Friday 22 April 2016


The panel

Brenda Leibowitz, Chair for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education, kicked off the 3rd panel discussion on Implications for Teaching and Learning at the Soweto Campus Conference Hall. The session spoke to: What do we learn from experience, from best practice and how do we go forward with this knowledge? Just a quick flashback, for those that don’t know about the series discussion. The University of Johannesburg’s Ad Hoc Senate Task Team, chaired by Cheryl Hendriks, was tasked to host a series of panel discussions on Decolonization of Knowledge which hopes to create a platform in which UJ staff and students can analyse and debate pertinent issues in relation to this theme.  These discussions plans to inform the way in which the university embarks on the exercise of transforming teaching, learning and research. These panel discussions draw on global, continental and local knowledge and experience and include a number of invited guests to share to the knowledge.  So, the first in the panel discussion series drew on teaching and learning. The second was on knowledge specifically and the purpose of today’s panel discussion is to talk about,
1) What does decolonizing mean for teaching and learning
2) How do we take teaching and learning forward
3) How do we do things differently? Well here we are ....

The attendance was not great but sufficed for discussion. The convenor of the decolonization task team, Cheryl Hendriks, commented in her closing spot that the event lacked marketing and communication on the Soweto Campus and this contributed to the poor attendance. That was a pity, as these debates open the door for voices to be heard.
Prof Brenda Leibowitz

Brenda’s introductory comments where significant for thought...
She opened the floor by saying that - after a revolution people become complacent.  We start doing things, implement changes and once achieved we stop.  Now, the problem starts when we realize ‘where are we’ to ‘where we should be’. She continued by quoting the famous Professor Njabulo Simakahle Ndebele an academic, a literary and a writer of fiction and Vice Chancellor of UJ. In 1995, 1 year after the ANC came into power, who wrote that those who call others disadvantaged need to consider whether the namers of those that called others disadvantaged are not themselves disadvantaged because they are not aware of how much change they have to undergo to meet what should be in place in University. Twenty one years later there has been greater access in higher education for black student intake at the University. The numbers are not great but there has been satisfactory change, although not in terms of the content of curriculum and the rituals of the University, for example the graduation processes. There have been some changes as well but by and large the way we teach the content is still what Saleem Badat once said is derivative of the metropole. So we are still copying the north. By this time I could hear the passion and fire in Brenda’s voice for this cause. A cause close to her heart.  She was saying that we are still doing what we did so many years ago. Change needs to be far more encompassing.  Although we have wonderful instances of change we cannot say that from a student point of view that the learning experience has been decolonized in total.

The fantastic five on the panel where: 
1)  Philip Baron (Electrical Engineering lecturer, UJ)
2)  Mr Tshepo Goba (Student, Education Faculty, UJ)
3)  Prof Nyasha Mboti (Department of Communications Studies, UJ)
4)  Dr Carina van Rooyen (Dept Anthropology and Development Studies,UJ)
5)  Kibbie Naidoo (Professional Academic Support, UJ)
Philip Baron

Philip Baron spoke on the ‘How’ of teaching and learning. He spoke of goals. For him to reach his goals he needs to know his students’ goals. This means getting to know your student – yeah! But what he learnt in the classroom was life as an African. Questions asked referred to steel buckets and washing, tyres placed on a tin roof etc. A conversation started that contextualized African living.  Learning became personal, a conversation and meaningful. I just can’t do justice to his talk in this potted summary.Somehow it seems that decolonizing the curriculum brings a human touch to both the lecturer and the student. Understanding one another in the classroom and understanding the harsh reality out of the classroom is an experience that comes from conversations in the knowledge space - another term for classroom. Philip shared his creativity in making the classroom a place where both the teacher and the student are able to achieve their goals. Philip’s talk was brilliant from his worldview. He felt that students should have their own epistemologies reflected in their curriculums, and in the methods of teaching in learning.

