Pretoria - Despite the 1994 political victory against apartheid, victory against colonial higher education is still far from being achieved.
This was the view of Thembelihle Makhanya from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which is contained in her research work which she said had been written from the point of view of African students.
Makhanya was one of the speakers at a three-day conference at the University of Pretoria (UP) this week, which was hosted in partnership with eight other universities.
It was held at the Future Africa Campus under the theme “Unsettling Paradigms, the Decolonial Turn in the Humanities Curriculum”.
Makhanya said her research had been based on students’ understanding of colonialism in social work education.
“The Western character of global agendas adopted by South African institutions of higher learning has nurtured those colonial experiences of African students at the university. These encounters also accelerate poor academic performance among African students," she said.
She made the call for "an African education that views African students as self-directed and having accumulated a foundation of life experiences, knowledge, skills, values and cultures, based on their historical and societal background."
"They want (this) to be acknowledged, respected and incorporated into their learning experiences,” she said.
Professor Kennedy Chatambudza Chinyowa, from the Tshwane University of Technology, presented a paper on the pros and cons of decolonising the curriculum in South African universities. In it, he challenged universities to examine their purpose as centres of knowledge.
The paper questioned the extent to which university curricula were relevant to the challenges of contemporary South Africa and, to what extent, universities produced knowledge that spoke to the current and the future of the country and what the nature of knowledge production should be should the existing curriculum paradigms be discarded.
Chinyowa said in 2015 South Africa woke up to calls from UCT students for the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the British coloniser, on their campus. Their call led to a wave of other campaigns and gave rise to #RhodesMustFall and the #FeesMustFall movements.
“Beneath the student protest movement lay a much more serious need for South Africa to embark on the decolonising project,” Chinyowa said.
The conference recognised that the curricula at higher education institutions should incorporate more of social and political relevance to students.
Conference chair Professor Vasu Reddy from the University of Pretoria, said the project had been spurred by recent calls for transformation in the higher education landscape.
Through the project, academics and practitioners were able to research fresh insights and strengthen work in the vital but under-researched field of the humanities curricula at universities in South Africa.
The conference aimed to investigate the “decolonial turn” and explore how it produced new or different renditions of the humanities curriculum, in particular.
“It will encourage humanities’ scholars and students to engage with the broad philosophical themes, such as the histories and politics of knowledge production in the era of globalisation, knowledge production and decoloniality, the critiques of the decolonial turn in curriculum transformation, the students and curriculum transformation.
“These, as well as the technological possibilities in teaching and learning, the critical pedagogues and curricula to address bias and inequality and, lastly, the contradictions and prospects for curriculum transformation in a marketised global higher education sector,” were necessary, Reddy said.