March 30, 2023

Equity and care in education: A Q-and-A with Maha Bali

Keynote speaker shares her thoughts ahead of UCalgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching
Image of Maha Bali on a white background with colourful hexagons
Dr. Maha Bali will speak at the UCalgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching in April.

Every year, hundreds of people come together to learn, explore and reflect at UCalgary’s international Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching.

This year, the conference theme is focused on a familiar topic: transformations. More specifically, our collective transformation since March 2020, when so much of our world changed overnight with the COVID-19 pandemic. Blended and online learning played an enormous role in changing postsecondary education — but what learnings can we take forward, and where are the opportunities to build sustainable change to take us well into the future?  

The fully virtual conference has had a record-breaking number of proposals this year and will offer more than 120 conference sessions from April 26 to 28, as well as four keynote speakers who will discuss why robots won’t inherit the Earth; ungrading and alternative assessment; a "Métissage" on digital environments and Indigenous education; and the role of equity and care in our transformation.  

Over the next few weeks leading up to the conference, UToday will feature interviews with the keynote speakers about their presentations, their research and their views on our collective transformation. First up is Dr. Maha Bali, PhD, professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, who will speak on the role of intentional equity and care in collective transformation. 

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research. 

A: I am a full-time educational developer at the American University in Cairo (AUC), so my main work is to support other teachers in their teaching, and I also teach a course on digital literacies and intercultural learning. I also do a lot of community open public scholarship work. My research lately focuses on social justice and care in higher education and particularly in open and digital education. 

Q: What role do equity and care have in the future of education, especially in the postsecondary context? 

A: I think that systems of education are currently paying lip service to some levels of equity and care, but their efforts are more performative than truly impactful. All stakeholders within higher education, from students to professors to staff supporting education, would benefit from the introduction of more “socially just care" practices, where all members of all levels have caring responsibilities, all receive the care they need, and where the recipients of care have a say in how they prefer to be cared for.  

Such care needs to be equitably distributed so we do not end up with a small group of people carrying the affective burden of care, while others create conditions that negatively impact wellbeing and mental health of others, for example. 

Q: What does collective transformation mean in the context of care and kindness? 

A: One of the main reasons why we don't have socially just care in education is that non-caring behaviour and practices are rewarded, and caring work is often relegated to women and minorities. They often have less time to do work that is prestigious and rewarded (like research).  

[Author] bell hooks says that often teachers who care about their students are at odds with their institutions things like high workloads, burnout and not rewarding this behaviour. Most people who do this care work do it while intrinsically motivated, and extrinsic motivation will not automatically make those who do not do care work suddenly become good at caring ([ethics of care researcher Jean Tronto] tells us that people vary in their abilities to give and receive care).  

However, institutions can create conditions that can facilitate care by centring human approaches such as reasonable workloads, supporting pedagogical policies that support teachers to practise care (things like allowing flexible/alternative grading approaches, for example), as well as providing professional-development communities to support teachers in the work of creating equitable and caring learning spaces for students. Ensuring there is care for teachers so that they can care for students. Providing ecosystems of care, so the entire institution works together.  

An example might be supporting learners with disabilities through specialized centres, tech departments, libraries, and teacher and learner professional development to ensure learners with disabilities are fully able to participate in everything they want in university and that teachers are capable of doing what is needed without burning out. 

Q: What can people expect from your remarks? 

A: They can expect an interactive keynote and opportunities to reflect, to learn about the Equity/Care Matrix, about Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, and about compassionate approaches to learning design. 

The University of Calgary Postsecondary Conference on Learning and Teaching runs from April 26-28, 2023, in a fully virtual format.

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