by Boitumelo Nte
The Rhodes Faculty of Education has this week (22 -26 July) hosted its second ‘Doctoral Week’ for 2019 at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC). ‘Doc Weeks’ are designed as a support mechanism for the Faculty doctoral students. Each Week consists of a range of activities that are designed to engage doctoral students in thinking about all aspects of their research journeys. The Doc Weeks offer a space for doctoral students to become active members of a vibrant community of enquiry.
Doc Week opened on Monday with a guest seminar on the “Key Challenges for South African Higher Education”. Speaking to the theme for the week, “Curriculum Research in Context”, the session looked at contextual issues that form the backdrop of the challenges confronting higher education in South Africa. The session was facilitated by two recent CHERTL graduates, Dr Temwa Moyo, who works for the National Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology, and Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo, an academic and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The duo based their presentations on the findings of their respective PhD studies, with that of Moyo’s firstly looking at the implementation of the teaching development grant (TDG) – a funding intervention for South African universities aimed at supporting teaching and learning. The TDG is now known as the University Capacity Development Grant and amalgamates the former TDG with the former Research Development Grant.
The essence of Moyo’s presentation was that funding is far more nuanced than the allocation of money, and involves intricacies around its distribution –who receives it, how it is used – and the leadership and management capacity of the recipient intuitions to use the allocated funding to improve teaching and learning.
Hlatshwayo also engaged the audience on findings from his doctoral study that focused on decolonisation in Higher Education. Titled “Knowledge and Knower Structures in Political Studies” his study was undertaken in the context of student protests of 2015 and 2016. Students were protesting against the slow pace of institutional transformation and demanding the decolonisation of universities, in particular curricula. Hlatshwayo referred to Political Studies as one of the disciplines that were accused of teaching “dead white men” and promoting irrelevant curricula. His talk, however, challenged the notion of ‘relevance’ and encouraged measured thinking on the adoption of ‘new’ ideas like decolonisation.
At the end the session chair, Professor Sioux McKenna, thanked the duo and said that Moyo and Hlatshwayo’s presentations showed the necessity for a full appreciation of the context (debates, politics, and power), that doctoral students ought to develop deep understandings of as they undertake their research.
Doc Week continued on Tuesday with the much anticipated appearance of UCT’s Professor Kathy Luckett. She began Tuesday’s programme of Doc Week with an overview of “Curriculum: The Heart of the Academic Project” and by introducing some ideas around the ideological underpinnings of curricula. Luckett’s lecture sought to probe the individual agent’s role and influence as teachers and academics involved in curricula development. On Wednesday morning she introduced the doctoral scholars to a range of theoretical frameworks and conceptual tools for undertaking research on various aspects of curriculum. The doctoral scholars were given several opportunities to engage with the content from the sessions and to explore what the ideas presented might mean for their own doctoral studies.
Interspersed during the Doc Week were a number of other sessions such as a session during which six recent Education Faculty scholars reflected on their PhD journeys. They shared with the audience the highs, lows, and lessons learned on the way. They took the opportunity to thank Education Faculty staff for their support on the journey.
Other sessions included more practical workshops and inputs on, for example, the literacy practices of PhD writing by new CHERTL staff member, Kirstin Wilmot who has recently completed her PhD on doctoral writing through the University of Sydney. Nicola Pallitt, also a new CHERTL staff member, did a session on “Becoming a networked scholar” and “Tools and websites every PhD student should know about”.
There were also spaces in the packed programme for scholars to engage with some key readings related to the theme of the Doc Week, to share where they are in their doctoral journeys and to meet with their supervisors.
Feedback from those who attended the Doc Week was very positive. They appreciated the intellectual stimulation offered by the presenters as well as being part of a supportive network of PhD scholars.