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Social transformation through higher education

By Blade Nzimande | Feb 20, 2012 | COMMENTS [ 15 ]

As a developing economy, South Africa needs to strengthen vocation and technical training

HIGHER education and knowledge production in Africa has not had the same kind of achievements over the last 50 years or so compared to other parts of the world.

African higher education grew significantly in the 1960s and '70s. However, from the '70s there were huge reversals due to a combination of economic crisis, structural adjustment programmes and particular policy impositions.

A particularly aggravating factor was the World Bank's decision to drastically downscale funding of higher education in favour of primary education. This foolish policy almost destroyed higher education in many African countries, especially postgraduate education.

This also impacted negatively on basic education which depends on higher education to produce its teachers and contribute to developing its curricula.

This weakening of African higher education has led to a crisis in continental intellectual production.

Instead of being producers of knowledge, African academics increasingly became mere consumers of western knowledge.

Instead of being independent intellectuals, they became interlocutors between domestic populations and the metropolitan research establishments.

Often, they were mere collectors of primary data which was then analysed and interpreted by European or North American researchers.

When African intellectuals assisted Western scholars to interpret Africa, they were seldom given credit.

South Africa, ironically, was not as badly affected as the rest of the continent since the apartheid regime protected those institutions serving the white community.

Black institutions were generally weak and not geared to producing, especially post-graduate level knowledge.

South Africa was thus a microcosm of the unequal global intellectual relations, thus validating our liberation movement's description of apartheid as "colonialism of a special type". Transforming these realities is one of my priorities.

In the African context, one of the factors that have affected the nature of knowledge production is the issue of language.

The underdevelopment of African languages is mainly due to the imposition of colonial languages whose paradigms have not been informed by African realities. Languages such as English, French and Portuguese have helped us to connect with the wider world in various ways: culturally, intellectually, politically and economically.

Nonetheless, the marginalisation of our indigenous languages has impacted on the psychology of our people, contributing significantly to what the great Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiongo, referred to as "the colonialisation of the mind of the African people".

In South Africa we are beginning to explore modalities for integrating African languages into training and knowledge production as well as building links with similar efforts elsewhere on the African continent.

We believe African languages can be developed into languages of science and academia.

The problems of African higher education have centrally contributed to the brain drain - the migration of our best academics and postgraduate students to the north.

This phenomenon affects all developing countries and affects our abilities to build sustainable environments, sustainable economies and sustainable, stable societies.

We must therefore strive to strengthen and promote South-to-South collaborations in the study of science and technology, as well as in the social sciences, humanities and cultural production.

We must continue to participate with scholars from the developed world, recognising and respecting their strengths.

We need to reclaim our history. We are, to a significant extent, still prisoners of European interpretations of our histories. We should actively collaborate with one another to challenge Western imposed orthodoxies in these ventures lest we fall into the trap of developing narrow nationalist views of human development.

It is common nowadays for regional blocs across the world to integrate their economies to create larger economic entities.

This is important and can help to raise living standards if handled with sensitivity to issues of fairness and equity.

Proper cooperation between countries on issues of the economy and the environment is essential in developing a sustainable world order.

But this cooperation must go further to integrate our intellectual efforts on post graduate studies and knowledge production, and research should be at the centre of such efforts.

Higher education institutions should play a role in promoting local economies and communities. Universities must become intellectual resources in their communities, linking these localities with the wider national and global context.

A key challenge for developing countries is to simultaneously strengthen technical and vocational education on the one hand, and social sciences and the humanities on the other.

The latter can contribute to the eradication of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination and the building of social cohesion. This is crucial social development.

We are also of the view that building bridges between natural and social sciences is essential in ensuring that the human dimension of science and technology is given prominence. This is one of the things that Cuba has always kept in mind and is a lesson from which we could all learn.

As developing countries, we need to protect current investment into education, including postgraduate studies. Consequently, our expectation from this conference is that it should be an important platform for sharing knowledge among the developing countries.

I cannot emphasise enough the significance of knowledge production and higher education in the drive towards tackling inequalities and promoting sustainable development in highly unequal societies.

Cuban Minister of Higher Education Miguel Diaz-Canel drew a very clear link between economic development and equity when he made the point that a move towards greater equity is a move towards economic development.

I couldn't agree more.

  • Dr Nzimande is minister of higher education and training. This is an edited version of a speech he delivered at the eighth international congress on higher education in Cuba.

COMMENTS [ 15 ]

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THATHA BLADE THATHA,DAT IS MY COMRADE.

