South African Education Research Association Action Research SIG Pre-Conference Workshop

Decolonizing Teacher Education and Educational Research

South African Education Research Association (SAERA). Initiated by the Action Research SIG.

7 April 2017, North-West University, Potchefstroom

Compiled by: Lesley Wood, Deputy President of SAERA and coordinator of SAERA Action Research SIG.

The workshop was attended by 56 delegates from various universities in the country. The programme was opened by Prof Aslam Fataar, Stellenbosch University, who presented six points in his keynote address to stimulate delegate thinking around the topic.  There was interaction with audience after each point. Thereafter, 36 delegates stayed to participate in a World Cafe process to explore answers to the four questions suggested in the brief issued by the coordinators of the preparatory workshops. What follows is a brief summary of the rich interaction and dialogue between delegates. This report is offered as a point of departure for debate with other associations and to outline some of the current thinking about decolonization and democratization of knowledge in education in South Africa.

Overview of Prof Fataar’s provocation

  1. A warrant for decolonizing education. We need a set of conceptual frames to move us forward. In South Africa there has been a gradual shift in the debate and discourse from the apartheid era, through to transformation, onto social justice and now to decolonization. To understand this shift, need to understand what has preceded it and why they these approaches failed so that we avoid making the same mistakes again. Decolonization is thus a critique of what went before. The failure lay in believing that democratic policy would lead to systemic responses which would in turn lead to change. But the context in which education takes place has been ignored in policy – focus is on learning in classroom when it should focus on the shadows of young people’s encounters with deeply complicated lives and how such experiences impact on their learning. Students’ sociological world is part of their intellectualizing. The child is not a blank slate. We need to understand what the child brings in and how they process it, rather than them assimilating the dominant registers of schools/universities. If we do not acknowledge this, it leads to curricula that are ethics free – not related to human elements – and that feed into ideas of a nation state, capital accumulation, the knowledge economy and anthropocentrism. In South Africa this has resulted in the death of the idea of the free, democratic citizen – he is enslaved by poverty within a world where human capital theory rules. We need to adopt a more humanizing pedagogy where students are regarded as thinking, feeling, breathing beings – in other words, a linking of social and epistemic relations is needed where knowledge serves to humanize society. Decolonization is thus a critique of the split between relational and epistemic knowledge. Ethics have to be brought back into the classroom via knowledge pluralism and process pedagogies.
  2. The misrecognized student at university in post-apartheid South Africa: In this post-apartheid era education has continued to adopt a techno-instrumental focus, with little recognition of the human. This leads to a high degree of pain, particularly black pain. Students are misrecognized as lacking in skills, knowledge and even their value to society. Students (and teachers) feel it in their gut; it is visceral pain. All the while they are told “we are doing this in your interest”. Systemic misrepresentation has become normalized. Inequality operates at a psychic, emotional, level and it is at this level that we need to work with human beings– this is why experiential learning and participatory pedagogy is so powerful. We need to create space where students’ knowledge is part of the debate in class. We should always recognize the human experience and create space for conversation about their own oppression. Transformation in education in South Africa has only taken place at a superficial level – the demographics in institutions might have changed, but not much else. It is not so much the curriculum that is the problem, as how it is approached – and the problem is that most academics focus on content and not on raising critical awareness and disrupting normative ideas.
  3. Conceptualizing decolonization: The ‘original sin’ of colonialism stripped non-europeans of their land, dignity and value. We need to constantly ask, what is happening today that is perpetuating this? For example, the statues of colonizers that were removed by students in recent protests at universities were symbols of white dominance and the denial of black people’s humanity. How do we move beyond the dominance of whiteness and eurocentrism?
  • Rearrange universities to become a space for all, where inclusiveness is embodied not just professed: we need to develop pedagogies of presence and distribute diverse knowledges.
  • Challenge eurocentrism of knowledge and the portrayal of colonialism as good
  • Challenge the idea that knowledge can be detached from the knower; challenge separation between reason and nature; challenge the abyssal knowledge that de Sousa Santos speaks about.

Fanon talks of Africanization as being the notion that colonialists merely change colour – white supremacy is replaced by black supremacy. Unless we encourage self-ownership and autonomy; recognize relationality and entanglement; and learn that our humanity is dependent on what we do to ourselves, we will still be colonized. It is a time for self-creation.

  1. Ecologies of knowledge: The epistemic diversity of the world is infinite and we have to value it in our teaching and research.
  2. The pragmatics of working with the decolonization of knowledge: The idea was offered that a decolonized education approach would work creatively with knowledge orientation; 1) work productively with ‘powerful knowledge’ encoded in school and curricula, 2) an Afrocentric approach that brings questions of culture and identity critically into view, 3) an afropolitan knowledge approach that emphasizes the co-production of Africanist identity markings, an understanding of knowledge for sustainable futures and an Africa-centred approach that emphasizes the local articulations of knowledge formations as contingency, relationality and co-creation.

A call was made for for schools, colleges, and universities to cultivate respect for people and their cultural and knowledge systems. These institutions should make available to their students knowledges across the widest possible human spectrum.  University curricula should work across the various knowledge and science systems to establish dialogical platforms about actual and potential futures. Decolonising education eschews static knowledge orientations.  It is founded on a type of complex knowledge dynamism in fidelity to disciplinary and trans-disciplinary foundations, and always alert to a type of problem-posing dynamism.  In other words, knowledge constructions ought to be approached as dynamic, disciplined and patient constructions that advance sustainable livelihoods.

