Pedagogies in Context
Prof Ahmed C Bawa
Prof Ahmed Bawa is the CEO of Universities South Africa. Until 2016, he was Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Durban University of Technology. He also served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Natal (later to be the University of KwaZulu-Natal).
At the City University of New York, he was faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Hunter College and a member of the doctoral faculty at the Graduate Center. He was appointed Associate Provost for Curriculum Development. He holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Durham University in the UK.
As the Program Officer for Higher Education in Africa with the Ford Foundation he led the Foundation’s African Higher Education Initiative. In this portfolio he worked in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and Palestine.
He serves on a number of advisory boards such as the South African Institute of Distance Education, the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research of South Africa and the Higher Education Support Programme of the Open Society Foundation.
Ahmed Bawa holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Durham, in the UK. He has published in the areas of high-energy physics; nuclear physics; higher education and society; and science and society.
Higher Education (HE) as a sector is deeply complex with many internal systems, each with many degrees of freedom, that interact with each other in often unpredictable ways and with complex internal and external environments. Yet what is expected of HE in South Africa and elsewhere is relatively simple. Universities are designed as social institutions to produce new layers of critical intellectuals, professionals who can serve society, creators and aggregators of knowledge and citizens who are geared to deepen and strengthen democracy. Teaching and learning as one of these key systems of universities is itself deeply complex mainly because of its articulations with both internal and external conditions.
Externally, teaching and learning interacts strongly with the nature and quality of basic education so as to ensure that there is a platform of dynamic connection between what students bring with them to their study experiences and what they encounter in their first classroom experiences. For many students this is tied to their lived experience of unemployment and poverty. At the more global level, the articulation of teaching and learning with the vast changes taking place in the world of work driven by the technological and sociological changes both of which are reshaping the nature of the labour market. The sensitivity of universities and their teaching and learning activities to the issue of graduate destinations is of paramount importance in the context of South Africa’s extraordinarily high unemployment rate. And finally, while the participation rate of 18 to 24-year-olds in HE is approximately 20% there is a growing pressure on the sector to increase this to 30% by 2030. This is the target set in the NDP.
Internally, there are additional sources of debate and contestation over pedagogy. The funding of teaching and learning is under stress and this must have an impact on the nature and quality pedagogy and hence on teaching and learning. At the macro-institutional level is the usual debate about the preeminence of research vis a vis teaching, almost always posed as a binary. Many universities, while professing an equality of purpose, strongly privilege research over teaching. This leaves little if any incentive for innovation in pedagogy both at the level of the individual academic and at the level of the institutional structures such as departments, faculties and senates. The establishment of national projects such as the DHET’s University Capacity Development Programme take into account the extent to which resource steering might give effect to improving the quality of teaching and learning and they have played a role in addressing this challenge. Unfortunately, this is always a matter of institutional ethos. While several of South Africa’s universities may be seen to be research-led and some refer to themselves as research-intensive, it is clearly the case that all 26 public universities are primarily and correctly undergraduate institutions. This matter of ethos is explored as a way of focusing in on the extent to which universities do see themselves as preparing South Africans for engaged, critical citizenship.
As we saw in the student activism of the last 3-4 years another dimension to the internal complexity is the idea that the knowledge project of South Africa’s universities is deeply linked to its colonial and apartheid past, as ill-defined as that campaign may have been. The project of decolonisation has been taken up by most institutions with much rigour. Having said this what was articulated more clearly by students was the need for pedagogic change, for new forms of engagement. For more interesting usage of South Africa’s language heritage, and so on. There has been much renewed interest in exploring these issues and it may be time for us to assess what has been achieved.
Four key drivers of change in pedagogy are considered here as a source of research and innovation. It is assumed that these three are important in the (re)exploration of the principles underpinning higher education pedagogies as we head into the latter four-fifths of the 21st century. Probing the idea of pedagogies in context is useful in the sense that it opens up the context terrain. Four angles of investigation are proposed in this paper.
While universities must vigorously protect institutional autonomy and academic freedom, it may be argued that there is very significant need for new forms of engagement with their various publics: local and provincial business and industry, the 3 levels of government, communities, the NPO sector, and so on. On the one hand this provides the opportunity for heightened level of social ownership of the universities and on the other hand to build the base of influence in curriculum development and pedagogy.
