African Leadership University (ALU) is working on dismantling the age-old social sciences curriculum to decolonize and contextualize African history.
The radical university’s Mauritius campus is set to build everything from scratch – space, staff and curriculum. The institution is aiming at a pan-African approach; embedding the university within ongoing contemporary movements: like the efforts made by South African students to decolonize schools and higher education institutions in South Africa or other global movements, like Black Lives Matter – the anti-police brutality social organization.
ALU social science faculty member, Jess Auerbach, told The Conversation, “Part of our task is to build a canon, knowledge and a way of knowing.”
Two of the commitments made by the university are making the curriculum open source by 2019 as well as to focus on languages beyond English. “Students will also be expected to learn languages from the continent: both those that originated through colonialism (Arabic, English, French, Portuguese) and those that are indigenous (isiZulu, Wolof, Amharic),” Auerbach said.
In April, the officials of South Africa’s Dept. of Basic Education urged the parliament to decolonize the school’s curriculum.Suren Govender, the chief director for curriculum, told the Mail & Guardian, that the colonial model of academic organizations was entrenched during apartheid and has not been redressed post-apartheid, in any serious way. “The way in which history has been written suggests that (David) Livingstone discovered Victoria Falls, but, in fact, it existed and people lived there long before Livingstone arrived,” Govender explained.
In 2015, the Rhodes Must Fall movement, that took over the campus of Cape Town and demanded the removal of racist Cecil Rhodes’ statue from the steps of the University of Cape Town, succeeded. The movement spread like wildfire on other campuses in South Africa and later to U.K.’s Oxford University to fight not just symbolic statues, but the age-old “institutional racism”, that was introduced as part of the systematic segregation and discrimination in South Africa’s Apartheid, between 1948 and 1991.
Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of South Africa’s Centre for Conflict Resolution and former Rhodes Scholar, told the BBC, that the demands appeared to have been “a metaphorical call for the transformation of the university’s curriculum, culture and faculty, which many blacks feel are alienating and still reflect a Eurocentric heritage.”
Some of those demands that emerged from the movement, but didn’t see the light of the day at the time, were university transformation and decolonization – racial equity, a different campus culture, curriculum reform and more indigenous African professors – there are only five in the more than 250 senior faculties at Cape Town.
“Since inception, all South African universities adopted Western models of academic organization, which excluded and decimated the knowledge of colonized people,” wrote Professor L. le Grange of Stellenbosch University, in the article “Decolonizing the University Curriculum.”
South Africa’s Dept. of Basic Education plans to decolonize the curriculum between 2020 and 2030. As part of the changes, the introduction of Kiswahili will be made compulsory.
ALU will also lay emphasis on sources beyond the written word. “Africa’s long intellectual history has only recently begun to be recorded and stored through text. If students are exposed only to written sources, their knowledge is largely constrained to the eras of colonization and post-coloniality,” Auerbach said. In order to “instill a much deeper knowledge and more sensitive awareness to context and content, we are committed to assigning non-textual sources of history, culture, and belief; studying artifacts, music, advertising, architecture, food and more,” Auerbach added.
ALU is also committed to improving the student exchange ratio to 1:1, as most often, “For higher education, student exchange usually takes place at a ratio of 10:1 – ten Americans or Norwegians, for instance, exploring South African townships, for one Ghanaian who might make it to the Eiffel Tower,” Auerbach told The Conversation.
In a piece titled “Put Africa back in our universities, vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University, Wim deVilliers, wrote that the aim is to put “Africa at the center of knowledge production, not at the periphery, as has been done for too long.”