Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Decolonizing the Curriculum: Workshop at the University of Johannesburg

Cheryl Hendrick's opening address
A successful workshop was held at the University of Johannesburg on 24 May 2016, on the subject of decolonizing the curriculum. There were over 60 attendees from eight of the nine faculties as well as members from the Academic Development Services and Academic Planning. A more detailed report is at the end of this posting and two slide presentations are posted below. The debate was lively and there was clearly a passion for the topic amongst many there, as well as a sense of lack of clarity from some quarters, about what we are doing, or about
Vanessa Merckel spoke about the pedagogical implications
how we understand colonization in the first place.  Cheryl Hendricks, chair of the decolonising the curriculum task team, gave a very useful lead-in presentation. Each faculty present shared what they are doing, and it is clear that there have been many discussions, some formal and some informal, about how to decolonize the curriculum. There were also examples of good practice, for example the need to engage in discussion with students in smaller groups, to give a greater variety of voices to emerge. Points made repeatedly were that this is not just about changing content, but about power relations as well. Many felt strongly that the issue of global competitiveness and chasing global rankings inhibits the decolonization process. Many of the colleagues also made the point that to decolonise the curriculum requires engagement with other role-players, especially the international professional  associations that have a strong influence on some of the more professionally-oriented programs, but in addition, with community members or workers.

An issue that was returned to many times in the morning, is that 'local' and 'contextual' applies just as much to engineering and accountancy as it does to the humanities, and some wonderful examples were given for example of how even something like a turnstile is typically designed with a certain prototype (white, male) in mind. The issue of race and color came up, with some saying that we should be prepared to talk hard and robustly with others, and others saying that referring to race makes it personal. We should be able to participate in robust debate and hear comments about the evils of the past and present institutioal practices, without taking them personally. Likewise there was a discussion about the fact that this is not an easy conversation, and one should be prepared for tension and contestation. The group were asked whether they think some kind of guiding document would be useful, and it was interesting that many participants indicated that this would be useful, although what exactly the shape such a document would take, is not clear, since there is a permanent tension between 'decolonizing' and unwittingly returning to colonising behaviour. In an interesting  presentation by Bongani Mashaba from academic development, he shared his own previous experiences as a student from Mpumalanga. He was affirming a point made by several students in previous forums at the university, that  much of the current unease from students is about a lack of recognition of who they are and what they experience. Further meetings at the University will be to generate a Charter, and views of this workshop were recorded to inform future processes.

Here is a more detailed report on the workshop, by Razia Mayet:

