Monday, 27 July 2015

Approaches to knowledge UJ 23rd July 2015

Challenging dualism: shaping pedagogies for digital learning Dr John Hannon of La Trobe University


Construction and reconstruction in indigenous knowledge systems in Africa  Prof Lone Ketsitllile & Dr Uju Ukwuona
John Hannon fro La Trobe University

This was my first visit to the SOTL@UJ Seminar series. These two talks and the respondent’s (Prof Gert van der Westhuizen) unusual participatory turn in concluding), created elegant threads of questions, examples, arguments, and provocations.

I enjoyed John’s opening critique of ‘elevator words’ that don’t explain anything – such clich├ęd abstractions need to be materialised: take ‘teaching and learning’ – which have contested and competing theoretical traditions. (How nicely, I though this will tie in with the Indigenous Knowledge systems talk – which it did.)

Another bridging theme between the two talks is Dualism: subject/object; human/technology; virtual/real; theory/practice; bounded/unbounded spaces.  John asked: ‘How are knowledge practices enacted? There are ontological and methodological questions: knowledge needs to be practiced; things don’t exist by themselves …
 (And I thought of the dualisms tabulated by Ogunniyi (2004:293) of western knowledge and IKS – I have changed them slightly.)

Science Knowledge
Science is based on a dualistic worldview
IKs is based on a holistic worldview
Time is real and has a continuous irreversible series of duration. Time is commodified. Speed valued.
Time is continuous and cyclical.  Taking time is valued.
Matter is real and exists within time
and space. The world exists ‘out there’.
Matter is real and exists within time,
space and the ethereal realm. World is relational.
All events have natural causes
Events have both natural and unnatural
Scientific laws/generalizations are
causal, logical, rational, impersonal
and universal
Generalizations within the indigenous
knowledge systems are relative statements
which do not purport to have
universal application
Language is not important to the
workings of the natural world
Language is important as a creative
force in the workings of both the
natural and the unnatural worlds
Science is culture free
Indigenous knowledge is a critical part
of culture

Lone Kesitlile and Uju Ukwuona
I was in the meantime being challenged to rethink spaces, enactments and realities. We pondered ‘Wicked’ vs ‘Tame’ issues and did not disagree that education was ‘rarely tame’.  John challenged us to consider how practices spread;  how connections are made; how technology is enacted as solutionism. (And I thought –I have a lot to consider! – I was in a privileged space of intellectual conversation.) I also later reflected on Gert’s conversational analysis saying that: “I say things because you say things.” And my internal conversation was certainly being shifted here.

There were more mental challenges in Lone and Uju’s  presentation on the need to include IKS in curricula. Reasons for including – or starting from an IK perspective in class - include social justice, redress, student-centred approaches and the decolonisation of the mind.  (Here I thought of the injunction of Millar 25 years ago that that scientific literacy needs to be socially defined -  to prevent disalienation.)  We have great IK policies in South Africa (but not in Botswana we were told). However, since the vision in Southern Africa of ‘People’s Education for People’s Power’ in the 1980s which included elements of indigenous knowledge (Prew, 2013), and the more recent IK focus from NRF, DOE and DST there is little creativity or will around implementation in schools. 

Continuing the conversation on IK – curricula integration may lead us to consider aspects of troublesome knowledge, patriarchy, local knowledge vs universal knowledge. It is interesting that many of the IK-curriculum ideals have been lost somewhere between theory and practice. A site for reconstruction indeed.
Gert van der Westhuizen

(Last thoughts…) I was jolted by Gert’s declaration that we have an epistemic responsibility “I say what I say to continue the conversation.”  I hope that I have done that.


Millar, R. (1989), “Constructive criticisms”. International Journal of Science Education, pp. 587-596.

Ogunniyi, M. (2004).  The challenge of preparing and equipping science teachers in higher education to integrate scientific and indigenous knowledge systems for learners. South African Journal of Higher Education. 18 (3) pp. 289-304.

Prew, M. (2013). ‘People’s Education for People’s Power’: The Rise and Fall of an Idea in Southern Africa. In Logics of Socialist Education. (pp. 133-153). Springer Netherlands.