BACKGROUND: EDUCATION AND TRANSFORMATION
Historically, education is South Africa was organized along racial lines. The notion of superior and inferior languages or cultures was well entrenched in school curriculum, policies and practices. Since 1994, there have been substantive developments in the process of transforming the educational system to conform to the new democratic and non-racial society
The 1996 Constitution and the Bill of Rights establish the values upon which the new South Africa is to be founded. These fundamental values have formed the underlying principles of educational change and transformation. The 1996 National Education Policy Act put change and transformation high on the agenda of the Department of Education:
“Public Education should enable learners to seize the opportunities afforded by democracy to effect changes to their lives as well as society as a whole”
In order to bridge the divide between policy implementation, the department of Education has released a Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy
The above-mentioned documents served as guidelines to produce in 2002 the Revised National Curriculum Statement for General Education and Training as well as the Draft National Curriculum Statement for Further Education and Training. The original Statements as well as the streamlined 2005 version are buttressed by principles such as Ubuntu, Human Rights, Social Justice and Equity, Reconciliation, Inclusion and Multiculturalism
Although praiseworthy efforts have gone into insuring that the National Curriculum statements infuses the new values and norms across all learning areas, the statements do not answer the question of HOW this must be done.
Many attempts have been made by both governmental and non governmental organizations, educators and parents to fill that void. Each stakeholder has stressed one or more values or norms: Human Rights, Peace, multilingualism, Indigenous knowledge systems, Inclusion, multiculturalism, etc….
Have these efforts resulted in a shift of meta-paradigm in the field of education? Have values such as inclusion and multiculturalism been infused in the school curriculum and policies? Have the teachers successfully integrated these values into their teaching strategies?
EUROCENTRISM: The Foundation of Post Apartheid Education
The eurocentric view of knowledge has dominated the South African education system before and during apartheid. Apartheid was a vulgar and unrefined manifestation of Eurocentrism but the removal of Apartheid was not by itself sufficient to get rid of all the evils of Eurocentrism.
Eurocentricity is the interpretation of reality from a European perspective. Eurocentricity puts European history, culture and interests at the center of one’s worldview. As such, it is a natural and self-validating approach for European Communities or those that identify with Europe. Eurocentrism on the other hand is rooted in the ideology of white supremacy. It is characterized by the drive to impose by open or covert methods the Eurocentric worldview on all the other peoples of the world. In its crude and uncouth manifestation, eurocentrism openly asserts the superiority of the western civilization. But the most widespread and more lethal form of eurocentrism is the erroneous claim to the universality of the European experience.
The subtle forms of eurocentrism have survived Apartheid because they operate much like an illness without symptoms, a silent killer that gives no warning. A typical eurocentric and very popular assertion is “Christopher Columbus discovered America.” This apparently innocuous assertion subsumes that non- Europeans do not come into existence until a European has had an encounter with them Such arrogant eurocentric viewpoints permeate not only the schools but all other socializing agencies notably the media and the churches.
In South Africa and all over the African continent, eurocentrism has lead to the undervaluing and even the destruction of African knowledge, ways of knowing and modes of learning. Eurocentrism in education subtly excludes the African student by putting him at the periphery as an object rather than a subject of his/her own history. He robs the African child of his dignity and self-esteem and makes him a liability to self, society and humanity. Carter G. Woodson wrote, “The same (eurocentric) education which inspires and stimulates the European student with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time that spark of genius in the African child by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples.”
Eurocentric education negates and defies all the new values and norms embedded in the South African Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the National Education Act, the Manifesto on values, Education and Democracy. For the Department of Education to successfully carry out its mandate, it must cleanse the NCS, the school policies, the teaching methods as well as the learning support material of all forms of eurocentrism.
TRUE MULTICULTURALISM: THE ULTIMATE SOLUTION
True Multiculturalism in Education not only recognizes the existence of multiple cultures within the school population but actively seeks to affirm and celebrate all cultures in a spirit of equality and mutual respect. Multiculturalism education strives for the peaceful coexistence of afrocentricity and eurocentricity. On the other hand, it recognizes that eurocentrism and afrocentricity are absolutely incompatible.
In a society like South Africa, where the African majority has been excluded for centuries, multicultural education must start by the promotion of African Centered Education. The affirmation of African knowledge systems and viewpoints is at the core of affirming the dignity of all people and its promotion plays an important role in the self-esteem building and the process of inclusion of previously marginalized communities.
How can a Nation pass from the darkness of Eurocentrism to shining path of Multiculturalism? Are Black and White teachers, born and bred in Eurocentric education, qualified to educate a new generation of multicultural South Africans? The ACE Foundation has conducted research on this subject for the past 10 years and is humbled by the prospect of sharing its experience.
Evolving from Eurocentrism to Multiculturalism is a long term process. Because of the pervasive nature of Eurocentrism, no stone must be left unturned: Curriculum, school policies, teaching strategies, textbooks, extra curricular activities. Mere Add-ons do not help; in fact, they can be very harmful because they tend to give a permanently inferior status to non-European knowledge systems. The solution to the problem of inclusion resides in a radical paradigm shift from a eurocentric worldview to a truly multicultural approach in education. Such a process requires careful strategic planning in order to bring about in an orderly fashion the desired change and transformation.
THE CENTRAL ROLE OF TEACHERS
It is important to point out that the Department of Education can produce the most progressive policies but without educators who are willing and able to take them in the school environment and make them real for learners, the reforms will remain meaningless and ineffectual.
Although many teachers do recognize the role that multiculturalism and inclusion can play in the transformation and regeneration of South Africa, many are failing for a number of reasons to take up the challenge of implementing them in their learning areas. The greatest challenge faced by educators is to find the proper balance between infusing multiculturalism in the subject while keeping the integrity of the learning areas. Our Teachers Training workshops are designed to empower teachers with the skills necessary to strike the perfect balance.
Training workshops are excellent short-term solutions, but in the long term the curriculum in Teacher Training Institutions at the tertiary level must be overhauled. Teachers’ Training has been and still is basically eurocentric. The contribution of non-Europeans to world civilization is marginalized. Other knowledge systems are excluded. Such training develops in teachers a number of barriers to good instruction in a multicultural environment. The greatest of these barriers stem from the teachers attitudes and behaviors which are themselves the result of the teacher’s training: Lack of understanding of the “other cultures”, low expectation for previously disadvantages students, the imposition of double standards etc. . .
Education is at the core of Nationbuilding. The values and norms of the new democratic and non racial South Africa must be imparted to the young generation through schools and other socializing agencies. Eurocentric education is an impediment to the transformation of the society. A shift of paradigm from eurocentrism to Multiculturalism is necessary. The shift of paradigm requires strategic planning and implementation. Teachers are at the forefront of the transformation agenda. Workshops are the short-term solutions to empower the teachers with the skills necessary to live up to the challenges of transformation. Changing the curriculum at the teacher training institutions is the long-term solution. The African Centered Educational Foundation has the know-how and the experience to bring a contribution in this gigantic endeavor.
*Djeukam Tchameni is a senior researcher at the African Centered Educational Foundation. He also conducts doctoral research at the Center for African Renaissance Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org