Friday 17 June 2016

Book Review: Africanising the Curriculum - by Zwelakhe Mokatsane

Book: Africanising the Curriculum:
Indigenous Perspectives and Theories
Editors: Vuyisile Msila and Mishack T Gumbo
Date: 2016
Publisher: SunMedia
Reviewer: Zwelakhe Mokatsane

I found the book to be very engaging and insightful. It captures the spirit of our time and contextualises its arguments and augments it by furnishing evidence attesting to its clarion call. Below are some of the chapters that intrigued me and that I deem to be very essential when dealing with the topic at hand, decolonising higher education.

Introducing the book: Dr Steve Sharra
The writer relates a story of how a certain African forest was said to be discovered in 2009 by British scientist, notwithstanding the fact that the locals of that area have for years interacted and utilised some of  the plants in that area for medical purposes. With regards to the aforementioned, the author succeeds in depicting how the asymmetrical power relations between the North and the South perpetuates such events.

Chapter 1: The African Renaissance and the decolonisation of the curriculum by Phillip Higgs
Phillip Higgs looks at the intended purposes which accompanied colonialism (other than its main overarching goal of stripping the continent of its resources), and that is, cultural repression, misrepresentations and devaluation. Thus if Africa is to find and assert itself in the world, decolonising the curriculum becomes the most 'humane' thing to do. Higgs posits that the remnants of colonialism are still prevalent in our society, both in concrete and abstract terms and at times are taken for granted. For instance, the values and standards that such an education inculcates upon its students stands in stark contrast with African values and standards, and are thus divisive. The only way to remedy this is to ensure that the curriculum reflects its cultural, social and political context in which it is located and by so doing, allowing African epistemologies to replace the current status quo in our curriculum, if not, at least to have a greater influence.

Chapter 2: Unpacking Africanisation of higher education curricula: Towards a framework by Gregory H Kamwendo
Gregory Kamwendo points out that by referring to 'Africanising the curricula', readers should bear in mind that such a concept refers to localising and indigenisation of the curricula. Indigenous knowledge systems were intentionally overlooked during the subjugation of the indigenous people of Africa, thus the author emphasises the importance of integrating issues of concern to Africans into the curricula so as to allow Africans the opportunity of contributing to knowledge production. It is for this reason that the author unequivocally opines that Africa should not just be a consumer of knowledge, but should be allowed to once again be given the space to produce such. In order for that to happen, academics and African universities are reminded of their responsibility of responding to challenges society grapples with. 

If Africanising the curricula is seen as a passing fad, strikes as we have seen engulfing our country and the destruction of property perceived to be resembling the old order will continue ensnaring the developmental aspirations of the continent. The University of Johannesburg has indeed embarked on a journey of expediting African renaissance by holding seminars intended to reorient its students and staff towards the realisation of localising education.

Chapter 3: A model for indigenising the university curriculum: A quest for educational relevance by Mishack T Gumbo
Mishack Gumbo begins by first acknowledging the paradox inherent in our current curricula in Africa, which is the fact that the majority of students at universities in Africa are predominantly black yet the education they receive is dominated by Western epistemologies. Due to the fact that such an anomaly is neither sustainable nor justifiable, he asserts that Africanisation should be seen as the mechanism through which African thought, philosophy, identity and culture are transmitted. 

Chapter 4: Africanisation of education and the search for relevance and context by Vuyisile Msila
Africanisation is seen as a way of revisiting that which was good and cherished in Africa prior to it being subjugated. Vuyisile Msila restates the central tenets that binds African society and asserts that the same values of mutual dependency can enable students to further develop and achieve great feats at institutions of learning. He quotes Robert Sobukwe who espoused Africanism as having asserted that education should mean service to Africa and should be a barometer of African thought.

Chapter 6: Women and Leadership: Learning from an African Philosophy by Vuyisile Msila and Tshilidzi Netshitangani
The writers of this chapter detail how the colonial regime also adversely affected the role of women in African society. During the pre-colonial era women were seen as the glue that held society together due to the fact that women had certain eminent roles in society. Furthermore, the writers highlight that the perception of leadership in Western influenced societies has made it to be gender based and biased in favor of the male counterparts. 

The authors do somehow manage to resist the temptation of romanticizing pre-colonial Africa in that they acknowledge that elements of patriarchy were present even during that era, for example, women were not allowed to own property. However, what separates the authors feminist stance is that they do not critique and lament all the traditions of the African patriarchal society as the Northern feminists do, they still find space for it (African traditions that is) and contend that women's role is much more valued in African society than it is in the West.   

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the decolonisation of the curriculum discourse.

Bionote: I am a Law graduate. Prior to that, I completed an undergraduate degree in Public Governance and Development Studies. I am currently preparing for the Attorneys board exams and have completed my articles at a law firm in Pretoria. I am also working as a consultant on cyber citizenship at the Centre for Academic Technologies at the University of Johannesburg.

Friday 3 June 2016

Theorising Aspirations and HE by Melanie Walker (Posting by Devika Naidoo)

Prof Walker addresses a gap in SA literature on: What happens to Aspirations through the HE experience?The entire seminar from conceptualisation, operationalisation, data analysis and discussion of findings on the topic was a masterpiece for students and staff present. Students gained from a rigorous and thorough explication of the research process in action. Staff members had their conceptual schema extended to include the concepts of Amartya Sen, Appadurai, Bourdieu and other seminal authors. 

Melanie walker uj seminar slides from Brenda Leibowitz

The very useful concepts of aspirations, agency, capabilities, functionings, cognitive neighbourhood and critical agency were informative. Walker claims that for all students there is a cycle of 'sliding forward' to aspirations, capabilities and agency. ​With reference to gender and agency, Walker found that 'while all have agency, critical agency was not demonstrated'.  The issue of the continuing harassment of women on university  campuses raised ire from many attendees. The aspirations of students who had dropped out as well as students from less advantaged areas was raised