HIGHER EDUCATION TODAY – Curriculum Changes



hello I'm Stephen Roy Goodman host of higher education today welcome back to the education program that connects you to contemporary issues people and institutions involved in the world of higher education today's show is a special joint production of the University of the District of Columbia in the University of Capetown I'm here in Cape Town South Africa where we'll be talking about curriculum changes on the undergraduate and graduate levels dr. Ella Juana Rama Gondo is associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of Cape Town she is also the special adviser to the Vice Chancellor on transformation welcome thank you for having me on your show well we're delighted you could be here well maybe if we could start with the word transformation in your title what does that mean in South Africa and what does that mean at the University of Cape Town for South Africa I think transformation means change change in response to historical and current inequities that if left unaddressed will really mean that injustice is can only deepen or extend in ways that will affect generations to come and from a university point of view I think transformation is about getting diverse voices within and outside the university being seen to Mehta in terms of what councils research and also what is deemed relevant knowledge and that in doing research and in constructing knowledge we all reimagine what society ought to look like if all lives matter well you mention knowledge and and as you know your cell phone is is is a very powerful device and I think it's fair to mention and to ask about the politics of it and the technology combined we're on and you think about all the technological growth that's happening so we don't necessarily need to memorize things like we used to memorize all the time but it's fair to talk about issues of what is knowledge what our knowledge be and then obviously there's a political component to that and maybe you could say a word or two about if you wouldn't mind about how you're trying to deal with that here here in Cape Town mm-hmm and I think technology is an important one because it brings up the issue of access and the minute you talk about access and you begin to acknowledge that not everyone is empowered the same way to gain access to technology and technology that pretty much these days will determine how far one goes in life that is political I don't think it's avoidable to bring politics into knowledge construction when we do research which I think is the area of work where universities are given a lot of power by a society we interpret people's lives just from the research question that is asked when one decides this research question is more important than the next is already a political judgement and results that are found how they are interpreted there may be different alternative ways to make sense of the same data from different perspectives so I think politics is unavoidable well I suspect that that probably is true but I wonder if that's true in all disciplines like we just did a taping since I've been here we did a taping about mechanical engineering and the last time I checked I'm a chemical engineer he isn't exactly as political as political science or economics or a land usage but would you say that that one would want to revisit what the mechanical engineering curriculum would be AI as opposed to or in addition to the curriculum changes let's say for the political science department absolutely because the bridge is not only just a bridge a bridge is designed in ways that may signify values it's about people gaining access maybe beyond certain barriers how that is a barrier for one community and not a barrier for others who determines that vehicles that will use that bridge access to different kinds of commuters whether they will be a bicycle track or not those are questions that I think engineers or to begin to ask of themselves I know of one example for instance in architecture where people or students were given a task to design a holiday home so if you are an architectural student who comes from a poor family where you don't go on holidays you certainly don't own a holiday home how then do you design such a structure homes some homes have one bathroom and toilet others have several so in what goes into curricula it reflects people's lives and and I think oftentimes those who design curricula from a point of view where they think the world is equal when actual actually it's not that knowledge is neutral that learners are decontextualized it it it can be a problem so let's get to the issue of the bridge that's kind of interesting so what would you advise the the chairman of the department that builds bridges or let's say there's a part of the University Cape Town that teaches students how to build bridges what would you want them to do that they're not doing now I would start with the students that they have brought in I think it's a an a a a an important starting base and I'm saying this given that at the investor of Cape Town much has been done to transform the student profile so whatever it is that is being designed or taught around in what ways do students in that course connect with these things what does it mean for them how have they interacted with such structures how have they felt that these structures are accessible to their communities or not how have these structures being seen as ways to enable access or not that already we'll bring out important points to consider in in revising the curriculum and I think here I could also use examples from our own profession occupational therapy which is a profession that falls within healthcare a way the fundamental belief is that what people do every day so they ordinary everyday things that people do impact health in positive ways or negative ways right and when we work with people in all levels of care so acute hospital settings or rehabilitation facilities or in communities of clinics the idea is to work with people in ways that bring them to a point where they feel that what they do brings meaning into their lives so if someone has had an injury or has had a acquired a disability or born with a disability or