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Open Access The South African higher education transformation debate: culture, identity and 'African ways of knowing'

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Following the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, there has been a strong drive towards democratising education at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary. The present paper examines some of the key ideas in the debate around transformation in higher education in South Africa, namely the notions of an African essence, culture and identity, as well as African knowledge systems. It contends that neither the idea of the 'essence of Africa' nor an emphasis on 'African culture and identity' constitutes an appropriate theoretical framework for conceptualising change in higher educational thought and practice in South Africa, the major problems turning on issues around essentialism and cultural relativism. Similarly, the post-colonialist and anti-discrimination discourse underpinning 'African ways of knowing' is unfortunately riddled with problems, logical and epistemological. While the present contribution is sympathetic to the basic concerns articulated in the respective debates, especially around the significance of indigenous languages, it offers both conceptual clarification as well as a critical (re-)evaluation of the pertinent issues. Thus, 'African knowledge' is argued to be a misnomer that raises more problems than it can conceivably solve. What its proponents hope to achieve is arguably better achieved by an emphasis on restorative justice that locates the principle of reconciliation within a basic framework of human rights.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 2003 by the UCL Institute of Education, the journal reflects the Institute's broad interests in all types of education in all contexts - local, national, global - and its commitment to analysis across disciplines using a variety of methodologies. It shares the Institute's aspiration to interrogate links between research, policy and practice, and its principled concern for social justice.

    Drawing on these strengths, LRE is a wide-ranging and engaging journal that features rigorous analysis and significant research across key themes in education, including: public goals and policies; pedagogy; curriculum; organization; resources and technology; and institutional effectiveness. Articles and book reviews are written by experts in education, psychology, sociology, policy studies, philosophy and other disciplines contributing to education research, and by experienced researcher-practitioners working in the field. The highest quality of reporting and presentation are ensured through an independent, anonymised peer-review process. As an entirely web-based open access journal, LRE has been able to offer innovative features and formats including: epistolary conversation; colour photos and illustrations; illustrative video clips.

    LRE welcomes relevant articles and book reviews. Please email them to [email protected]

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