Decolonised education has embraced many different meanings, conceptually and politically.
Some view it as something that requires a total revamp of education and the introduction of indigenous knowledge. Others see it as restructuring the curriculum in its entirety. University students have expressed the need for a change in university knowledge and curricula. Decolonising education would provide them with educational access that addresses their emerging African-centred “humanness”.
As much as one may agree or disagree with the notion of decolonised education, it must be accepted that the education that the majority of South Africans get is, to quote the internationally renowned education expert Professor Jonathan Jansen, “rubbish”. Every attempt to bring about social justice has failed.
Unless more consideration is put into equity and equality all attempts to bring about meaningful change will end up in the bin. The same will happen with decolonised education. If the foundations are not there, it will ultimately do more harm than good.
Jansen promulgates that three to four universities and a handful of people started the “decolonise education” movement. He says these protesters were from the Lifelong Learning era, which advocated that learning is an ongoing process, whereby a plumber could then later in life become a neurologist or a farmer or a dentist.
This sent out false and ludicrous messages to a population that had already suffered from a humiliating and crass education in the form of Christian National Education. Likewise, teachers and educators who had a completely askew concept of this new curriculum implemented outcome-based education.
Curriculum reform initiatives do not work in South Africa for three main reasons. The first one is context, and this directly relates to the second reason, implementation. The third is more political, a knee-jerk reaction.
As higher education specialist Professor Lis Lange says, reform movements during the late 1990s tended to be more cosmetic than real. They changed the exoskeleton but left the soft sensitive parts untouched. It is within this context that students gathered with placards to march to universities to demand the decolonisation of education as a basic right. However, if this is going to follow the same route as the curriculum initiatives of the past, then it is destined for failure before anyone gets on the bus.
Jansen asks some crucial questions regarding the curriculum and is deeply concerned that the call for decolonisation may cover up other deep-seated problems that will manifest later. The biggest concern I have for decolonised education is the consequences that follow.
Putting aside decolonised education for a moment, let’s look at what is happening at grassroots level. Education in South Africa is in a state of chaos. The curriculum of many schools is still Eurocentric and will remain so for a long time.
How can any form of innovation take place when there is no infrastructure, no relevant curriculum and gross corruption that is eating away at anything and everything? Furthermore, there is a dire need for quality teachers who care for and enjoy their profession. Regrettably, this is a commodity that is extremely difficult to find.
The elephant in the room is that whatever is introduced into the curriculum has a negative effect on the poorer schools, thus polarising the poorly resourced schools from the wealthy schools. Educators need to look at implementation and the different contexts of schooling. What schools don’t need are politicians who seem to have enough time to continually interfere in education for their own individual gain, applying pressure when they see fit and expecting to see change overnight.
Reverting to the previous conversation about decolonised education, how are educators going to implement decolonised education in the South African context where it matters most – in the poorer schools, which seem to be reversing most of the time? What has been done about equity, equality and social justice?
One possible idea (although only a thought at this stage) is, why not toss the present curriculum away and produce our own unique South African curriculum that does away with Eurocentric knowledge and replaces it with indigenous knowledge?
This curriculum would address the Fourth Industrial Revolution and focus on literature and numeracy (from Grade 1 to Grade 6 or 7). Do away with the content, and focus on science, technology, research, English, the arts, maths and indigenous knowledge. This curriculum could be developed to respond to different contextual needs (such as language and cultural issues).
The emphasis in education needs to be changed, not from what is taught but rather to how it is taught. This will require the full support of all the departments of education and the public. DM