sometimes people who don't even have an impairment but have or live in circumstances that constrain their aspirations sometimes our work is focusing on those constraints and and thinking together to to to to bring down the barriers to an able participation so for a long time people were quite in my profession we're quite happy to draw from literature that comes from Britain and the US when I studied I was the only student who spoke in African language and language being able of culture in my class and a lot of what I was required to understand of the profession was pretty distant to my lived experience but as a student I could do very little to change that so when I came back as a lecturer I knew that I couldn't ignore the faces that were you know looking at me curious and not understanding what it was that I was talking about or bringing as an example having mastered the language of the profession obviously and coming back as a lecturer was very attuned to students who feel outside of the academic exercise in occupational therapy you raised some interesting points because you could see many many sides of this and from many political issues obviously the issue of access is a crucial one but also you're raising the issue of what students are studying once there is access and that's kind of interesting because you know we've seen lots of studies and lots of discussions about the access points but you're raising something that's I dare say a little more provocative in the American context which is you're asking this University and perhaps other universities to examine the role of what's actually being taught and the construct of that within each of the academic disciplines absolutely and I think that's this richness they and and and in my own experience what I've seen is that everyone stands to gain when there's a diversity of experiences that connecting with the academic activities when we allow students who are not the traditional student coming into these programs question and and and critique what is on offer in relation to what their lives but in their communities we brought in access in in ways that are I think are profound when you find a student I mean again speaking about my own profession occupational therapy where we will have graduates who go back to their communities and cannot even explain what occupational therapy is in ways that their own families can understand it is a problem a question is asked about then how do taxpayers money contribute to having these graduates coming out of the system we ought to be concerned and and worried and and really understand that is a is a critical and important question to ask because for a public university especially we can't be looking at the academy as siloed as a place where scholars and and and academics really produced knowledge only for its own sake I think it comes at high cost and I also think it's deeply alienating for graduates to leave universities and go back to communities and are not able to continue to feel like they're parts of those communities that they come from and you think that if the curriculum were to be reformed in certain ways that certain people would be able to go back to perhaps rural areas throughout South Africa and elsewhere and then be more connected to the communities that they came from originally absolutely absolutely they're the interesting conversations that we've begun to have at the investor of Cape Town and and beyond just my profession but the Health Sciences faculty that we couldn't even begin to have in the past where we for instance would have young people who are studying medicine and are saying to us by the way my family consults with traditional healers this is a tradition of seeking healing that has been with us for centuries and in studying medicine I feel I am being forced to disregard the fact that people were able to live without Western medicine so how does that work and sometimes some of these students would say there are certain conditions that I can see cannot be explained in Western ways and sometimes I consult and when I've done that I keep it to myself it's a secret and sometimes even if I miss a day or two because I'm going through a process I know to go past a physician just to get a note so that I can explain my absence in the classroom but you know so we forcing people to live a lie when actually we could bring in to the Academy those points of disconnect and and begin to interrogate exactly what the interface may be between indigenous ways of healing and and Western medicine in ways that could enrich and and maybe translate in a better sense of well-being for for society and in fact the picture out there is that more people consult with traditional healers medical doctors and we can also not produce enough medical doctors we having to bring in doctors from Cuba for instance to to fill the gap so I can only imagine that if we began to draw from different perspectives different experiences to enrich what they Academy is about there's games well this is really interesting because I should tell you that you're the second person who's mentioned traditional healers in the context of this show and you're in good company because the first person who raised this issue is vusi mala Sayla the singer-songwriter and busey and i were talking i don't know if this part i don't remember if it made the actual segment or if it was after that after we finished taping but he made exactly the same point that you made I think it was after the taping he made exactly the same point that traditional healers are an important part of life in South Africa and that it would be in because we were talking about a boon to and what the concept of a boon to ment and his point was that traditional healers are quite quite important and that we really should investigate that so you're in good company great but I think the question there would be a follow-up to that would be to a westerner and this is you know a show based in Washington DC the concept of a University studying traditional healers would be an unusual one and you could imagine that from a Western perspective so how would you what would you say to an administrator who's watching this in the United States who's