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Many CILT voices in UCT’s 2015 Yearbook reviewing a tumultuous year

3 May 2016 - 08:15

2015 might well be described as the most challenging and tumultuous year for higher education in the democratic South Africa. What started as a protest about the ‘decolonisation’ of an institution  - the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) - snowballed into a countrywide shutdown of higher education institutions as students marched for ‘free education’. This is an ideal students argued was promised to their parents when the new South Africa was born.

According to Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak’s (lecturer with a staff development portfolio at CILT) article, ‘After protests, it can’t be business as usual at South Africa’s universities’, “The students’ movement has stretched South Africans in personal, professional, powerful and provocative ways. What remains to be seen is whether academics have been stretched enough to reflect deeply on the status quo at universities – and to respond with equal vigour.”

Tinashe Makwande, a digital learning materials designer at CILT at the time of the protests also recognised that 2015 was a fruitful year filled with lessons. “The #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing protests at the end of the year marked a new era in higher education, particularly the access to education issue, which is predominant in our region.” For him the year was also a milestone as he was part of the project to launch the first Massive Open Online Course originating from an African institution. “Locally, we are setting milestones by launching collaborative online courses and on the other hand we are looking for ways to make education and learning more accessible to a larger number of people.”

Accessible education and resources was what the students were protesting for. But why are there such gaps, why is knowledge not shared and accessible to those who need it?

Associate Professor Laura Czerniewicz, director at CILT, wrote an illuminating piece entitled, ‘It’s time to redraw the world’s very unequal knowledge map’ which explores the inequality in access to resources and hence knowledge between developed and developing nations. According to Czerniewicz, “If the world were mapped according to how many scientific research papers each country produced, it would take on a rather bizarre, uneven appearance. The Northern hemisphere would balloon beyond recognition. The global south, including Africa, would effectively melt off the map.” She continues to explore the reasons for this and provides possible solutions. 

One change Czerniewicz believes in is that the “open access movement needs to broaden its focus from access to knowledge to full participation in knowledge creation and in scholarly communication.”

Knowledge creation can be achieved if those with the know-how are willing to share their skills and time on areas that need it. Dr Janice McMillan convenes the UCT Global Citizenship: Leading for Social Justice Programme (GCP) that aims to provide students with an opportunity to engage critically with contemporary global debates and to reflect on issues of citizenship, social justice and community engagement. In her piece, ‘How to grow civic-minded graduates’, McMillan discusses the importance of moulding graduates who are active, critical and aware and how this could be achieved. She believes that “We need teaching and learning that engages the student not only as an emergent professional but also as a committed, thoughtful and civic-minded young citizen. This means rethinking pedagogy and the complex relationship between knowledge, skills and values.”

These thoughts and more feature in the UCT Yearbook, 2015: A Year In Review. It is a compilation of the activities of 2015 and the varied dialogues around them; and summarises what can be described as the beginning of a critical overhaul of the South African higher education sector as it stands today. It is to CILT’s credit that several of the voices selected in the Yearbook are from the Centre - one passionately supporting teaching, learning, and transformation in higher education and UCT.