Did you know that Epistemology is the study of our method of acquiring knowledge? It answers the question, "How do we know? "Why is Epistemology important? Epistemology is the explanation of how we think. It is required in order to be able to determine the true from the false, by determining a proper method of evaluation. It is needed in order to use and obtain knowledge of the world around us. Without epistemology, we could not think.
It’s a concern that student’s worldviews of day to day experiences are mostly invisible in the teaching and learning system. He argued that this should not be so and must change. He went on to share how he decolonized the curriculum to engage with his students.  He quoted Gordon Pass – ‘learning begins with each student’s aims and outcomes’. He spoke on working with the students’ goals, getting to know them and then quoted Vygotsky – ‘when we are in the class together we learn in community’. An inspiring quote indeed. This led his talk to his second point on 'Conversation'. He talked on understanding goals from the student frame of reference and not from his own assumptions of their goals. By this point he had my attention gripped because I could feel that his story was more a revelation than an experience (in my opinion).  He said that he cannot just assume that he knows what his students needs are because he does not.  He needs to be curious. Through curiosity a conversation started. And so Philip created conversation space in the classroom. So, – How do we contextualize content? Well the worldview and the content of the majority needs to be reflected in the curriculum. Students must not only benefit in terms employment but also personal learning that is meaningful.  This removes abstraction in the past and brings in local content.  He gave an example of when he taught a class on lightening and earthing. The course was about how to protect power-stations, sub-stations and buildings.  A student put up his hand and asked - ‘do rubber tyres on the tin roof reduce the chance of a lightning strike? Although he answered the question he wanted to know what made the student ask such a question. (This is the reality of living in informal dwellings). Not everyone has everything that everyone else has - so many people live in informal dwellings. Philip would not have thought of this otherwise unless he included the context eg, steel buckets and washing, trains etc. Philip went on to say that learning must be meaningful and personal and he also needed to learn. By this point I knew that Philip Barron was passionate about his cause to decolonize the curriculum. He went on to say that it is his job to be creative and take the challenge and to take the course and contextualize it so that it becomes interesting for the learner. Lastly, he spoke of mutual reciprocity - If I distinguish myself from you and I consider myself intelligent I must consider you, who I distinguish from I, might also be intelligent - This means that if I think I’m clever then I must allow it at least possible that you too are clever because intelligence is in the between. It is in the interaction. So we share this: if my class is boring then we are all boring.   
Prof Nyasha

Prof Nyasha started with a story in Ghana while on research about a woman who sells wares and makes about – converted – R30 a day. She takes care of her family, children etc. and survives on that money. A cleaner in SA earns R1500 a month and stretches that money with her family, for fees, books, cloths, food, shelter, transport. Both ladies – how do they raise families on R30/day or R1500/month? His analogy of the hawker and the cleaner to that of an accountant and economist was a practical way of making sense and connecting with concepts that intertwine unknowingly in our everyday lives. We tend to categorize people without degrees as not knowing. The student is the one who pays fees, comes to learn and get the grades and the teachers, educators and knowers are the doctors, professors, lecturers, etc. Real people living in the reality of an African lifestyle, he deems are economists, accountants, strategists etc. yet they do not earn that title. We don’t believe that these women have the capability to teach students in academia. That’s the reality we live in. He has 2 Master students and they sit in Freedom Park because they choose the community as their co-supervisor. They want to go out to the communities and find out why they are so angry, why they burn, is it survival? Every Saturday in Freedom Park the community holds political classes. They sit in shacks and talk on political issues.  The students camp and listen. They are in constant contact with the people in the community. The student’s dissertations are actually co-supervised by the community. Efforts to alert the media on what’s happening e.g. political parties started the Xenophobia attacks are in vain.  The media is not interested in warnings they only respond to crisis situations. How do we de-colonize? By knowing that we lie to ourselves if we think that the University is where knowledge is made – it’s not where knowledge is made, it is where knowledge is contained. It is where it is put into books & CD’s. If you want to know where knowledge is made then you have to do what Walter Rodney (famous historian - West Indies), who was murdered by the CIA in 1989, did. He was fired by the University of WI because he could not contain it anymore so he went out to the dumps of Jamaica and sat with the locals and spoke about politics, history, cultural studies, economics etc., this is where the real learning was made.. Interesting words from the talented Prof Nyasha.  
The different speakers come with different worldviews of their experiences. How do we engage and make meaning of their experiences? It’s mind provoking – don’t you think? What is society’s measure of what an acceptable change is and what is not? Language is a barrier – I agree. However what in your opinion would be the universal language for conversation when we engage with one another that will take us from the classroom to the corporate world. What are your thoughts? 
Dr Carina van Rooyen
Dr Carina van Rooyen’s talk focused on what does decoloniality mean for Honours level learning and teaching at UJ. She began with a careful consideration about whiteness and what it means to talk from this position. Decolonizing is not an event it’s a process. The focus should   be on ‘How’ we teach.  There must be student participation. There must be, love, interest, connection and discipline. The role of love finally came out towards the end. She spoke on oppression and acknowledging our privileges. This was the subject of a bosberaad which they held with their students. She believes that trans-disciplinarity should be much stronger. There should be open digital scholarships - huge voices. Students should be taking the lead in course design. Dr Carina passion for this cause was undoubtedly noted. 

