A TRANSFORMING UNIVERSITY: A view from below and from within

Mthobisi Zwide is a student in the University of Zululand.  He writes on this blog on his personal capacity.

Mthobisi Zwide is a student in the University of Zululand.
He writes on this blog on his personal capacity.

As a first year student at a rural-based university, University of Zululand (Unizulu), one is exposed to a number of challenges which are unique to such an institution. As a first year student at the University of Zululand, one is not only expected to get used to life in an institution of higher learning but one is also charged with the task of understanding what informs the views of senior students. The major reason behind this is the resistance by senior students to what is presented by management as transformation.

It is common knowledge that Unizulu was established by the Apartheid government in order to cater for Black African students, particularly those from the Zululand region. This was in line with the concept of separate development as espoused by the architect(s) of Apartheid. The aim was to give an inferior tertiary education to Blacks. With this in mind, it would not be difficult to believe that such an institution or an institution founded for such purpose(s) would be lacking in terms of physical infrastructure, finances and human resources.

It would do no good to give a detailed history of the institution, as this brief overview of its history seeks to assist the reader in arriving at the conclusion that the institution, like other institutions in former Bantustans, continues to be disadvantaged in a number of critical areas. To quote from an article on the Daily News website as of the 8th of March 2013: “When the university opened 53 years ago, it catered for just 41 students. Although it has grown to 16 000 students, the infrastructure has not grown with it”.
This shows clearly the challenges that face the current crop of students.

In an attempt to address the historical challenges facing the institution, the senior management devised a Master plan aimed at drastically improving physical infrastructure, human resources, security and campus life in general. The campus Master plan is being implemented in phases after the Department of Higher Education and Training and donors gave it financial backing to the tune of R550 million. The management, all the stakeholders behind the Master plan, should be commended for their attempts at improving Unizulu.

The perpetual overcrowding in classes, lack of student residences, inadequate academic staff and a litany of other challenges need all stakeholders to have the same vision on how they should be addressed. It is also true that the management of Unizulu has the buy-in of students with regards to the Master plan. This, (remove) though, is not reflected in the response of students to the implementation of the Master plan. It is this contradiction that should be understood and dealt with.

It is true, without doubt, that any envisaged development needs the support of students for it to be successfully implemented. The 2013 academic year saw students of Unizulu rejecting transformative measures that would have seen it improving greatly in academic work and security. Students rejected the application of the Duly Performed (DP) rule and further rejected, as they do today, the implementation of a biometric security system. It ought to be appreciated that these are some of the positions on which new students and senior students differ. New students argue that senior students are rejecting transformation as they are comfortable with mediocrity. This argument, although correct in form, is devoid of content. The senior students, now being accused of frustrating transformation, are the ones who have advocated for these transformative measures.

The DP rule requires a student to have, at least 40%, as a semester mark. Obtaining this 40% then qualifies such a student to write his/her exams. In an institution where most students rely on NSFAS, this means that most students will lose their loans before even having a chance to write their exams. The DP rule requires an enabling environment, something that the University of Zululand cannot claim to have.

One would be forgiven for thinking that either the author is confused or the senior students are confused, but it is not so. The senior students are not rejecting the two measures completely, they argue that they are necessary but cannot be implemented in the current conditions. The DP rule, for example, cannot be implemented while the campus bookshop is unable to provide all the prescribed textbooks, while students attend lectures in crowded lecture halls, while some students have to study while crouching because of a lack of study desks at the library (there is only one library for the 16000+ students!).

On the question of security, it would be unwise to restrict students residing off campus from residences as they study in residence with fellow students, take shelter in residences during the day(in between classes) from unfriendly weather conditions. Hence senior students argued that, while they appreciate the security, the management has skewed priorities as it should first deal with the shortage in studying space and residences before securing them. They also felt that the new measures sought to exclude and disadvantage the majority of students, being those who reside off campus.

These events beg the question: are students in transforming universities against transformation?
I shall, in an attempt to respond to this question, provide an example of an agreement between students and management regarding the question of transformation. The management proposed an online residence placement system to replace the manual system that was in place. First year students defended the online system, unaware of some of its consequences. While senior students took a position that said, the online system is fine but the main point of contention was the question of the stricter and more exclusive prerequisites of the online system. Students were able to reserve rooms, while owing, under the manual room reservation system.

