UP relaunches Curriculum Transformation Drive

Posted on May 28, 2021

In a recent live-streamed panel discussion, UP reiterated its intentions to transform the curriculum, as based on four main drivers.

UP recently relaunched its Curriculum Transformation Drive (CTD), the theme of which was ‘Curriculum transformation is not a future event, but present activity’. The virtual event was live-streamed from the Future Africa institute and campus, and featured a four-member panel that consisted of Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Prof Norman Duncan, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law Prof Charles Maimela and Acting Head of the Department of Jurisprudence in the Faculty of Law Prof Joel Modiri.

In 2016, a UP work stream crafted a policy document on curriculum transformation (CT) that was accepted by the UP Senate. The document is meant to serve as a guideline for faculties to work towards the decolonisation and transformation of UP’s curriculum, while the aim of the relaunch was to set the tone of planned activities for the rest of the 2021 academic year.

Objectives of the CTD relaunch

“Setting the objectives of CT is a process of rethinking, reimagining, recreating, and creating new courses and curricula in all disciplines at UP, based on the examination of current knowledge on, among others, race; religion; class; sexuality; disability; nationality; and gender, gender expression and non-binary orientation,” said Prof Kupe in his address.

“Nearly all 24 higher education institutions in South Africa have been tasked with the implementation of CT as a response to the global and local pressures faced to create a new identity that befits the emerging South African educational discourse and practice,” he added.

Prof Kupe highlighted the seven areas of CT in South Africa, as follows:Prof Maimela has been tasked with driving this process within a given time-frame. He called on the “cooperation of every student and staff member to enable UP to successfully relaunch its CTD to change the appearance and character of UP – an improved UP for the greater good of all”.

An overview of CT drivers

In his address, Prof Duncan spoke of the inception of the four adopted drivers of the 2016 policy. “A group of about 20 academics and students constituted the work stream and developed a Curriculum Transformation Framework (CTF) titled ‘Reimagining Curricula for a Just University in a Vibrant Democracy’,” he said. “The CTF did not provide a narrow definition of CT. Instead, the four identified drivers were to guide an inclusive process of engagement on what CT should entail in the UP context. The approach adopted was cognisant of the differences in disciplines across UP’s nine faculties and business school, including the requirements of professional bodies.”

The image below outlines the four drivers of CT:

Prof Duncan also described the key duties of UP staff and students, as follows:

Renewal of pedagogy and classroom practices

Prof Duncan pointed out that UP should constantly strive to see how best to innovate to ensure inclusive student success. This is a challenge to all faculties: how can we innovate in the field of teaching and learning to ensure greater levels of success for our students?” He also advised faculties experimenting with new ways of doing things that they should heed the recent advice by Prof Ronel Callaghan of the Faculty of Education:

A framework for CT

In his address, Prof Maimela stressed the urgency to transform immediately. “An inclusive approach means [fostering] a climate in which everyone can endorse their knowledge and talents so that these can be used to the greatest benefit for all,” Prof Maimela explained. “The approach adopted in the 2016 document is cognisant of the differences across UP’s faculties. Every field of study holds implications that advance or deter human and non-human life. Thus, academic endeavour, prominently visible in curricula, must be in service of the public good and the actualisation of human potential.” He stated that innovative teaching practice is an essential component of CT and outlined the context in which it can be carried out best:

Prof Modiri homed in on the four drivers identified in 2016 in his presentation. “Responsiveness to social context demands that UP’s curriculum prepare graduates for the context in which they will work. The specific political history, socio-economic conditions, and environmental and infrastructural factors that prevail in any society, together with the effects of technology and globalisation, should inform the content and structure of the curriculum.” In SA, the material reality of oppression along the axes of race, class, gender/sexuality, religion and the disadvantages these have produced demand both technical and social-scientific solutions. “The problems of an unequal society and developing nation need to be prioritised in teaching and learning.”

In terms of epistemological diversity, Prof Modiri highlighted the importance of a curriculum that incorporates African knowledge and cultural heritage and those from the Global South. “A recurring complaint of students and scholars from the Global South is that present curricula represent an exclusively or predominantly Western world view that correlates most closely with a white, male, heterosexual, middle-upper class experience. The point is not to simply insert different knowledges as add-ons, but to consider how they enable an overall reconceptualisation and redefinition of the relevant study area, field or discipline.”

During his explanation of the third driver, renewal of pedagogy and classroom practices, Prof Modiri stressed that classrooms should embrace differences of identity and world view. “Focus must also be on the key skills of reading, writing, analysis, computer skills, communication and collaboration; assessments should encourage independent research. This requires a move away from rote-learning, reciting formulaic textbooks and memory testing to an experimentation with different methods of teaching and assessing, and integrating technology.”

In terms of an institutional culture of openness and critical reflection, he stated that “a curriculum contains not only formal study material and content, but also the surrounding milieu in which learning takes place. The symbols, the staff complement and the institutional culture of UP play a powerful role in shaping learning and in defining who is welcome and who is not. The standards, cultures and traditions, from graduation to policies, that define UP must be constantly re-examined and interrogated.”

In his address, Prof Kupe instructed UP parties to actively and immediately pursue and implement the CT policy. “UP members are expected to take a critical stance on power and differences in the classroom and other institutional contexts, interweave multiple perspectives, and integrate student voices and knowledge in the teaching and learning process. For the sake of growth and development, it is essential for UP to discard outdated practices, processes and beliefs that hinder transformation at all institutional levels.” 

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