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Unisa online - African identity requires education transformation


From left: Dr Azwy Tshivhase (Director: DCLD), Prof Howard Richards (Research Professor of Philosophy, Education and Peace and Global Studies at Earlham College (Richmond,Indiana), Prof Catherine Odora Hoppers (SARChI Chair) and Prof Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal)

The Department of Curriculum and Learning Development (DCLD) and the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) presented a seminar on 6 July 2012. The seminar sought to advance Unisa’s agenda of continued focus on the transformation of the curriculum.

In her introduction, Prof Catherine Odora Hoppers, SARChI Chair, said that her mandate is to bring innovation and to enlarge the cognitive field of the university. “This seminar is part of my broader mandate of introducing new thinking in the university,” she said, “so that the research can be more appropriate to Africa.” She added that Unisa needed to transform its curriculum since the current version stems from the West. “We are not saying replace Western knowledge with African knowledge; we are bringing a new kind of thinking in teaching, research and community development,” she said. She mentioned that Unisa needs to remember that it is in the service of humanity and not of markets. “This means that we, as Unisa, first need to find out what humanity means.”

Two distinguished fellows of SARChI, Prof Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra (Portugal), and Prof Howard Richards, Research Professor of Philosophy, Education and Peace and Global Studies at Earlham College (Richmond,Indiana) shared their thoughts on why the curriculum must be transformed. They also stated that the disciplines in the university must be humanised by bringing in African epistemologies.

Prof De Sousa Santos said that universities need to expand the knowledge systems that they consider to be valid in the curriculum and that are taught to their students. “Up until now the universities relied more on Western modern knowledge, usually scientific knowledge.” He said that the Western systems are indeed valid. “However, if I want go to the moon, I need scientific knowledge, but, if I want to defend the biodiversity of Africa, I need local knowledge systems.” He added that universities need to be broader in their teaching and research because there are many ways of life in society that they do not consider. “This is because we always consider the needs of the market and not the needs of the communities,” he concluded.

Prof Richards said that the current ideas that are dominant are not working and that universities need new ideas. “In order to broaden current ideas, it is crucial for African epistemologies and traditional thinking in general to transform the disciplines of the university.” He added that these disciplines have a particular history and they are not the only possible way of looking at things. They fit in with a way of life, but they are destined to disappear because of their incompatibility with the social sphere and their chronic inability to solve social problems. “So, we have to think differently and outside the box and welcome other epistemologies… this means that the subjugated knowledge and defeated epistemologies are necessary. This means that other people are allowed to think their way, too – it is not only a matter of justice, but a way of survival.”

Dr Azwy Tshivhase, Director: DCLD, said that it was interesting to see various perspectives of what the curriculum should entail from various contexts, thanks to the distinguished fellows who provoked and shared their ideas on transformation of the curriculum and knowledge production in modern universities.

In summation, Prof Hoppers said that it was interesting to share views on issues of why the curriculum must be transformed from the North-South perspective, and how the disciplines in the university must be humanised by bringing in African epistemologies.

Dr Tshivhase concluded by saying that further discussion amongst Unisa stakeholders will be one of the major milestones towards achieving the university’s vision, towards the African university in the service of humanity. “As such, discussions like this should be encouraged and sustained throughout the university and also with various stakeholders,” he said.



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