On a bright and sunny Monday morning in October, 22 lecturers and academic development practitioners from across the region’s four institutions met to discuss and engage in a conversation about a socially justice perspective on foundation provision. This seminar-workshop was organised to unpack and gain clarity on the interesting and thought-provoking argument presented by Professors Brenda Leibowitz (UJ) and Vivienne Bozalek (UWC) in the recent edition of the South African Journal of Higher Education (Vol 29, 1).
The seminar-workshop programme was structured to accommodate an extended presentation by Brenda and Vivienne which allowed them to reintroduce all the participants to the key ideas and arguments outlined in their article. (download presentation Presentation_19Oct2015).A key position taken by the authors of the paper was to critique how the current formulation of foundation provision creates a division within the higher education learning space between mainstream and ECP. These divisions are reinforced and amplified leading to stigma and ‘othering’. Current thinking about foundation provisions thus fails to acknowledge the complexities of learning that all students at higher education experience, not only those in ECP. The article offers the Universal Design for Learning and Capabilities Approach as two alternative ways in which support for learning and teaching across the higher education space can be developed in ways that are more socially just.
Participants were then divided into disciplinary or interest groups (Science and Engineering, Academic Literacies and Writing, Business and Commerce, Faculty & Institutional leadership). In our groups we were asked to reflect on the presentation and article and then flesh out what was useful or not about the argument and ideas and whether there was any practical merit to what the presenters were offering. We also had to come up with three questions or issue we wanted the presenters to respond to. By all accounts these mini-group discussions were robust and spirited and offered participants an opportunity to really grapple, not only with the main argument offered by the paper, but also its practical utility in the very diverse contexts of departmental and institutional settings. At the final plenary session each group offered a report on their discussions and the presenters were able to respond to questions raised.
Many agreed that the paper was clear in raising the varied challenges and complexities faced within the South African higher education context, and especially how these become manifest within extended curriculum and foundational provisions. In particular participants grappled with notions of the purpose of higher education, what social justice meant within higher education, contested conceptualisations of the term ‘disadvantage’, the shifting focus on academic development work (from supporting students to supporting staff) and inherent way in which foundation provisions tend to ‘other’ both the student and staff associated with its programmes. Needless to say, after an engaging morning of discussion and debate many of the participants left with more questions than answers – an indication of the continued intellectual and academic work required within the extended curriculum sector.
Lucia Thesen, Ermien van Pletzen, Saalih Allie, Daniel Mumene
Delia Marshall, Arona Dison, Marijke du Toit
Cecilia Jacobs, Gert Young, Alwyn Louw