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Denormalising students' epistemicide in the teaching and assessment of AL in South African HE

By Dr Oscar Eybers (University of Pretoria)

Institutions of higher learning operate at the nexus of knowledge generation, expert discourses, and economic development in Africa. If this were not the case, South Africa would not experience persistent demand for higher knowledge among the youth and inhabitants of the land. The question for academic literacies facilitators remains: Are students’ pre-university, disciplinary, professional, and entrepreneurial needs embedded in teaching, learning, and assessment methods? The stance of this blog is that marginalisation of these aspects of literacies in and outside of universities results in students’ epistemicide. In contrast, academic literacies facilitation that draws on students’ cultural epistemologies, disciplinary affiliations, professional aspirations, and entrepreneurial needs constrains weaponization of literacies against indigenous and second-language English speakers. Further, disciplinarily integrated literacies can, in my view, transform higher education into a decolonial order where the humanity of all university members is cherished, and ethnocentrism is dismantled.

There are critical steps universities can take to decolonise academic literacies teaching, learning, and assessment practices. Firstly, exclusion of southern Africa’s indigenous languages has to end. Indigenous African languages are the primary tools African people apply to develop, contest, and elaborate cultural epistemologies. Moreover, indigenous languages enable Africans to articulate future, decolonised social ontologies in which the neo-Apartheid economy is constrained. Thereafter, indigenous African ontologies can assist academics in re-introducing ancient epistemes including ubuntu, communalism, and egalitarianism into the ethos of academic departments. Secondly, de-centralising generic curriculum and assessments mechanisms from students’ learning experiences is vital. Alternatively, discipline-specific curricula that introduce students to tacit knowledge and literacies that are embedded in mainstream subjects are recommended. As a consequence of discipline-specific modular structures, segregating students according to race and linguistic epistemologies will be harder to maintain, if not prevent. Summarily, it is recommended that academic literacies teaching, learning, and assessments enable the holistic development of students’ disciplinary, professional, entrepreneurial discourses.

Given the crisis of youth unemployment in South Africa, combining entrepreneurial literacies with professional discourses is vital. As a result of job scarcity in southern Africa, literacies facilitators have a role to play in preparing students for post-university environments that require the establishment of new institutions, businesses, and social structures that guard social and economic security. In this context, professional discourses are enabled to prepare students to interact with key stakeholders in the post-university phase; multilingual instruction will further students’ confidence in real societal interactions. For example, social workers, psychologists, and criminologists interact with distinct discourses, concepts, and theories. Therefore, academic literacies facilitators can strengthen students capacities to apply professional discourses through close collaboration with mainstream faculty departments. Since South Africa’s poverty and unemployment crises necessitates skilled experts with capacities to develop new businesses and economic structures, academic literacies facilitators are positioned in universities to enhance students’ preparedness for post-university joblessness. In this aspect, empowering students with entrepreneurial discourses and literacies is recommended. As examples, students can be introduced to digital technologies used in workplaces that are related to their fields of study. In addition, business proposals, reports, data analysis, and fund-raising genres are prime genres for preparing students entrepreneurially. In summation, integrating professional and entrepreneurial discourses, alongside disciplinary knowledge, is recommended to constrain students’ epistemicide in the teaching, learning, and assessment of academic literacies. Through these integrated literacies, facilitators may contribute to equipping students with essential knowledge to survive once they exit the campus domain.

Facilitating academic literacies in ways that empower students in disciplinary, professional, and entrepreneurial contexts is a weighty task. Moreover, so is the goal of including students’ multilingual Discourses in learning experiences. However, when literacies facilitators collaborate with mainstream lecturers, business experts, and multilingual speakers in and outside campus, the possibilities of denormalising students’ epistemicide is feasible. Hence, interdisciplinary efforts to integrate course content, learning strategies, and assessments to empower students around specialised literacies’ are essential. Fortunately, COVID-19, pandemic conditions presented digital opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, before the pandemic instructional designers had to physically meet to combine resources and expertise. In the present, contrarily, all learning material and pedagogical tools are online. Therefore, the potential for learning and assessment opportunities which draw on disciplinary, professional, entrepreneurial, and multilingual Discourses is feasible. In conclusion, literacies and disciplinary instructors must agree that students’ epistemicide is preventable through merging the knowledge students bring to campuses with disciplinary epistemes. Thereafter, identification of key genres, concepts, theories, and communicative strategies that transcend modular borders can be reduced. Thus, South African students may experience benefits of interdisciplinary instruction that is rooted in fostering their epistemological wellbeing.

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