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Education needed to overcome media superficiality

  • 09 September 2015

Last week's heartbreaking images of Syrian Kurdish toddler, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, drowned in his family's bid to flee Syria and join relatives in Canada, galvanised support around the world.

It was emblematic of a range of current social crises: religious and ethnic conflict, discrimination and inequality, terrorism, the plight of migrants and refugees. Hopefully the support garnered will be sustained, and not just a knee-jerk response to the disturbing images.

The man featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV is concerned about all these issues, and sees education as the key in the longterm to grappling with them.

James Arvanitakis is an acclaimed lecturer in Humanities at University of Western Sydney, being awarded the prestigious Prime Minister's University Teacher of the Year Award in 2012.

His parents migrated to Australia from Greece in the 1960s and he was born and grew up in inner-city Sydney. His family attended the Greek Orthodox Church and one of his uncles was a Greek Orthodox priest.

He was the first member of his family to attend university where he studied economics at the University of New South Wales. He then worked for nine years in banking and finance and was an advocate for free trade and the free market.

While on an extended break in South America he saw child labourers working in a mine in Bolivia, and this led to a complete turnaround in his political and philosophical views.

He became a human rights and environmental activist in several countries, working in a number of social justice organisations including Oxfam Hong Kong and Aid/Watch.

Arvanitakis now sees education as a means of awakening a sense of social justice in others, and bringing about a more cohesive and equitable society. He has two PhDs, the first in Applied Economics and the other in History, Philosophy and Environmental Studies, both from the University of New South Wales.

He has lectured at the University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Sydney, and is now Dean of Graduate Studies and founding Head of The Academy at the University of Western Sydney.

The Academy is an innovative initiative with basic aims to educate for a rapidly developing future, have an inter-disciplinary approach that brings students and lecturers together across faculties, and foster ethical leadership.

Arvanitakis is a frequent media commentator, appearing often online, in print, on radio and TV. He is also a prolific writer, penning scores of articles in academic and