An increasing emphasis on learning as engine of change has led to the evolution of new informal approaches to education. By means of a presentation of a case study of a rural development project in southern Tajikistan implemented by a local NGO, this paper discusses the use of discovery-based pedagogical methods for transformative learning, the goal of which is to create a process to support participants in developing tools for critical reflective thinking aimed at producing social change.
The project worked with populations recently returned home following a civil war, bewildered by the collapse of Soviet socialism, and in the throes of a typhoid epidemic. In relation to this last, a simple intervention helped one village’s inhabitants reverse the spiral of infection and stop the epidemic in their community.
Gender training with both men and women focusing on deconstructing elements of gender identities made a significant contribution to producing social change, especially since we took into consideration age-based power differences, which in the gerontocratic setting of Tajikistan are essential elements in gender identities.
Transformative learning theories developed in the west by Jack Mezirow and colleagues are compared with the approach of the NGO in terms of their usefulness for such projects as the Tajik one, and cultural issues involved in applying western paradigms to southern education projects are discussed.
The paper concludes that to be most effective, informal education should be carried out in a culturally sensitive manner responsive to the distinct learning patterns of specific social groups, including gender-based learning differences. For people to be able to make real change in practices a critical mass of the population needs to be incorporated into the project and this also means working with all segments of the population – girls and boys as well as men and women of different ages.