Awethu Fatyela has travelled the world speaking on education issues.
Awethu Fatyela has travelled the world speaking on education issues.

Education activist is out to free our minds

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published Sep 29, 2017

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Johannesburg - When Awethu Fatyela joined the #FeesMustFall protests at her institution, she didn't know it would lead her to go to various parts of the world to speak about decolonising education.

One of the demands of the #FMF protesters during their fight for free education at higher education institutions across the country was the decolonisation of education.

Fatyela, a second-year Nelson Mandela University media, communications and culture student, joined in the protests. Now that there has been a lull in protests, she is continuing the fight for decolonised education.

“For me the decolonisation of education means changing our curriculum so it can be a bit more Afrocentric. Right now our entire education system is very Eurocentric and Western. When you look at philosophy (offered in the curriculum) you learn about white philosophers, and when you learn about science you learn about white scientists.

“As an educator you need to ask what is the purpose of education. How then do we create a curriculum that is affirming for African students? As a black learner you are othered in the system.

We want African literature,” Fatyela said.

She said black pupils being represented in the school curriculum was important.

“Much of the curriculum and the language in the classroom has not changed at all. People say you must not politicise the classroom, but I say it's time we politicised the classroom. The same things that happen in the outside world happen in the classroom. The same racial profiling happens in the classroom, so it's never too soon for us to make a conscious effort to teach them.

“White students have symbols of success that look like them, and so should black students.”

Decolonisation, Fatyela added, was not meant to exclude white students, and she spoke out against those who say that if decolonisation happened, we would not be able to compete internationally.

“Where does the notion that when something comes from Africa it is inferior come from? The ultimate point is to not have to look to the West for validation, and we also don’t have to look to the East and say this is how they are doing it. When decolonised education is good for us, it will also be good for everyone else,” she said.

So far, Fatyela has given a talk about decolonising the ICT sector in Portugal and also written a book chapter on Disrupting Coloniality, Student-led Resistance to the Oppressive Status Quo in South Africa in the book Universities and Conflict: The Role of Higher Education in Peacebuilding and Resistance, which is due to be released in the UK next month.

Now she has been invited to speak at the African Studies Association of Africa second Biennial Conference at the University of Ghana, and is struggling to raise funds to get there.

She needs about R20 000 for flights, accommodation and the conference registration fees.

The full-time student and social activist said one of the reasons she had struggled to get funding was because higher education institutions didn’t fund research projects undertaken by undergraduate students.

“Why do we have to adhere to this? If you have a student who is interested in research and there is output, then you break rules,” Fatyela said.

She hopes to continue researching decolonisation when she finishes her studies.

“I am in the space I want to be navigating in the next five years. We have a responsibility as the woke generation to consciously venture into the rest of the continent,” Fatyela noted.

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The Star

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