By Steven Krolak
By any definition, 2015 has been an extraordinary year for Dr. Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez, professor of education at IU Southeast. In April she was awarded the John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies. And October saw the publication of the Spanish language version of her book, “Building Equality in Higher Education” in her native Ecuador.
This was no ordinary book launch. Then again, “Construyendo Igualdad en la Educacion Superior” is no ordinary book.
The book presents a synthesis of international and national mandates, laws and regulations relating to human rights and higher education, draws basic principles, and sets forth a framework of concepts and methods for mainstreaming equality in higher education, said Herdoiza-Estevez. It also provides this framework for different components such as gender equality and the rights of indigenous nations, people with special needs, and even nature.
“It places equality and equity as key components of quality in education,” said Herdoiza-Estevez.
A society of rights
“Building Equality in Higher Education” is the result of a top-level collaboration between the Ecuadorian Secretariat for Higher Education, Science and Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT) and the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) Office of the Andean Region, and involved input and consultation from five universities, 15 institutions, five multilateral organizations and 13 civil society groups. As senior researcher, Herdoiza-Estevez mastered the mountain of material and wrote the content.
On Oct. 19, Ecuadorian Secretary for Higher Education, Mr. Rene Ramirez joined Director of UNESCO for the Andean Region, Saadia Sanchez Vegas and other dignitaries to introduce the book at a major press event at the Fund of Economic Culture in Quito, the nation’s capital.
Ramirez said, “The aim is not to change the university, but to change society . . . We want a society of rights.”
To appreciate the book’s significance, it’s helpful to understand the national context. In 2008, Ecuador adopted a new constitution that broadened the nation’s commitment to the rights of women, people with special needs, native populations and the environment.
SENESCYT took the lead in promoting this agenda within the educational system. Overall, the system in Ecuador is “solid,” according to Herdoiza-Estevez. But there are gaps in access.
“Too often, poverty and ethnic variables overlap, and gender discrimination and stereotypes remain strong,” said Herdoiza-Estevez. “With that in mind, the development of a public policy that provides a framework and planning tools directed to counter the various gaps and discriminatory practices was deemed necessary.”
These deficits became the scope of the ambitious and prestigious book project, incorporating the views of a wide variety of influential stakeholders to produce an official blueprint for expanding the inclusiveness of education, and hence providing greater access to social and economic opportunity for all Ecuadorians. The project was supported by a Prometheus scholarship provided by the Secretariat of Higher Education. This assistance enabled Herdoiza-Estevez to spend over two years bringing the book to completion.
“This book expresses the decision to turn the principles of equity and equality into public policy and specific standards and guidelines to ensure that these are translated into changes in all aspects involved in higher education, including research, academic programs, service learning and administration,” Herdoiza-Estevez said.
Arvelio Garcia Rivas, former director of UNESCO in Ecuador and other countries, has praised the book as “a guiding text of excellent intellectual caliber on social and pedagogical theory” whose significance goes beyond its technical merit.
“The academic and cultural challenge of Equality, implies a progressive improvement of higher education, through changes in the learning outcomes of students who graduate, higher teaching standards for the faculty and the programs, and for research development, all soundly linked to reality as a source for knowledge, and for social development in Ecuador and, why not, the world,” Rivas said.
Giving back to Ecuador
Reception of the book has been enthusiastic in universities, community colleges and related organizations. Herdoiza-Estevez has led introductory session personally in higher education institutions in four different provinces, and is already scheduling further appearances. She is also working with a SENESCYT technical team on the design of an online class to be launched early in 2016. That effort will be complemented by mentoring and technical assistance.
“This has been an amazing opportunity for me to give back to my country,” said Herdoiza-Estevez. My work as a faculty member since 2009, as director of graduate studies for over five years, as founder and director of the New Neighbors Center and as leader of the study abroad program in Ecuador have all certainly equipped me to fulfill this delicate and high-stakes task, with high standards and proficiency. I am proud to have represented our campus well.”