Tsepho Goba (student)

Tsepho Goba asked many questions,
-  How best do we shape the future?
-  Can we really have a decolonized university
    in  today’s world?
-  Epistemology of Authority
-  Politics and education
-  To read a book is to write a book
-  Reading is a confrontation of the world
-  Confronting reality
-  Interrogating
To be literate is to write one’s reality in one’s own culture. There is a gap in how communication is transferred. e.g. The BA degree in UJ is not equivalent to the BA degree in Fort Hare. He asked, who are we? How can we shape the world in a language we understand? There are deep-seated inequality gaps. How do we eradicate this problem when there is race and class based domination? A part of decolonizing is re-figuring the world. It should be a human effort. Again the question arises - Who should have the power and how do we take the power back? In closing - from a student perspective - We are in PAIN! I’m sure his voice will be heard.  

Kibbi Naidoo
Kibbi Naidoo (from Professional Academic Staff Development at UJ), was the final presentation in the panel. She did not question the needs of the students but rather focused on what university developers need to do to effect change. What does decolonizing   actually mean to staff-developers?  There has been a fundamental shift in the thinking process of the developers. Her task was to roll out teaching and learning, and the questions raised were,
1) How do we teach at University?
2) How do we create space for these types of engagement?
She believes it's  time to re-visit the 'How', and 'What' we teach. The process should involve students and faculties. Hence, we should set aside time for re-curriculation. She went on to say that the process will not happen overnight and that key strategies need to be developed. Actually a RADICAL change is required. In her conclusion she suggested that we use community as supervisors and engage with faculties and departments to start developing strategies. It’s most certainly a collaborative journey and staff must be open to the fact that they don’t know it all.  
So, will the University ‘walk the talk’? Time will tell…. That was the end of the panel discussion. The floor was then opened to the students. 
Student Participation
The student session was lively, and some of their questions were really a call for help. Brenda asked the students to think about what they would like to see in class ‘tomorrow’……and this is what they had to say....
- A 3 year degree is not recognized internationally
- Youth that don’t complete due to lack funding
- HS APS scores disqualify student entry into  university
- Gap of education at different levels
- Decolonizing is a process that will work if resources can
   be brought forward
- What is UJ willing to achieve-
- Where did colonialism start?
- We are only looking at a certain period
- Look at language
- We deal with symptoms not the core
- We are living a lie
- Re-write the true history of SA
- Emotional teaching is more important
- Why is knowledge drawn from western countries?
- UJ does not have the curriculum to engage in ethnic language
- Teaching methods do not consider students that do not have access to technology
- Why are we having student/teacher conversations, it will not change anything
- Decolonizing the system means not taking instructions from the minority
- We learn to be subject to the employer NOT a subject to transform
- We are living in a space that is anti-black
- Rural children do not have technology
- UJ systems prepare children to fail
- We are in PAIN...
Answers are needed for the many questions. Brenda went back to the panel for a closing statement and this is what they had to say….Philip – How best do we claim Power
Prof Nyasha – I am blessed. I spoke you and you listened.
Dr Carina – How do I change power relations
Kibbi Naidoo – The best way to understand student worldviews is to engage in collaboration and dialogue.

Prof Cheryl Hendriks

Prof Cheryl Hendricks – very quickly touched on the fact that we as a nation have deep seated issues. We are all trying to find each other. We are looking for a broader  understanding on how to go forward. UJ is developing a charter to try and shift conversations to different campuses. Language is a barrier - an unequal relationship. The only way to move forward is to create a safe space.
Posted by Ro Govindasamy

An insightful session indeed? Don’t miss the next in the series…
The speakers where fabulous. We were able to draw from their experiences on how to do  things differently in a  collaborative way to mould our future.  The questions raised will undoubtedly be tabled for answers.