The second is to understand what implications there may be for pedagogy resulting from the debate on the decolonisation of the knowledge project of South Africa’s universities. This is an interesting topic and should unleash significant research on issues such as the role and impact of African languages on HE learning, the underpinning assumptions for epistemic access and the extent to which more integrative forms of learning may take hold.
The third relates to the need for sensitivity to the vast changes occurring and that will occur in the world of work; both technological and sociological. These point towards the need for the enhanced development of lifelong learning trajectories for students, a heightened commitment to strengthening critical skills, a more nuanced and integrated approach to cognitive learning, skills development, creativity and (one might argue) entrepreneurialism. But this relates also to the challenge of understanding the impact of new technologies, new technology-human nexuses and so on the nature of teaching and learning. These are likely to be profound and will include serious interrogation of the nature of university qualifications to imagining new and interesting ways to increase access.
The fourth relates, perhaps more controversially, to the return to the general development of skills of intellectual work such as critical reading, the strengthened knowledge and practice of writing and writing styles, high-level numeracy, applied ethics and the need for new humanistic approaches to teaching and learning.
Prof Cecilia Jacobs
Cecilia Jacobs has worked in Higher Education for the past 29 years. She is currently an Associate Professor in Higher Education at the Centre for Health Professions Education at the University of Stellenbosch. Prior to that she was the director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Stellenbosch.
Her field of expertise is Higher Education Studies, and she has worked predominantly in the area of the professionalisation of academics for their teaching role. Her work has been of a transdisciplinary nature and she has always conducted research at the intersection of her field and other disciplines, such as Engineering, and currently Health Sciences. Her research interests are in disciplinary literacies and how disciplinary knowledge is communicated through discipline-specific language. This was the focus of her doctoral research, and ensuing publications focused on the teaching of disciplinary literacies within disciplinary domains and its implications for academic developers and disciplinary specialists in higher education. Current research focuses on the question of knowledge and the importance of its centrality in debates on higher education teaching and learning.
Placing knowledge at the centre of how we understand ‘good (enough) teaching’ The 2019 HELTASA conference has called on researchers and practitioners from Southern Africa to consider the notion of ‘pedagogies in context’ by reclaiming their voices. In response to the conference call, the keynote address will problematise the notion that there is a set of universal ‘best practices’ underpinning higher education pedagogy. The concepts of good teaching, ‘best practices’ in teaching and excellence in teaching are being contested both nationally and internationally (Behari-Leak & McKenna 2017; Skelton 2009). Some literature (Clegg 2007) offers alternative concepts such as the goodness of teaching, which links teaching to the support of learning, while others (Skelton 2009) offer a contextualised way of understanding the notion of teaching excellence. Behari-Leak & McKenna (2017) analysed data from 13 South African university applications for the national Teaching Excellence Awards and found that ‘excellence’ in teaching was understood in very generic ways which failed to take into account differences across institutional contexts and validated teaching as performativity, rather than teaching as a contextualised response to the needs of the students. They argue that the extent to which someone is considered an excellent teacher, must be intricately linked to what it means to create conditions for excellent learning. There seems to be general agreement in the literature though, that good teaching is not a decontextualised notion, but rather that it is responsive to the context in which it occurs. However, despite the prevalence of contextualised views of good teaching in the literature, autonomous views of teaching and learning continue to inform teaching practices at universities in South Africa (Boughey & McKenna 2015). The keynote address will consider why a decontextualised ‘best practices’ approach to HE teaching prevails, and what a ‘contextualised’ approach to HE teaching might mean.
In considering why a decontextualised ‘best practices’ approach to HE teaching prevails in South Africa, one would need to look at a number of influences, such as: the knowledge bases informing this approach to teaching; the factors from within the HE sector that are shaping this approach to teaching; as well as the practices and Discourses within the field of Academic Development. This raises a number of questions. What knowledge does the global North offer about elements of pedagogy that can travel across contexts? What knowledge does the global South offer about contextualised views of good teaching? How do we bring these two knowledge bases into dialogue in a way that opens up debates about pedagogy within the field of Academic Development? In addition to questions such as these, the HE sector will need to be placed under scrutiny. Do the national Teaching Excellence Awards validate teaching as performativity, and how can these awards better take of account differences across institutional contexts? How is the current CHE cycle of quality assurance work, with its focus on the sharing of ‘good practice’, shaping the dominant autonomous views of teaching and learning? Then, perhaps most importantly for this conference, how are the current practices and Discourses within the field of Academic Development, normalising a decontextualised approach to HE teaching? As Academic Developers, are we still placing pedagogy at the centre of our approaches to Academic Staff Development, or are we conceptualising our work differently? Disrupting notions such as ‘best practices’ and decontextualised approaches to teaching requires new ways of undertaking Academic Staff Development work, which are incumbent on the understandings that Academic Developers bring to the enterprise. These are some of the issues that will be explored in the keynote address.
