Delinking from colonialism in the classroom
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Delinking from colonialism in the classroom

Professor Peter Dzvimbo; Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC): Academic and Research

Qhawekazi Memani

Academics in pedagogy gathered at the Emerald Hotel from Wednesday, 14 to Thursday, 15 November for the annual Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Centre for Academic Development (CAD) conference under the theme: ‘Deconstructing Free Education: Language of Possibilities’.

Educators, practitioners, partners and leaders who use scholarship innovation to advance the theory and practise of experiential education shared the podium in this year’s discussion around deconstruction phrases which have captured higher education. They offered their expert advice and thoughts, recommendations on tackling the theme, issues of decolonisation and best practices that will suit students coming from different backgrounds to tertiary institutions in Africa.

Professor Peter Dzvimbo; Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) said in his opening remarks: “When discussing the issue of deconstructing anything or notion in Higher Education, we need to go back to the root of it otherwise, it will be impossible to deconstruct. We are faced with a cognitive dissonance crisis which epitomises a crisis in identity – lost identity. If we are to deconstruct, we need to start with the issue faced by the students which includes apological access.”  He also highlighted that one can only teach when one has the art and science of teaching, not just the qualifications.  He welcomed the speakers and commended the CAD Department for hosting a conference of this nature.

Professor Thomas Olsson, an expert in Engineering Education from LUND University in Sweden, was the opening keynote speaker and shared his presentation titled: ‘Excellence in teaching and how to reward it: Institutional Perspective’.  He explained, among other things, approaches used to influence cultures in an organisation to take teaching very seriously:  scholarship encouragement at all levels in the university, the systems used for rewarding teaching excellence and a scholarly approach. He also highlighted that their “good teaching” information has been readily available on request from the public for the past 17 years.

Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak, senior lecturer at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town (UCT), spoke about decolonisation via UCT’s experience, sharing snap shots of scholarly study that came out of the student protests in 2015 and 2016. She also probed the question ‘What does decolonisation mean to you?’ bearing in mind the opportunities and fears it brings. She said that interventions are needed, in terms of colonialism – how to deal with the mental attitude that has stayed over the years and how to reproduce a new way of doing things and thinking without even knowing it saying: “An integration of the new with the old is needed in a manner that will allow students to express themselves irrespective of their race, colour, culture, beliefs and backgrounds; trans languages can be used to enhance language skills,” she said. She furthermore shared a deconstruction theory of change they use at UCT involving the taking out of the old and coming up with the new which evolves around contestation, repositioning, reconstruction, reconstitution and reflection, highlighting that deconstruction can be used as a gesture for delinking from coloniality.

Various abstracts were presented in the afternoon of the conference.

Day two of the conference commenced with Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, the founding Head of Archie Mafeje Research Institute for Applied Social Policy (AMRI) and currently Acting Director of the Change Management Unit (CMU) in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He emphasised that in order to correct anything, a proper diagnosis of the issue is needed. He said that Africans were reduced to native informants and could not generate theory themselves. For transformation in higher education to take place, academic minds should be worked on to identify where the problem is.  “Name things as they are, it is evident that there is dominant knowledge. Instead of blaming people, why not change it?” he asked.” Why don’t we accept that it exists, take a critical stance that it exists, pick what’s useful from it and throw away what’s not needed.  “Disciplines of received knowledge are never natural and are invented for a purpose. We need to review our disciplines at a number of levels, check fitness for purpose, learn to unlearn in order to relearn how to deal with resistance, how to rethink thinking itself and what it is that needs to be achieved,” he said.

Mr Ruaan Visser, a South Africa’s number 1 ranked heavy weight and current holder of the SA Heavyweight Championship, delivered a keynote address as well. He shared how his difficulties, challenges and opportunities paved a way for where he is currently. Looking at the bright future ahead he said: “There are ups and down in life but with perseverance and hard work all can be achieved, and sport can make a huge difference in a person’s life.”  He discussed how he prepares for fights, keeps focused and how to relieve stress.

The last keynote speaker was Dr Nomanesi Madikizela from UNISA sharing her presentation which posed the questions: ‘The higher education system as a social space: Any possibility of catching up? Educational inequality in RSA, is it widening? How can VUT catch up to the ten universities in SA?’  She highlighted that in her opinion she thinks that VUT is on the right path and, instead of looking into what other universities are doing, it should focus on enhancing what it already has, not leaving behind its history, traditions, aspirations and tragedies, and strive for excellence. She encouraged the university to define its own path as long as it will strengthen higher education.

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