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University World News articles - Saches 2008 Annual Conference in Maputo

The first feature on Saches 2008 appeared in University World News on the 3rd of August. The second will appear on the 31st of August (next Sunday afternoon).  My appreciation to all of you who assisted with these two articles.

AFRICA: Lecturers debate education and development
Writer: Sheldon G Weeks, Date: 03 August 2008 — University World News

The Southern African Comparative and History of Education Society (Saches) held its 17th annual conference last month on "Education and Regional Development", at Kaya Kwanga on the beach just north of Maputo in Mozambique. Seventy members attended from nine countries in Southern Africa and several from outside the continent - and discussions ranged from pre-school education to the training of graduate students, and from South-South cooperation in education to the "betrayal" of illiterate adults and xenophobia in South Africa.

There were participants from Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Other people came to the conference from Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the United States.

Many papers involved comparative and historical studies across a number of regions, within countries and between nations in Southern Africa, demonstrating a genuine effort to learn from each other. Because of the volume of presentations there were three parallel sessions. One was devoted to higher education while others dealt with an aspect of tertiary education - teacher training. Other themes related to access and equity, development, management and governance, curriculum, HIV-AIDS, and the history of education.

The first, dramatic keynote address was by Professor John Aitchison, an adult educator from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, on what he believes has been the betrayal - yet again - of promises to roll out a serious literacy programme for South Africa's five million illiterate people.

He traced the origins of new initiatives to 2005, after Minister of Education Naledi Pandor attended a literacy conference in Cuba. "In April 2005 the Minister held a roundtable discussion in which she openly acknowledged that the adult basic education and training (ABET) system had failed and said she would take action," Aitchison said.

Aitchison was asked to prepare an operational plan for a campaign to reach the five million people, using 80,000 educators and a variety of strategies. In 2006 Cabinet promised to allocate more than R6 billion (nearly US$1 billion) to the new literacy initiative, which was to be rolled out between 2008 and 2012. A ministerial committee visited Cuba, Venezuela and New Zealand to learn how to set up a national literacy campaign, but the group's report was never published - only a summary appeared in 2007.

Secret reversals of Cabinet's funding promises occurred that emasculated the programme and frustrated its goals. After many months of effort by committed university academics and others, the initiative was downscaled and privatised. A tender document was published outsourcing a vastly scaled-down campaign to a private company - it will cost more and reach less. The great majority of resources remain directed to the formal education system.

What the country is left with, Aitchison said, is yet another betrayal of the masses by bureaucrats - and denial of the promise of liberation through literary for one-eighth of South Africa's population. Efforts to promote ABET in the 14 years since South Africa achieved democracy have had abysmal outcomes, with only 1,000 adult learners having made it through to grade nine. Lifelong learning has been sabotaged.

What happened, Aitchison concluded, was "a curious blend of old apartheid technocracy - a more recent but entirely congruent obsession of the new 'democratic' intake of deployed comrades to control everything, even if the embrace smothers innovation and implementation, and a paralysis caused by the major psychic energies of most officials being the game of self-promotion and the building of power bases and domains".

The lesson revealed is that bureaucrats still harbour deep suspicions of academics, of people they believe they "cannot handle". The experience also demonstrates that bureaucrats lack real concern for delivery to the poor. "The blindness and unrelenting ignorance of the bureaucrats could be perceived as perverse." Procurement policies and outsourcing were part of them problem, and while the money was there in specific unspent funds, the political will is missing.

Professor Linda Chisholm, of the Human Sciences Research Council and editor of the Saches journal Southern African Review of Education, spoke on "South-South Cooperation in Education: Rhetoric, realities and reasons". She presented ideas from the introduction to a forthcoming book edited by her and Gita Steiner-Khamsi, titled South-South Cooperation in Education and Development.

While 'South-South cooperation' is a new buzzword, what does it really mean in the Southern African context? It "can be seen as a form of collective organisation to undertake activities that will improve countries' unequal position on a global scale," Chisholm said.

There were anomalies. For instance, she argued, South-South cooperation can be promoted and paid for by the North - which includes Australia and New Zealand, which are in the South. Also, Northern agencies and donors were playing an increasingly powerful role in determining global and national educational agendas "and were themselves engaged in promoting South-South transfer and cooperation". And where do Japan and China fit in this? When Saches was trying to generate its own South-South links across comparative education institutions, and learn from elsewhere, the links promoted were with Brazil.

There were also concerns - for instance over 'travelling reforms' being "uncritically transferred or transplanted from one continent to another".
Contributors to the forthcoming book by Chisholm and Steiner-Khamsi focused their analyses of South-South cooperation in education on the role of bilateral and multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank, Unesco and the UNDP, on regions such as Africa, Latin America and the Middle East and individual countries such as Brazil, China, India, Japan, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa.

"They examine institutional histories, rationales, varieties and impacts of South-South collaboration," Chisholm explained, and also seek to identify 'best practices' that can be learned from and the modalities of transfer and cooperation. The history of Japan's involvement in promoting South-South cooperation is explored. Cooperation is also considered in the light of the 'new regionalism', and it is noted that it tends to be "a top-down affair controlled by national governments".

Specific attention is given to the role of India in South-South cooperation. Concern was articulated over re-invention of old colonial relationships and the dangers of racism. In his contribution to the book Professor Crain Soudien calls for consideration of what happens in knowledge transfer processes and what they say about post-colonial relations of domination and subordination: "We need to be aware of how privilege is reconstituted at new levels". Chisholm noted that South-South cooperation could be "a vehicle to accelerate the accomplishment of development targets established by the North through standardised aid".

Soudien, of the University of Cape Town, one of the founders of Saches and President of the World Congress of Comparative Education Societies, presented a keynote address on Southern Africa's common educational history.

He also looked at the significance of the work of SACMEQ - the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality, a consortium of 15 ministries of education aimed at monitoring and evaluating the quality of education in the region. Soudien traced commonalities and divergences in the development of education in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia. One of his conclusions was that "modernisation is an incredibly complicated process".

The symposium on xenophobia was chaired by Professor Patrico Sande of the Scientific Research Association of Mozambique, and became a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of issues including an analysis of and search for solutions to the recent wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Chisholm was concerned about unequal access, complications caused by language policies, failures in outcomes-based education and other factors that might be fuelling xenophobia.

Key arguments presented involving tertiary institutions in Southern Africa related to errors in the past, such as neglect of history in the syllabus. In South Africa, the post-1994 generation was not aware of the contributions made to the liberation by other states in Africa, such as Tanzania and Zambia. During apartheid, South Africa looked at itself as being "outside Africa", which had serious consequences today.

A number of roles were noted for academics. First, to understand the nature of the problem and then to go beyond rhetoric. What is "nation building" and the "rainbow nation". Racism in the attacks must also be confronted, as they were directed at black African foreigners and not Asian, European or others.

One participant reported on xenophobic stereotypes expressed by South African students about other Africans that included: they are criminals, they are too dark, they will steal our women, and they promote drugs. As a result assault, theft and murder had been justified on false premises. One recommended approach was for universities more actively to promote multiculturalism and a better understanding of Southern Africa's history - and one way forward for Saches would be through joint research projects.

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