Durban — The University of KwaZulu-Natal has taken a bold step to foster social cohesion in the country by attempting to make students not just well educated, but better people.
To achieve this, the 9 000 first-year students who begin their tertiary education this month will be the initial cohort to enrol for the new compulsory Critical Social Justice and Citizenship module.
The aim is to foster tolerance and understanding for people who are perceived as different by studying issues like gender-based violence (GBV), racism, xenophobia, disability and homophobia. UKZN said the module would challenge students to recognise a bit of themselves in everyone else and to respond with kindness, humility and humanity.
“We want to be involved in the process of creating better human beings who are able to interact with each other in a dignified manner and who recognise the value of difference and what it brings to the table,” said Professor Thabo Msibi, the chairperson of the task team who developed the curriculum.
The module consists of eight online lectures and eight supporting tutorials, and students have the option of doing it in English or Zulu, he said.
Msibi, who is also the institution’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, said they wanted to understand how negative attitudes towards “otherness” developed and how they could be challenged to disrupt old ways of thinking and learn new ways to study, live and work together with people who are different. They want to spark transformation.
He said they wanted to develop “better human beings who are socially responsive, who have a deeper consciousness, not only about themselves and how they are positioned in society but about how they perceive others located in the society”.
Initially, the module started out as a response to the high number of GBV incidents in the country and across university campuses. However, during its conceptualisation process, the task team realised that GBV intersected with other social issues and that they needed a much broader subject framework, said Msibi.
“Once we were clear that we had to have a focus beyond issues of GBV that looked at intersectional issues of identity oppression, violence and society, we decided that it needed to be, in a way, compulsory for all our students because it was so fundamental to what institutions of higher learning ought to do.
“We can't just be involved in the process of teaching students to be competent in their professional disciplinary areas, the academic competency, but we needed to ensure the academic competency includes the social competency; how do you ensure that our students, when they engage with other people, that they accord them the human dignity that they should be given,” Msibi added.
While it was preferable that students take the module in their first year, they can enrol for it at any time before they’ve finished their undergraduate studies, and it must be completed in order to for them graduate.
First-year students and their parents were introduced to the Critical Social Justice and Citizenship module during the university’s Parents’ Day on Saturday. The event was held so that they had the chance to engage with key academic and support staff members on a range of areas from the academic programme to student funding, housing, online learning and safety on campus.
UKZN’s Executive Director for Corporate Relations, Normah Zondo, said: “The first year of university is a transformative period marked by significant growth and learning for students. To ensure our most crucial stakeholders, the parents and guardians, are well informed and understand their roles in supporting their children’s academic journeys, we host Parents’ Day.”
She said from Monday to Saturday, new undergraduates who have applied and been accepted to study at UKZN would have a chance to register remotely and participate in their orientation week.