Feb 20, 2012 8:9 | 0 replies

Same story different day

Feb 22, 2012 2:23 | 0 replies

In Russia the PRIMARY medium of instruction in schools and universities is Russian. In France the PRIMARY medium of instruction is French. In Italy, it is Italian.

In Russia many people learn English as a SECOND language. So too in France, Germany, Spain, Greece and many other countries of the world.

Many people the world over, with a second language command of English, are highly successful businessmen and women, academics, scientists, government employees etc.

Do you think it wise for the Russians or the Italians or the Greeks, for example, to have policy that stipulates the primary medium of instruction must be English or even to entertain the idea that their citizens must be taught in English even if there were no such policy? I contend, Mr. Nzimande that this would cause the very fabrick of their society to start to unravel.

Now please answer this Mr. Nzimande. Why has the ANC government, for nearly 20 years now, continued to provide education in mainly English by teachers whose first language is not English? The ANC has perpetuated the very problem you accuse colonialism of starting. You are indeed a stupid man. It is not an issue of the paradigms of Africans that have not been adopted by the colonial languages. Why should they, since they are not the language of Africans? On the contrary it is an issue that the ANC has itself perpetuated the policy that English must be the medium of instruction in SA. If you want to be successful like the rest of the world give your people their education in the language of their culture and treat English (or any other colonial, non-colonial or African language) as a second language.

Now get off your a r s e, stop blaming colonialism, do the logical thing and take rapid action before it is too late. People naturally learn best in the langauge that gives expression to their culture. So why does the ANC insist on imposing English on the cultures of SA? Then again why does the ANC, and you started it all again with your recent announcement that every learner must learn an African language, insist on imposing any langauge on anybody. The answer can only lie in a deep seated desire to impose your culture and language on others which is the very same policy that the Afrikaans apartheid regime applied to Afrikaans and which you so bravely fought against. Are you Mr. Nzimande acting out of hatred? Have you adopted a policy of African language dominance? If so, you will give rise to greater tribalism and conflict than you could ever imagine in SA because there are 11 official languages and all will vie for dominance.

Let the Z u l u learn in isiZ u l u; let the Swazi learn in siSwati; let the Afrikaner learn in Afrikaans; let the Englishman learn in English. Then let them take whatever second language they want to take. (I would suggest English because it is universally spoken.) In this way you put learning at the pinnicle and language becomes incidental. So instead of having millions of poorly educated citizens because they were taught in a language they didn't understand by people who didn't understand the language themselves, we will have millions of well educated citizens. The common denominator, as in many successful countries around the world, is the second language - say English. This is how they will communicate and interrelate but at least they will do so as educated citizens.

Feb 20, 2012 2:18 | 0 replies

Oh please, this essay can serve as a fantastic example of pseudo-intellectual drivel, that actually says absolutely nothing. Some comments :

The World Bank's "foolish decision to reduce spending ( read "handouts") on higher education, is given as one of the cuases that had a dterimental knock on effect.

Come on Blade, why must Africa forever depend on handouts and then blame the donor for its own ills. It makes sense to bolster primary schooling, that's the foundation of all learning, and the World Bank would have given very careful consideration to its policies.

Talk about "foolish", then you have to look no further than our own government's handling of education since 1994. Please remind us who decided to all but close technical colleges, nursing colleges, introduce Outcome Based Education ? These policies are responsible for education in SA actually going backward instead of forward since the ANC took over. Now you clamour for colleges again,and OBE is out again.

Most intelligent people knew long ago that this country needs technical people. The soft sciences are over subscribed.



Feb 20, 2012 1:7 | 0 replies

Blade: yadda yadda yadda!!

Dude U r now a Minister which means u can IMPLEMENT what u had been talking about all along

Action Blade Action...

Feb 20, 2012 12:20 | 0 replies

Hai Blade make education work man, tired of hearing about the reasons why its not working and the formation of task teams left right and centre.

Feb 20, 2012 11:40 | 0 replies

Does Sowetan only have this photo of him? Ayi khona variety please!

Feb 20, 2012 11:39 | 0 replies

This guy looks drunk even when his sober....

Feb 20, 2012 11:5 | 0 replies

.... so what are you doing about it?

Feb 20, 2012 9:59 | 0 replies

I never listen to communists employed by capitalist government................Blade thinks he's an intellectual.

Feb 20, 2012 9:56 | 0 replies

I agree with blade when it comes to developing the african languages!!! Way to go Honorable Minister!!!

Feb 20, 2012 9:35 | 0 replies