In considering what a ‘contextualised’ approach to HE teaching might mean, one would need to interrogate the sets of ideas informing institutional understandings of teaching. This too raises a number of questions. Do higher education institutions interrogate the university context as a social space and examine how it serves to include or exclude students from access to knowledge? Do the prevailing understandings of teaching, at higher education institutions in South Africa, take into account the learning needs of all their students? While in the past there was too much of a focus on the teacher as disciplinary expert and the pedagogy was very teacher-centred, the push-back might have shifted thinking to the opposite extreme, a student-centred pedagogy where the role of the teacher is seen as merely a facilitator of learning. Although this approach appears to be widely adopted in higher education, in some cases it has been superseded by a more learning-centred, design-based pedagogy, where the role of the teacher has become more of a designer of learning opportunities. Even in this approach, where the focus is less on the student and more on the process of learning, there appears to be lack of pedagogical focus on ‘what’ students are learning – the different knowledges, with their specific structures and organising principles. Maton and Moore (2011) argue that notions of teacher-centredness on the one hand, and learning-centredness on the other, have created a false dichotomy which suggests that at the level of pedagogy the only important factor is ‘either transmitting knowledge or valorizing the learner’s experiences’. Maton (2014) argues that prevailing views on what constitutes good teaching appear to be somewhat ‘knowledge blind’ and he advocates an approach that places knowledge at the centre of teaching and acknowledges the role of the teacher as a knowledgeable other. Drawing on the literature emanating from a school of thought referred to as ‘Social Realism’ and the ﬁeld known as the ‘Sociology of Knowledge’, the keynote address will offer some thoughts about placing knowledge at the centre of how we understand good teaching.
Prof Rozena Maart
Professor Rozena Maart works at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in the School of Social Science. She served as the director of the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity [CCRRI] for five years prior to her sabbatical. Professor Maart undertook her undergraduate education at the University of the Western Cape, her Masters at the University of York in the UK, and her PhD at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK.
Her work examines the intersections between and among Political Philosophy, Black Consciousness, Derridean deconstruction and psychoanalysis, all of which address questions of race, gender and identity. In 1986, at the age of 24, she was nominated for the "Woman of the Year," award in South Africa for her work in the area of gender-based violence and for starting (with four other women) the first Black feminist organisation in South Africa: Women Against Repression [W.A.R.].
Professor Maart has published several books, journal articles and book chapters. Her works of fiction made the African Studies Association short-list for the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize in 2010, the HOMEBRU list in South Africa in 2006 and the best seller list in Canada in 2005.
Professor Maart recently served on the scientific committee of the first South-South Philosophy textbook, titled, Philosophy Manual, A South-South Perspective, which is a UNESCO project and represents Africa, South and Central America, the Arab region, and Asia.
She has also supervised Arts students and opened art events, museums and galleries in Canada and South Africa over the past twenty years and has also made videos and written reviews of art exhibitions. In 2016, she received the William R. Jones lifetime achievement award by Philosophy Born of Struggle for her work in Philosophy, especially her ground-breaking work in Philosophy Born of Massacres.
In January 2019 Professor Maart was appointed as an International Research Ambassador of the University of Bremen in Germany.
She is a member of the Caribbean Philosophy Association, having completed a five-year term as Black Consciousness and Psychoanalysis Secretary. She is also a member of the Philosophy Born of Struggle, the Collegium of Black Women in Philosophy and the International Assembly of Women in Philosophy [UNESCO].
Speaking in English, reading in English, and teaching in English, in English speaking countries means adopting an approach to learning that is linked to the British Empire. As South Africans we know too well how our apartheid curriculums fostered English superiority and Black servitude – from Shakespeare’s Caliban to Jane Eyre’s Bertha Mason, set texts for high school learners – Black subjectivity enters the text either as invisible or oversexed and mad. The learner understands very early on that Black subjectivity only features in the literary imagination as enslaved.
