Analysis of Colonial Curriculum at The North West University

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About this sample


Words: 2579 |

Pages: 6|

13 min read

Published: Apr 30, 2020

Words: 2579|Pages: 6|13 min read

Published: Apr 30, 2020

This essay seeks to analyse a practice in the North West University Potchefstroom campus. This practice involves “curriculum of higher education that has not yet been a decolonized”. Since 2015 students across South African universities have been campaigning for the decolonization of higher education. This practice is going to be analysed and explained using the theoretical framework of Modernity/coloniality. In the North West University Potchefstroom campus there is a practice which involves a curriculum which largely remains Eurocentric and colonial in nature. This problem is even made worse by fact the curriculum is mostly largely being taught in Afrikaans. In fact there is a campaign across all universities in South Africa calling for the decolonization of higher education. A perfect example is that we are taught more about European history than African history.

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The starting point for the theoretical framework of Modernity/coloniality is that ‘modernity’ is a European narrative that hides its darker side, ‘coloniality’. Coloniality, in other words, is constitutive of modernity-there is no modernity without coloniality (Mignolo 2007: 39). In this case the North West University which can considered modern is still teaching a curriculum which is colonial in nature. De-colonial thinking has emerged, from the sixteenth century on, as responses to the oppressive and imperial bent of modern European ideal projected to, and enacted in, the non-European world (Mignolo 2007: 39). Since the end of the oppressive and racist apartheid system in 1994, epistemologies and knowledge systems at most South African universities have not considerably changed; they remain rooted in colonial, apartheid and western worldviews and epistemological traditions (Heleta 2016). The curriculum remains largely Eurocentric and continues to reinforce white and western dominance and privilege (Heleta 2016).

The conceptualization of modernity/coloniality is grounded in a series of operations that distinguish it from established theories of modernity (Escobar 2007: 184). Succinctly put, these includes the identification of the domination of others outside the European core as a necessary dimension of modernity, with the concomitant subalternization of the knowledge and cultures of these other groups; a conception of eurocentrism as the knowledge form of modernality/coloniality-a hegemonic representation and mode of knowing that claims universality for itself, and that relies on ‘a confusion between abstract universality for itself, and the concrete world hegemony derived from Europe’s position as center (Dussel 2000, p. 471, Quijano 2000, p. 549, as cited in Escobar 2007: 184).

The modernity/coloniality research program is a framework constructed the modern world system; it helps explain the dynamics of Eurocentrism in the making of modernity and attempts to transcend it (Escobar 2007: 189). If it reveals the dark sides of modernity, it does not do it from an intra-epistemic perspective, as in the critical European discourses, but from the perspective of the receivers of the alleged benefits of the modern world (Escobar 2007: 189). From the caribbean, you see that modernity not only needed coloniality but that coloniality was and continues to be constitutive modernity (Mignolo 2007: 466). There is no modernity without coloniality (Mignolo 2007: 466).

From England, you see only modernity and, in the shadow, the ‘bad things’ like slavery, exploitation, appropriation of land, all of which will supposedly be corrected within the advance of modernity and democracy when all arrive at the stage in which justice and equality will be for all (Mignolo 2007: 466). In an article published in 1989 and reprinted in 1992, titled ‘Colonialidad y modernidad-racionalidad’ Quijano explicitly linked coloniality of power in the political and economic spheres with the coloniality of knowledge; and ended the argument with the natural consequence: if knowledge is colonized one of the task ahead is to de-colonize knowledge (Mignolo 2007: 451).

In the past three or four years, the work and conversations among the members of the modernity/coloniality research project’, de-coloniality became the common expression paired with the concept of coloniality and the extension of coloniality of power (economic and political) to coloniality of knowledge and of being (gender, sexuality, subjectivity and knowledge), were incorporated into the basic vocabulary among members of the research project (Mignolo 2007: 451). South African students and a small number of progressive academics began a campaign in 2015 to decolonize the curriculum at universities ‘by ending the domination of western epistemological traditions, histories and figures (Molefe 2016: 32, as cited in Heleta 2016).

In particular, the students have called for the end of domination by ‘white, male, Western, capitalist, heterosexual, European worldviews in the higher education and incorporation of other South African, African and global perspectives, experiences and epistemologies as the central tenets of curriculum, teaching, learning and research in the (Shay 2016, as cited in Heleta 2016). National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon (fanon et al 1963: 35). At whatever level we study it-relationships between individual, new names for sports for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks-decolonisation is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men (fanon et al 1963: 35). Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution (fanon et al 1963: 35).