The call for decolonising education is nothing less that the full incorporation of humanity’s knowledge systems into the curriculum and knowledge selection systems of universities and schools.  The modalities of such incorporation ought to be the subject of urgent conversation in policy circles, among curriculum workers, learning materials and textbook designers, and, crucially, among university lecturers and school teachers.

  1. A space of experimentation and research learning: We have to play with knowledge, experiment and research process pedagogies, create professional learning communities for dialogic engagement with colleagues, and with students in classroom. Our classrooms should not be a space of answers, but one of questions, generating perspectives, sharing and research learning.


What knowledge ecologies are appropriate/recognized for our context? And why?

Tension between critique of Eurocentric knowledge, yet we are all ‘playing the game’ and still teaching it. The purpose of knowledge is to help us to improve quality of life and solve problems, therefore must be contextually relevant. Knowledge ecologies should value the voice of the students and what they bring to table. Students should be seen as knowledge seekers, capable of generating their own knowledge. ‘Scientific’ knowledge highly valued – but there is a need to decolonize versions of history. Example of tweet by leading (white) politician recently that colonialism was not all bad – lack of understanding of the pain of the colonized. Knowledge must be presented as open-ended, in need of questioning.  Convergence of different knowledges is needed (da Sousa Santos). Question of appropriateness needs to be critiqued – appropriate for whom? We are not living in a homogenous society in South Africa – what is our context?

How can we (do we) address the democratization of knowledge within our teaching and research?

  • Use of disruptive prompts e.g “I do not need to learn about Shakespeare”.
  • Incorporate student voice and develop their capacity for intersubjectivity and dialogue.
  • Critical self-reflection is key to build up agency and sense of worth
  • Mashiro: anti-oppressive pedagogies
  • Take risks and create platforms for students to have their voice heard
  • Community-based research using participatory methodologies
  • All educators need to work with their own histories and realise they are also in a process of becoming
  • Decolonisation process needs to be experiential – visceral reasoning.
  • Focus more on ways of being and teaching, rather than ways of doing teaching.
  • Enable teachers/lecturers to fulfil their role as public intellectual
  • Humanising pedagogy – take experiences of students as starting point

What are the political and pragmatic implications of knowledge democratization and what principles/philosophies might inform them?

Knowledge democratization means making knowledge inclusive, rather than allowing one paradigm to have a monopoly. Knowledge of the powerful does not equal powerful knowledge. There was some confusion as to the concept of inclusion with delegates questioning how it can be practically implemented – how can everyone have a voice? And what happens to disciplinary knowledge? How do we challenge those with power since epistemic relations in Department of Education (who determine the national curriculum for schools) are strong? If we recognize different knowledge ecologies, we can shift the power. Political implications are that those in power legitimize knowledge and control access to it. Up to now, those in power have always been eurocentric (irrespective of their colour or culture) – it is difficult to change this, as recent student unrest shows. We need to question the epistemic relation between the knowledge and the knower and value different ecologies of knowledge. Starting point needs to be a common understanding of goal – decolonisation? Africanisation? Unless epistemology changes, Africanisation can become a form of black colonization.  What is required is the granting of space to all types of knowledge, including local knowledge and how together they can lead to African solutions for our educational and social problems (convergences of knowledge as de Sousa Santos explains). The political regime in power at any given time determines what kind of knowledge is favoured, therefore we need to teach the ability to critique and trouble normative knowledge. Academics and teachers at school are not used to this role – they have to learn how to develop communities of practice where they can dialogue around such issues and learn to construct teaching spaces that allow for ecologies of knowledge. They should develop an ethics of care – how do we work together in society, how do we give others a voice? We have to learn to frame diversity in an inclusive way and to do this you need to know your own history and discourse.  “Othering” discourses are embedded in South African psyche (through education) and need to shift this.

What are the implications of decolonizing education? This has to be a point of departure. Knowledge by its nature is a political act; knowledge is power, power is politics so when deliberate about knowledge we are talking about the sharing of power, how are we going to collaborate to share power and knowledge? We need to be open and not prescriptive, present opposing arguments and facilitate learners to engage. Again, we need to learn to do this before we can teach it and fear is dividing us again – fear of losing jobs, fear of not being promoted etc. Knowledge must be there to solve problems and problems are determined politically – depending on who is in power problems are defined one way or the other. For example, the discourse of employability is not negative in itself but promotes a capitalist paradigm, which was also heart of colonialism. Will we need universities in future? The Government is becoming obsolete as other institutions take government duties over and research is taken over by private organizations. If private universities take over they will serve their own interests and promote a neo-liberal, human capital paradigm. The logic of economics has shaped university, which excludes the poor student.  Attempts at transformation have simply reinforced this. Universities and schools may be more black on surface, but ontology and epistemology remains “white”. How can we address this?

What research methodologies might advance such knowledge?

The current research methodologies have been shaped by Western thinking and colonial constructions – need to start to think out of the box and develop methodologies that suit our context and allow for other forms of representation other than text. Literature, drama, poetry, fictional writing provide archives of indigenous knowledge.

Research has to be critical, emancipatory and participatory to give voice to those previously silenced. Academy is using research to maintain privilege as rules prescribe who can do it, what kind of knowledge is valued etc. Who should research indigenous communities?  We need to involve communities as equal partners, move from ‘taking’ to sharing.  Need to truly understand the colonization process, in order to ensure research resists this.

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