

Patrick and Harinaivo astutely noted that French is very rarely used outside school by pupils and teachers. This observation is confirmed by Babault (2006). Such lack of practice does not favor learning.

The Meaning of What Is Taught. Nancy observed a teacher at the Zazakely school giving a lesson in French. He asked each of the pupils in turn to read a text aloud. In an interview after the lesson, he accepted that the pupils did not understand this text, but argued that the objective was to practice pronunciation. He said he was following instructions he had been given during his training.

Patrick and Nancy asked about the question of meaning. What is the meaning of learning in French, if the language is not well understood? They brought a judgment value on these practices. In the Swiss schooling system, the purpose of learning with meaning was not natural, but was acquired over the course of the twentieth century. Here again was another huge area for consideration.

The Swiss students reflected on professional practice. Referring to the skill standards, they were able to justify the goal of giving meaning to the objects of learning: “So that pupils are able to consolidate their learning, they must be able to use it in diverse situations, if possible in connection with the situations that give meaning to learning.” This standard is part of key competency No. 4: “Designing and leading teaching and learning situations according to pupils and the study program.”

4.3 Pupil Diversity with Regard to Statutory Groups

How do Swiss and Malagasy students deal with the social and cultural diversity of pupils at the two schools? They consider solely differences in←88 | 89→ sex and age, as well as their parents’ professional status. But then Denis Gay asked the Malagasy students an extremely uncomfortable question: did the category “tsy madio” or “maloto,” referring to the descendants of slaves, crop up in discussions of pupils and teachers, or in avoidance, or other practices? The three Malagasy students were extremely astonished and embarrassed. Silence was their only response.

And yet pupils of very diverse origins attended this school. As Célestin Razafimbelo explained, the traditional social hierarchy tends to be reproduced in the town. The Ambavahadimangatsiaka public primary school is in the center of the town. It welcomes children from different backgrounds. While children from wealthy families usually go to private schools, due to its history and its influence, this school is accepted as one of the best in Antsirabe: hence, it has a socially heterogeneous school population. Moreover, the district itself is divided into two distinct residential areas: the district of Ambavahadimangatsiaka and northern Mahazina are relatively affluent areas, while the southern part is the remains of a village of outcasts swallowed up by the city. The societies of the central highlands of Madagascar have remained deeply committed to the statutory cleavages of the 19th century: andriana (the nobles), hova (the free men), andevo (the slaves). This is a fact which is discreetly hidden. “Slavery has remained in minds and in practice; it is ubiquitous in urban and rural societies, that of Imerina and those of the provinces. Such situations must necessarily be explained, by revealing the truths that have updated until now the paradigm of slavery. The research explains the attitudes, denounces the injustices, exclusions and absurdities, and demystifies beliefs and mythologies. For often, that which goes unspoken, the discreet silences, lead to a kind of complicity that aims to maintain the status quo” (Razafimbelo, 2014). Some discriminations against descendants of slaves can be prevented by a good teacher training and a well-defined and respected curriculum, which is not always the case. This stigmatizing term is often the cause of many exclusions.

To what extent and how can schools mitigate the silent exclusion of the descendants of slaves? The silence around these practices makes the fight more difficult. In a related example, Lewis (2009, p. 60) showed that racial categorization in schools in the United States is even←89 | 90→ more enforced when it is not openly expressed. Denis Gay went on to emphasize that in Switzerland national, racial, regional, religious, and social class categorizations at the root of discrimination in Swiss schools are also studied. This research enables links to be established with the skill standards. In fact, standard No. 5 of the third skill stipulates “avoiding all forms of discrimination and devaluing of pupils, parents, and colleagues.”

More generally, how can teachers take into account the cultural diversity of pupils but avoid culturalization and essentialization? And how can they take on a universalist perspective that recognizes the equality of all pupils, without limiting its application to the principle of the “indifference to difference” that reinforces social inequalities? (Gay, 2017).

4.4 Descholarization in Madagascar

During his trip to Switzerland, Harinaivo was surprised to learn that school is free in Switzerland. In Madagascar, the descholarization of many children had been discussed by the Swiss and Malagasy students.

The students had observed poor parents queuing outside the headmistress’s office at the elementary school to ask for their children to be enrolled even though they had not yet paid. Then, a few days later, on the wall facing the entrance to the school, a sign announced that enrolment had ended.

