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close this bookTeacher Education for Transformation: The Case of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 73 p.)
close this folderChapter 2: The Institutional location of the HDE Programme
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.1 The University of the Western Cape
View the document2.2 The Faculty of Education


Section Two locates the HDE programme within the history of the University of the Western Cape and specifically within the history of the Faculty of Education. The section provides background information which can be used to discuss ways in which the HDE programme relates to its social context.

2.1 The University of the Western Cape

The University of the Western Cape was established in 1960 by the previous South African government as a university college for those classified at that time as Coloured. It was staffed in its early days mainly by those classified White, and identifying with the government policy of apartheid. By the 1980s, however, UWC as an institution had become actively involved in national struggles for democracy and had moved to become a centre recognised internationally for its intellectual and political resistance to apartheid. The Mission Statement of 1982 committed the university to privileging research and teaching to serve the development of Third World communities in South Africa, and in 1987 the then Rector of the university, Professor Jakes Gerwel, wrote:

The institution has developed to a point in its history where it is without doubt the university in this country that has the most unequivocally committed its teaching, research and service activities to an anti-apartheid and to the post-apartheid ideal. Such a position for a University is not an uncomplicated one; it is fraught with tensions and contradictions (quoted in Van den Berg, 1994: 115).

The university has seven faculties, namely, Arts, Dentistry, Community and Health Sciences, Economic and Management Sciences, Law, Science and Education. There are also numerous innovative programmes in the university. A few of these are named here as examples of the social orientation of the university: the Public Health Programme which looks specifically at primary health needs of the country, the School of Government which trains personnel for a new democratic public service and the Mayibuye Centre which houses vast collections on the history of apartheid.

In the Faculty of Education there are three units which reflect the social orientation of the university. The Teacher Inservice Project (TIP) is an ‘organisation development’ organisation, which works with educational institutions to enhance their capacity for managing change. The Education Policy Unit (EPU) is a leader in the country in research and development for higher education, while the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) has a long history of involvement with adult education, particularly programmes to do with combating gender and racial oppression.

The size and composition of the university has changed substantially over time. From about 2 000 students in 1975, there was an increase to about 4 000 in 1980 and 9 000 in 1987 (Van den Berg, 1994). By 1993 the enrolment was 12 554. Significantly, 49 percent of these were women. Approximately 40 percent of students were classified African (Black), as opposed to 1,5 percent ten years earlier (UWC Office for Development and Public Affairs, no date). By the year 2000, however, registration had dropped to 9 686 students. The reasons for this include the fact that, with the demise of apartheid, many students who might have previously attended UWC now moved to previously White universities, while financial restraints continued to dog the families of students traditionally attracted to UWC.

Although the origins of UWC were as a university specifically established for those classified by the apartheid state as Coloured, it is significant to note that the number of Black students now surpasses the number of Coloured students. While figures for the HDE class itself were not available, figures for the whole university indicate that in 2000, there were nearly 5 000 Black students registered and nearly 4 000 Coloured students.

Whereas initially students had been mainly drawn from the communities of the Western Cape, students now come from all over the country. By the early 1990s the medium of instruction and communication had changed from mainly Afrikaans to mainly English. Although English is not the mother tongue of most of the students, it is a common language of the majority of students. This shift in language use has not been an easy transition, giving rise to heated debates about language policies, medium of instruction, the relationship between language and learning, and about the identity of the university. It has also, ironically, contributed to the drop in enrolment as many Afrikaans-speaking Coloured students moved away from UWC as English became more dominant.

2.2 The Faculty of Education

The recent history of the Faculty of Education is intimately tied up with the anti-apartheid and social reconstructionist history of UWC. In the 1970s the dominant orientation in the Faculty was that of Fundamental Pedagogics, while in the 1980s the Faculty began increasingly to identify with the People's Education for People's Power movement, a national resistance movement seeking to establish a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic political and educational system in the country.

The dominant approach to teacher education in some universities and in the majority of colleges, even in the early 1990s, was Fundamental Pedagogics (Sieborger and Kenyon, 1992; Hofmeyr and Hall, 1995), described as follows:

Fundamental Pedagogics is the dominant theoretical discourse in South African teacher education. It provides little illumination of the present social and educational order, of possible alternatives to that order or how teachers might contribute to transformation. By excluding the political as a legitimate dimension of theoretical discourse, Fundamental Pedagogics offers neither a language of critique nor a language of possibility (Enslin, 1990: 78).

Enslin explains how, through an elaborate logic, Fundamental Pedagogics identified itself as a neutral science, cordoned off from questions around ideology or politics. By separating pedagogy from any discussion of power and privilege, Fundamental Pedagogics managed to create a discourse of silence and acceptance about the role of education in society. An astounding picture presents itself, of generations of young people who were living under a system of racism and domination, learning not to ask questions about the link between educational policies and practices and the oppressive policies ruling their lives. (That this was not entirely successful is, of course, illustrated by the crucial role played by educational institutions in the history of resistance in the country).

Enslin herself notes the different discourse at UWC:

There the theoretical discourse could be described as eclectic, offering critical perspectives on education through liberal and Marxist perspectives. It is significant that both these perspectives treat the political as central to a critical understanding of schooling in South Africa and to future possibilities for South African education (1990: 88).

An extract from the Faculty mission statement of 1992 gives some illustration of the spirit of the Faculty at the time:

As the Faculty of Education at UWC we aim:

- to contribute to the development of educational theory and practice in a rigorous academic and professional way

- to participate, in a spirit of challenge, in the reconstruction and development of education in South Africa to redress historical inequities ...

We locate our work in the social, cultural, political, economic and ecological development of the region, the country and the continent (Mission statement, 1992).

Expanding student numbers in the Faculty in the late 1980s meant that many new staff were appointed in the early 1990s, so that by the mid-1990s there were forty members on the academic staff. Many of these people had been involved in the People's Education movement, and they provided the catalyst for much of the new thinking in the Faculty.

At the time of writing (2000), the Faculty of Education was facing a new set of historical circumstances. Many staff had moved into other institutions or into government or parastatal structures and, due to fiscal restraints and dropping enrolments at the university, these staff were not always replaced. Increased competitiveness for a dwindling market of Education students placed UWC at a disadvantage to its neighbouring universities, where better facilities attracted the more academically-able students. The student body increasingly was drawn from the poorer sections of society, in particular from rural African backgrounds, where inadequate schooling meant that students were often academically weak. Nevertheless, the spirit of UWC was still very much alive, as was evidenced by the comment at a Faculty review of the HDE programme, where lecturers remarked that one of the strengths of the Faculty was: “Our strength lies mainly in our commitment and in our critical edge, and the fact that we have our heads in the clouds but our feet on the ground!” (Final Year Teacher Education programme review, 2000, p.3).