To­wards lib­er­a­tion

Khanya Col­lege proved that de­colonised learn­ing, rooted in Africa but in­fused with global in­flu­ences, is the way for­ward

The New Age (Western Cape) - - The Think Section - HANNE KIRS­TINE ADRIANSEN, LENE MØLLER MAD­SEN AND RA­JANI NAIDOO Hanne Kirs­tine Adriansen, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor, School of Ed­u­ca­tion, Aarhus Univer­sity. Lene Møller Mad­sen, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in Science Ed­u­ca­tion, Univer­sity of Copen­hagen. Ra­jani Naidoo, di

DE­COLONI­SA­TION and African­i­sa­tion may ap­pear to be new ideas on South Africa’s higher ed­u­ca­tion land­scape – but a ter­tiary col­lege es­tab­lished nearly 30 years ago shows this is not the case.

The story of Khanya Col­lege proves that de­colonised learn­ing – rooted in Africa but in­fused with global in­flu­ences – is en­tirely pos­si­ble.

Khanya Col­lege didn’t use the words “de­coloni­sa­tion” or “African­i­sa­tion”, but these were strong themes in its work.

It gave stu­dents con­fi­dence and aimed to em­power them by strength­en­ing their iden­tity of where they came from based in part on their African his­tory, lan­guage and tra­di­tions. This can be la­belled “pow­er­ful knowl­edge”.

The in­sti­tu­tion also taught stu­dents the “knowl­edge of the pow­er­ful”. This was needed for grad­u­ates to be able to adapt within a white, elite, English ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

It taught them to recog­nise – and chal­lenge – its im­plicit rules. it still ex­ists today, though in re­cent years it has be­come a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion rather than a for­mal col­lege.

Its his­tory as a col­lege that opened the doors of white uni­ver­si­ties to black stu­dents dur­ing apartheid holds three key lessons for higher ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa today.

These re­late to em­pow­er­ing stu­dents through an African and global cur­ricu­lum, en­cour­ag­ing crit­i­cal think­ing and trans­form­ing uni­ver­si­ties and so­ci­ety. An African cur­ricu­lum Khanya Col­lege was es­tab­lished in 1986 when the apartheid sys­tem was start­ing to un­ravel. The South African Com­mit­tee of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, led by renowned ed­u­ca­tion­al­ist Neville Alexan­der, es­tab­lished the col­lege to ad­dress the lim­i­ta­tions of apartheid’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

Khanya Col­lege al­lowed stu­dents who were clas­si­fied as “black” by apartheid leg­is­la­tion the chance to gain ac­cess to uni­ver­si­ties clas­si­fied as “white”.

Its cam­puses, in Jo­han­nes­burg and Cape Town, pri­mar­ily tar­geted young black South Africans. In the first three years of its ex­is­tence, more than 400 stu­dents com­pleted the Khanya course of study.

Staff were also drawn from across race groups. Prof Ra­jani Naidoo, one of the authors of this article, was in­volved in Khanya’s pro­gramme from its launch un­til 1991.

One of Khanya’s big goals was to act as a model for the trans­for­ma­tion of all uni­ver­si­ties in South Africa.

It em­ployed a strat­egy of knowl­edge for lib­er­a­tion. This work was an at­tempt to fa­cil­i­tate stu­dents’ ac­cess to pow­er­ful knowl­edge held by dom­i­nant groups in so­ci­ety.

The col­lege wanted to break away from apartheid ed­u­ca­tion’s em­pha­sis on mainly Afrikaner his­tory and the sole study of Europe as world his­tory.

In­stead, the em­pha­sis in­cluded oral African lit­er­a­ture and African his­tory taught from a crit­i­cal per­spec­tive.

The teach­ing phi­los­o­phy was twofold. First, it aimed to give stu­dents con­fi­dence and em­power them by strength­en­ing their iden­tity of where they came from based in part on their African his­tory, lan­guage, tra­di­tions and so­cial class.

The staff wanted to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which stu­dents ac­knowl­edged and were proud of their own iden­tity. This was the first, cru­cial step to sup­port stu­dents in un­der­stand­ing how to nav­i­gate their way through a dom­i­nant cul­ture.

Sec­ond, it taught stu­dents the cur­ricu­lum they needed to know how to suc­ceed in a white, elite univer­sity.

The stu­dents were in­tro­duced to the dom­i­nant dis­courses and prac­tices within elite uni­ver­si­ties. They were taught to un­der­stand and eval­u­ate these prac­tices. Then they were sup­ported in find­ing the tools to chal­lenge such prac­tices.

In con­trast to some pro­po­nents of African­i­sa­tion today, Khanya Col­lege did not dis­re­gard so-called Western knowl­edge. In­stead it drew the best from crit­i­cal thinkers world­wide to develop stu­dents’ own crit­i­cal in­sights.

Some stu­dents were po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists who were ac­cepted on the ba­sis of their com­mu­nity in­volve­ment rather than strictly aca­demic re­sults. At Khanya, their po­lit­i­cal work was linked to more for­mal modes of crit­i­cal anal­y­sis.

For ex­am­ple, the African lit­er­a­ture course in­cluded for­mal text anal­y­sis. Stu­dents learned about the so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion of the text and its real world im­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing in­sights for their own or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­nity groups.

Pam­phlets were cre­ated to raise pop­u­lar aware­ness about apartheid and stu­dents de­vel­oped strate­gies to­wards al­ter­na­tive higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems.

This work, rooted in Brazil­ian the­o­rist Paulo Freire’s prin­ci­ple of ed­u­ca­tion for lib­er­a­tion, was de­signed to trans­form uni­ver­si­ties and, in the long term, to help Khanya’s stu­dents con­trib­ute to trans­form­ing South African so­ci­ety. The lessons Apartheid ren­dered the di­vi­sions based on “race” and dis­ad­van­tage ex­tremely vis­i­ble. We would sug­gest, then, that apartheid South Africa was an ex­treme case of the so­cial fault lines that di­vide many so­ci­eties today – both in the Global North and in the Global South.

The story of Khanya Col­lege has im­por­tant lessons to of­fer that re­main rel­e­vant today.

Its ap­proach was de­vel­oped in a dif­fer­ent time and so­ci­etal con­text, but can con­trib­ute a great deal to con­tem­po­rary de­bates about de­colonis­ing and trans­form­ing uni­ver­si­ties world­wide.

For in­stance, it shows how a cur­ricu­lum can be African­ised with­out es­sen­tial­is­ing what it means to be African and what African knowl­edge is.

It also shines a light on how cru­cial it is to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of ac­cess to the knowl­edge of the pow­er­ful, what as­pects of this are valu­able and how it can be cri­tiqued.

Fi­nally, by us­ing these clas­sic virtues of the univer­sity – con­struc­tive crit­i­cism and dis­sent – Khanya Col­lege con­trib­uted to the skills stu­dents needed to con­struc­tively trans­form the univer­sity and, ul­ti­mately, so­ci­ety.

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