When the online room reservation system was initially introduced it was said that only students with a zero balance, that is those who have settled their debts, would be able to reserve rooms. With the prerequisites question settled, students have accepted the online system. What we then learn is, management must not impose itself, and its decision, on students, and that to truly transform our institutions of higher learning we have to engage students meaningfully. To not consult students is to reduce their intellectual capacity, it is oppressive and does nothing to develop future leaders.

What the management ought to understand well is that one cannot start by installing electronic appliances in an unbuilt house, that is illogical and is searching for failure. Disadvantaged institutions of higher education, not previously disadvantaged, require the most basic of things, bigger and more lecture halls, residences, more computers, more libraries and the like and of course adequate number of quality lecturers.
To want to shower such institutions with all manner of things found in advantaged institutions is a recipe for disaster and only perpetuates the suffering of the disadvantaged students in these disadvantaged institutions. A new approach to transformation is needed, one that will be student-centred, one that will ensure that students are active participants in shaping their institutions.

The question of whether or not, students in disadvantaged institutions are against transformation remains, and should not be taken lightly. Regressive elements are present within all student populaces and never fail to make known their regressive views. It is the duty of progressive forces to advance the struggle for the transformation of tertiary education shamelessly.
Transformation is long overdue, it should be fast tracked. In the process of advancing, all stakeholders must be given a chance to partake in processes. This can only serve our country better because everyone will be taking ownership of the outcomes thereof.

A People’s education must always be people-driven!

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At some point we need to stop blaming the Apartheid for our faulty basic education.

Nombulelo Dlamini is a junior educator based in KwaZulu-Natal.

