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We Need To Rally Around The Call For Decolonised Education

Discontent is growing at an unprecedented (and perhaps expected) level in the country, particularly among the (so called) born-free generation.

12/04/2017 03:53 SAST
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The number of graduates in South Africa still follows apartheid patterns and the basic education is in shambles and therefore not doing much to break such patterns. There are many troubling South African facts that will not go away with Jacob Zuma's second term or resignation or even recalling. Although there have been many slight advances since the country became a democracy more than 20 years ago, discontent is growing at an unprecedented (and perhaps expected) level in the country, particularly among the (so called) born-free generation.

This youth discontent has been brought to the fore by movements like #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall and the subsequent high (and primary) school protests in 2016 and early 2017. Many experts correlate education to social cohesion and economic success. Different people from different sectors agree that the education system in South Africa is not efficient considering the resources poured into it from the fiscus. For instance, the number of graduates in South Africa still follows apartheid patterns and the basic education is in shambles and therefore not doing much to break such patterns.

It is easy to talk about the current state of the basic education system without considering the implications of apartheid's separate development policy. This policy ensured that the country had multiple education systems designed for four identified races (Black, Coloured, Indian and White), based on white-supremacy assumptions about those races. White students received more support and resources while black pupils were thwarted from gaining upward social mobility.

A logical question to ask is: how did the transition from the multiple systems to the united system, we have today, ensure that black pupils escape the structural impediments of such an evil policy? A more practical question is: what happened to the teachers, lecturers, education experts, administrators and policy makers of apartheid? Did they retire? Did we have a newly trained generation of teachers, lecturers, education experts, administrators and policy makers who were expected to advance the new values of democracy?

If not, did they stay practising and training within the new dispensation of government with the values, assumptions and knowledge from the old regime? If that is the case, didn't they negatively impact (or even sabotage) the integrated education system? What influence did they have on black schools? Education needs to rid itself of colonial values and assumptions about disciplines and societies, and particularly embrace African children, African societies, African cultures and African languages, African histories and African knowledge systems, and African ways of knowing.

These questions are relevant considering the call made by students during 2016 Fees Must Fall disruptions, to have universities decolonised. Students were talking about these structural issues and asking universities to do things differently. They asked them to decolonise the education i.e. sever all ties with the colonial mandate and actively counter apartheid aspirations of seeing the black child being a perpetual runner-up to the white child, by actively enforcing democratic values.

Universities cannot remain indifferent and continue to graduate students who are not sensitive to their context. They need to be actively involved in the democratic project.

These are deliberately pluralised because what is African as assumed by colonial education is vague and not detailed therefore needs to be nuanced. Is what is African: Zulu, Yoruba, Chewa, Hutu, Maghrebis, Luba, Oromo, Tigrinya or what? These are just a few very distinct groups of Africans that are all reduced in our current education to being African. It is the duty of the knowledge keepers to find details about African groups as the details about Europe groups are presented (e.g German, French, English, Dutch, Russian etc.) Universities cannot remain indifferent and continue to graduate students who are not sensitive to their context. They need to be actively involved in the democratic project

So universities need to make a total break from what they now agree is a dark past. They need to be active agents in rebuilding the nation and healing it from such a past. They must not pose Western questions or develop Western solutions in Africa. Neither should they impose Western standards and ideals to Africa.

Universities need to graduate teachers that know how to teach in an unequal society, economists that know how to economise in an unequal society, entrepreneurs that know how to innovate and solve problems of an unequal society, labour unionists that know how to stand up for employees in an unequal society, lawyers that know how to criminalise and legalise in an unequal society, scientists that present scientific solutions for an unequal society, doctors, engineers and professionals that know how to use their expertise in an unequal, and all with the intentions of creating a more equal society.

Universities cannot remain indifferent and continue to graduate students who are not sensitive to their context. They need to be actively involved in the democratic project. This important, considering how in the past they produced people and crafted disciplines that were active agents to creating this perverse society we find ourselves in now.

Universities do not live in isolation from what is going on in societies. We know how the apartheid government intervened in universities to ensure that its ambitions were realised through them. Now in an unequal democratic society, what is the role of public state-subsidised universities? What type of graduates do they want to produce in such a society? These are some of the questions that are central to the decolonisation process and we all need to rally around it as some have rallied (or wanted others to unite) behind Zuma Must Fall or Save South Africa. I am sure that we all agree that reviving our education will save South Africa among many things.