'Decolonisation' of the curriculum in South African universities (or is it curriculum `transformation'?)
Recently South African universities (one of which pays my salary, but does not host this site) have been debating on how to change the curriculum (some call it curriculum 'transformation', others 'decolonisation').
At first blush I was wondering about the lingo: `transformation' or `decolonisation'? As an aside, I was wondering (yet again) whether a PR company (perhaps based in London) is behind the confusing lingo? Just wondering ... More to the point, and given that we are talking about academic institutions, South African universities could perhaps coordinate amongst themselves and use the same word for whatever they want to do with the curriculum so that we all know that we are on the same page.
Then I was thinking about Philipp Lenard and his 'German physics' (Lenard attempted to 'dejewish' physics and implement his own brand of 'German physics' in the 1930s). Unfortunately Lenard, and the Nazis, succeeded and a lot of damage was done to physics and education in Germany. I was also thinking about all those students demonstrating against 'jewish physics' in the 1930s in Germany (perhaps, just like Lenard, they wanted to 'dejewish' the curriculum) ...
Then I was thinking (yet again, I know I am getting a bit repetitive) about `HIV/AIDS denialism' and all the human cost attached to it (unfortunately the 'denialists' managed to delay in a few years the implementation of ARVs in South Africa). Apparently the `denialists' wanted to `delink' HIV from AIDS ...
Then I was thinking (I promise to stop soon) about Uranus (the planet) and the structure of DNA (things which existed before we got to know about them, and you can call them natural phenomena, facts, regularities or natural laws), and diesel engines (things that we had to invent, and you can call them a set of instructions or techniques). Let me explain: an invention (diesel engines) usually gets a patent (additions to prescriptive knowledge), the discovery of Uranus does not (additions to propositional knowledge). Ah, almost forgot to mention the link between them: discoveries add to propositional knowledge which in turn determines prescriptive knowledge (inventions, or what an economy can do). Recall that economic growth is determined by technology and technologies are knowledge. Full circle? Sure.
The bottom line is that having committees of `experts' deciding what knowledge is, or is not, is not in any way new in history. What remains to be seen is what the damage, or gain, a `decolonised' or `transformed' curriculum will have to South African propositional and prescriptive knowledge, or ultimately to progress.
Education does matter!
I am Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.