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DESIGNING COMMUNICATION CURRICULA: AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE

Posted by Connie R. Aponte on December 5, 2013 in Uncategorized |

AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE

The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education draws seamlessly on myriad theoretical conceptions. These bodies of knowledge shape the way educators design curricula and impart knowledge. They also shape the formulation of educational policies and illuminate the multiple ways people learn (Englert et al, 1994; Gee & Green, 1998; Rogers et al, 2005). For example, teaching and learning has always been imagined as a process of transformation and socialisation through a meta-cognitive engagement with knowledge. This means higher education is expected to “engage students in a transformational process by encouraging critical reflection on their learning and actions” (D’Andrea & Gosling 2005, p.2).

Universities should be driven by a culture of collegiality; which promotes collaborative thinking. They should be prisms through which students and lecturers negotiate identities and interrogate socio-political issues in their communities without fear of victimisation. Any university experience should therefore be transformative and enlightening, sculpting students into critical and innovative thinkers as well as problem solvers, through the application of knowledge across different contexts (Kress, 1996; Street, 2004; Shore, 2010). Here, educators and learners are required to embed the process of teaching and learning within a context and to reflect on experiences and bring those experiences to bear on the construction of knowledge. It also means teaching should be an interactive intellectual process whereby both educators and learners negotiate meaning through the interpretation and transfer of knowledge from different spaces (McCarthey, 1994; Winkelmann, 1995; Gee & Green, 1998).

In post-apartheid South Africa, teaching and learning has been defined not only by Western and African ideologies but also by a political agenda which claims to redress the ills of the apartheid era. This agenda seeks to eradicate the infamous apartheid educational model – Bantu Education and to foster an equitable educational system which is responsive to the needs of the new South Africa (Jansen, 1998; Waghid, 2002; Ensor, 2004). This has resulted in the irruption of different curriculum policies, educational reform and several academic green papers aimed at restructuring schools and universities and fostering the social changes promised by the new political dispensation. For example, the implementation of outcomes-based education (OBE) curriculum in 2005 and the inception of the National Qualification Framework (NQF) as well as the Higher Education Qualification Framework (HEQF) are examples of policy documents aimed at enhancing the quality of education and addressing the imbalances in South African schools and universities (Jansen, 1998). For example, the NQF was mandated to “to steer South Africa along a high skills, high growth path of economic development [which] would lay the foundation stones of a new democracy society” (Ensor 2004: 341). And OBE was intended to forge a teaching and learning scholarship which privileges outcomes rather that content and process (Jansen, 1998; Ensor,

2004). Unfortunately, the educational challenges in South Africa have difference trajectories and many of these policies have been counter-productive.

In the process of addressing its domestic problems, the new South Africa also wanted to position itself strategically in the global marketplace. Schools and universities were therefore pressured “to prepare South Africa for participation in a sophisticated global economy” (Ensor 2004: 341). Also, almost two decades into democracy, South Africa is still grappling with issues of race, gender, class and ethnicity, particularly in the higher education sector. In this context, teaching and learning is only about imparting knowledge but also about negotiating uncharacteristic social and political challenges, stemming from the racial, multicultural and gender imbalances of the institutions. Today, South African universities are “increasingly being challenged in terms of their responsiveness and relevance to societal problems” (Waghid 2002: 457). This responsiveness to societal problems involves forging equity in higher education and contributing towards deracialising the new South Africa as well as preparing students to face the challenges of global markets. For this to happen, the government is committed to dismantling the white hegemony and desecrating the elitist status of universities such as Cape Town, Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and so on (Jansen, 1998 & Waghid, 2002). With increasing access to higher education, these erstwhile elite universities now have to deal with even more under-privileged and unprepared students with mediocre communication skills, matriculating from very dysfunctional high schools. Universities are therefore burdened with the responsibility of addressing these challenges by providing lifelong education which prepares South Africans either for postgraduate studies or for the workplace. Moreover, “the commodification of education is increasingly expressed in a new currency of transferable, portable outcomes and qualifications that provide the logic for qualifications and outcomes-driven approach to educational reform” (Young & Gamble 2006, p.3). Here, the specificities of course contents and teaching strategies focus on the outcomes rather than on the process of knowledge acquisition. The unavoidable consequence is massive graduation of students with no valuable education (Young & Gamble, 2006).

To ensure that higher education is a transformative experience to South African, the development of critical soft skills has occupied center stage. This has forged the inclusion of academic and professional development courses such as Business Communication, Academic Literacy, and Language for Business Students in mainstream curricula especially in universities of technology like CPUT. So, despite the marketisation and massification of universities, these centres of learning are still striving to provide discursive spaces for socialisation into different cultures and academic discourses. They seek to maintain the ethos of critical inquiry and to ensure that knowledge is used to negotiate power, identity and authority (Shore, 2010; Afful, 2007; Gizir & Simik, 2005). This suggests that students and academics should use a repertoire of communication skills such as nonverbal codes, semiotics systems and myriads text forms to construct social relations and give meaning to their lives as university academics and students (Fairclough, 1993; Kress, 1996; Gee & Green, 1998). Moreover, the workplace also engenders the interplay of different communicative skills for operating both individual and team projects as well as fostering organisational identity. Significantly, effective communication is “the process through which social actions and interactions become constructed and reconstructed into an organizational reality” (Gizir & Simsek 2005: 200). For me therefore, succeeding in higher education today requires socialising into the politics of universities using “social semiotic system” and a crosssection of cognitive skills (Kress 1996: 189)

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