Ed­u­cate for life, not just for a job

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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CUR­RICU­LUM trans­for­ma­tion and de­coloni­sa­tion is an im­per­a­tive of our times and it will not go away. As some­one who has ded­i­cated 33 years to the study of ed­u­ca­tion, I be­lieve it is our obli­ga­tion to search for al­ter­na­tives. Al­ter­na­tives are not given, they are imag­ined, and there has never been a more op­por­tune mo­ment in our his­tory than now. It presents teach­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als with an op­por­tu­nity to rise to the oc­ca­sion.

More than ever in South Africa, we need what the Greeks call a metanoia, a com­plete about-turn or change of heart, lit­er­ally a spir­i­tual con­ver­sion, a new way of see­ing and per­ceiv­ing. We need new frame­works of think­ing to de­scribe the world we live in as the old ones have be­come mori­bund.

To un­der­stand this let’s re­flect on the first at­tempt at cur­ricu­lum re­form, in­tro­duced in 1998 in the form of Cur­ricu­lum 2005 (C2005). It was the first ma­jor cur­ricu­lum state­ment of the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, and its con­struc­tivist ap­proach broke from the apartheid sys­tem, based on rote learn­ing and mem­o­ri­sa­tion. It was not suc­cess­ful for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons but it was a bold at­tempt that pre­ceded any ef­fort in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Nine­teen years later, in ad­dress­ing the cur­rent call for cur­ricu­lum re­form, we need to un­der­stand what went wrong with C2005. One of the rea­sons was a lack of align­ment be­tween the school cur­ricu­lum and teacher ed­u­ca­tion in uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. An­other was a lack of ca­pac­ity and sup­port for teach­ers whose opin­ions and feel­ings about the cur­ricu­lum were not taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. It left many teach­ers feel­ing hope­less or in­ad­e­quate, with a re­duced sense of ef­fi­ciency and abil­ity to pro­vide qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for their stu­dents.

For any new cur­ricu­lum to be im­ple­mented suc­cess­fully, pol­icy-mak­ers and cur­ricu­lum re­form­ers have to en­gage teach­ers at the school and uni­ver­sity level, and take into ac­count what they think.

Hav­ing es­tab­lished this, the start­ing point for a new cur­ricu­lum is to ask what kind of so­ci­ety do we want to build, and what role should ba­sic and higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions be play­ing to trans­form so­ci­ety in in­creas­ingly com­plex, tur­bu­lent and di­verse en­vi­ron­ments. These are core ques­tions, yet cur­ricu­lum re­form­ers of­ten ne­glect to take them into con­sid­er­a­tion.

Too of­ten, they think they only need to pro­duce a tech­ni­cally sound cur­ricu­lum and im­ple­men­ta­tion will pro­ceed smoothly. It re­flects a view of learn­ing, teach­ing, lead­er­ship, and change that is ex­ces­sively cog­ni­tive, cal­cu­la­tive, man­age­rial and stereo­typ­i­cally mas­cu­line in na­ture. Im­ple­ment­ing a generic cur­ricu­lum of this na­ture into a so­ci­ety sys­tem­at­i­cally sub­jected to un­der­de­vel­op­ment through racial poli­cies for the ma­jor­ity of its cit­i­zens can only ex­ac­er­bate in­equal­i­ties that were the hall­mark of apartheid ed­u­ca­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions which see their role solely as im­part­ing nar­row skills and knowl­edge that pre­pare stu­dents only as part of the work force in a mar­ket econ­omy, negate the other im­por­tant func­tions of ed­u­ca­tion as con­tribut­ing to the func­tion­ing of crit­i­cal cit­i­zens in a democ­racy.

Given the na­ture of South Africa as one of the most un­equal so­ci­eties in the world and the peren­nial prob­lem of racism, any fu­ture cur­ricu­lum needs to ad­dress racism, in­equal­ity, power, priv­i­lege, gen­der and pa­tri­archy. It should strengthen stu­dents’ re­solve and com­mit­ment to strive for a dif­fer­ent so­cial or­der other than the present pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with in­di­vid­u­al­ism, and the pro­mo­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and prof­itabil­ity.

Crit­i­cal ped­a­gogy can point the way in cre­at­ing an al­ter­na­tive vi­sion of so­ci­ety, one that takes the no­tion of jus­tice and equal­ity se­ri­ously. Crit­i­cal ped­a­gogy is one of the cen­tral means in the strug­gle for jus­tice and lib­er­a­tion. As hu­mans we can in­ter­vene in the world, and change the course of events, as we are not merely spec­ta­tors. This is a start­ing point for the­o­ris­ing about so­cial trans­for­ma­tion. If we fo­cus only on the present and dom­i­nant and de­bil­i­tat­ing dis­courses of neo-lib­eral politics, it can be paralysing and pre­vent a fo­cus on the fu­ture; it can sti­fle our imag­i­na­tion of what could be and of ped­a­gogy as a prac­tice of free­dom.

Cur­ricu­lum and ped­a­gog­i­cal change can only suc­ceed if we ac­com­mo­date mul­ti­ple knowl­edge tra­di­tions and embrace new ways of view­ing knowl­edge. If we aban­don the no­tion that knowl­edge is ob­jec­tive and value-free and ac­cept it as al­ways pro­vi­sional, in­com­plete and par­tial, it paves the way for an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal di­a­logue be­tween dif­fer­ent ways of know­ing.

In our uni­ver­si­ties it is not pos­si­ble to teach stu­dents of the 21st cen­tury with out­dated trans­mis­sion meth­ods of knowl­edge trans­fer or ac­qui­si­tion. The cur­ricu­lum as an in­stru­ment of so­cial change should en­able our stu­dents to be­come crit­i­cal trav­ellers through the world. Less hi­er­ar­chi­cal ap­proaches are bet­ter suited to con­front some of the press­ing crises of our time, such as peace­ful co-ex­is­tence, poverty, global in­equal­ity, pan­demics, cli­mate change and racism. As teach­ers and aca­demics we have not done enough to pre­pare the young for the com­ing and chang­ing world in which they will be liv­ing. If we do not take up the chal­lenge to be so­cial ac­tivists of change, com­mit­ted to trans­form­ing the cur­ricu­lum and ed­u­ca­tion in mean­ing­ful ways, the dream of a non-racial and just so­ci­ety will re­main an elu­sive ideal.

EM­POW­ER­MENT: Science teacher Si­las Fenyane teaches at the ORT SA’s Sec­ond Chance Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gramme in Alexan­dra.

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