Tuesday 24th May 2016

SESSION 1 : Setting the Scene
Cheryl Hendricks and Brenda Leibowitz opened the proceedings. They set the scene with the following reminders.
1.     That there was no set definition of decolonization. That the definitions were wide and varied and encompassed everything from social justice, black thought, indigenous knowledge, Africanisation, social justice and many others.
2.     That the terrain is deeply contested and deeply political; and that even the process has been likened by some colleagues to a type of colonization.
3.     That we must all ask ourselves whether we want to be here. It should be a collective move and is preferably not one where people are doing it out of compliance.
       1. That there are no templates on how to do it.
 2. That there was a nationwide drive to start the conversation but there was also contestation     
       about who owns these conversations.
 3. What is becoming clear is that decolonization intrudes into the terrain between the
       individual academic and what is being taught. How can we as lecturers influence that private             space?
  4. At the outset we know that  there is no straight road and it is not always an easy discussion.     The   debate is vibrant in all South African universities and faculties.
Cheryl gave an overview of the work of the Ad Hoc senate task teams on the decolonization of knowledge. (Refer to power point presentation for details)
4 task teams were formed. They are tasked with the following:
Diversity ; institutional culture and tradition
Decolonization of knowledge
Protest and academic freedom
Promotion of staff and student access
The task teams have hosted a series of panel discussions that address the meaning of, and methodology for, decolonizing knowledge, teaching and learning at UJ.   5 panel discussions were planned:
What do we mean by decolonization of knowledge?
 Is knowledge universal?
Best practices for the decolonisation of knowledge
The relationship between and social justice and decolonization
 The thorny issue of language usage at universities.
The intention was to have as wide a debate as possible on these issues at the university (at all the campuses). But, these have primarily been attended by students and so they remain the ones who are engaged on the topic, yet it is academics that have to be at the forefront of changing their curricula. This disjuncture between student demands and  the extent of the staff response does not bode well for the university. Academic staff are urged to attend and participate.
In the ensuing discussion by the attendees, the following points were raised.
·       Is the decolonization debate only for academics? What about non academics and support staff?
·       Have the panel discussions been documented? How does one access them?
·       Thinking should go beyond student/ teaching/learning. How do we challenge current thinking?
·       No one owns the debate, but the former colonized have the first word and should be listened to
·       Globalization does not equal excellence. This must be interrogated. Rankings are part of the colonial experience.
·       Do we understand what we are decolonizing? As higher education institutions started moving towards transforming, they lost sight of certain important things and thus students are protesting.
·       Decolonization is a very broad concept and different people have different understandings of it.
·       At UJ, what are we decolonizing to? Is there a roadmap?
Cheryl responded by reminding the delegates that the Decolonization Task Team was in the process of developing a charter. The charter will be the initial roadmap/principle. The charter will represent the academics, workers, support staff and students. There will be planned workshops for academics on pedagogical and epistemological concerns linked to the curriculum. We would like to share experiences, understand challenges and concerns and develop a set of guiding principles and values to underpin our academic endeavour. We want to raise the issue of ‘how did we get here’, and ‘ what do we need’ and ‘how to get there’. All of this will happen on all four campuses.
 She responded to the other issues raised by saying:
The point is raised that we the children of the decolonised should be leading the debate. But we should be listening as well. The issues are not new. They are being raised since the 70s and 80s.
Africa is part of the global. Why do we see the debate as Africa vs the Global?
Africanization does not exclude the world.
What are we decolonizing to? Well we in South Africa have a different type of decolonization. We relate more to the Latin American thinkers who think in terms of coloniality. It encompasses all social relations, attitudes, behaviour, and as Ngugi says, the decolonizing the mind.
The FEBE rep started of by saying ‘Gravity is Gravity” and ‘Science is Science”. He said there was an urgent need for students to feel ownership of the curriculum. The inherent conflict remained as the “ local vs international”. Engineering SA is a signatory to National and International Engineering bodies. There was unstructured debate with faculty members and student representatives. There was also a need to engage with industry partners and advisory boards. An essay competition was planned on decolonization so students could engage with the topic and staff could look for patterns in what students are saying. Febe doesn’t feel the need for a universal road map, but some snippet and more open engagement was needed.
A committee has been constituted to give feedback on what the rest of the university is doing.
The questions that need to be asked are  Is Economics universal?
Is there an African way of looking at this?
 The Department of Accounting is revisiting its strategy and re-looking at their research options.
The Faculty is open and willing to learn
The faculty held a full day of engagement and are in the process of inviting guests to engage them further. It is not formal, but meetings are taking place about the way forward. Staff and students must engage on a broader level. There is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty among students.
The way forward that is envisaged is how to channel the informal meetings and marginal voices into the larger stream of the debate.
There was discussion around the issues but students were not fully aware. The Geography lecturer  offers room for research around these issues. The Deans Committee meeting in August will take it forward to the 13 departments in Science. With regard to the way forward, Prof Ballim has been invited to faculty board meeting to raise further issues for discussion.
Decolonization is regarded as a very important issue in the Faculty of Education, as a turning point in history. In 1994 universities restructured. But now in 2015 the students have expressed their concerns. The faculty has pursued discussion and participated in Teaching and Learning activities with academics from other institutions, for example Andre Keet from UFS who presented an insightful discussion on “knowledge systems as othering”. The SOTL for social justice group meeting/seminars have been held over two years. A meeting was arranged with a student group called “Black Thought”. Odora Hoppers engaged some staff in a discussion on cognitive justice. It is a global challenge. Discussion was taken to a conference in Europe. Students are engaged in discussions on Human Rights and Social Justice on excursions. Study Guides are revised and readings are more authentic. Enquiry based discussion is ongoing.
Under and post graduate students are invited to share views. Business Management is concerned about competition and how it could effect South Africa. The discussions are on Pan African vs International universities; Local Excellence vs International Excellence. Business case studies are also reflected. The aim is to show that Africa must not be the ball in the game but the player in the game. Q S Rankings are counter productive.