We teach in English, in any given place in South Africa because that place, that site of learning has been -- and often remains -- a site of British colonisation. Likewise, for those who teach in French or any other coloniser language, we find ourselves locked in a tight colonial grip unable to untie the many knots which we often call tradition or better still, erroneously refer to as scholarship -- each a trajectory of teaching and learning that we inherited from our predecessors and within which we remain invested despite our revolutionary repertoire. This leaves us working within an inescapable paradigm of thoughts-ideas-metaphors-language-knowledge that locks us into a form of reason, and as such reasoning, and from which a decolonial project in broader terms especially from its early anti-colonial roots demands that we think outside of the very colonial language that instilled its colonially within us. This presentation examines the approaches of two thinkers, who each wrote ground-breaking work in the late 1960s: Jacques Derrida and Paolo Freire. Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida, often referred to as the father of deconstruction, interrogated the written history of philosophy and in the process produced an approach to unravelling the hidden, the forbidden and the repressed in the text, which later came to be known as deconstruction. Deconstruction not only offers an interrogation of the authority of the text, but of authority itself. My critique of reason and unreason within Teaching and Learning questions the very act of teaching, and the very act of learning for they are political acts. They are political acts not only in South Africa, where the historical antagonisms that emerged out of apartheid education continues to reproduce itself in the era of democracy but in many societies where racism is alive and well.
In this presentation, I bring Derrida and Freire together to address the interplay of teaching and learning at the backdrop of reason and unreason: in speech, imagination and writing, and by methods which speak to the interrogation of speech in particular.
Let me share an example here: In a classroom setting within a university, a Black student shared her experience of racism.
A White woman student then offered an account of her disbelief of the Black woman’s experience. The Black woman in question was a university educated woman, and as she relayed her experience there was an outcry by this White woman who I then engaged on how she listens to narratives of racism. I share this segment here to demonstrate the importance of unpacking the politics of listening, the location of the listening subject who is White and who locates her presence outside of the narrative shared, as the above speaks both to the kind of pedagogy Freire tackles and Derrida examines, as the hidden, the forbidden and the repressed. The segment comes from my work, The Politics of Consciousness: The Consciousness of Politics. Names are always altered in research for the purpose of confidentiality. In dealing with my response to her understanding of what a Black student shared, the following week when our research group got together,
Mary verbalises the following:
What first shocked me was the way you asked about why I was looking at the story from her perspective in the sense that I was not seeing myself as part of the racism she was talking about. That shocked me a lot because I did not think that I had a place within the story and that what she was talking about had anything to do with me. It changed the way that I thought about her telling me about her experience of racism. I found it hard to come to terms with calling myself White and referring to myself as White.
The White subject within the classroom-setting as mature learner has to reposition herself, has to locate herself within the very scene of racism she tries to make meaning of and of which she has removed herself. She then has to locate her agency and examine how her reading of the experience of the Black woman is precisely one she establishes as reason, as legitimate, and as truth.
In the current South African context discussions on decoloniality has invisibilised the decolonial subject, treating the process of decolonisation as a national concern, a process that involves the nation: a euphemism that refuses to locate the agents of coloniality because the constitution in its legality has erased the colonial subject and positioned him and her as agents of democracy.
The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement demonstrated to us that learners did not want to be reminded of their colonial past in ways that suggest a memorialised statuesque gaze towards a coloniser whom they held in contempt, and who, as it happens, was given the presence of an omnipotent God during apartheid and upon which their gazes were to remain as fixed and filled with the same gratitude for his colonial deeds as onlookers of the past, who for the most part were their oppressors. Learners as such created the conditions for physical space to match the need for social space and pave the way for intellectual space.
To be conscious of one’s existence in the world, is a prerequisite for being in the world. This consciousness of one’s self, and the environment within which the self is located, is what informs our ability to understand our consciousness; for consciousness of self always precedes consciousness of one, and consciousness of the Other. Hegel insists on the subjective moment; as such, self-consciousness precedes consciousness of [the thing], Being or surrounding. Self-consciousness is thus the route, the stepping-stone to reason, and the latter –reason – the passage to absolute. This presentation examines questions of race and pedagogy along with ways in which Derrida’s White mythology is reproduced, at the backdrop of a commitment to move our speech, imagination, writing and thinking towards a decolonial space, where reason and unreason feature prominently in our determination to craft decolonial thinking.