The perspective of modernity/coloniality provides an alternative framework for debates on modernity, globalization and development; it is not just a change in the description of events, it is an epistemic change of perspective (Escobar 2007: 189). By speaking of the colonial difference, this framework brings to the fore the power dimension that is often lost in relativistic discussions of cultural difference (Escobar 2007: 189). The universities have done very little since 1994 to open up ‘to different bodies and traditions of knowledge and knowledge-making in new and exploratory ways (Heleta 2016). While universities have had new policies and frameworks that speak about equality, equity, transformation and change, institutional cultures and epistemological traditions have not considerably changed (Heleta 2016). The South African higher education system remains a colonial outpost up to this day, reproducing hegemonic identities instead of eliminating hegemony (Mckaiser 2016, as cited in Heleta 2016). Mbembe (2016: 32) argues that there is something wrong when the syllabuses designed to meet the needs of colonialism and apartheid should continue well into the liberation era (Heleta 2016).

The colonized do not have epistemic privileges, of course: the only epistemic privilege is in the side of the colonizer, even when the case in point is emancipating projects, liberal or Marxist (Mignolo 2007: 459). ‘Colonizer side’ here means Eurocentric categories of thought which carries both the seed of emancipation and the seed of regulation and oppression (Mignolo 2007: 459). Kelly (2000: 27) writes that colonial domination required a whole way of thinking, a discourse in which everything that is advanced, good and civilized is defined and measured in European terms (Heleta 2016). In this process, colonial education played an instrumental role, promoting and imposing the Eurocentric ways and worldviews while subjugating everything else (Heleta 2016). Thus, one of the most destructive effects of colonialism was subjugation of local knowledge and promotion of the western knowledge as the universal knowledge (Heleta 2016). De-coloniality, then, means working toward a vision of human life that is not dependent upon or structured by the forced imposition of one ideal of society over those that differ, which is what modernity/coloniality does and, hence, where decolonization of the mind should begin (Mignolo 2007: 459). The struggle is for changing the term in addition to the content of the conversation (Mignolo 2007: 459).

Europeans scholars have worked hard for centuries to erase the historical, intellectual centuries to erase the historical, intellectual and cultural contributions of Africa and other parts of the ‘non-Western’ world to our common humanity (Heleta 2016). They have done this as part of the white supremacist project (Heleta 2016). As Said (1994: 8)The western European literature has for centuries portrayed the non-Western world and peoples as inferior and subordinate; this helped normalize racism among the colonialists and developed a notion that Europe should rule, non-Europeans ruled (Said 1994: 120, as cited in (Heleta 2016). Eurocentrism, racism, segregation and epistemic violence at South African universities were not products of the apartheid (Heleta 2016). Rather, these problems began with the establishment of the universities by the British colonists and further evolved after 1948 (Sehoole 2006: 4, as cited Heleta 2016). Imperial and colonial rule included both direct and indirect socioeconomic and political control, dominance and exploitation of resource-rich parts of the world by the European powers in the form of settler or extractive colonies (Mandani 1996: 17, as cited Heleta 2016).

Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of substantification which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies (fanon et al 1963: 36). Decolonisation never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally (fanon et al 1963: 36). It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentially into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them (fanon et al 1963: 36). It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity (fanon et al 1963: 36). In South Africa, the colonial universities were set up by settler elites who saw them as both symbols and disseminators of European civilization in the colonies (Pietsch 2013, as cited Heleta 2016).

The role of universities-which were part and parcel of the colonial project-was to promote white supremacy and develop the white youth to maintain and further expand colonial society ((Pietsch 2013; Ramoupi 2011: 5, as cited Heleta 2016). Colonial universities were unapologetically Eurocentric, patterned on the metropolitan universities from they drew much of their faculty and curricula (Zeleza 2009: 114, as cited Heleta 2016). Decolonisation is the veritable creation of new men (fanon et al 1963: 35). But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself (fanon et al 1963: 37).

In decolonisation, there is therefore the need of a complete calling in question of the colonial situation (fanon et al 1963: 37). If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the well-known words: “the last shall be first and the first last” (fanon et al 1963: 37). Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence (fanon et al 1963: 37). That is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful (fanon et al 1963: 37). After 1994, epistemological transformation was supposed to entail a reorientation away from colonial and apartheid knowledge system, in which curriculum was used as a tool exclusion, to a democratic curriculum that is inclusive of all human thought (Department of Education 2008: 89, as cited in Heleta 2016). However, universities have failed to do much, if anything, to change the curriculum since the demise of Apartheid (Heleta 2016).

