The University of Newcastle, Australia

Exploring the equity story in South Africa

Friday, 17 February 2017

Dr Sally Baker shares her experience of recently visiting Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa to work with Extended Curriculum Program (ECP) practitioners.

Dr Sally Baker at the Bongi Rhodes Memorial web

Being offered the opportunity to visit Cape Peninsula University of Technology to work with Extended Curriculum Program (ECP) practitioners has been a great privilege, and one which has facilitated so much fruitful dialogue and learning in all ways.

Cape Town is a phenomenal city – a rich melting pot of so many languages, cultures, knowledges and practices – and its universities are not only representative of this diversity, but represent entrenched patterns of participation divided on both racial and socioeconomic lines.

In a country that has 11 official languages, but where the dominant language of academia and knowledge is English (actually only the 4th most common home language), there are many more complex layers to the equity story in South Africa.

Recent years have seen regular student protests following the #RhodesMustFall movement, which have illuminated these deep historic-political divisions within the sector and between institutional and student perspectives, with many scholar-teachers caught in the middle and struggling to return to ‘work as usual’.

A large part of these protests is a rejection of ‘white’ (read western, privileged) imposition of cultures, language and practices; however, scholars such as Jeff Rudin (2017) have pointed to how students are implicitly fighting against the neoliberal agendas at play, and against the project of capitalism more broadly. These are therefore deeply complex contexts within which higher education teaching and learning happen.

My visit to Cape Town has permitted me an outsider’s gaze into this space, and I was fortunate to be asked to run a workshop that looked at how literacies (reading and writing practices) and transition intersect, and can be foregrounded in pedagogy, in ECP classrooms.

I drew on my experience as an English Language teacher to suggest ways that teachers might re-think and re-work with their own disciplinary literacies, assessments and expectations of students.

I also gave the Fundani Seminar on the work and vision of CEEHE, offering a view of equity in the Australian higher education sector, focusing on how the praxis of reflexivity underpins our work and extending understandings of how disadvantage plays out in, and is contributed to by higher education.

I was also invited to speak about my PhD thesis (Students’ reading and writing in transition) at the University of the Western Cape, and I have been fortunate to meet with visionaries and key thinkers in the academic literacies field at the University of Cape Town.

My colleague, Dr Lynn Coleman, facilitated this visit by successfully applying for a National Research Foundation grant to fund my visit to CPUT, and they have ensured that I have been busy at work for the full 10 days.

I finished my trip by co-presenting at the Inter-Institutional Academic Literacies Forum with Dr Jackie Tuck from The Open University (UK), where we co-presented on ‘Risky regimes: the assessment of student writing in institutional contexts’ to a packed (and hot!) room of colleagues from CPUT, UCT, UWC and Stellenbosch University.

My sincere thanks to CPUT the warm welcome and fabulous people I have met, and life changing experiences I have had. I hope many other colleagues have the chance to visit this brilliant country.

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