The main challenge is that Health Science is a very regulated sector, prescribed by both national and international regulatory bodies. Does everything require decolonization? Or is it a about questioning how we implement things and how we communicate and how we teach.?
This debate must represent a way forward. It mustn’t be a ‘flavour of the month’. It must be finding yourself in the domain and examining our mind sets, a Pan African footprint in health.
The FADA rep started by quoting from the UJ mission statement about being ‘Anchored in Africa’
He spoke of establishing democratically elected Teaching and Learning committees that are democratically elected.
A survey at FADA showed that each department is in a different place. The faculty meeting on 8 June will move the discussion forward. Decolonization and Social Justice cannot be separated. The Teaching and Learning committee is developing FYE and SSE with that in mind. Fees must fall and Decolonization are themes in the 2017 conference. There is a student led panel in FADA, so students will lead the discussion in August. Globalization has to be kept in mind. A question was asked in a forum about why internationally the top schools are all in the UK. A delegate answered that the decolonization debate was more advanced in Europe. This was a serious issue that really needs to be interrogated.
Carina van Rooyen
“Anthropology is the handmaiden of colonialism”
Carina said that she is very aware of her privileges as a white South African but was also completely committed to change. She quoted Torres’ definition of Decoloniality  and  Mbembe’s assertion that there were two sides to the decolonization coin: thecritique and the alternative. Ngugi called it a decentering and a recentering.
She quoted Ngugi that decolonization is not a project  of rejecting but redefining.
Four points of departure.
·       Curriculum is not transformational or decolonization, it is reformist or liberal if it is chasing rankings.
·       Decolonization is not an event
·       Decolonisation is about engaging epistemic disobedience
·       Curriculum is a site of contestation
The 3 key aspects were content, structure and process. Content relates to what we do, not just knowledge but values and skills. Syllabi that are designed for apartheid are still in use today. Structure requires us to question  why degrees are structured the way they are and process requires us to question what we inherited. Does it make sense for us here and now? Content and context are related. Contexts vary. There is the ADDING ON APPROACH or CONTRA PUNCTUAL analysis. Knowledge is not a fait accompli but a contested and contextual arena.
Decoloniality is not equal to Africanisation (Fanon). We need to take back our knowledges. There is ‘power to’ and VS’ power over’.
What are the epistemologies and ontologies that inform our curriculum?
Carina referred us to the theory of posthumanism  and to a book on Inter-species collaboration and ecologies. She concluded by saying “Stay with the trouble: the ongoing, the troubling, stay with it”.
Bongani Mashaba
Decolonization is not a final product. It’s not personal. It’s about recognition.S tudents want recognition. We give the impression that beyond western knowledge there is nothing. Yet before 1652 South Africa had a powerful education past and present.
How do we teach the knowledges in our context?
Do we recognize our students’ backgrounds?
How do we bridge our context with the world?
We don’t have to change the curriculum, but we can put it in our own contexts. Interrogate your practice. Does it speak to the students we have?
Vanessa Merkel
Politeness can go into falseness.
These dialogues are painful but we must go on. We have to be argumentative.
Epistemic promiscuity: There is something to be learnt from everyone. Keep looking. Keep asking. It’s messy.
Decolonization is a “becoming”. It’s a journey we have embarked on. There is no roadmap.
We problematise the knowledge of the west but at the same time we should not romanticise Africa. What about patriarchy and heteronormativity?
We have an obsession with the ‘cognitive’. What about the discursive, our bodies, our relationships, our hearts? All of these facilitate learning.
Violence and disruption can change things. Look at the nexus between LOVE and REVOLUTION
Assessment is profoundly about decolonization. How we assess is a site of the decolonization debate
Thea De Wet
She was tasked with her unit by the VC to develop a suite of short courses for students that are non-credit bearing, on line and free. Examples are:
Cyber Citizenship
Critical brief history of Southern Africa
African Socio-Political thought in the past 150 years
The Universe, Near us and Far Away; An African view
Where do I come from?
Indigenous Poetry
African Choral Music
Nyasha Mboti
The Science and Economics that we offer perpetuate colonial knowledge systems. We make it seem that there is no other way of looking at the issues. “Who is ‘Joe Omnibus’?” aka the reasonable man. Who is he based on? Is he white, male, middle aged? He gave examples from Engineering for example the design of a turnstile which is designed with a person of a particular height or shape in mind,  the same with the budgeting we teach: how does this compare with the experiences of students regarding the use of money or saving?
We work in paradigms that hide their inherent privilege and racism.
Group 1
It is important to be familiar with the students’ contexts. Students must bring their knowledges especially the previously marginalised. We have to make Africa matter. Showcase Africa as the place to learn from.
Group 2
We are here in Africa and in universities. We assume that lecturers are teachers. But they are not. They are content specialists. There is nothing wrong with the content of the curriculum. It’s our attitude that must change.
Group 3
Framework for different streams of thinking:
·       Knowledge is never free
·       Relevant examples must be included
·       Do the lecturers have experience of the contextualized knowledges of their students if they come from different backgrounds?
How do we go beyond the book when we don’t have the experience?
Should students dictate the content?
Student engagement – where must their voices be heard?
Science has limits away from popular epistemologies.
Contextual knowledge is a low level skill. What about abstract knowledges?
 Group 4.
Whatever knowledge one has is context-based. Theory informs practice informs theory.
Knowledge is not only specialized. What about anecdotal evidence?
Group 5
Contextualising in the class is a challenge as the classes are so diverse.
Our engagements are not reflected in our assessments.
Cultural sensitivity is important.
Group 6
Represent contexts.
Scientific terms vs the vernacular language is an issue.
Humanities vs Hard Science is another issue,
Group 7
We agree about cultural sensitivity.
Scientific terminology and hiding behind these principles is cosmetic.
Decolonization seems revolutionary.
 Which sensitivities and sensibilities must be molly-coddled and which must be broken down violently?
When you take students on the knowledge journey a transfer takes place. Students experience it and then make it their own.
Decoloniality is not polite, it’s uncomfortable. It’s rage. It’s emotions. It’s discomfort.

WRAP-UP  by Cheryl Hendricks
Whoever is in the room are the right people to be here”
We are undertaking this to learn and share and develop
We hope that these discussions will be a triggerpoint for you to move ahead.
ENGAGE                  ACT                    TRANSFORM

Razia Mayet

No comments:

Post a Comment