• June 2nd, 2020

Decolonisation of tertiary education a must

Professor Jairos Kangira
Scholars in decoloniality are spreading the good gospel according to the total decolonisation of tertiary education and advocating for an era in which African universities will use curricula that are free from the vices or evils of colonialism, apartheid and imperialism. 
Students in South African universities are at the forefront of the war against colonial education and both their actions and rhetoric has given hope for victory in the end, no matter how and when the victory will be achieved. Civil society and government agencies have also joined the students and their pundits in pressurising universities in South Africa to have a total overhaul of their curricula in the interest of the new dispensation that promotes Africanness more than colonialism, apartheid and imperialism. As we celebrate Namibia’s 29 years of the hard won independence, let us think about the total decolonisation of our universities’ curricula. In doing so we will be uplifting our Africanness, and thus our identity.
 South Africans and Namibians have had a long history of colonial education dictated by the monstrous Bantu Education Act of 1953 (Act No. 47 of 1953) which was later called the Black Education Act of 1953. This atrocious piece of apartheid legislation legalised the racist and supremacist ideals of the white colonialists over the indigenous majority black people in education, politics, and socio-economic sectors of society. The Act sealed the separateness policy of the apartheid regime with different education facilities for white and black people, the former enjoyed the best while the latter got the worst facilities. Therefore, there was divide between ‘Us’ and “Others”, which led to the growth of the unhealthy “othering” discourse in the education system both in South Africa and Namibia.
 Unapologetically, but not surprisingly, one of the notorious architects of apartheid, Hendrik Werwoerd, is quoted as having said:  “There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it (sic) cannot use it in practice?” Quite unpalatable and sickening, indeed, and there is every reason to support those who are fighting for the decolonization of universities’ curricula. 
We have heard the debate that some colonial education officers here in Namibia used to parrot that saying black students were naturally not good in mathematics and science. No wonder where this misguided notion came from? It is clear also in the citation above that the colonial education system had to produce inferior black people who took up menial jobs that create wealth for their colonial masters without the servants enjoying the fruits of their sweat. Also, the colonial education system aimed at making the black servants believe that they were useless, and that whatever they believed in in terms of their culture was evil and pagan. Even there languages were relegated to the lowest rung of the ladder showing the importance of languages, with Afrikaans, off course, at the top of the ladder. This diglossic language situation would spark the Soweto Uprising of 1976 which resulted in the death of many students at the hands of colonial forces.   
Although it is true that after the attainment of independence a lot has been done to change curricula at primary, secondary and tertiary levels to suit the new dispensations, it is equally true that there are still some vestiges of apartheid, colonialism and imperialism in our education systems. Hence the upsurge of students movements in South African universities rightfully calling for the decolonisation of universities’ curricula.
 According to a leading scholar in (de)coloniality, Dr Artwell Nhemachena of the University of Namibia, the “decolonisation of the curricula cannot possibly take place without attending specifically to decolonising languages that constitute the media of instruction in the universities. He added that “at the core of decolonising languages and the broader university curricula is the issue of decolonising materialities of which the languages constitute the symbols.” Therefore, the language issue is at the centre of decolonising university curricula in South, Namibia and elsewhere in Africa. If the Chinese, Japanese, German, and Finnish, for instance, use their languages in their education systems and can also use their languages to understand the phenomena around them, why do universities in Africa still rely on foreign languages in their university curricula? The question of developing our university curricula in African languages once arose at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 2004, and the linguists debated it without reaching a consensus. However, the likely solution appeared to be the adoption of KiSiwahili language as Tanzania has proved beyond reasonable doubt that an African language can be used in the education and all sectors of the society including business and the judiciary.
It is true that the decolonisation of universities’ curricula will not occur overnight. It is important to support the efforts that student movements are making in the long journey of totally decolonising tertiary education in Africa.

* Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-03-22 09:45:49 | 1 years ago

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