Bringing change to higher education

ICON is working as a central element in the General Education programme of Durban University of Technology (DUT).  The key role is in the design and teaching of Cornerstone 101, a course that eventually all DUT will take in first year.

General Education aims to broaden out the curriculum, as part of a process of curriculum renewal that aims to change the experience and attributes of a new generation of students.  Part of the problem has been a narrowly technical education that has sidelined issues of ethics, questions of development and relationship of professional knowledge to the nature of society.

“In particular, we want to address how education can serve to legitimise violence, or instead serve to challenge and question violence within society,” Crispin Hemson, ICON Director, said.

Cornerstone is working with the lived experiences of students and raising questions over that and how such experiences relate to the formal curriculum.  One such area is on issues of HIV/AIDS.  Given that Cornerstone works to ensure high levels of safety for students, inevitably sensitive issues are raised, including that students often raise very challenging issues that they have faced.  Central to this is the negotiation around developing a Common Set of Values that staff and students agree to abide with.

This has enabled the development of a strongly positive classroom experience.  These photos shown students preparing and presenting scenarios on the issues of HIV/AIDS, drawn from their own experiences.

A group prepares a drama on a man who has multiple partners.
A group prepares a drama on a man who has multiple partners.

 

Much of the learning comes from the discussion of what students have experienced, as against what has been taught again and again within education – often with limited effectiveness.

Reflecting on our actual experience of HIV/AIDS in a society with high levels of infection

Reflecting on our actual experience of HIV/AIDS in a society with high levels of infection

The actual dramas were often compelling.  In many ways they aim at easy targets, like common myths about HIV/AIDS.  But the focus on romantic and sexual relationships between men and women is in line with the prevailing paths of transmission of HIV in southern Africa.

A husband and wife in difficulty in the drama

A husband and wife in difficulty in the drama

The dramas brought a lot of laughter, as students recognised typical patterns of behaviour that contribute to the spread both of the virus and of the misinformation and confusion around it.

"The young player"

“The young player”

After work in tutorials, students presented their dramas in the full class, in front of a group of staff from the HIV/AIDS Centre at DUT and Dr Delysia Timm of the General Education Department.  Again, there was much laughter and cheering; however, the subsequent panel discussion revealed some serious questions and critical comments on what the dramas presented – for example, what in fact is the issue about relationships amongst HIV+ positive, why the dramas showed only cases of sexual transmission, the false sense of complacency at present.  Perhaps some of the laughter, at the presentation of a highly charged situation of stigmatisation of someone who is HIV+, is a way of addressing the stigmatising that you yourself carry out, awarely or not.

The panel from outside the course: Thobile Zulu, Melusi Dlamini, Jessica Parker, Delysia Timm

The panel from outside the course: Thobile Zulu, Melusi Dlamini, Jessica Parker, Delysia Timm