Pivot 2021 Virtual Conference July 22-23 2021
Dismantling Reassembling - tools for alternative futures

Approaching Ubuntu in Education through Bottom-up Decolonisation

In this contribution we contrast the idea(l) of a decolonial education that aims at community and planetary wellbeing with the current educational reality in South Africa. We draw on the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu to envision a holistic framework for education that is steeped in African epistemologies, ontologies and axiologies. There is little scope for such education in South Africa’s current educational system. Despite acknowledging indigenous knowledge systems as important cultural heritage, the curriculum is tailored to the dominant Western epistemology and facilitates the reproduction of epistemic colonisation. Introducing our small-scale initiatives to integrate local indigenous knowledges with the Western curriculum, we discuss the question how to approach educational transformation despite and within the given context. We argue for a bottom-up approach to decolonisation that emphasises the agency of individuals and groups such as teachers, parents, students, elders, traditional healers, teacher educators and academics. These groups and indiviuals do not have the power to change the education system from the top, but can enact change in small ways. They can, following Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe, initiate small ruptures and create tipping points that may eventually lead to larger transformative processes.

Ubuntu; bottom-up decolonisation; indigenous knowledges; transforming education

About Maren Seehawer, Kenneth M. Ngcoza, Zukiswa Nhase and Sipho Nuntsu

Maren Seehawer. I am a senior lecturer at MF – Norwegian School of Religion, Theology and Society, where I am responsible for a one-year course in the social sciences. My research interest is on (the decolonisation of) education in Sub-Saharan Africa. I work on quality education in a broad sense by asking questions such as: Who has the power to define good education? Whose knowledge(s) should children learn? To what kind of ‘development’ should quality education contribute? In connection with this thematic focus, I explore the decolonisation of (my own) academic knowledge production, for example, by foregrounding the African philosophy of Ubuntu as a research paradigm. Being a white European woman who was socialised into Western ways of knowing and understanding the world, my research interest requires an explicit inquiry into my positionality. In fact, much of my professional life that lead me from the realm of development cooperation to becoming an academic, is a journey of unlearning my (colonial) assumptions about certain ‘universal’ truths in education and development. Much of my learning results from interacting with the co-authors of this contribution and I am both humbled and excited to be part of this intercontinental friendship and community of practice.

Kenneth M. Ngcoza. I am a Professor at Rhodes University, South Africa, where I am involved with science teacher education (both pre-and in-service) and supervision of MEd and PhD students. I am a chairman of GADRA and member of the Vice Chancellor’s school initiative project. I position myself as an indigenous researcher. In our research programs, we seek to contribute to the debate on decolonization through indigenizing the science curriculum at school and tertiary levels. We emphasize that there are other ways of knowing, doing, thinking and being. My research interests include science curriculum, transformative professional development, indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Citizenship Education. I am the past President of SAARMSTE and member of the African Association for the Study of Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Internationally, I am involved in the research projects: 1) Japan, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia, on Lesson Studies and Indigenous Knowledge Systems; 2) Germany and South Africa, on Citizenship Education. I am on the Editorial Board of the UK based Research in Science and Technological Education Journal, and reviewer for the African Journal for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education; Southern African Journal of Environmental Education; Pythagoras; Research in Science and Technological Education Journal; and Curriculum Studies in Science Education.

Zukiswa Nhase. I am a lecturer in the Faculty of Education, School of Social Sciences and Language Education, University of the Free State. I spent most of my career in teacher education with a focus on science teaching and professional development of Natural Sciences teachers. I am involved in the teaching of both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Currently I am a coordinator and lecturer of the Bachelor’s Degree in Foundation Phase teaching. I also supervise science educadtion students on Honours (ECEFP), Masters and Ph.D. level. In addition, from 2017 to 2018, I was the Chair Person and an executive member for the Eastern Cape chapter (SAARMSTE). I am currently a member for the Research Capacity Building Committee (RCBC) under SAARMSTE. Through these projects, I have collaborated with several Education stakeholders and researchers (both national and International). My interests include Foundation Phase teaching schooling, Primary Schooling, Science Curriculum, Inquiry Based Approach, Role of Everyday Knowledge and Indigenous knowledge in science classrooms, Life Skills curriculum in Foundation Phase, and Professional Development.

Sipho R. Nuntsu. I recently completed my master’s in education from Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa. I discovered my interest in indigenous knowledges and their integration into science education six years ago, when becaming a co-researcher in a participatory action research study facilitated by my co-presenter, Maren Seehawer. Being part of this study, has been the start of an ongoing learning journey. This journey is now facilated through our community of practice consisting of this contribution’s co-presenters, in which I learnt to share information and ask questions that guide me forward. As a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church I experienced clashes between my Christian beliefs and indigenous knowledges. These clashes ignited my interest to study indigenous knowledges even further. As a young man from a township, many of the people I grew up with were surprised to find me studying indigenous knwoledges. There is a belief that such knowledges are only for people from rural areas. As a black man I also not support what is seen as cultural oppression against women.

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