Decolonizing higher education pedagogies: Michalinos Zembylas

Last Thursday, a healthy contingent of CPUT ECP lecturers attended the seminar by Michalinos Zembylas at UWC, entitled Decolonizing higher education pedagogies: Good intentions are not enough.

Prof Zembylas is Associate Professor of Education at the Open University of Cyprus, but has visiting Professor positions at both the Free State and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Universities. His research interests are in the areas of educational philosophy and curriculum theory, and his work focuses on exploring the role of emotion and affect in curriculum and pedagogy. He is particularly interested in how affective politics intersect with issues of social justice pedagogies, intercultural and peace education, and citizenship education.

Prof Zembylas presented a sort of ‘tour de force’ of decolonization theory, helping to distill what for many is a minefield of theoretical and ideological positions. However, he clearly asserted that principally the concept points to two important ideas; firstly the resistance to Eurocentrism and the acknowledgment of contributions by colonized populations across the world and secondly, the emphasis on a moral imperative for correcting the wrongs of colonial domination, thus the adoption of an ethical stance in relation to social justice for those enslaved and disempowered by persistent forms of coloniality.

Importantly Michalinos helped to differentiated between concepts and terms often used interchangeably with decolonisation like Africanization and transformation. However, the main focus of his presentation was to discuss how decolonization is (should be?) taken up and understood within the higher education setting. Here he highlighted three different approaches

  • transforming/disrupting the institutional cultures as they now exists, privileging neoliberal structures
  • exposing the dominance of Eurocentrism in curriculum and pedagogy;
  • transforming/disrupting this dominance by pointing to knowledge possibilities that have been denied relevance

He concluded by suggesting that five fundamental shifts have to be made to fully realise the decolonization project within higher education in South Africa

  1. awareness of colonization is not enough: its consequences must be exposed and challenged
  2. reject the discourse of deficiency: a dominant thinking in HE in SA attempts to understand student difficulty by framing students and their families as lacking academic and cultural resources
  3. acknowledge the sociopolitical context and its challenges and develop a strategic stepped approach to challenge colonized practices and structures
  4. good  intentions are not enough. You cannot be neutral. Neutrality amounts to perpetuating the status quo
  5. accept a loss of likeability. You will make enemies, but you have to live with this

In discussing the value of attending the seminar, ECP colleagues (Alex Noble, Lynn Coleman, Nike Romano, Nowhi Xintolo & Tasleema Mohammed) agreed that Prof Zemblyas’s ‘Different articulation of decolonization in HE’ slide was most useful in analyzing and identifying especially institutional  responses to decolonization. We also agreed that a more detailed engagement with all ECP stakeholders around this topic would be useful. It would provide individual lecturers with an opportunity to consider their own perspectives on the debates and encourage reconsiderations of their curricula and pedagogic practices in light of these debates.

Presentation Slides_Zembylas_UWC_ November 2017

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