looking at curriculum changes or possible curriculum changes do you want them to study traditional healing or traditional healers or how would you ask them to explore this that is a tough one obviously because you know for me local context in beginning to inform what the Academy is about is crucial and I think for us in South Africa traditional healing is paramount because of you know what I mentioned in that society by and large draws from that tradition of healing I would be very curious about other alternative ways of healing that may be present within the US society that may not have been fully explored and I would urge those who have influenced and and and and and can begin to bring in conversations into the academic space that begin to to trouble the taken-for-granted notions of what it means to seek healing well this is interesting but you could also expand this the line of thought to other types of medicine you could look at it in terms of acupuncture you could look at it in terms of herbal remedies maybe they're herbal teas or herbs that somehow will help you heal but not every Western medical school would presumably offering these courses no absolutely the other very controversial element to this is there are the relevance of spirituality I was fortunate to have written a review for a book published in the u.s. thinkers cost spiritual transformation and healing and and it's written from a point of view of different disciplines neuroscience theology anthropology and then it was fascinating in that for the first time people were beginning to their own disciplinary perspectives to begin to understand why spirituality should not be ignored even within the Academy and an acknowledgment that the American society generally believes that there's an entity that can heal yet people seem to be very shy to pronounce on that and one fascinating piece of research involved oncologists and and in patients with cancer and a number of them who were terminal and and and the question that was asked to both sides was when is it that spirituality would be addressed in a conversation between an oncologist and a patient and the ecologist said only when the patient brings it up and the patient said only one color just brings it up so obviously this notion even as it was essential to how people understood healing especially when you've probably faced him death well this is really interesting again I want to get back to this notion of the mechanical engineering a political science because I think the average person both in the United States and in South Africa could see pretty clearly the issue of political science politics you know the antsy didn't come to power in 1994 based on just some theoretical Oshin it was a political movement in South Africa people are elected or not elected in the United States based on their political platforms but I just wanted to revisit this issue if we could a little bit about how this intersects with what a department would be doing when they would think that something is just pure knowledge and I understand your point about it's contextualized but how do you go about talking to a chairman of an individual department or a Medical School and saying we'd really like to explore more courses about how you deal with patients when in fact the political constructs are such that people wouldn't take that medical school as seriously if they were to do that certainly in the West I think people need to be very clear about what they mean by politics big P politics where political parties and voting as involved is just one element of what politics could be about but I understand politics more in relation to power and who holds power and who has the mechanisms through which to influence decision and that happens everywhere and within every department there are people with more power than others sometimes it's patchy we're men able to exert influence in ways that women can't how can that question about power that is not balanced be avoided when it affects they are cuddly it affects what generals for publications are meant to count or not it affects what kind of research should be valued or not we've got a long history of skewed understanding of disease because the research is where men and where things change about how we understand something because women are involved in the research so these are not simple small matters and I think the other thing to also acknowledge is that as much as we want to believe that knowledge is is very neutral we like to us a house it's not I think Giddins in in in writing about ideology you made it very clear that you know people will push for knowledge that sells dominant interests how then can we completely disregard the fact that there may be others within our respective departments who feel that they cannot influence what is regarded as good research and important knowledge and when people look around in their offices in the boardrooms and they watch closely who's sitting around the table whom do they see whom don't they see and what explains why certain people are not represented our own around those tables and what does it mean for whatever it is that is regarded care or service to communities that are not represented well I wanted we're not going to be able to continue this conversation today but this is a start of talking about these very provocative topics so thank you very much for coming on the show because I think you do raise some powerful issues and I'm sure a lot of people have a lot of opinions and we'll be getting lots of mail about it so thank you very much if you would like additional information about ello on e rama Gondo please visit d h RS you see t AC duds yet if you have comments or suggestions about higher education today please send an email to our viewer mailbox at higher education today at top colleges calm thank you for watching we will continue to bring you quality discussions about important matters in today's college and university world please join me again for another edition of higher education today I'm Steven Rory goodman and you've been watching higher education today

2 thoughts on “HIGHER EDUCATION TODAY – Curriculum Changes”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *