Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 19:38

The Importance of Multi-culturalism In Higher Education As A Means To Drive Intra-African Economic Goals.

There has never been a more exciting time to be African – we are finally seeing a very real shift towards a “one Africa” approach, particularly in terms of trade and economic goals. 2019 marked the establishment of the ground-breaking African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) aimed at boosting intra-African trade by transforming Africa into a single free trade area. The similarly revolutionary Single Air Transport Market (SAATM) African Union Agenda 2063 initiative is also set to change the African economic landscape by creating a single unified African air transport market.

Amidst these positive developments, however, Africa continues to be plagued by various destructive events, such as a rise in xenophobic incidents and reports of corruption by African leaders. This clearly shows the necessity of addressing the root causes of Africa’s challenges in order for the mechanisms for progress to succeed. No matter how well strategised and aspirational plans for African socio-economic growth are, their success and sustainability depend on overcoming the reasons underlying the issues faced by the continent. Much of Africa’s problems related to political and social unrest and corruption can be attributed to poor leadership. Therefore, progress is dependent on developing ethical, inclusive and truly pan-African leaders who will take the continent forward - socially, politically and economically.

To achieve this, we need to start early with young potential leaders of tomorrow. Higher education institutes need to incorporate multi-culturalism and diversity values as an integral part of African pedagogy. “Tolerance” is not enough – education institutes need to teach students to embrace diversity. And not just in terms of race, religion and nationality, but the broader diversity scope inclusive of gender equality, support of people with disabilities and compassion for the elderly and less fortunate.  

Lisa Simelane, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Africa Leadership Academy based in Johannesburg, shares her insights on what such a model should look like. Simelane, who has a Master’s Degree in Education, specialises in curriculum development within an African context. She describes a diversity-focused teaching approach as being discussion-based, learner-centred and allows for student voices to be heard. “In fact, the curriculum of the African Studies class that I lecture is a combination of internally developed course content, Cambridge A-level humanities and, very importantly, the input of our students from different parts of the African continent”, she explains. This structure, she says, stimulates the sharing of stories, experiences and perspectives between learners from different cultural backgrounds. “Dialogue and social interaction are core to driving multi-culturalism goals, as is promoting critical thinking. Access to knowledge, ideas and diverse insights are powerful mechanisms to help individuals transform circumstances for themselves, their communities and the continent”. Simelane also expressed, “It is important to create opportunities for students to apply multi-cultural learnings and exercise principles, practices and procedures in authentic contexts, displaying leadership potential that can be transferred to broader environments as they progress through life”.

Another authority on the subject of diversity in education, James A Banks, describes five dimensions to multi-culturalism in education in his book: Dimensions of Multicultural Education. These are listed as: (1) content integration; (2) the knowledge construction process; (3) prejudice reduction; (4) an equity pedagogy; and (5) an empowering school culture and social structure.

The importance of integrating multi-culturalism and diversity into higher education models should not be underestimated in terms of personal, professional and societal application. By instilling these values in young people as part of their early development, we promote the goals of having future African leaders that are able and willing to collaborate with each other, consider diverse perspectives, value the opinions of others and take a holistic continent-focused leadership approach. In doing so, we will begin to move closer to achieving African socio-economic objectives in a tangible and sustainable manner that boosts pan-African trade, creates an economic climate that supports entrepreneurism, leads to job creation, improves socio-economic circumstances and fosters increased political stability.

Educators, parents, young people and, basically, any individual or group interested in Africa’s future success should realise the significant role played by multi-cultural higher education models in developing leaders that have the capacity to positively transform the African landscape and move the continent forward. Embracing diversity and inclusion is pivotal to pan-African peace and prosperity goals - and the key to success lies in the hands of African youth.

About Author

Hatim Eltayeb was among the first faculty members of African Leadership Academy. From 2009-2012, he taught primarily in the African Studies department. He also Chaired the Seminal Readings Committee, shaping the curriculum for a unique Socratic course at the heart of the Academy. As a Hall master in the student residence, he gained an appreciation for the unique learning opportunities in a boarding school environment. In 2011, he was named ALA “Teacher of the Year”.

Between 2012 and 2016, Hatim was back in his formative home of Cairo, Egypt. With two partner educators, he founded Symposium, a school services and consulting company. Symposium’s flagship product, sympo SAT, grew to serve hundreds of students at 15 leading independent schools in Cairo. He left his executive position in 2016 to return to the Academy.

As Dean of the Academy, Hatim leads teachers and students in our flagship two year pre-university diploma program. Alongside a team of committed staffulty, Hatim works to translate ALA’s mission into the daily work of building a learning, innovating and leading school community. He has represented ALA’s work at conferences and convenings across the continent as well as in Singapore, Japan, the US and at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Hatim is a 2009 graduate of Harvard University, where he completed a B.A. in Government with a secondary concentration in Political and Moral Philosophy. Outside of ALA, Hatim serves on the board of Streetlight Schools, an organization working to make world-class education accessible to every South African child.