To understand the descholarization of pupils, it is useful to analyze the modalities of relationships between families and the school on the micro, median, and macro levels (Gilles, Gay, Counet, Tièche-Christinat, & Freiburghaus, 2013). In this framework, the local institutional context and power relationships play a role. The headmistress of the primary school is actually willing to accept some requests from poor parents, and it is in fact families from the parents’ association (the FRAM)5, who have already paid for their children’s enrolment, who apply pressure, and←90 | 91→ refuse to accept pupils whose parents have not yet paid. The association, which pays 13 out of 23 teachers, thus exerts serious pressure on these parents and contributes to the descholarization of pupils. The poverty that plays a fundamental role in descholarization is further exacerbated by the dynamic of the parents’ association. Realizing that the very functioning of an institution supposed to act for the good of all also contributes to descholarization invites us to question Swiss school institutions. To what extent and how does the school institution orient pupils and entrench social class – and what can a teacher do to limit these processes?

On the level of professional practice, we are once again confronted by the same issue as before. How can teachers navigate between the extremes of recognizing diversity and the “indifference to difference,” while avoiding the traps of culturalization and the reproduction of inequalities (Gay, 2017)?

5. Conclusion and Future Directions

We conclude by noting that all members of the group experienced double distantiation and were led to questioning their own teaching practices. Some of the students’ analyses followed this approach through to the end, questioning both the other society and one’s own society, and ending with concrete considerations of professional practice. Other analyses were curtailed. For example, some students used HEP’s skill standards to judge the Malagasy teaching practices in a negative manner. This is the trap of ethnocentrism. It thus appeared to be difficult for the students to decenter themselves in regard to the skill standards and what they had just learned at HEP. Another obstacle was the courage to express astonishment, emotions, and feelings, even though they were the triggers for a potentially heuristic experience of otherness.

As some of the students’ analyses were partial in regard to the four themes chosen, we, the two professors, have systematically compiled and completed the results of this chapter on “the experiences of otherness.”←91 | 92→

We believe that the future use of this method raises important questions. Beyond the theoretical understanding of double distantiation through the experience of otherness, how can we help our students to learn how

to consider surprises, strong emotions, and fleeting sensations as potentially triggering the construction of knowledge;

to accept identifying the affect and describing the situation;

to cultivate surprise; and

to adopt an inductive approach that involves leaving space for the unexpected?

A convergence between teacher training and anthropology seems promising and pertinent. We highlight for example the proximity between the reflective method of teacher training and, in particular, “the critical understanding of one’s cultural development,” and anthropological reflexivity. More generally, the concept of anthropological reflexivity thus gives meaning to this skill and provides it with a general theoretical framework. It provides us in other words with work to be done! We therefore lead students to learn to have experiences of otherness that lead to a double distantiation. They encounter obstacles such as how to describe emotions and surprise, as well as the cultural introspection of notions that explain surprise, the inductive method that requires welcoming the unexpected, and ethnocentrism. In navigating these hazards, one of the main objectives is for students to acquire a core professional competency.

To conclude, we would like to emphasize once more the relevance and the transferability of the double distantiation through experiences of otherness approach, which passes through a questioning of the other culture and of one’s own in return, and leads to a constructive criticism of professional practices. In Spain, France, Romania, Great Britain, Madagascar, Mozambique, Switzerland, and in all countries where the PEERS program has been implemented, the scheme enables a short visit to be combined with an approach that involves experience, theory, and concrete reflections on professional practice leading to exchanges that could use this framework of analysis. This double distantiation approach could even be used during international and interregional exchanges in the areas of health and social work, which also involve a process of professionalization.←92 | 93→


1 He supported the Malgacho-Malagasy dialogue led by civil society.

2 With the exception of the 1947 uprising, since the economic impact of the movement was to a large extent linked to that of World War II.

3 The very close alignment of anthropology and history should be noted. Otherness is also experienced by historians when reading ancient documents, objects, monuments, etc.

4 We are referring here to cultural and social anthropology. The terms ethnology and anthropology have now become synonymous in French (see for example Géraud, Leservoisier, & Pottier, 2000).

5 Fikambanan’ny Raiamandrenin’ny Mpianatra.