Basic education is imperative, as it is responsible for a foundation of one’s academic life. After nineteen years of democracy, the South African basic education remains of less quality when compared to other southern African countries. It remains the task of the state to create an education system that will shape the citizenry in its entirety; like the apartheid government used education to infuse oppression. I believe after 1994, the democratically elected administration had a chance to create an education system that could completely obliterate the mistakes of the past and therefore improve the quality of education. In this piece I will look at the issue of curriculum reform and the implications of integration at the GET (General Education and Training Phase) as being the contributing factors to a flawed education system.
Following the 1994 democratic elections we have witnessed a number of changes in the curriculum. I still maintain the view that the problem with the current education system lies with the inconsistency of the post 1994 curriculum reform (s). There seems to be a norm of changing the curriculum in line with the political head of the department. In that sense it has been impossible to work on a single base. In 1997 the ministry of education announced the new curriculum that was meant to be implemented in 1998, across South African schools. Amongst its objectives was to promote the new constitution, rebuild a divided nation, and inspire the formerly subjugated constituency. I think there was a greater need for the first reform in order to deal with the errors of the past and meet up to the standards of the democratic South Africa. There have been multiple faults following the first reform, which I suppose our curriculum architects have failed to address till this day.
The first blunder of the post 1994 curriculum reform (s) was the introduction of Curriculum 2005; the outcomes based education (OBE). The new curriculum was purposely meant for the GET phase (Grade R-9). Curriculum 2005 emphasised a learner centred approach which required a complete participation of learners in all the requisite classroom activities. Educators in that logic were forced to be facilitators in all the learning processes within the classroom. In context of C2005, encouraging a learner centred approach would in a way promote critical thinking in learners and permit knowledge sharing. C2005 could not last longer due to a number of irregularities identified and the ambiguity which can be drawn from its origin to its inability to efficiently produce intended outcomes.
The outcomes based education was dominated by group work activities, which happen to be impossible for schools with overcrowded classrooms. The curriculum required sophisticated teaching and learning support materials to complement teaching and learning. Considering historical disadvantages, a number of public schools failed to implement; it was rather a paper based curriculum which its implementation will contradict its original form. Inadequate training of educators had an effect because they struggled to understand the confusing jargon it entailed. One can say the outcomes based education was too dogmatic for teaching and learning.
When Geography and History were integrated, the expectations came to be in the sense of the conceptual meaning of integration. Joining the two therefore will mean advancing knowledge and content of each of the disciplines. Content integration breaks the borders of independence for these sub-disciplines to form one independent subject which is Social Sciences.
The argument of whether Geography is a Science (hard) or a Social Sciences discipline cannot be ignored as it guides the nature of the subject. The main issue to be looked at before combining two elements is whether their product will achieve your goals, or give the unexpected results. Curriculum architects need to probe to such in order to avoid producing misguided results. With the new subject SS, geography and history are taught and assessed separately. Meaning we still have geography and history at GET under a “fancy” umbrella known as Social Sciences. Educators are unable to manage the imbalances in content; this creates a strain and confusion to learners.
After five years since its birth the OBE couldn’t meet up to goals and learners were unable to carry out literacy and numeracy skills to the expected levels. Due to the discretion by intellectuals, educators and parents, the then Minister of Education Kader Asmal appointed a committee that was going to review of OBE. In 2000 the committee worked on the errors of OBE and made recommendations. From the recommendations made by the committee, the Revised National Curriculum Statement (NCS) was born.
The Revised National Curriculum Statement for, GET came to act in 2002. The failures of the OBE were supposed to be a lesson hence they should have been addressed properly. The department had to state that the Revised National Curriculum statement was not a new curriculum, this created more confusion in educators because they were not sure of what to teach. In 2004 the outcomes based education was introduced to the Further Education and Training phase (grade 10-12). The bridge educators had been trying to cross had been further wrecked. A number of faults of C2005 continually existed; the implementation strategy was not clear in this instance.
Minister Angie Motshega, appointed a task team to again review NCS and look up to the gaps of C2005 and the NCS. The task team of 2009 identified areas that require improvement as a result made recommendations. Amidst those recommendations was the five year plan which unlike NCS will be clear on implementation. The recommendations created a base for the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), which seeks to look at the issues of the teacher workload, teacher training, teaching and learning support materials come up with clear assessment guidelines. There are documents made p for each phase (GET and FET).
Seemingly in paper the CAPS document addresses the faults of the previous curriculums contrary to practice. Schools are still lacking necessary resources, there is least teacher development done and integrated subjects at GET are still taught separately.
While I stand to be corrected, I believe the curriculum remains a guide to daily classroom activities which can either shape the education system to the best or worst, hence it must be examined to avoid misapprehension.
Like all other educators teaching the General Education and Training Phase (GET) about a week ago I attended a Social Sciences workshop organized by the department of education, which was aimed at introducing educators to the new policy document. As a junior educator who has been in the field for a period of eight months, I expected this workshop to be eye opening on a number of issues. The issue of implementing the curriculum happened to be of primary concern. All the activities that took place left me puzzled, and taken back to the previous reforms.
Prior to the commencement of the workshop, facilitators issued three lengthy documents namely the participant’s manual, accompanied by an annexure and a Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) document. Facilitators had to first explain to us that, the workshop is supposed to run for five days, but due to unknown reasons it will be two days. After these remarks I came to believe that the workshop is mainly about completing the manual. This announcement convinced me that development is not the greater part of this workshop, because each of us can alone go through the manual.
Yes, the effects of apartheid persist in the South African education but I am still convinced that we have failed to use the opportunities at hand to our advantage.
Till this day there are schools lacking resources necessary to complement the delivery of curriculum. The subject of resources cannot be addressed independently from the nature of the content being taught, the dominance of foreign material than a more Afrikan, can be noted. Subjects like history continue to teach European history.
Different streams are dominated by subjects that don’t complement each other, for example the combination of Mathematical Literacy, Physical Science, Physics and Life Sciences and in that sense exclude “pure” mathematics. Such irregularities follow learners to institutions of higher learning. A number of learners have been rejected by institutions of higher learning in Science departments because of mathematical literacy which happens to be combined with subjects that are classified as “hard science” in secondary.
As a developing nation, we are ought to produce quality which is mostly needed by the economy. Producing quality demands a proper and clear curriculum with no confusion. There must be equal accessibility to resources in schools hence the term ‘disadvantaged schools’ must be phased out as it encourages the existence of more under-resourced schools.
It is not the apartheid government that came up with the OBE, NCS and CAPS. The mismanagement of funds in public schools, late textbook delivery, and shortage of trained teachers are amongst the contemporary problems that are further crippling our education system. We need to be reasonable in this regard, by reflecting on the post 1994 mistakes and see where we have gone wrong.