As the Department of Education concluded in 2008, the transformation efforts have not translated into any significant shifts in the structure and content of the curriculum (Department of Education 2008: 90, as cited in Heleta 2016). The curriculum is inextricably intertwined with the institutional culture and, given that the latter remains white and Eurocentric at historically white institutions, the institutional environment is not conducive to curriculum reform (Department of Education 2008: 91, as cited in Heleta 2016). Epistemic de-colonization runs parallel to delinking (Mignolo 2007: 453). A delinking that leads to de-colonial epistemic shift and brings to the foreground other epistemologies, other principles of knowledge and understanding and, consequently, other economy, other politics, other ethics (Mignolo 2007: 453). ‘New inter-cultural communication’ should be interpreted as new inter-espistemic communication (Mignolo 2007: 453). Furthermore, de-linking presupposes to move toward a geo and body politics of knowledge that on the one hand denounces the pretended universality of a particular ethnicity (body politics), located in a specific part of the planet (geo-politics), that is, Europe where capitalism accumulated as a consequence of colonialism (Mignolo 2007: 453). De-linking then shall be understood as a de-colonial epistemic shift leading to other-universality, that is, to pluri-versality as a universal project (Mignolo 2007: 453).

The colonial and apartheid curriculum in South Africa has promoted white supremacy and dominance as well as stereotyping of Africa (Heleta 2016). The current higher education curriculum still largely reflects the colonial and apartheid worldviews (Ramoupi 2014: 271,as cited in Heleta 2016) and is disconnected from African realities, including the lived experiences of the majority of black South Africans (Heleta 2016). Most universities still follow the hegemonic Eurocentric epistemic canon that attributes truth only to the western way of knowledge production (Mbemebe 2016: 32, as cited Heleta 2016). Such a curriculum does not develop students critical and analytical skills to understand and move the African continent forward (Heleta 2016). what we have in most fields of study (and particularly in the humanities and social sciences) is Eurocentric indoctrination, which marginalizes Africa and is often full of patronizing views and stereotypes about the continent: European and white values are still perceived as the standards on which the country’s education system is based and rooted (Ramoupi 2011: 5, as cited Heleta 2016).

Eurocentrism, which dominates the curriculum, seeks to universalize the west and provinicialize the rest (Zeleza 2009: 133, as cited Heleta 2016). Such education does not critically interrogate the outcomes of a history of patriarchy, slavery, imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism (Molefe 2016: 32, as cited Heleta 2016). According to Rossouw (2017), he proposes that decolonization means the advancement of the freedom and self-reliance of all South African communities that identify with this country (Rossouw 2017: 72). This advancement can only succeed if our universities are decolonized (Rossouw 2017: 72). If decolonization is the advancement of the freedom and self-reliance of all our communities, decolonizing the university must have at least three aspects, namely that of language, curriculum and the economy (Rossouw 2017: 72).

In order to decolonize university much more must be done to enable students to study in their African indigenous languages such as Setswana, isiZulu and isiXhosa and others (Rossouw 2017: 73). Notable post-colonial African thinkers like Ngugu wa Thionga, Achille Mbembe and Mahmood Mamdani have all espoused this (Rossouw 2017: 73). As far as the curriculum is concerned, using the humanities as an example, it should be taken into consideration that the aim of a South African humanities curriculum is to equip students with the necessary hermeneutic skills to understand contemporary South Africa and its place in the world, such a curriculum has feature all the source of the ideas that shaped contemporary South Africa, that is, pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Africa (Rossouw 2017: 73).

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As far as the economy is concerned, South Africa universities have a social responsibility through the development of our indigenous languages, curriculum reform and a sense of locality to contribute to the development of participatory market economy (Rossouw 2017: 74). A truly excellent and world-class decolonized South African university should develop economic initiatives in the areas where they based, especially the rural and provincial universities (Rossouw 2017: 74). Conclusion It can be said that there has not yet been much change in the North West University with regard to transformation of the curriculum and the language policy. It could concluded that curriculum largely remains colonial in nature with regard to the modernity/ coloniality framework. It can also be said that more needs to be done in terms decolonizing our Higher education system across all South African universities.

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Analysis Of Colonial Curriculum At The North West University. (2020, April 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“Analysis Of Colonial Curriculum At The North West University.” GradesFixer, 30 Apr. 2020,
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