"We’ve been taught to understand that we don’t have anything to contribute towards knowledge": Exploring Academics’ understanding of decolonising curricula in higher education
Universities in the global South continue to grapple with the ethical demands of decolonising and transforming the public university and its episteme orientations. In the South African context, the 2015-2016 student movements re-centred the public university as a colonising institution, whose curricula, teaching, assessment, institutional culture(s) and research are still rooted in the colonial and neoliberal regimes of performance management, academic productivity, sanctions, rewards and progress in the academy. In this paper, we contribute to the emerging body of work in the global South that attempts to make sense of the transformation and decolonisation discourses through exploring academics’ understanding of decolonising curricula in South African higher education. Through the use of purposive sampling, we interviewed eight Education academics who are teaching in a historically white teachers’ college in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We relied on the late French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory to think through the historically white teachers’ college as a contested and structuring field constituting of various actors and agents who are struggling to make sense of and understand the calls for decolonising and transforming of curricula. The findings suggest that academics largely understand the decolonising of curricula as responding to the need to tackle and explicate the Eurocentric thought in curricula; re-centring African epistemic traditions and as well as navigating what they refer to as the confusion, ambiguity and the discomfort of decolonisation. We end this paper with some empirical and theoretical reflections on how exploring academics’ understanding of decolonizing curricula is central to the broader project of achieving social justice in the Global South.
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