Experts trouble curriculum change in panel discussion

Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo, Prof. Sally Matthews, Prof. Kathy Luckett & Masixole Booi
Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo, Prof. Sally Matthews, Prof. Kathy Luckett & Masixole Booi

byStudent Reporter


As part of the Education Faculty’s Doc Week, on Wednesday evening, CHERTL hosted a campus-wide panel discussion on “Troubling Curriculum Change”.  The discussion was chaired by CHERTL staff member and PhD candidate, Masixole Booi.  The panel consisted of Professor Kathy Luckett from UCT, Professor Sally Mathews, head of the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal academic, Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo. 

Professor Matthews opened the session with her presentation on “Decolonising the Political Studies Curricula”. Her presentation was based on a study she is currently undertaking in which she has analysed the curricula of Politics Departments of seven of South Africa’s public universities. The impetus for her research was to better understand three main concerns emanating from the 2015, 2016 student protests.  Her research has been guided by three questions: Who is teaching our students? Whose scholarship do we recognise? and  Which geographical areas do we focus on? Her findings have challenged some of our assumptions, particularly around the demographics of academic staff in Politics Departments nationally but confirmed that the most departments still use literature written by scholars from the global North. She concluded by posing some difficult question about curriculum reform generally. 

Professor Luckett followed with her presentation on the developments of the decolonisation debate at the University of Cape Town (UCT) post the student protests. One of the outcomes of these protests is that it has catalysed many academics to  challenge taken-for-granted conceptions of curricula. However, the responses to the challenges students posed are highly contested. She went on to illustrate this by sharing with the audience the  “voices” of three stakeholder groups: black students, academics and those of a group of black feminist academics and students who developed what is called a “Curriculum Change Framework” – a collaborative document aimed at providing guidance for decolonising curricula. While acknowledging the on-going status of her project, Luckett engaged the audience on the continuing contestation the three groups have on handling curriculum change at UCT.  She argued that curriculum change requires careful thought and she went on to suggest some conceptual tools which might be useful for thinking about curriculum change.

Dr Hlatshwayo discussed the significance of the 2015-2016 student movements which he felt highlighted the intersectional relationship between how spatial justice, hegemonic institutional cultures and whiteness have produced new forms of marginality for students. He posed questions around the institutional inequality and fragmentation between historically white and historically black universities, and the possible implications this has for re-thinking curricula. He suggested that academics need to go back to South African educationist, Wally Morrow’s classical understanding of “epistemological access” as we trouble our current curricula. He warned that academics need to consider what curriculum can and cannot do and that we need to accept that curriculum cannot be the panacea for all the challenges currently confronting higher education.

The panellists’ presentations stimulated interesting discussion from a number of people in the audience which was made up of academics from across the Institution as well as the Education Faculty doctoral students.